What follows first appeared in our December quarterly report to monthly financial partners. Because it “puts a face” on the part of our work involving discipling converts and equipping them to be disciple makers, we share it here with others of you who also follow our efforts. MLS
This is a story about Tracy Vanatta. You might find yourself in it, too.
After two former elders of a church in Bedford county enlisted in one of our equipping circles in 2015, another of their church friends showed up one night “to see what it was all about.” His name was Tracy.
Tracy is familiar with sowing and planting crops. In addition to running a poultry business, he farms 1,500 acres of soy beans and corn on prime farmland near Bell Buckle, Tennessee. He’s known for having “bumper crop” harvests. By his own admission, however, Tracy didn’t have a grasp on sowing seed for the Kingdom until he experienced discipling relationships through our work.
I recall that night he came straight from a day in the fields to the country farmhouse where I was meeting with three other men. Armed with notebook, pen, and readiness to take notes, he appeared eager but a little puzzled, too. I could see a thousand questions on his face, but he quietly listened through that first night’s discipleship meeting. Like water from a fire hydrant, the need for answers gushed out when he showed up the next week, however.
Tracy had several concerns, but his main question came down to a central point. It’s something I often hear from Christians who have pre-conceived notions about evangelism and disciple making. The question sums up this way, “Why not just tell us how to do this in a few meetings and then send us along?” Tracy was ready to get the information and get started! Like the rest of us raised in the West, he’d learned to think programatically, i.e. learn the right information, in the right order, and tell it to somebody else. That might be fine for making converts, but it’s not the way Jesus made disciples. Jesus focused on the transformation of mind and heart. This doesn’t happen by attending a few meetings.
Fast forward about 18 months to the Spring of 2016. Tracy, Dennis, Jordan, Tim, and I were wrapping up our season of time together with reflection, prayer, and planning for the multiplying process they’d soon begin. Tracy spoke up to admit the “wrong picture” he had about disciple making, explaining he’d understood it as knowing how to argue religious beliefs, following a list of do’s and don’ts, and learning strategies for getting people to go to church. It was after a year and a half of weekly suppers, focused time in the Word, discussion, prayer, transparency, confession, and “doing life together” that he gained a clear picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and how to disciple others.
Tracy’s story is common. My own history of “church going” before being discipled in 1985 was similar. I’ve heard and seen the same scenario play out many, many times as I’ve worked with baptized believers who have never been exposed to or taught discipleship.
Being a disciple of Jesus means more than having the right answers and going to church. It is about experiencing a life-giving relationship with the living Son of God! Experiencing Christ and following Him involves maturation in the context authentic, intimate relationships with other believers.
I count it a blessing to call Tracy Vanatta a brother, good friend, and compadre in disciple making. We stay in touch and occasionally meet for breakfast at the Midway Diner near his farm. He’s now paying it forward by discipling men like a guy named Brenden who are also ready to disciple others. I know this because I recently met Brenden and heard his testimony.
Thanks so much for supporting our goal of helping men like Tracy and others become disciple makers!