The Legacy of a Disciple-Maker

Ode to a Mentor

My mentor’s name is David. We met at a local pastor’s gathering where he took voluntary interest in me. I needed a mentor and he wanted to make disciples by caring for the next generation of pastors. For the next year and a half, David poured into me. He taught me the importance of sharing life stories, hunting one other’s sin, and giving each other grace.

1. We shared life stories together.

One of the first things David and I did at our monthly meetings was share our life stories. David wanted to model life-on-life discipleship, and the best way to start this was by retelling our histories. This meant we shared big events, little events, and even those embarrassing moments we didn’t want anyone to know about in a stream of consciousness. It lasted ninety minutes to two hours. The who listened asked three questions at the end:

  • What did you hear as David told his story?
  • Is there any place where your story intersects with David’s story?
  • What would you like to tell David in light of his story?

I remember David encouraging the pattern of shepherding leadership in my life. That meant a lot to me as I was approaching pastoral ministry. I encouraged his fatherly discipling of many men throughout his pastorate. It did not take long to become true for my relationship with him as well. Over the coming months we continued to talk about pastoral ministry, family, and God together. For as much as we shared life together, I wish we had shared even more.

2. We hunted each other’s sin.

Sharing our life stories with each other provided an opportunity to confess many of the ways we’ve failed. We were open about our sins so that we could hold each other accountable in our sin patterns going forward. This included anything from asking each other the blunt questions to searching out each other’s motivations. The purpose was always to help bring healing.

As we were beginning this fight against sin together, David pulled Timothy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage off the shelf. He read a quote about granting each other a “hunting license” to hunt out sin in each other’s life. There were only a handful of people he’d given this license too, and now I was one of them. He, of course, claimed a hunting license for my life.

David didn’t use his license often, and I only used mine once jokingly on him, but I was glad he had it. Instead of causing me to hide my sins when I was around him, it helped me open up so that he could shine some light on my darkness. This light was a mixture of first admonishment followed by grace.

3. We gave each other grace.

What I admire most about David’s discipleship of me was his continual reminder of my need for God’s grace. He helped me not only understand the gospel, but relish the grace within the gospel. I am a sinner and that’s just how it is for now. But my great savior Christ Jesus has come to save me because he absolutely loves me. He has gone so far as to trade his spotless record for mine, so that now God sees me as he sees his Son. Holy. Righteous. Clean. What better news is there than this?

David was especially good at making grace practical to my everyday. Instead of wallowing in my sin, he taught me to release my guilt as I prayed Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” When I shared with him how I wanted to be more satisfied and joyful in Christ, he pointed me to the book Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas. There I began to learn all the ways God has provided for his people’s joy.

My mentor lived a life of grace. When he was diagnosed with stage four cancer, nothing about that grace-filled life changed. He went much quicker than expected, but I got to write him a letter before he passed. In that letter it was my turn to remind my mentor of his need for God’s grace. His wife shared through mass-email that she had been reading letters to David from all the men he had mentored throughout the years. He would just listen and say, “My boy, that's my boy.” I don’t cry often, but I cried when I read this. Even at the end, my mentor loved his sons.

My mentor’s legacy of discipleship lives on.

I’ve tried to take the model David gave me for mentoring, and use it as a framework for discipling others. Already I’ve experienced the blessings of sharing life stories, the responsibility of having a hunting license, and the joy of giving the gospel grace. I’ve seen others grow in ways David must have seen me grow. I want to be the type of mentor David was to me. He loved me and was an enormous example of Jesus to me. He is now present with the Lord, but the impact of his discipleship lives on. Praise God for mentors.

Jonathan M. Romig (M.Div., Gordon-Conwell) is the associate pastor at Immanuel Church in Chelmsford Massachusetts (CCCC). He blogs at PastorRomig.blogspot.com and recently finished teaching New City Catechism to his adult Sunday school class and self-published his first ebook How To Give A Christian Wedding Toast.

Tethered to the Gospel

Common Grace and Scoliosis

My mouth dropped and my eyes filled with tears as the surgeon lifted my daughter’s spine x-ray up to the light box. As a former chiropractic assistant, I had seen my share of spine films twisting and coiling from scoliosis; I had no idea one day the film I saw would be my own eleven year old daughter’s. Four months earlier, a checkup as part of a school transfer had revealed that Sarah’s thoracic spine was beginning to curve into her right shoulder blade. Now, the x-ray showed that instead of stabilizing, the curve had nearly doubled in size. At her age, with the trajectory of progress her condition seemed to be on, it was no longer a question of if my daughter needed surgery, but what kind she should have, and how quickly she should have it.

Scoliosis is rarely fatal in and of itself, but left uncontrolled, an excessively curving spine can make everyday activities painful, give women difficulty during pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, and restrict heart and lung function—not to mention the psychological trauma of disfigurement so distinctive that in earlier centuries it was associated with demon possession (and still is today in some countries). The surgical “gold standard” for progressing scoliosis in adolescents is spinal fusion, a complex surgery which sandwiches the spine between rods, and screws threaded through them, into the vertebrae. Fusion is usually corrective, but it renders parts of the spine permanently immobile, inhibits growth, and can stress the non-fused portion of the spine, causing pain, arthritis and the need for more surgeries later in life.  Sarah would need to spend the formative years of junior high and high school in a shoulder to hip brace, which would hopefully squeeze her spine into submission until she was nearly done growing. Then she would have the fusion surgery and spend months recovering. It was a daunting, discouraging prospect. There had to be a different approach.

Partner—GCD—450x300Through the common grace of the Internet, we discovered a brand new type of spine surgery that leverages rapid adolescent growth to correct scoliosis curves. Similar in approach to orthodontic braces with teeth, vertebral body tethering involves inserting screws on the outside of a spinal curve, and a heavy polyethylene cable threaded through the heads of the screws, which are then tightened to straighten the spine part way. As an adolescent child continues to grow, the tension on the cord causes the spine to continue to straighten, often completely. With no fusion to restrict movement or inhibit growth unnecessarily, kids who receive this type of surgery are able to enjoy sports and all kinds of physical activity with no restrictions, With freedom of motion and growth maintained, and little to no risk of complications associated with fusion, kids are able to grow, play any sport, and generally return to just being growing kids.

One month of insurance drama, round the clock emailing and phone calling, and an eventual plane flight across the country later, I again looked at an x-ray of my daughter’s spine with eyes filled with tears, this time from inexpressible thankfulness as she slept nearby in a hospital bed.  In less than five hours, the chief of surgery at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia had done the tethering procedure, and taken a post-operative film to make sure everything was just right, and it was, beautifully so. Sarah’s curve was less than half of what it had been mere hours before.

Today, six months after her surgery, Sarah has dived, literally, back into all the water sports she loves, with several small scars her only visible reminder of the procedure, as the invisible tether helps her grow stronger and straighter every day. The experience itself was sanctifying for our entire family. But through it, I have given a profound, and profoundly helpful, picture of how the “tether” of the gospel, rather than the crushing of the law, empowers our life as believers in Jesus.

homo incurvatus in se

Martin Luther summarized our battle with sin with the Latin phrase homo incurvatus in se—humanity curved in toward self.  My natural “bent” is away from God. Left to myself, I see only myself—my needs, my desires, my idols—and I am powerless to change. I need spiritual surgery.

The gospel, Paul reminds us in Romans 1, is that power. United with Christ through repentance and faith and made alive through the Holy Spirit, it is the power of the gospel that “tethers” our hearts and minds, reducing the curving inwardness of our sin and lifting our hearts towards our heavenly Father. In our times of struggle with temptation and discouragement, it is the tether of the gospel that keeps us from coiling back in on ourselves.

When my children seem determined to make Titus 3:3 their collective life verse, it is the tether of the gospel that helps me respond to them with the same goodness and kindness God showed in saving me (Ti 3:4).

When the administrivia of junior high homework and house projects “get in the way” of my plans for writing and study, the tether of the gospel reminds me of the One who emptied Himself of his glory to become a servant for me (Phil 2:7).

When my husband does not utter the precise arrangements of words and phrases that would make me feel loved at the precise moment I want him to, the tether of the gospel reminds me that God exults over me with singing (Zeph. 3:17).

And when the weight of my sin and weaknesses and failures begin to curve my heart inward toward my wretched self, it is the tether of the gospel that reminds me that before the very foundation of the world, God had chosen me in Christ before the very foundation of the world and that redemption and forgiveness are mine in him, forever (Eph 1).

The law can only crush me into rigid, outer conformity. But the tether of the gospel empowers me to move freely, as a beloved child of God and a growing disciples of Jesus Christ by curving my affections towards the Triune God.

Rachael Starke (@RachaelStarke) lives with her husband and three daughters in San Jose, California. A graduate of The Master's College, she is now pursuing a master's degree in Nutritional Science, and writes about the intersection of spiritual and physical nutrition at What Food Is For. She also writes for and co-edits Gospel-Centered Woman, a newly repository of resources for for pastoral staff and lay leaders to support women’s discipleship through the local church. She and her family are members of West Hills Community Church in Morgan Hill.