When I felt the Lord call me to ministry as a teenager, I wasn’t quite sure of what to do next. My church was going through a time of transition, and we had an interim pastor. His name was A. B. Hatfield, and he shared with me that he, too, had experienced his call to ministry at a young age. I didn’t know exactly where God was calling me (except that it most certainly was not music ministry!), but I really didn’t care at that time – I just wanted to serve. One piece of advice that Rev. Hatfield shared with me was that I should make this calling public, so that following Sunday during the time of response, I shared with the church God’s call on my life. As my brothers and sisters were coming down to encourage me and let me know that they were praying for me, one man in particular stood out: John Howell.
John had been a volunteer with the youth, so I already knew him fairly well. He was an incredibly knowledgeable man who cared about providing solid instruction for the young people in our church. As he grasped my hand that morning, he said, “If you are serious about wanting to grow deeper in your faith, let me know. I’d be happy to work with you.” I know that all of those other folks who shook my hand and hugged me that morning had the best of intentions and wishes for me, but John singularly stood out in his offer to mentor me. We began meeting once a week, after school, at the church for Bible study. We began in the book of Daniel (you know – the easy stuff!), and then progressed to Ephesians (again, the shallow end of the theological pool!). Eventually, we began to meet at his home. Each month when the Christian Book Distributers catalog came in the mail, he would give it to me and say, “Pick out a couple of books you would like, and I’ll pick out a couple that you need.” So began my theological library (most of those books are still on my shelves today). He would give me tapes of John MacArthur’s and Steve Brown’s preaching. Then, each August before school started, we would go to the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, NC, for a three-day seminar/retreat with Adrian Rogers.
John poured into my life at a time when it mattered the most. Even as a kid, I had a strong desire to know more about God and to study what we believed as Christians, but John’s influence on me helped to develop my faith and understanding of doctrine. He cared enough about that young, goofy, nervous, and uncertain teenage boy that he invested his time, resources, and experience in me (no, cared isn’t the right word – loved is more accurate). I could go on and on about the things he did for me over the years, but the point I want to make is this: the man I am today has been significantly influenced by John Howell.
John would be quick to say that he didn’t do anything special or extraordinary with me. He would be both right and wrong on that, however. On the one hand, John was only doing what Jesus told him to do: make disciples (and I was not the only young man that John mentored over the years). That command in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is given to every believer, in every time. We think of it in terms of evangelism (and that’s part of it), but making disciples is so much more than a moment in time when someone places their faith in Christ. It’s a deliberate, purposeful, and committed approach to helping train and develop younger believers so that they might grow deeper and stronger in their own faith. In this respect, John wasn’t doing anything special, but was only doing what his Lord and Savior asked him to do. But on the other hand, what John did is sorely lacking in Christ’s Church today. We have often become so focused on getting a decision for Christ that we forget that the new believer doesn’t really know what to do. These young believers need more than just a little bit of food on Sunday morning; they need people like John who will actively disciple them. In this respect, what John did for me was indeed extraordinary, and I am eternally grateful for his influence. Who in your life could use your mentoring? You have no idea the impact you’ll have. (MEN: we’re starting a study on mentoring this Saturday, January 19 – come be a part of it!) Just something to think about…