PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Teach

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the fourth week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

Tom Neyhart is the Lead Campus Minister for Impact Campus Ministries in South Bend. I love to watch Tom grow in his passion for discipleship; he is a model campus minister in his work to develop his young student leaders and teach them how to do the work of leadership. When I thought of ICM's commitment to TEACH, I immediately thought to ask Tom to share his thoughts on the idea here.

I love working with college students! They can sometimes be frustrating, but more often, I am simply amazed as they grow in their faith. Our mission statement focuses on three things: pursuing God, modeling that pursuit in front of others, and teaching students in furthering the discipleship process. In many ways, this is like the ripple effect when you drop a stone in a still pond: the rings continue moving outward, one after another. When we instruct others to further the discipleship process, the idea of pursue, model, and teach continues to grow outward.

But if we leave the Teach out of the process, then we lose the ripple effect and we have a crucial problem. We end up with “disciples” who may grow in their own faith, but that is where it seems to end because of a struggle to apply and integrate their faith on a consistent basis. For me, vulnerability is a key aspect. How do I walk with a student through their current struggles if I am not willing to be vulnerable enough to let them see how I walk through mine? I believe those whom we disciple need to see us walking through the fire while relying on God and relying on spiritual disciplines to keep us moving forward in our own faith. It also requires us to show them our failures, even though it is uncomfortable. I have learned more lessons from my failures than my successes.

It is really a matter of understanding more than just knowing how to study and read biblical Text, how to pray, or engage in other spiritual disciplines; it’s also knowing why it is important and how to take the truths discovered in it into everyday life. It will not do much good if my students only know how to read the Text and it doesn’t filter into their lives.

There is another aspect to Teach that is crucial to our vision. If my students can’t further themselves in the discipleship process, they will not have much impact on students around them (impact the U) or have a lasting impact when they move beyond their campus (impact the world).

When I meet with students, I usually ask some leading questions that allow them to break down their day or week. What was good? What was bad? Where are you in your reading or what have you been reading this week? Usually they will talk pretty freely about what has affected them in school, at home, or at work, which gives an opportunity to bring it back to the biblical Text.

A few weeks ago, we were on a weekend retreat when one of the students I disciple, Spencer, had an opportunity to speak into the life of another student. It was unplanned, but God opened a door and Spencer took an approach similar to what I have often used in listening and allowing this student to share his heart and struggles. More importantly, he built a bond with another student, shared a bit of life with him, and was able to encourage him. Spencer took an opportunity to positively encourage and influence another student from another campus. That is exactly what I want to happen! When students start to grasp the pursuit for themselves, they begin to model it and connect to other students in a way I will never be able to as a 49-year-old Campus Minister.



For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the third week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

We started this series by introducing our definition of discipleship and the role that imitation plays in making disciples. We begin to expand on those concepts in our mission statement, to pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God on the American university campus in the context of Christian community. This is the kind of imitation we want to create space for. First, we want to intentionally engage spiritual practices in our own lives; we want our staff to be pursuing a certain level of expertise in this area. If we are trying to make disciples through imitation, however, we also want to be pursuing God in front of others. But there is still one more word/idea expressed in our mission statement that is important to this process.

We define “teach” as instructing others in furthering the discipleship process.

In order for imitation to find its fullness, it needs to transcend the mere work of mimicry. It is possible to mimic an instructor and still have no real concept of what you are doing, why you are doing it, or how it works. I can remember being a much younger preacher and imitating the sermons of my favorite preachers. I would mimic them to perfection. This was problematic in some ways and incredibly beneficial in others. This happened for a season of my life and then I continued to grow. My point is that during that season, I was mimicking incredibly well, but I did not truly possess the content. I was not intimate with the teachings in a way that the original teachers were; I had not done the work and taken the material through my own heart.

The same is true for our students. They can mimic our pursuit of God as we model it for them. This is good and a part of the greater process, but we ultimately want them to own and possess the pursuit for themselves. We don’t want them to simply mimic intimacy with God, we want them to truly have intimacy with God! And this means we must be ready and able to TEACH.

As with everything we’ve been talking about, this needs to begin with our pursuit of God. What does your pursuit of God look like? Maybe you memorize the Text and pray with a prayer journal. How intentional are you? Do you truly understand and “possess” those disciplines? Do you know them well enough that you could explain to your disciple how you memorize? Most students of mine will say, “I’ve tried to memorize… I just can’t do it!” What is your next step? We must be ready to do more than shrug our shoulders and say, “Keep trying!”

We need to know how to help them learn the essence of the discipline. That might involve learning how they interact with information and what kind of a learner they are. It might require immersion in the discipline. It might be as simple as a step-by-step approach. The first thing you need to do is this, and the next is that. The same thing would be true for a prayer journal. How do you interact with your prayer journal? What do you write? When do you write it? How do you use it?

Do you see how critical this is? It’s certainly not theological “rocket science,” but our typical discipleship methods are too often void of these crucial elements. We meet for coffee on Thursday morning and ask, “Did you read your Bible? Did you pray? What are you learning from God this week?” These are fantastic questions! But did we teach people how to read the Bible? Did we teach them how to pray? Have they ever seen us pray? There’s a good chance they are at home, trying to pray, completely frustrated, thinking, “Is this how everyone else does it? I don’t feel like it’s working!” And then, too ashamed to admit the struggle, the discipleship process breaks down. Did we ever teach them how to “learn from God” or hear His voice? How many people reading this understand these concepts? Probably very few — and at some point, none of us did.

I know I learned how to listen for God and learn from Him daily because of spiritual mentors who taught me how to do it and helped me ask questions and deal with the frustrations. They shared real life stories and experiences with me and it helped me find my way.

But I might even go one step further and say that this principle goes far beyond our spiritual practices. True discipleship happens in absolutely every facet of life. We should be pursuing, modeling, and teaching all kinds of aspects of life as their spiritual mentors. It needs to begin with and be centered around our pursuit of God; everything needs to flow from that time spent abiding in the Vine (John 15). But it also needs to influence our relationships and our work ethic. Our disciples need to see us model healthy relationships and boundaries with others. They need to see us repent, say we are wrong/sorry, and forgive others. They need to see us submit to authority with humility and grace. They need to see our character and integrity.

And more than just modeling, we need to be able to teach them all of the things mentioned above. Can you teach somebody how to forgive? We need to be able to. Are you prepared to take every opportunity to talk about why you dress a particular way at work, turn in paperwork on time, and say no to work and yes to family? These are things that must be taught! We have an entire generation suffering from a world that just expects them to do these things —  a world that is unwilling to teach.

And yes, this even gets down into the business of sacred vocation. This work of discipleship isn’t only for church leaders and Bible students. This work is for all people in every facet of life. Let’s say you are a mechanical engineer. Do you know why your job matters? Do you know how it is holy and sacred work, blessed by God? Do you see yourself merely as an “employee” of Such and Such, Inc.? We need to be able to disciple people in their vocation. And I’m not just talking about how we try to be hard workers and nice to others (although that is important; see the paragraphs above). I’m talking about the actual work we do. Every job is, at its essence, about the proper ordering and stewarding of God’s creation. That means my work, my art, is a craft, and I need to disciple all of the potential I can out of others by pursuing my craft, modeling its proper engagement, and teaching others how to excel (even beyond my own abilities).

God has placed each and every one of us here on this earth to impact the world. Becoming absolutely everything we were designed to be is critical to being part of a beautiful story that God is telling in history, because we each have a role to play.

It’s all holy, sacred work.

It’s all discipleship.


A DAY IN THE LIFE: Disciples

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the second week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

It is the most meaningful work I have done in over seventeen years of ministry.

It has not drawn crowds of hundreds and it doesn’t involve speaking from a stage. It isn’t something I do by leading trips across the world or being an important leader in our organization.

It is the daily pursuit of discipleship in the real lives of real young adults. They are the people who go on to impact the world. Now, for another series, I wrote about discipleship here. I won’t repeat myself, but I remember coming back from Israel and Turkey in 2010 and praying that God would give me the opportunity to make just one true disciple. I got into campus ministry and knew I would be running ministry programming and probably finding different places to serve as a teacher of the Text. But what I was really convicted about after my time in Israel was experimenting with a more “rabbinic” discipleship model.

A real “come, follow me” approach to mentorship and spiritual formation.

I didn’t want a hundred disciples or even twelve. I actually didn’t even want three. I prayed for one.

God started by giving me two: students named Megan and Nate. They raised funds for a full-time, paid internship and walked with me every day as I did my job. They lived life as closely as they could to me and learned how to mimic my every move. Life eventually called Nate on to new things within the year, but Megan continued working with me for the next couple of years. (You heard from Megan in the guest post last month.)

And so I was left with exactly what I asked for — just one disciple. Megan poured her life into the work and the art of discipleship; I poured my life into her development and personal growth. In the end, it paid off in ways I still struggle to explain. It is… the most meaningful work I have ever done. We walked to class and drove to events. We debriefed at staff meeting and worked together on projects. But what really made an incredible difference was the “regular ol’ life stuff”: talking about roommates and conflict, character and integrity, hospitality and generosity — not for job purposes, but for a real conversation about who we were becoming as people.

I say “we” because the process of discipleship has been as much about me being vulnerable as a leader and working my own stuff out in front of others as it was about me sifting through all of their baggage. Sometimes I think the best things I did to help them was simply work through my own struggles with determination, resilience, and — on my better days — humility. And they taught me with their youthful willingness to do the right thing all the time, even if it was crazy and not lining up with “social norms.”

It continues to be the most meaningful work I do.

God has brought different disciples into my life, family, and ministry at different times and in different ways. After Megan transitioned on, there were two, then there were a handful. I took what the LORD gave and tried to do my best with what was in front of me.

Eventually, it came down to two disciples. Tyler is now a full-time associate staff member at ICM; thinking of him as a “disciple” may not always be the best fit. He’s often more of a colleague, but I still appreciate our relationship and discipleship walks. And Kevin is still here, hanging out with the rabbi and following him around Moscow — rain or shine, snow or sun. I caught myself even this last week thinking back over the last few years and my time with Tyler and Kevin, realizing how meaningful the work that we do is. It has been more deep and true and profound than any sermon I have preached, homeless dinner I have served, or BEMA Trip I have led.

I am proud of all my disciples and the people they are becoming; I’m proud like a father is of his children.

I am humbled, honored, and privileged that I get to do this work every day.

Here is a fun video diary I made of our time in discipleship this year:


Top 12 of CiHD: #9

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (the first week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

We’ll continue our look at the Top 12 Blog Posts at Covered in His Dust by looking at my ninth-most-viewed post of all time. It doesn’t surprise me that this post made the list, and it is one of my favorite topics to wrestle with. The post discussed the book of Hebrews and the specifics of atonement theories. You can read the post titled “HEBREWS: Atonement 101” here.

In this series, as we look at each post, I want to ask three questions: why, what, and what else? Why do I think this post got so many views; why were others drawn to it? What do I hope people found when they got here; what do I hope they heard? Finally, what else have I learned about this; what else would I say about these ideas?


There are two answers to this question in my mind. On one hand, this has been a growing conversation in the theological world for the last few decades. Many studied scholars, academics, and theologians have weighed in on a reexamination of the ideas that drive our understanding of atonement. This would discount voices that had been wrestling with these theories for decades before, but the larger conversation really took on a head of steam more recently. For those who could use a definition of terms here, atonement is the reparation for our sin and trespasses. It is the act of reconciliation — the explanation for how we are made right with God.

The other reason is much less academic and I mention it in passing in the original post. I think people who have been in the church for a while (or not) and are used to the theological conversation surrounding the cross and how we are forgiven by God have lots of questions about things that just never sat right with us — things that didn’t quite seem to fit. It didn’t work in our head, it didn’t work in our heart, and it seemed to betray the goodness of relationship (with God and others). Most of my observations assume(d) that my readers have their greatest exposure in the evangelical world and were exposed to an astutely articulated penal substitutionary atonement theory. If they were not raised in this world, they may not resonate with this post the same way.


As is often the case, I hope readers found an explanation of how the conversation is bigger and wider than they were ever told. The more I study the stream of orthodox Christianity, the more I come to realize that there has been far more going on in this stream than I was told. This is incredibly comforting to me and I hope it is comforting to others, as well.

I also hope they found a conversation that didn’t discount the many theories discussed. While I sought to point out the limitations of each theory, I hope such a discussion did not discount or cause a reader to reject the positive attributes that each theory brings to the table. This stands true even for me, and you’ll notice I have a theory that I struggle with the most (penal substitutionary atonement) and a theory that is my favorite (scapegoat/mimetic theory). I have certainly battled on a personal level with the idea of rejecting PSA and then embracing Girardian thought without critique. Which leads me to some recommendations…


I wouldn’t add much other than recommendations for further reading. One book that has really helped me in the personal struggle I describe above is a book by Scot McKnight titled A Community Called AtonementIn it, McKnight argues that all of the different theories should be seen (and used!) as a golf bag full of different clubs. Just as a golfer will pull out a different club based on the scenario, the circumstances, and the goal, so should we be prepared and willing to use different theories for different purposes. This metaphor has been very helpful and the book is very good.

I would also recommend finding anything by Rene Girard that is related to mimetic theory and atonement. It will be heady and academic, but it will have shaped more of this ongoing conversation than we realize. If you would like a summary of Girardian thought, I recommend reading The Jesus-Driven Life by Michael Hardin.

And of course, check out the books and authors I recommended in the original post. Look at the work of Greg Boyd on atonement to find a crucifixion-centric theology that reclaims a more modern form of Christus Victor. Find books by Tony Jones to examine the ideas that drive solidarity theory.

And while you study and grow, learn and wrestle, don’t ever forget that the main takeaway of any theory is that we can be made right with God. There is freedom available for anyone who would look to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the most liberating moment in human history.