My first few years of being a Christian were extremely exciting. I was 19 and just old enough to have made a small mess of my life, so repenting was easy. I welcomed the saving grace of Jesus Christ. A new life required a new set of friends, new job, and new outlook. Several years raced by and though there were ups and downs, life was grand for the most part. I had gone back to college and was involved in various leadership opportunities at my church. I surrounded myself with great Christian friends and had a supportive family.
During this time, I felt God clearly calling me into ministry so I transferred to Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) in Nampa, Idaho, to enroll in the religion program. I wasn't a Nazarene so I was a little apprehensive about the doctrinal differences, but NNU was the best Christian university in the area so I decided to attend. My concerns were put to rest during the first semester as I was inundated with the biblical knowledge I craved. Upon learning that a female religion professor had been hired, however, my apprehension returned.
My pulse raced the first couple of times I walked into her classroom. But my courses with Diane Leclerc ended up being thoroughly enjoyable and highly insightful. Quickly, I came to respect her as a professor and Christ follower, but I would soon come to appreciate and rely on her in an entirely new manner.
Just a few months from graduation, I silently prided myself in all I had learned. I knew a great deal about theology, church history, biblical interpretation, and even some Greek. I'd taken a class on spiritual formation and could give you a list of things to do if you really wanted to be holy. I was ecstatic at the thought of going on to pursue a graduate degree and eventually a Ph.D. I was going to make a difference. I imagined people addressing me as "Dr. Arnold" and secretly loving it, but outwardly saying, "Oh please, call me Dave!"
But no amount of education or training could prepare me for what came next. My marriage ended suddenly. It was then that Diane became more than a professor and fellow believer: she became a counselor and mentor.
In those roles, Diane didn't rely on her certifications or advanced degrees. She didn't give me a list of things to do, and she didn't tell me more about Jesus. She invited me to her family's church and their home Bible study. She listened, and encouraged me. Despite all the responsibilities in her own life, she made time to simply love me and in doing so, showed me Jesus Christ. Her passion to share Christ's life brought us together despite differences in gender and denomination. In essence, Diane embodied the mission statement of the Church of the Nazarene, "To make Christlike disciples in the nations."
As a result, I began to focus more on living the gospel as I was learning it. I believe this is the essence of what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is more than a student. Disciples put into practice what they've been taught or shown. Discipleship takes place in the context of relationships. It took place each week in Diane and Paul's family room as we focused on authenticity and community, two key elements I strive to embody to this day.
Over the last 10 years, Diane and I have continued to stay in touch. I have made an effort to find others who are willing to invest in me spiritually and personally. While I've found an irreplaceable value in having others pour themselves into me, I realize my cup is only so big and, therefore, I too must share. So I look for others who could use a mentor and companion and have found them right in front of my face. They are people that I already know: my own children, a friend from church, youth group boys, and others.
Each of these discipleship opportunities is unique, but at the center of each one is a relationship and desire to share time and life together. While I consider both those who disciple me and those I disciple as friends, friendship does not adequately define the relationship. Discipleship is altogether different in that it is not focused on me or another person: it is focused on Jesus Christ. So "dude time" with my sons or dates with my daughter have become an intentional time to invest in them as individuals created by God.
Weekly coffee with a friend is sure to include talk of family struggles, hunting stories, or business woes, but is really about investing in another man and challenging him to better understand Christ and submit to Him. Bible study with middle high boys is less about teaching facts and more about creating an atmosphere where fears, doubts, and questions can be safely voiced and knowing Jesus can be encouraged.
This has become my ultimate desire, to know Jesus, and it is with great anticipation that I now look forward to being addressed as a good and faithful servant.
Dave Arnold lives in Meridian, Idaho, with his wife, Christi, and their children. They attend Boise First Community Center and look forward to serving Christ in a pastoral role within the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, January/February 2012