Every disciple needs three types of relationships in his life. He needs a “Paul” who can mentor him and challenge him. He needs a “Barnabas” who can come alongside and encourage him. And he needs a “Timothy,” someone he can pour his life into. – Howard Hendricks
Being a disciple-maker was core to the identity and ministry of Howard Hendricks. He lived to make disciples even up to the end of his life. During his time at Dallas Theological Seminary, he routinely began the day discipling groups of students with Bible studies in the early morning. From the people he spent time with, to the organizations he helped start, discipleship was part of Howard’s DNA. Disciple-making became the filter that determined how he spent his time.
The landscape of church life can become so cluttered with cares, traditions, and messages that sometimes we lose the simplicity of the gospel’s message; perhaps we are even keeping it out of reach for the person who’s searching.
Howard was good at emphasizing the simplicity of the message he wanted to express.
It may have to do with the fact that his grandmother kept the gospel message simple to him, but Will Mancini, the author of Future Church, offers another theory. During Will’s time in Howard’s classes at Dallas Theological Seminary, he recognized in his professor a single-minded approach to keeping things simple, focusing on what matters. “Discipleship is what attracted me to Dr. Hendricks,” Will stated. This simple commitment to discipleship became the ongoing theme in Howard’s life. Howard was good at attracting people not to who he was but to the God he followed.
Both as a student and as a professor, Howard had an idea of the kind of legacy he wanted to leave.
Howard enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary in 1946 and earned his Master of Divinity in 1950. Not long after, he was invited to take on a part-time faculty position, which later expanded to full time. Jeanne, his wife, relates that he said all he wanted to do was “teach the Bible to men who lacked understanding.” He didn’t have a laundry list of things that he wanted to teach his students. His approach was to the point.
Culture watchers have agreed that we in the West have been living in a post-Christian culture where the basics of the Christian faith are no longer part of our collective understanding. For this reason, we have to keep our method of discipleship focused, expressing truth in a way that people can understand and decide on their own to follow rather than assuming that being part of a historically “Christian” nation makes one a Christian. Our job is to plant and water the seeds, being aware of the nature of the “soil.” Howard did exactly that, which is why students were attracted to him and the way he taught. It’s easy in church life to confuse busyness and “church business” with pursuing and being in love with Jesus.
Howard loved Jesus and followed Him with everything that he had, believing that the pursuit of Christ is a necessary hallmark of a disciple of Christ. He not only taught that, but he also believed it and lived it. To pursue Jesus, one first must have a dedicated relationship with Him. A leader must question whether he or she is placing Christ front and center and making it clear to the people they lead that they should be pursuing Jesus above all else.