Steve Highfill has served in the EFCA for 42 years—as church planter, pastor and now superintendent of EFCA West. He and his wife currently attend North Coast Church (EFCA) in Vista, California.
Methinks we make things too hard. And when it comes to making disciples, two recent examples brought that lesson home to me.
This past fall, a longtime friend (who had helped us start our first church nearly 40 years ago) emailed a brief message that her husband had only days to live. We had heard of his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s but not of any notable physical decline.
I immediately called her and learned that a three-week case of pneumonia had robbed her husband of his remaining strength, and he was in a coma. She emphasized that she did not expect us to change our schedule, or to drive the two hours to see them. She simply wanted us to know.
After praying with her and hanging up, I related the news to my wife. She immediately started changing clothes and said, “We’re going up there. Now.”
That evening, we spent nearly two hours in his room with three generations of family reminiscing, crying, hugging and praying. An hour after we left, our friend passed into the presence of Jesus.
Two things gnawed at me over the next few days: first, the assumption our dear friend made that we were very busy in our important ministry of “serving the churches”; but even worse, my ever-so-brief, sinful, internal agreement with her.
Fortunately, the hypocrisy of that thinking fell away in time for me to come to my senses and experience the indescribable blessing of grieving and rejoicing with some godly friends as a loved one finished his race on this temporal earth.
At the same time this was happening, another story was unfolding. But let me give you some background.
Back in the mid-1970s, I had made numerous attempts to explain my newfound zeal about Jesus to my parents. I naively branded them as “saved but lukewarm” and began praying that God would bring someone into my dad’s life who could communicate the notion of commitment, discipleship and disciplemaking more effectively than I had been able to do.
Along came Fred. An electrician by trade until his mid-40s, Fred “found Jesus” and went off to seminary. He arrived in our tiny ranching town a freshly minted, middle-aged pastor. Fred and his wife latched onto my hard-working rancher parents in a way that only a seasoned blue-collar worker could have done. Without teaching, preaching or strategically planning, Fred and his wife loved my parents as few ever had.
Fast forward to last week. Fred, now an 89-year-old widower, learned of a former parishioner from our small ranch town passing away. He got into his aging Buick there in Oklahoma and drove 14 hours to be with the widow. Then, while in the area, he made the rounds to say hello, love, hug and pray with everyone he knew from that pastorate season which technically had ended almost 25 years ago. (In his mind it never did.)
There is much necessary debate these days about the definitions and metrics of making disciples. What is a disciple of Jesus? How do we make more of them? How do we make more who will make more? Do we use curricula and programs or simply wing it and live life together?
I will continue to wrestle with these questions. But in the meantime, I’m pretty sure that Fred’s answer—and where we all must start—would be summed up as, “Why, I simply love them.” And the people he loves know he loves them, and they know it is in the name and power of Jesus that he loves them.
While I could exegete the statement in Hebrews 13:5 that God will never desert or forsake me, my parents believe that promise is true from the demonstration of faithfulness in God’s tireless servant Fred. And I pray that my friends with whom I am grieving will catch a glimpse of the heart and faithfulness of Jesus by my oh-so-imperfect example.
This really isn’t rocket science after all.