In many ways, I’ve been discipled by Verizon. And also AT&T and T-Mobile and maybe even Sprint. Or at least by people who use their phones.
What do I mean?
CELL PHONE DISCIPLESHIP.
I never really understood discipleship — real, life-on-life discipleship… not teaching and workshops and spiritual formation classes, but the real deal — until I spent a couple of days in Cleveland and watched my friend J.R. on his cell phone.
It was only a few days earlier that I had been talking to J.R. on my cell when he said, “Dude… get in the car and get your butt out to Cleveland! Now!” (and that is pretty much exactly what he said and what I did).
This was only a few weeks after my world blew up. I sent J.R. a Facebook message, telling him what was going on. That led to the cell phone conversation. Which led to me driving to Cleveland (and getting a $165 speeding ticket in Pennsylvania).
What was interesting is that I didn’t really know J.R. He had spoken at the church once and we had emailed a few times (and I was quoted on the jacket of his book)… but that was it. But there I was, driving to Cleveland, Ohio!
In more ways than I can write or reflect upon here, those three days were life-saving — or at the least, soul-saving. I don’t think that is hyperbole. At the end of those three days hanging with J.R., Di, Mia, Angel & Zian — it was the first time since everything broke that I thought there might be some hope, that there might be a tomorrow worth living.
But in the midst of all that, I watched J.R. and his cell phone.
It was ringing all the time.
And often the conversations were pretty short.
“What’tcha doing?” J.R. would shout into the phone.
“Why you doing that?” he would then say after listening to the story on the other end.
“Yeah, but you gotta get with the Father… Jesus loves you man…” would inevitably be said. This along with a challenge to get into the word, a sharing of scripture, a loving rebuke, or just a good belly-laugh-producing joke.
Always followed by a prayer… and a “Cya, bye!”
End of conversation.
It took me a bit to figure out what was going on. Then it hit me. I was watching real discipleship happen. Via the cell phone. J.R. was discipling guys all across the country. He was available to them. He was for them. He loved them. He challenged them. He was always accessible to them.
And that has been what J.R. has been for me.
He’s been available. I have never doubted that he is for me. I know he loves me because he says it every time we talk — it doesn’t “go without saying”. He challenges me. He speaks truth to me. He makes me laugh and feel like a human being. He reminds me of what is true. But I never once felt judged by him or shamed in his presence.
And J.R. has continued to disciple me, mentor me, challenge me, love me — even from West Coast time. The cell phone and text messaging… they are great tools. And it wasn’t just on the phone, either. J.R. & Di’s house was really a ministry house. There were people coming and going all the time… people stopping by… hanging out… connecting… being prayed for… laughing… playing… jumping on the trampoline… all the time!
And I have experienced this in other places too these past six months.
Bart Campolo… remarkably similar conversation as I had with J.R. But this time I was heading to Cincinnati (and got a speeding ticket outside Columbus!).
Some of my best processing times the past 6 months have come on the phone with my friend Kit — a church planter, counselor, and spiritual director. The phone means I don’t need an appointment and don’t need to wait until next week to process something. The same is true of my primary counselor, who is located in California.
And this has been huge for my Monday night small group… rarely does a day go by without a phone call or text message (and usually multiple text messages of encouragement, prayer requests, scripture) going back and forth. And several of the guys in the group (including me) are pretty clear about the fact that you can call us 24-7 on our cells if you need anything. And we mean it!
And all of this is discipleship… life on life kind of stuff.
Here are the take-aways for me:
1. Life-on-life Discipleship is not a method, it is what discipleship is about.
2. While teaching and workshops and retreats and spiritual formation seminars are all really good (and technically part of discipleship), the real deal is that changes lives is always life-on-life. Just how Jesus did it.
3. In my ministry, I wish I had done this more. I always had an open door policy, made my cell phone number available, made my personal email available, etc — but I wish I had been more intentional about the life-on-life stuff along the way.
4. I wish I had said the words “I love you” more often to more people… we all need to be reminded of that fact.
5. In my ministry moving forward, I am keeping my cell phone on… you can call me (or email me) anytime.
6. Being available is one thing (and good); being intentionally in someone’s life is a whole new level. J.R., Bart, my small group… they aren’t just available, they are in my life (whether I like it or not, lol).
7. Every Christian needs to be discipling and needs to be discipled. Not in theory, not through books and seminars and podcasts, but life-on-life. (Or free Verizon-to-Verizon minutes!)
8. The church and faith community suffers when this kind of discipleship doesn’t happen.
9. This is not just for pastors… a pastor can’t do this with 100 people! (So please don’t go and make your pastor feel badly because they haven’t given you their cell phone number!) Any follower of Jesus can do this… so do it!
So here is my question for you: Who’s got your cell phone # in their speed dial? And who do you call when you need it? In other words, who are you discipling and who is discipling you? And unless you can name a specific name (and they would name you too!) it probably isn’t happening!