College ministry veteran Steve Shadrach shares personal stories of how being pushed out of his comfort zone in college propelled his growth as a disciple.
I had two different men disciple me in college. The first took me through ministry materials each week, along with the “mandatory” one on one we’d agreed on. At the end of my freshmen year, he graduated, we shook hands, and I’ve never heard from him since. That experience taught me that discipleship involves giving a young believer some direction, yes, but requires the pouring out of some affection too. Later in college, God gave me a second man, Buzz (that’s right, Buzz) Underwood, as my discipler and who loved me in spite of myself. I’d never met someone who cared, served, prayed and invested in my life like Buzz did. He didn’t do it to impress others or even out of obedience to God; he did it because he enjoyed being with me — the highest compliment you can pay anyone.
Buzz was the apostle Paul at my college and if you were going to hang with him, you would instantly be labeled a Christian extremist and inevitably be ostracized by certain campus factions. Like a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, part of me still wanted to be cool and accepted by my fraternity brothers and at the same time appear spiritually radical to the other Christians on campus. Buzz helped me change all that with his version of shock therapy discipleship taken from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy, his young disciple. Even though my safe, comfortable life was traumatized, I forever learned three of Buzz’s paradigm shifting secrets of turning Christians into disciples.
Secret #1: Expose the Embarrassment
Buzz was a senior ROTC student who doubled as a Resident Assistant in a men’s dorm, but from all appearances he had as his primary goal in life to show me how ashamed I was of the gospel. One night as I was coming over to his dorm for our weekly small group, Buzz happened to hop on the elevator at the last second. Instead of greeting me, he casually leaned up against the side of the crowded elevator and acting like he didn’t know me, said, “Hey buddy. What’s that in your hand?”
Of course, all 12 sets of eyes were glued to the flashing floor numbers above, pretending they weren’t listening to every single word exchanged between Buzz and I. Pausing to catch my breath, I sheepishly responded in a low voice, “It’s a Bible, Buzz.” “A Bible!” he shouted, “That’s not that stuff that talks about Jesus Christ being the Son of God, is it?!” After turning 18 shades of red, I finally lowered my head and whispered, “Yeah, Buzz. That’s what it says.” He wasn’t through with his thrashing, though, and added, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” Luckily, the door to our floor opened and I was rescued from having to answer his final question.
Even though I wanted to vanish from the face of the earth during those painfully drawn-out seconds on the elevator, I later was very grateful to Buzz, who exposed my unwillingness to totally identify with Jesus Christ, the Scriptures and ─ Buzz himself. As cruel as it seems, he was only trying to help me, even as the Apostle Paul challenged young Timothy, to “not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or be ashamed of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Timothy 1:8). Little did I know that my training had just begun. . . .
Secret #2: Prepare for Impact
A few weeks later Buzz asked me to go with him to visit a resident assistant friend of his in a nearby dorm. I agreed ─ not fully comprehending yet that Buzz was into teaching me “object lessons” wherever we went! So up we zoomed to the 10th story, but when the elevator door opened, we couldn’t get out because of the 60 freshmen packed in together, waiting for a floor meeting to begin. As we squeezed out from the closing elevator, I looked around at the sea of guys sitting and staring up at us. Instantly, Buzz’s friend recognized us and said, “Buzz, good to have you with us tonight. I’ll turn it over to you.”
Without hesitation, Buzz, imitating a late night talk show host, warmed up the crowd by announcing, “It’s great to be with you guys. I want to introduce our speaker tonight, Steve Shadrach.” He then turned to me, and through his devious smile simply says… “Steve.”
Shocked and appalled, I rotated my head from Buzz’s smirk to the waiting eyes of my young audience. “Well…. it is, uh, good to be with, uh, you guys tonight”, nervously stuttering and stalling all the way.
I really don’t recall details of what I said over the next 15 minutes or so, but I do remember gaining enough presence of mind to move into my personal testimony and then into a gospel explanation. Later, it was obvious to me that this was a total set up and that Buzz was trying to “prime the pump” by putting me in a situation to see if I would be willing and able to share my faith ─ without even a moment’s notice.
Again, I see a parallel in how hesitant and timid Timothy was, but still Paul exhorted him in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season…” I was starting to see this Great Commission thing was 24 hours a day, seven days a week and Buzz was preparing me to impact others for Christ anywhere, anytime. He knew, though, that the outer witness was only as strong as the inward character and although I pretended to be modest, I still had an ego the size of Texas…
Secret # 3: Love the Unlovable
You see, I thought I was the campus Billy Graham until I met Buzz, and even though I was like a wild bucking bronco when it came to respecting or submitting to his spiritual leadership, he never gave up on me. Buzz and I lived together my senior year where he would constantly make my bed and fix the meals. I repaid his kindnesses by begrudgingly sitting in his early-morning Bible study with a blanket wrapped around my head to protest the indecent hour.
Once, during a prayer walk we took together, in the middle of his very sincere petition, I glared at his bowed head and scoffed, “You’re the biggest phony I’ve ever met!” If there was ever a time I deserved for someone to call me a slimy imbecile and whack me, it was then. Instead, he patiently smiled, put his hand on my shoulder, looked right into my eyes — and soul — then quietly uttered four unbelievable words, “I love you, Steve.”
That was the final straw. All of my defenses totally broke down and my rebellious heart melted into surrender as I finally grasped how authentic his love was for me. Like Jesus, instead of striking back, he absorbed my assault and extended kindness in return. In 2 Timothy 2:24-25, Paul instructed Timothy to do likewise: “The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wrong, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.” I realized that I had been against leadership unless, of course, I was the leader! The real phony was staring back at me in the mirror as I tried to hide my arrogance with a humility performance that could have won me an Oscar.
Finally broken, I remember the exact day and place I was walking in front of the school library where I made the once and for all decision that I would be one person—not two! I’d been playing both sides of the fence but, with Buzz’s help, was determined not to allow other’s opinions to paralyze me any longer. From that point on, I was going to walk toward my fears, forsaking my “esteemed reputation” in favor of suffering for the gospel, like Paul modeled to Timothy. Renouncing my agenda to fulfill God’s, I yearned for Him to light the flame of revival on my campus, but ultimately understood that He wanted to use my life as the fuel.
Buzz’s version of shock therapy discipleship had dramatically impacted me. I’m not saying it’s the best approach for everyone, but sometimes moving from simply a “run of the mill” Christian to a radical disciple requires drastic measures.
This post is an excerpt from Steve’s book, Brown Like Coffee. Get your own copy here.