No. 29 on the list of most-read posts on this blog appeared on December 20, 2005, when I interviewed Josh Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This is the first of several interviews that will appear on the top 30 list. In this interview, I talked with Josh about discipleship.
Welcome to the blog, Josh. In this interview I’d like to focus a bit on the important role C. J. Mahaney, who I also interviewed awhile back here on the blog, played in discipling you and how that mentoring benefited you.
Thanks, Adrian. I’m grateful to be with you. And I’m glad you’re giving space on your blog to the topic of mentoring. I think it’s important, and I hope I can add something useful to the conversation.
To start with, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be leading Covenant Life Church at such a young age. (A DVD set is available which documents the key transition that led to this.)
I think I may have stumbled upon a theme verse for my life this morning. I was reading Ecclesiastes 9:11, which says, “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” I laughed when I read it and thought, “That pretty much sums up my life!” I’m not the fastest, the strongest, the smartest, or most knowledgeable, and yet God has shown me such kindness.
I do have the joy of serving in the role of senior pastor of Covenant Life Church. And this year I’ll turn 31. I get quizzical looks from people when they find out my position. There’s a wonderful Pakistani man who works at the local grocery store who still can’t get over the fact that I’m a pastor, let alone a senior pastor. I think his picture of a pastor is an austere older gentleman with a robe and collar. So when he looks at me in my jeans and T-shirt, he’s just baffled.
But the story behind me serving in this role is more about my good friend, C. J. Mahaney, and his investment in me. He invited me into his home and family, trained me for pastoral ministry, gave me various opportunities to lead, and then eventually asked me to step in and assume his role. It was the fall of 2004 that he “passed the baton” so to speak and set me in place so that he could devote himself to leading the family of churches known as Sovereign Grace. His office is still next to mine. We meet every Tuesday for lunch. C. J. wanted to give me a chance to lead while I was young and while he was around to serve me. And that’s what he does. He’s a sounding board for ideas, and a trusted source of counsel.
How did you and C. J. meet each other?
We met ten years ago. I was publishing a small magazine for homeschool teens at the time, traveling the country doing teen conferences, and writing my first book. Things were going very well. I joke now that I was “living the evangelical American dream.” All I needed was a TV show and I’d have had it all. Thank heaven God intervened. I got a tape set from a friend called Passion for the Church that featured C. J. teaching on the importance of the local church. I tell this story in my book Stop Dating the Church. That teaching deeply influenced me and caused me to rethink the course I was on.
C. J. was aware of what I was doing. His daughters subscribed to my magazine, and one of the Sovereign Grace churches in Pennsylvania had hosted one of our conferences. C. J. had the youth pastor invite me to speak at Covenant Life, and later I came to an event the church hosted for men who felt called to ministry. That was the first time I actually spent time with C. J. and got to know him.
One night I asked him point blank, “What do you think of what I’m doing with my life?” He told me that he felt what I was doing was important and needed. But he asked if I had an exit strategy. He told me he had seen too many guys on the conference circuit who never got off of it. He asked how I was going to invest in and build my life into the local church. I remember him asking, “What are you going to build with your life?” He was directing me to think long-term and consider the importance of the local church.
How did you respond?
Basically I said, “What do you think I should do?” You see, I was beginning to understand the importance of the local church, but I didn’t see how that translated into specific decisions. I was going to church and I was faithfully involved, but I knew I needed training and oversight and it wasn’t clear to me where I’d get that. C. J. answered by saying, “You need a Paul in your life. You’re a young man; you’re like Timothy—and you need a Paul.” I was thinking, “Thanks a lot, but that’s not super helpful.” I mean, where in the world would I find a Paul? And how would I convince him that I’m a Timothy worth investing time in?
A year or so earlier, on my 21st birthday, my father, Gregg Harris, who is a very godly, wise man, had encouraged me to find men that I wanted to be like and then to sit at their feet and learn from them. My dad’s a big believer in the apprenticeship model of learning. So I had been on the lookout for a role model.
And there I was sitting across from C. J. Mahaney, a man who at the time had been a senior pastor for twenty years—he had done the national conference circuit, he understood the issues I was facing, and he was saying, “Go find a Paul.” I was sitting there thinking, “You’re lookin’ pretty good to me!!”
Read more of . . . “Josh Harris On Being Discipled by C. J. Mahaney“