Q: Can you recount how you committed your life to Jesus Christ as a boy in Philadelphia?
A: When I was born, my parents had split. I went to live with my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was a believer.
But I was led to Christ by Walt Rieman, a tool and dye maker in my church. Walt went to our Sunday school superintendent and told him that he sensed God wanted him to start a class for boys. The superintendent said, “I’ll tell you what. You go out and anybody you find for that class will be yours.”
So Walt got 13 boys, all 9 years of age. This guy loved me for Christ’s sake. He never went beyond sixth grade, but he led each of us to Christ. Of those 13 boys, 11 became involved in full-time Christian service. One guy! I’ll never forget him.
Q: How have you kept your own relationship with Christ fresh and current?
A: There are certain things that have become absolutely essential to me. One of them is a strong and serious commitment to studying the Word of God. Another is prayer. I’ve realized through the years that the blessing of God on my ministry has been in direct proportion to how serious prayer is in my life.
Running parallel with that is the complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit in every aspect of my Christian life. Catching that reality has empowered my ministry and created an appreciation for His role in my life, because without Him I can do nothing.
Q: What do you and your wife, Jeanne, do together to encourage each other to grow in Christ?
A: When our four children were young, Jeanne and I started a Bible study. We called it Prof’s Theology Class, after the nickname students had given me. We had loads of fun with it, but it also planted the seeds in our kids’ lives.
Out of that study, Jeanne and I developed the practice of starting each morning with prayer and reading God’s Word. Every night before she and I would retire, we’d get down on our knees and review the day in appreciation to the Lord and with expectations for tomorrow.
Those habits have been vital to us. They’re not optional. Because we have done those things together, they have provided what I call the dynamic of our ministry. That’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
Q: Your trademark, if you will, has been mentoring. Why are you so devoted to helping develop church leaders?
A: I just love students. I live for them. Mentoring is a worthwhile investment, and it is satisfying. Obviously, I preach, teach and do a lot of things that are germane to my position at the seminary. But, to me, mentoring is the heart of it. I don’t want you to think this is a guy who is so impressed by what he’s doing. I’m impressed with what Christ is doing. I’m not what everybody in the world says is great. I’m just a servant of Christ, that’s all. Mentoring has become so important because I’ve seen the end product of that kind of commitment.
Q: What are some of the key facets to good mentoring?
A: First of all, you’ve got to provide an example. You can’t tell somebody to do something that you don’t do. Second, they’ve got to get to know you beyond what you do–beyond your professional status. It’s much more than that. Jeanne and I have had students into our home. They go with me on trips. I want to get next to them, so they know me and can catch my vision.
Q: So you’re pouring your life into somebody else’s?
A: Absolutely. And being a model because that’s what they really respond to. The only Christian in my family was my grandmother. As I lived with her, her life was so catching. Her relationship with Christ was so passionate because He meant everything to her.
It’s the personal touch. For instance, Jeanne and I have a friend. He’s about 88, but that guy spends every morning discipling or mentoring a younger man, all week long. This is a guy who’s well known and had a great ministry. He told us, “I’ve never lived compared to what I’m doing now.”
Q: Regarding the Great Commission, what have you observed across the globe as the church strives to “go and make disciples of all nations”?
A: I see today a weakened form of Christianity in the United States. We’re talking a better game than we’re playing. Now, obviously, I’m not referring to everybody. There’s always the faithful. But I think far too many of us are just going through the motions. Walking with Christ just isn’t a passion.
Contrast that with what’s taking place in other parts of the world, where in some countries many people are coming to Christ. When Christ comes into their life, they realize that there’s been a transformation, and so they’re not embarrassed to tell anybody about Christ.
Christians in some countries are living sacrificially. If they get persecuted, that’s OK; it’s part of the privilege of serving Christ. They’re willing to pay the price–death included–in order to get the Gospel out to their country.
The mission fields that are exploding right now are those that are purely national. The missionaries going there just need to teach the nationals, guide them, pray with them and support them. The nationals are doing the job.
Q: What might help turn the tide in the U.S.?
A: This may sound strange, coming from me, but I think an awful lot of it goes back to our seminaries. I think we’re training men and women who are building church ministries around themselves. It’s far too pastor-oriented, focused on one person. How often do we hear people saying, “You should know our pastor”?
Instead, we should be equipping lay people for ministry. I’m finding right now that in the city of Dallas–and I also see it elsewhere–the men and women who are having the real spiritual impact are the lay people. They’re living Christ in front of friends and co-workers and are leading a lot of them to the Savior. We need lay people who grasp the fact that it’s their task and responsibility to be soul winners, not solely the pastor’s.
Q: So is it ever too late to get involved in helping to reach the world for Christ?
A:No! That’s what salvation is all about. It’s about the presence of the Lord in our lives. It’s always positive, always about potential. For some, they just have to ask God to enable them to tear themselves out of their laziness or indifference or whatever other problem is besetting them. And then they’ve got to work at it.
Once a believer really gets to see what the Lord can do through him or her, at whatever stage in life, they’re going to get excited about getting out there in the battle. It’s all about being a servant of Christ.