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THE SPIRITUAL MENTOR
By JIM GRASSI
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Jim Grassi
All rights reserved.
MAN AND THE CHURCH
For he himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
The following is an excerpt from the journal of my dear friend and World War II veteran Sgt. Stan Fagerstrom. It brings to mind the many sacrifices made by those who serve and protect this great country of ours.
I wouldn't walk alone. That thought was uppermost in my mind as I said goodbye to my companions and turned to start back down the narrow jungle trail. I had seen too many of my companions die when we had made our way forward along that trail. The time was mid-1945.
The place was the jungle high country of central Mindanao in the Philippine Islands. The Japanese had fallen back along this trail when our forces drove them off the highway that ran up the middle of the island. They had fallen back but they hadn't given up. They dug in on higher points along what we eventually named the "Teardrop Trail." It was well named.
Those dug in Japanese soldiers waited for us. We never knew for sure when they would strike. Sometimes they let half of our company go by. Then bullets tore flesh and you heard brave men cry. We were unable to determine exactly where the fire came from. The thick jungle growth hid our enemy from view.
Many months of jungle combat had taken a toll on my body. My insides finally quit working. My damaged back made it almost impossible for me to keep up. Then came the fever. I just couldn't go on. There was nothing our combat medic could do. "We've got to get you back," the first sergeant said, "but you're going to have to do it on your own. I just don't have anyone to send with you."
He didn't have to say more. I knew what our losses had been. I also knew how close I had come to being among them. But I also knew the sergeant was wrong. I wouldn't have to go back alone. How many miles did I walk back along that jungle trail? Was it five, ten, or fifteen? I don't know. I do know this: Memories of the gut wrenching experiences that had accompanied our advance up that trail haunted every step I took. The trail ran through the slight opening in the jungle where Joe had been hit. Others went down with him. Joe was slow to die. He died pleading for help and with his last words he pleaded for his mother.
We had tried to get to him and in the trying some died. The enemy could see us but we couldn't see them. They were concealed and waiting. Those awful memories came flooding back as I passed by. Down around the bend was the trail we had left when we attempted to flank the enemy at another spot where we had been hit. Again they were waiting for us. The path we followed in the flank attack was steep. We had moved up but a short distance when they hit us.
My friend Billy was off to the side as I crawled by him. He was holding his left arm. A bullet had torn through his left forearm just above the elbow. Before that fight was over we lost several comrades. We couldn't reach their bodies as night began to fall. When we managed to get back the following day their weapons were gone and so was some of their clothing.
I found myself continually choking back tears as I kept moving. But there was no escape from the memories. And then there were spots where those memories were made even stronger. The awful odors seemed to have soaked into those places where the fighting had been intense. We had usually managed to retrieve the bodies of our dead. They were wrapped in a poncho and taken back to battalion headquarters. The bodies of the dead Japanese were often left right where they had fallen.
I crossed the spot where a Japanese soldier had jumped into the foxhole of a sergeant during the night. He killed the sergeant with a knife. The sergeant's swollen body was almost beyond recognition when we had passed by the next morning.
Periodically I paused to check for movement on the trail ahead or behind me. I didn't know how much farther I had to go to reach battalion headquarters. Only my memories of what had happened as we had moved up along it were of help. I knew I was getting closer when I crossed a small jungle stream that crossed the main trail. I knew it wasn't far from battalion headquarters. That stream brought its own memories. Some of our men had died there.
A small advance party from another platoon had taken a break when they found the stream. They welcomed the chance to bathe at least parts of their body, something they'd not done ever since the advance along the trail had started. It was a deadly mistake. The Japanese soldiers concealed in the jungle nearby killed them all. I hadn't seen this happen. I'd been told the Japanese had accomplished their objective using sabers and bayonets. That way there was no gunfire to alert and warn others of us they knew would be coming.
I left the creek and moved on as fast as I could. I moved up another rise in the jungle floor and then there it was—the clearing and our battalion headquarters. I had made it. I knew something else that day. I know it now just as I did then. The first sergeant had been wrong. I hadn't walked that trail alone. Jesus walked with me. I knew He was with me when I took my first step. I knew He would be there if one of those steps turned out to be my last.
Even now, more than half a century later, I find myself asking if I'd have been able to do it had I been all alone. I'm not at all sure that I could have. Second Corinthians says we travel by faith, not by sight.
Sgt. Stan Fagerstrom
WALKING ALONE IS NEVER EASY
No man should have to walk through trials and tribulations alone. Without God in our lives and a good companion to walk with us, life is darn scary. Stan's fears and reflections as he walked along the Teardrop Trail on Mindanao to seek medical help is indicative of the way in which many men see passage through the stress-filled world surrounding their lives. Figuratively speaking, there are the traps of disappointment in the pathways of doing business, snipers with satanic influence to pierce our hearts lurk within the media we view, and too many of our homes are battlefields for couples instead of safe compounds for weary souls.
The significance of the book of Acts as written by the apostle Luke is to enlighten us about the founding of the church, the spread of the gospel, the beginnings of congregations, and the evangelistic efforts in the apostolic pattern (mentoring). In Acts 2:42–44 we read:
The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread, and praying. Everyone felt a sense of awe because the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among them. There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust (The Voice).
What stands out to me was the disciples' love, obedience, encouragement, unity, and focus upon a common vision to go make disciples. They truly cared for one another and were committed to their mission. They believed that no person should live life in a vacuum. That is why unity was an important value to these men. Developing unity requires transparency and compassion. This was evident in the first-century church.
Unfortunately, I've met too many men who have simply given up on church. The distractions of competing interests on Sunday have been more attractive than listening to a disconnected and irrelevant message from a stoic pastor. Some men believe that the liberal influences of society have crept into church doctrine, liturgy, and treatment of men, thus eroding its purpose. The feminization of many churches has also put off some guys. Too many sermons seem irrelevant in addressing the issues men face. One guy I spoke with told me that his pastor seemed to only care about his money, service, and membership, and was less interested in helping him work through his heartaches, frustrations, and failures.
The battle for men's souls is ultimately one of the key issues for the church today. I agree with what Dr. Patrick Morley had to say about the battle we face to reach men and the relevancy of the church in today's culture:
There is raging in the cosmos and all around us a titanic battle between the forces of good and evil for men's souls.... The single greatest hope for these men and the world is Christ and His church. I love the church, but the church on the whole has not been able to muster an ongoing will or comprehensive strategy to disciple men. Pastoring men is not a top priority in any denomination based upon their actual allocations of financial and intellectual resources.
ARE CHURCHES FAILING TO CONNECT WITH MEN?
If the current church models for developing dynamic discipleship programs are one measure of how effective the church is in reaching men, we would have to submit a failing grade to ourselves. If churches were relevant and intentional about men's issues, we would not be seeing the type of statistics cited by Kent Fillinger: "It is significant that in the average American church there are few conversions, some would say less than 1 baptism per 100 church members."
If the average-sized church in America has two hundred members, it would be fair to assume that 80 percent of the churches in America have only one to two baptisms a year. That means that in most of our nation's churches only one to two people per year are coming into a Christian fellowship and acknowledging their acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. That is pathetic, and it demonstrates clearly that the method of disciple-making isn't working in most churches today. Let's look further at the effectiveness of our current discipleship programs:
* There are approximately 325,000 to 350,000 Christian churches in the United States today.
* There are approximately 247,000,000 Christians in our nation.
* Despite these numbers, it appears that many churches and people are struggling with faith issues.
* In America, 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors each year.
* Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism.
* The average weekly Sunday church attendance has dropped from 1,606,000 in 1968 to 881,000 in 2005.
WHAT ABOUT OUR SENIOR POPULATION?
We can't give up on ourselves or others. Sometimes we will hear older believers say, "I'm just not getting a lot out of church, so I stay home and do church by myself." Isolationism can open the door for temptation, and life without the fellowship found in a church or small group can jeopardize your spiritual health and the intergenerational balance of a church. We are never too mature to have accountability and fellowship. Wade Clark Roof and Sr. Mary Johnson stated:
"With babes in arms and doubts in mind, a generation looks to religion," is the caption of a Newsweek cover story (December 17, 1990) on young Americans returning to God. The post-war "baby boom" generations, having transformed American society in so many ways, is now reshaping the religious landscape.... The older boomers are now in their mid-forties and mid-sixties. All together, 75 million strong—roughly one-third of the American population—they are what sociologists called the "lead cohort" of contemporary society, setting trends that include moral values, political attitudes, family life, career patterns, and religions.
Where are these men in our churches? Why aren't they participating more in the winning of souls? I contend that there are reasons this generation is sitting on the bench instead of being active participants (spiritual mentors) in disciple-making.
1. The church has failed to properly equip and deploy these men for active service. We have put forth the myth that the "hired guns" (full-time staffers) will do the job. This is wrong thinking!
2. The men of this generation were so active in becoming successful that they failed to realize that our legacy is really about being men of significance. Today, these men are seeking a closer relationship with God and want to pass their wisdom on to the following generations.
3. Many younger pastors have not asked the older men to get involved in disciple-making (spiritual mentoring) or taught effective messages on how they can. Retired guys sitting home today watching day-time talk shows with their wives could be mentoring students after school or sharing their experiences and cultural values. We could tap this generation to help work with soup kitchens, homeless shelters, church camps, or other places of contact with the younger men. It takes pastors who are confident and not threatened by older men to step up and ask the more mature believers to get involved.
4. Older men have been sold a myth that retirement is the end game. There are many retired guys who are very lonely and sad. More mature men need to think about "re-firing," not retiring. Nowhere in Scripture do you see anyone retire. Life after retiring from a vocational career can be the most fulfilling and glorious time in the life of a man. He can actually choose what he wants to do and who he wants to serve. To "re-fire" is to reignite the passion we originally had as a new believer to see others come to know Jesus. Retired men who have walked with Jesus for some time have much to share with others, especially our youth. Many youth today are desiring to have a seasoned male speak into their lives and to learn from their failures and successes.
WHERE IS THE CHURCH?
Rather than looking at the church as a place where we escape the sin of the world, we need to use it to reach those who are in the world. It is not uncommon to see new ministries start their services in bowling alleys, motels, theaters, vacant warehouses, mortuaries, and other public gathering places. Often the greatest growth and the time when the church has its greatest impact is during these start-up times.
The ministry formation period requires people to be involved. Chairs and PA systems need to be set up and taken down. Usually snacks, coffee, and other items must be stored and brought from the homes of the members. There is a committee approach to putting the service on, and the members are united around the common vision and goal of reaching new people for Christ.
Unfortunately, once the new property is purchased and the church built, many members feel it's time to turn the operation over to the full-time staff. After the organizational structure is put into place, participation is very often limited to attending service on Sunday morning. Seeking new disciples too often becomes secondary to "putting on the Sunday morning show." In many instances, we see churches become a social gathering place for the saved rather than an equipping center to place people back into the marketplace to meet and encourage those who are broken, confused, and in despair. Pastor Robert Lewis, in his masterful book The Church of Irresistible Influence, talks about the need for pastors to be in the marketplace. As I contemplate his work I suggest we consider the following ideas:
Our goal as marketplace ministers is to influence those around us for the kingdom of God. To be most effective doing that, we need to be places where unbelievers gather. In business circles, it is not uncommon to be in a hotel where the lounge or bar becomes the place to gather after meeting. ... The goal is reaching the lost or misguided. Jesus is the perfect role model for this. He was among the people where they lived. He didn't expect them to come to Him; He went to them. He was among sinners and was considered by them as their friend. (See Matthew 11:19.) Yet He remained sinless. He wants us to do the same.
MAYBE THE MESSAGE GOT CONFUSED
It would seem to me that many churches are confused by what Jesus really meant with His command to go make disciples. Many modern-day churches seem to believe that discipleship is about "the show," and they display this idea in the design of their buildings, their approach to worship services, and their lack of community involvement. The seeker-sensitive and social gospel approach to mentoring people is often more about entertaining and not offending people than it is about being spiritually honest and truly caring for others.
Jesus said that the gates of hell, the forces of evil in this world, would not be able to stand against His church, not be able to prevent the church from completing its mission of making disciples. Unfortunately, in America today it almost seems as if the powers of evil are prevailing in the lives of men and the ministry of churches. The Devil uses pressure from other cults and religions, the continued spiritual and moral decline of our nation, and the divisions, splits, fights, and feuds within the church today to distract God's people from the all-important work of making disciples.
Excerpted from THE SPIRITUAL MENTOR by JIM GRASSI. Copyright © 2013 Jim Grassi. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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