Last weekend, I met two key leaders at the church where I gave a seminar. One was on staff, the youth pastor. The other was a lay leader. They both shared that their lives had been impacted by a guy named Nick. I first met Nick more than twenty years ago. He was in engineering school. I was pursuing theological studies at Regent College (Vancouver). We worshiped in the same church. I haven’t seen him since. Last Monday I asked him to take Bernice and me to the best congee place in Vancouver.
In the years that we had not seen each other, Nick had graduated and worked as an engineer. He had also gone on to do a Master in engineering. Somewhere along the way the Lord nudged him in the direction of a church-related vocation. He too went to Regent and has been ministering as a pastor since.
As we chatted, he told me how I had impacted his life. He remembered that I was feverishly trying to finish my master’s thesis, but that whenever he contacted me, I made time for him. This is how he put it in a recent email: “I hope you remember me … the kid who used to interrupt your Regent thesis writing with teenager issues.” Truth is, I can’t, I can’t remember the times we chatted. I remember Nick of course but I can’t remember the conversations that had meant so much to him. It has been too long and too much has happened.
My friends in the Navigators and others, see 2 Timothy 2:2 as a key programmatic verse for their ministry:
And the things you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (TNIV)
My present visit to Vancouver allowed me to catch another glimpse of the truth of this verse. I guess some time has to pass before you are able to see the truth of this principle in action. In my case more than two decades had to pass before I had the delight of meeting these two key individuals in God’s kingdom who had been influenced by someone I had influenced. There are some benefits from growing older. But let me quickly say two things.
One, I am who I am today because others had invested their lives in me. I am in Vancouver at the invitation of Dr Ward Gasque. He was my thesis supervisor for that same thesis I was feverishly trying to finish all those years ago. I remembered that we had all our consultations over pizza and cider and Italian ice cream. After each session I had to go home to take a nap. But Ward was an excellent teacher and thesis supervisor. He taught me key lessons about the New Testament. But he also taught me about life. In particular he taught me about friendship.
In the years since I left Regent, Ward has kept in touch and has encouraged me through some of the toughest times of my life. He has gone to bat on my behalf many, many times. I am glad for any opportunity to work with him. I owe him. I need to make it clear to Nick that if I had blessed him, I was only passing forward what I had received from Ward and from many others.
The second thing I need to say is that I made time for Nick, not as an expression of any intentional discipling programme. Nick was a friend. And we make time for our friends. Now I am all for discipling programmes, but much of life cannot be programmed. As Nick puts it in his testimony, “Unlike my prior work as an engineer, I have learnt that encounters with God cannot be engineered. Genuine experiences of God are His doing.” The same can be said about encounters with people.
I cannot take any credit for intentionally discipling Nick, choosing him because of some foreknowledge of how he would turn out, and that he would go on to disciple others. We cannot engineer a disciple. Perhaps we should follow Paul and take our metaphors for discipling from the world of agriculture rather than from the world of technique.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7 TNIV)
In blessing the people that God puts in our way, we plant seeds, but only God knows how those seeds will grow. Indeed, only God can grow a life. But we have the privilege of being God’s coworkers (1 Corinthians 3:9) and sometimes that means putting aside your thesis to listen to a teenager with teenager issues.