I was fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants. As I grew up, these giants were the difference makers in my life. I was encouraged by difference makers, to be a difference maker, and to encourage difference makers. Here’s what I learned from the difference makers in my life, or what I call the what, why, and how of making disciples.
The What, Why, and How of Making Disciples
The What of Making Disciples
I had giants involved and engaged in my life. The hero of my life was my dad. Man, I miss my dad. My father passed away in 2009. But I will never forget, whenever I was around him or on the phone, I’d say, “Dad, I love you; thank you for helping me.” And he would reply, “Son, I was just trying to help you become a man.”
When I was a junior in high school, my dad asked me, “What are you going to do when you graduate from high school?” My dad had a rule; when we graduated from high school we had two options: 1) go to college and get a job or 2) go to the armed forces. We would NOT be living at dad’s house!
My dad raised us to leave the house—not stay. With my dad’s question, I told him I planned to live in an apartment down the street from him. It was a public housing unit. I told my dad that I wanted to work in the steel mill like him, get a dependable car, and I’d be good. My dad took me for a ride by those apartments and said, “Don’t buy the lie that this is the only place where you can live.”
My father gave me hope. All those years of growing up, he was affirming it. He was giving me an identity. He was telling me all that I could do and all I could be. When my brother and I would get ready to go out of the house, my dad would say, “Hey, don’t forget who your daddy is…don’t forget your last name…” My dad introduced me to the concept that my identity had something to do with my behavior. I thank God for my dad.
The Why of Making Disciples
Since my dad had changed my plans of working in the steel mill, I decided I wanted to be a coach. And I realized a coach needed to go to college. Then, my mom spoke into my life. She said, “Son, in school, there’s going to be people that will say you don’t want to learn.” She said, “Son, don’t be the one. Don’t be the one they’re talking about…You have an opportunity to be a difference maker when you go into classes…” My mom explained to me how going to college was a privilege.
She pointed out to me that I had a responsibility to make things better for those coming behind me. My mom motivated me. While I was on campus, I made sure I sat in the front row and did things right because I didn’t want somebody to say, “This guy can’t learn…” or “This guy doesn’t want to learn…The only reason he’s here is that he’s on a scholarship…” My mom helped me understand that every open door was a responsibility. My mom was a giant in my life who knew how to teach me the why of being a difference-maker.
The How of Making Disciples
Now, I knew the what and the why but this next giant in my life gave me the how. I often talk about my testimony growing up in Youngstown, Ohio—around Christians—everybody telling me what Jesus could do for me and make a difference in my life. I’d look at the guys around me and see mixed messages. They were talking about the faith, but not walking it. By playing football, I knew what it was like to be around guys who were really good in the locker room. They were really good players on the sideline. But something happened to them when they steppted between those white lines and play.
The same thing happens in the Christian life. We have Christian men who look good in “the locker room.” In church, they’re hall of famer’s. But the closer to the action you get, all of a sudden—when there has to be practical application where it might cost something—all of a sudden, man, what happened? Flash forward, I’m walking on campus my junior year and I wanted to know who God was. I really did. I remember walking on campus back to my dorm one night and looking up at the sky and the stars. I said, “God, I need somebody to show me. I need somebody to show me that You’re real. God answered my prayer.
Let me explain: I was drafted in the second round of the NFL by the Seattle Seahawks. I go to Seattle and after the first practice, I’m sitting at lunch and I’m watching all of these guys walk in and now I’m hoping all these big guys are offensive lineman. This one big, barrel-chested guy with big guns, he walks by and the back of his T-shirt says, “Hutch is going to Seattle to do God’s battle.” Here it is, I’ve come some 2,000 miles to run into another one of those “so-called Christians” and I know that God put it on my heart to watch this guy. So that’s what I did.
Fast-forward to the pre-season and Hutchinson gets hurt. He’s in the locker room when word comes back down on the field to me that his career is over. I rush to the locker room. My plan is to be a friend to Hutch the way he has been a friend to me. I’m headed in to comfort him. But, God had an appointment with me. God remembered my prayer, “God I need somebody to show me.” I walk into the locker room—it’s one of those Red Sea parting moments—Hutch is sitting there with an ice pack on his knee and a smile on his face. Now, I’m thinking he was on some good pain pills! I walk up to him and he said, “Sherm, I’m excited. I’m excited to see what God has planned for my life…I’m a Christian and nothing happens in my life it’s not filtered through God’s hands first.” Right there in that locker room, I said, “Please tell me more about Jesus,” and Hutch shared the gospel with me.
Later, in trying to disciple me while I wasn’t living the way I should live, he would tell me, “Stop telling people you’re a Christian…you’re making it tough on the rest of us who are trying to make a difference for Christ.” And he was right. I knew he loved me. We had that kind of relationship where he could be honest with me. Honestly, that moment became the turning point in my Christian life. It hit me hard. He looked at me and I could see the pain in his eyes. I could see the anger in his eyes. I could hear the pain in his voice. He asked, “Don’t you know who you are?” It reminded me of when my dad said to me, “Son, don’t forget who your daddy is.”
God gave me the what, the why, and the how.
God ultimately gave me the what—he wanted me to coach. He gave me the why—to make a difference. And when I became a Christian, he gave me the how—for God’s glory—the expansion of his Kingdom and to do good for others to be a Kingdom man. Tony Evans says the kingdom man is defined as having three things: he knows his position, he knows his priorities, and he knows God’s promises. Instead of seeking his own will, the kingdom man seeks to know the will of God and carry out His Kingdom agenda while here on earth.