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It Started with Pizza (thoughts on discipleship and upcoming discipleship conference)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… ~ Jesus, Matthew 28:19

It started with pizza.

As a junior in college I had just moved into my new dorm at my new school, the University of Oklahoma. In the hall, I talked with my new dorm mates when all of a sudden another guy approached with a handful of flyers. “Hi,” he said. “I’m from the Baptist Student Union and we’re having a back to school pizza bash this Friday and would like to invite you to come. It’s free!”

“Do you have to be Baptist?” one of my dorm mates asked.

“Nope. In fact, I’m Catholic, but it’s just a great place to hang out and meet people.”

Friday evening came and I headed across campus to the Baptist Student Union. Fortunately, I met another guy going the same way to the same place. I don’t do crowds very well, and when we saw the parking lot it was packed with people (well over 500, and that’s just who registered their name that night) and lots and lots of pizza. If I had been on my own, I may have turned around.

The guy I met disappeared in the sea of bodies and found me later wondering around to introduce me to another guy (we were all in the same degree field), who eventually became one of my best friends. This new, new guy, Joe, told me more about the BSU, invited me to his church, and invited me to hang out with him and his roomies in his dorm.

Little did I know at that moment that everything was about to change.

The BSU proved much more than just “a great place to hang out and meet people.” It had been led for well over thirty years by a then skinny, old guy named Max Barnett. Max had one singular passion in life: to be a disciple of Jesus who makes more disciples of Jesus. Yes, he was the director of the BSU and an elder (pastor) at the church I was involved in for my three years at OU; but more than that he took time to invest his life in others, telling them the gospel, modeling Jesus, and helping them figure out how to live a life that honors Jesus in everything, including investing themselves in others as well.

Throughout the years, many of the people he discipled in that college environment grew up to go in all different directions (some as BSU staffers, some as missionaries and pastors, some as business men and women, some as scientists and mathematicians, some as homemakers, and the list goes on), but with the same singular passion: to make disciples.

I grew up in church. I sometimes even lamely joke, “Yeah, I started going to church nine months before I was born.” In the twenty years of my life up to that pizza party, I had heard many sermons and lessons. I had been in Sunday School and even spent time in the old “discipleship training / training union” programs of the Southern Baptists. Yet, I had never really seen discipleship like this—discipleship that is rooted in church (we do this in community) but continues far beyond the programs and worship gatherings within the four walls of a building.

For the first time, I came to understand that: discipleship is life. It is life because it’s what we’re to be about as Christians. Ours is not meant to be a religion or a few hours a week program that we tack onto everything else. We are followers of Jesus—every moment, every day. The question is: are we doing well to follow or are we stumbling, struggling, and finding ourselves face down in the dirt way too often? It is also life because it is what should define us no matter what we do. It’s not just a preacher thing, or a missionary thing, it’s not just a thing for college students who have some free time, it’s not a program for the spiritual elite.

It is a call for every single one of us: teachers, farmers, bankers, athletes, pastors, WalMart associates, retirees, factory workers, parents, authors, artists, etc.

Another old man at a conference I went to once said, “People used to ask me: what do you want to be when you grow up? Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to tell them, but I knew I was supposed to make disciples. Now here I am in my eighties and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve been making disciples the whole time.”

That is the passion that Max Barnett inspired in many of us.

And I feel honored that we get to host him at FBC Adrian for a Discipleship Mini-Conference on Saturday July 18 from 3 to 8pm. You can find more information about the conference and a registration form by clicking here. He will also be preaching in our worship gathering on Sunday July 19.

Earlier I referred to Max as a skinny, old man, because he was. It’s been 12 years since I graduated from OU, so he’s a bit older now and a decade retired from the BSU. But he still has a great passion to make disciples who make disciples. If you’re near the Adrian, MO, area you will not want to miss the wisdom that Max has to share.

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