Discipleship Triads

I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to come out into the street somewhere in Jerusalem, his older friend close behind. I can picture him collapsing on the steps, releasing a huge sigh of relief.

“You — are Amazing! Thank you, Barnabas. A thousand times – Thank You!”


“You’re in, son. God has opened the door for you.”


“I mean it. Thank you, Barnabas. They tried to kill me in Damascus.” His tones softer and more emotional now.


“I’m glad I could help. The years will prove to all that your faith is genuine. I believe in you. God is going to use you, young man, don’t think for a minute that He won’t.” (the full story is in Acts 9)



I’m of the opinion Paul never forgot the things Barnabas modeled for him. That he valued for the rest of his life what Barnabas did for him those early days soon after he came to Christ – or was that Christ came to him? 🙂 Though they didn’t work together all their lives, I’m fairly confident Paul felt an ongoing indebtedness to Barnabas for opening the door for him.


I wonder if Paul knew the effect his words would have on his son in the faith, Timothy?

  • “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.

  • God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

  • Don’t be ashamed.

  • What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ Jesus.

  • Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you.

  • My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

  • Endure hardship — be a good soldier.

  • Compete like an athlete – play by the rules.

  • Work hard like a farmer – and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

  • Think about what I’m saying – the Lord will give you insight.”

I imagine looking on sometimes, watching Timothy read those words on the scroll stretched out on the desk in front of him (they’re from early in 2 Timothy). Reading them again. And again. Thankful that someone like Paul would take the time to write him. I can almost see him leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, thinking through those he knows for those most able to teach these things to still others.


It’s a meaningful triad: Barnabas > Paul > Timothy, and worthy of emulation.



It’s an easy thing to call to mind the list of those who influenced me the most in my walk with God and early ministry. Family, of course. How thankful I am to have been raised by devoted, godly parents in a Christian home and marry a girl also taught by parents who love the Lord!


In addition, there are a handful of significant names and faces that step forward when I consider the teachers, bosses, and colleagues I worked with early-on. Men who invested in me – rather heavily. I’ll use only their first initials, this list is in cyberspace, after all. But when I see this list I know their first names, see their faces, hear their voices. They stand right up off the pages of my memory:

  • D. Jens, my high-school band and choir director took me under wing, shaped several aspects of my philosophy of life – including a right perspective of excellence. He taught me the first things I needed to know about conducting and the enjoyment of preparation on the way to skilled performance. (Someday maybe I’ll post the letter I wrote him a few years ago thanking him for his role in my life.)

  • R. Rose was my vocal coach and the chair of the music department of the college I attended. He was my mentor for the years I studied under him and affirmed my call to ministry the summer of 1976 on the shores of Gull Lake in Michigan, our having recently come in off an eight-week tour. He directed me into a two-year ministerial internship under his supervision to get me started well. He’s the one Brenda and I asked to lead our premarital counseling since we were both away from home, our wedding scheduled for two weeks after graduation. I failed every written exam I took from him, and am thankful he said “write the papers well, I’ll see to it that you come out OK.” It’s okay to not do some things well if you balance it with things you do.

  • C. Bonds, the first pastor I served with, taught me how to structure my week to equally serve ministry and family, wove prayer and laughter into most everything we did as a pastoral team, initiated my ordination process and led the way through, and taught me “If you never fail there’s only one thing you know – you’re not experimenting enough.”

  • M. Cunningham, though several years my junior, taught me “tons” about heartfelt worship rooted in a deep understanding of the Word of God. He taught me the value of rest before intense ministry demands, and the value of finishing well. “Any of us can sprint to the end of the block”, he often said, “but life is a longer race than that. What are we doing to be sure we finish well over the long haul?” He taught me the value of working with an excellent ministry/administrative assistant, and the joy of living enthusiastically.

It’s a short list, really, which is as it should be. Men who saw in me potential worth developing, and spent the time, convenience and energy to pour themselves into my life and ministry.


Many have influenced me. I’ve served alongside a dozen champions in the faith and have learned from hundreds of people, but seeing the names of these few all in one place overwhelms me and tears of gratitude well up. I’d not be the guy I am were it not for these investors in my life. Others, different investors are involved right now — I see them more as peers than as mentors, however. Side-by-side.


Knowing how it feels to be the protégé urges me on when it comes to investing in the Timothy’s coming behind me and makes me thankful for the Paul-people in Bethany and Jared’s lives. (I’m an influencer, but I doubt I’m a mentor with my kids. You know how it goes.) 🙂


I spent some time with one of my “Timothy’s” Monday afternoon. Heard about his first year at college thus far. Listened to what’s on his mind. What he’s thinking, The majors he’s considering. His plans, though in pencil (which is always good when you’re a freshman). I didn’t tip over a wheelbarrow of useful information in front of him the way I did last time we talked. This time I listened and learned so I can better pray for him. I know that if a crisis hits (which I pray it won’t) or a major decision, having spent some time together when he was home for a few days will make it easier for him to pick up the phone… “Phil…have you got a minute? I need some perspective here.” I won’t be talking to a stranger half my age, I’ll be talking to someone I’ve already decided to invest in. “Absolutely. What’s up?”








My mentors


My protégés



Your significant influencers


Those coming behind you


What great disciple making triads these are! I pray God grants us the wisdom and skill to make the most of each opportunity!




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