I met Josh and Amber Schwartz two years ago. The Schwartzes and ten others from Shelbyville particpated in “Lighthouses,” our six week training in hospitality evangelism. They join a team of about 15 other Timothy Networkers in Beford County. Josh recruited three leaders from his home congregation, the Southside church of Christ in Shelbyville, to participate in one of our 18 month equipping circles; it is now in progress. The goal is to see these leaders multiply the process by making disciples in their community and train and equip members within their congregation to be disciple makers. The following is a glimpse into insights he’s gaining through conversations and studies. MLS
My first decade as an adult was spent serving as a full-time youth minister. As with any job there were highs and lows, but on the best of days I had a constant sense that Christianity wasn’t supposed to be so complicated. That thought wiggled in the back of my head for 10 years. During that time, I checked off my weekly to-do lists of planning for classes, writing articles, and planning, organizing, and delegating youth group calendars, events, and retreats. I read books like Simple Church, Think Orange, and Shift all of which hinted at the same itch I’d been feeling. These offered helpful suggestions but I still felt the solutions offered overcomplicated the natural process of Christians bearing fruit as they abide in Christ. (John 15:1-17) In part, this desire for a simpler approach to living my faith eventually contributed to a career change.
At the beginning of the pandemic, my wife and I were searching for spiritual encouragement anywhere we could find it. That led us to a daily zoom prayer group. This group engages almost every morning in small talk as well as plumbing the depths of pain together. They meditate on scripture together, and they pray together. Simple. Not difficult or complicated. Not even very time-consuming. And yet, it has been one of the most profound blessings in my life. I first met Mike Stroud through this group, and it wasn’t long before he invited me into a discipling relationship. I put him off for nearly 2 years. As I became more aware of the simple concept of relational discipleship; i.e. disciples making disciples through conversation, meditation on scripture, and prayer, I decided to accept his invitation. I also invited three other brothers from my home church in Shelbyville.
Over the past year, I’ve been blessed to meet almost weekly with Mike and 3 other men whose ages range from 20s-60s. We talk. We meditate on scripture. We pray. Simple. And yet this simple process has reenergized my faith, led me to see things in scripture and about God that I’ve neglected for almost 30 years of being a Christian, and has opened doors to spiritual conversations with others in my community as I’ve been challenged to take the truths we glean together into all parts of my life. By far, the biggest growth to my faith is how I view grace. To be clear, I don’t view or teach grace now any differently than I have for the past 30 years. What has changed is how I view myself and everyone else around me in light of the grace that I’ve taught, but, until being intentionally discipled, never realized I wasn’t living in it. As I’ve applied the truth of what it means to be saved by grace to my own life, I’ve found that God keeps putting other individuals in my path who need to hear the same truth, and I rejoice weekly with our group as I think about watching a friend begin to grasp the depths of God’s gracious love for his own life.
I still love and participate in big group activities, camps, and retreats. There is definitely a place for them. Jesus fed and taught thousands of people at a time, so surely an argument can be made for feeding hundreds of hotdogs and hamburgers after a great night of VBS! Those activities have a huge benefit as they introduce outsiders to the body of Christ. But it’s the simple process of one disciple making the intentional effort to build focused relationships that provides the catalyst for helping people follow Jesus. We openly talk with another person about life, we meditate on scripture together, confess our struggles, and pray together. This takes something like the knowledge about God’s grace, for example, and transforms it into the experience of God Himself, through His grace. Simple. And yet I plan to explore its depths with disciples who are one step ahead and others who are one step behind until God finishes my transformation at the judgment.