Growing up I always thought that discipleship was simply following Jesus and that was it. Sunday would come each week and I would attend Sunday School, learn about all the biblical stories and “heroes” of the faith. After Sunday School we would sit as a family and worship our Lord. (Mostly, I would just frustrate my dad by misbehaving.) But there was one Sunday that I will never forget. The pastor read the Great Commission passage and said, “We are called to make disciples and in order to make disciples, you have to disciple others!”
I wrestled with that statement all night. “How on earth do I disciple someone? I am a mess! I lose my temper at the littlest things! I am a wretched sinner who spends no time with God!” I opened up my teen Bible that my aunt gave me and read the words in Isaiah 6:5a, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (NKJV). My eyes stayed fixed right on that passage. I was stuck. In disgust I closed my Bible, hung my head, and walked away like the rich young ruler. I lived the rest of my high school days separated from God. But the beautiful thing is God never stopped pursuing me, and he did it through his disciples.
In my last year of high school my interests shifted to a gorgeous young woman named Brittany. Not only was she beautiful, she was a woman of high character and I respected that. I knew she was a strong Christian who grew up in a strong Christian household, so I thought my chances of dating her were quite slim. Even if she wanted to, her dad would definitely say no! But I had to try anyway. I remember sitting at the kitchen table in their home for the first time. Her dad was at one end, I was at the other. He had his Bible sitting on the table, his giant hands resting on each side, and he didn’t say a word. Just stared at me, piercing my soul. To say I was scared is an understatement. But it was there in that kitchen where I was first discipled by someone who didn’t even know me.
A few months later, after I had been seeing Brittany, her family said that I was making a mistake. Her sister said to me, “Nick, you need to ask my dad if you can date my sister! It isn’t official until he gives you his blessing.” So I mustered the courage and asked where he was. I went outside to find him, and wouldn’t you know it, he was using an axe to split wood for the wood stove. I must be crazy! But I wasn’t going to let the rest of the family (who were watching from the window of the house) see me crumble, so I went up and asked him if I could date his daughter. His response to that question has been forever etched in my heart and mind. He said, “I have only one requirement of anyone who wants to date my daughter. He must be a man of God who will always put God first in all he does. A man who loves Jesus Christ with all his heart and walks with the Lord every day.” That man, my father-in-law, has been discipling me ever since that cold day in 2006. His character and how he lives as a disciple of Christ has guided me to where I am today.
Fast forward to 2014. I was co-leading the youth at our church (in rural Osakis, Minnesota), being discipled by Rev. Lindell Quam, and wrestling with what God was calling me to. I was working at a distribution company in a high-stress environment, and wondered why I was there. I prayed to God, asking for the reason why. I thought there must be some purpose to what I do. The only thing I wanted to do in life was to share the gospel and serve people. My passion is for others. So I looked for other careers: being a jailor, joining the fire department, being in law enforcement, etc. I guess at the age of 26 I was having my mid-life crisis. The people discipling me pointed to the ripe mission field that God placed me in at that company. I was able to see a purpose for being there, but I still had the burning passion inside me for full-time ministry.
I started looking at different seminaries, but didn’t know where to begin. My brother-in-law recommended I talk to a friend of his who worked in the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Congregations). From there I was led to explore Lutheran Brethren Seminary. I was told how LBS is rooted in Scripture, has sound biblical theology and how it is a great place to learn and grow in Christ. It was very cool for me to hear that LBS had a reputation outside its own denomination of being a school built on the Word of God from top to bottom. When I returned home, I met with Pastor Quam who told me he would give LBS President David Veum a call to see if he could meet with me.
It wasn’t long before Dr. Veum was at my kitchen table talking with me about my life and relationship with Christ. After this visit I knew God was calling me to study and grow at LBS. It wasn’t because of a good sales pitch by the president of the seminary. It was for the fact that Dr. Veum was there for me as a person and not just a potential student. I only remember talking about the seminary for five or ten minutes out of the hour-and-a-half conversation we had. I will never forget that day. He discipled me and encouraged me instead of recruiting me. That is how we disciple others. After all my years of wrestling against God and wondering what being a disciple meant, I had finally begun to understand. Through my father-in-law, a friend, my pastor, and the LBS President I truly saw disciples of Christ making disciples.
I will be graduating from LBS this May and I will never forget my journey. I have learned what it means to be a disciple making disciples, and what the Church is… a family. We are a Church Sent. God has a mission and God’s mission has a Church. I am blessed to have so many in my life who’ve discipled me and continue to do so.
I am no longer the kid stuck on Isaiah 6:5. I am the sinner saved by grace through the finished work of Christ, who cries out like the prophet, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” Praise God that we all, in Christ, are called and sent to make disciples and be a disciple-making movement!
Pastor Nick Laven is a third-year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. He is completing his education through the Seminary’s distance education program while serving as associate pastor for Faith Lutheran Brethren Church in Estevan and Trinity Lutheran Church in Torquay, Saskatchewan.