Eighteen Years and Still Learning
Feb 24, 2021 | 6 min read | Michael Sullivan
In Hebrew, it means “life.”
In most countries, it’s the age when you are considered to be a legal adult.
Yet, for me, it’s the number of years I’ve served within Josiah Venture as a missionary.
God called us to love him and love others. He commissioned us to make disciples, looking to Jesus as the example. He has specifically called me to equip the JV Staff with my administrative gifts. And, along the way, to lead young people in a growing relationship with Jesus by making disciples.
“Disciple making” begins the moment you meet someone. What follows as we lead them can either be momentary, or it can take you on a journey for weeks, months, or even years, depending on the desire of the Father’s heart for that relationship. Over these past 18 years, what has brought me the most joy, where I’ve seen much fruit, and the lessons I continue to learn from Jesus is in disciple making.
The lessons I’ve learned have stretched from encouragement to disappointment, and have shaped my life since the beginning of my 18-year commitment.
Build Up and Encourage (1st Thes. 5:11)
Encouragement did not come natural for me at first. It is something I’ve had to learn, especially serving in a post-communist culture, observing the side effects of a socialist upbringing. Often I hear about parents in first-generation Christian households making discouraging remarks by asking why their child (often the only Christian in their family) is working with youth, or why they are not going to the local pubs or discos like “normal” teenagers. These young people are not receiving encouragement to follow Christ at home.
Early in Jesus’ ministry, his disciples left their families to be built up and encouraged by Jesus for their ministry calling. Through my experience discipling two cousins and many others, I learned to “be present” in their lives—to help build them up and offer encouraging words along the way. Attending a sports match or offering a word of praise after passing a hard exam made a huge difference. Today, I enjoy encouraging youth who God continues to put in my life. And, I am proud of these two cousins who are serving within our organization and in their local churches, making disciples who are making disciples.
Never Give Up (Gal. 6:9)
Jesus never gave up on his disciples, who oftentimes were fearful and showed little faith. In my ministry, I’ve learned to never give up on someone who the Lord has put on my heart.
Two brothers attended one of our early English camps. The eldest became a believer in Christ soon after the camp and got involved in our youth group. I got to know his younger brother as he would tag along at times. Over the years, we developed a friendship where I would challenge him with his faith. During his high school years, he told me that he did not believe in God. However, as a university student, things changed. While walking the streets in Prague, one of our conversations led to him asking deep questions about life and his purpose. Soon after, he started reading a book on skepticism and the Bible. Later, his older brother shared the gospel with him and he eventually put his faith in Christ. Today, both brothers are leading their families in a growing relationship with Jesus, with their wives and daughters.
Live Outside Your Comfort Zone (1 Cor. 9:23)
Jesus left his throne and comfort to share the gospel with sinners, both Jews and Gentiles. Growing up protestant had created a barrier for me to engage with Catholicism. However, after moving to a Catholic nation, I began to learn more about the differences and similarities to help me leave my comfort zone to engage with students. Three young men whom I’ve had the honor to disciple come from a charismatic Catholic background. We’ve enjoyed learning about and respecting each other’s traditional upbringings, which has never caused a division. We all agree that the foundation of our faith is having a personal relationship with Jesus. Today, in their 20’s, they attend their church, serve and love their families, and desire others to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
And here is a bonus lesson...
Disappointment Mustn’t Stop You (Mark 6:4-6)
I’ve poured hours into a project working for a team’s buy-in, yet, in the end, not receiving it. I’ve spent many long hours preparing a large outreach event only to see few students wanting to follow Jesus. I’ve also had many conversations with Christian teenagers praying for their families to become followers of Christ, who have not done so. However, in those moments, I’ve been reminded that Jesus experienced this in his ministry as well. He had a family who thought he was crazy, a hometown who did not believe, and the rich young man who he had offered to come and follow him, in the end did not. Yet, that did not stop Jesus. He continued on.
And, so must each of us!
We must be purposeful each day and continue to be students of Jesus’s ministry. Learning as we make disciples and, oftentimes, mistakes, we must grasp onto his calling for us, understanding that the ministry is a partnership with him for his purpose and glory. Ralph Waldo Emerson, said it best when he said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
May we learn from and live well for Jesus as we lead people in a growing relationship with Him by making disciples.
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