The man is a witnessing machine. Almost nightly he calls or texts me with stories of the awesome “Jesus stuff” he did at work, in his neighborhood or at the local brewery that day. His passion for the kingdom stirs a holy hunger deep in my soul. This, however, was not always the case.
John Clutter first stepped into Rivesville Free Methodist Church on Easter Sunday 2016. He placed his 6-foot-5-inch frame near the back of the sanctuary while hoping to blend in, but my radar locked on tight. To my surprise and delight, John’s first Sunday turned into his second and third. At this point, I decided it was time for a conversation. He was not a believer, but I had no idea he was on the brink of destruction.
I arrived at the local McDonald’s in hospital scrubs, the smell of my secular job still lingering on my body. John set his half-eaten chicken sandwich down and extended a grease-stained hand. What a pair we made – a 36-year-old, clean-cut, bi-vocational pastor and father of three and a 25-year-old, bearded, diesel mechanic living hard and shacking up with his girlfriend. It was destiny.
We talked for two hours. For the first half of our conversation, words and tears gushed from the very soul of this strong but broken young man. The second hour consisted of him pelting me with questions about the Bible, theology and Jesus. For years, John had prided himself in his ability to deconstruct the faith of fair-weather Christians by pointing out flaws in their beliefs. Not so today. Every question was answered with truth, bathed in love and supported by the Word. By the end of the evening, I saw surrender in his eyes.
I told my new friend that, as he continued his search for truth, he could call me any time.
“Bud,” he said in typical Clutter fashion, “I’m gonna wear you out.”
“John,” I responded with my gaze fixed on his, “I will bleed out for you if that’s what it takes.”
At its core, discipleship is all about incarnation. I’ll never forget when I asked my congregation to imagine the first time the Son of God pooped Himself. Don’t worry; they had the same look on their faces that you have right now. But it did happen. When the Word became flesh (John 1:1–18), He came to dwell among us, experience our reality, and live out this thing called humanity in all its inglorious mess. Immanuel is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
There was no halo floating over the head of the babe in the manger. The truth is when Mary staggered sleepy-eyed across the dirty stable floor, it was because her squalling little bundle of joy was lying in a diaper full of feces. That image of Jesus, though offensive at first, is actually the reason we love Him.
Jesus’ life – not just His ministry, or work on the cross, but His entire life – was about God being with us. “God with us” pooped in His diaper and was dependent on His mother for survival. He touched the face of the leper — God with us. He ministered to the “half-breed” Samaritan woman, played with snotty-nosed children and maybe tossed corn hole with some drunk dude at the tax collector’s house — God with us. He trampled over the divisive, cultural rules of the day to reach people where they were — God with us. Before Jesus could save our souls, He had to win our hearts. We love Him “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
The truth be told, I did bleed for John. This young man came to Jesus with absolute abandon. He was as thirsty for the Holy Spirit as he was hungry for the Word. Countless hours of my life were spent answering his questions and feeding his soul. It was my hands that placed him and his lovely girlfriend, Amanda, under the water in the “name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and it was my family who attended a “beer party” at their house a few weeks later. I watched his eyes well up with tears when we talked about his need to live separately from Amanda until they were married. I saw my own eyes well up with tears when he, in the dead of winter, moved himself into a tiny camping trailer because he loved Jesus more than comfort or pleasure. And I felt my heart bursting with pride months later when I pronounced them husband and wife.
My bleeding came in the form of risks taken as John began to spread his wings in ministry and in prayers prayed over his life. As John’s pastor and friend, I encouraged him when he was weak, guided him when he was confused, fed him when he was hungry (which was, and still is, all the time) and marveled at his passion for Jesus.
Now, please don’t get the wrong impression. I’m no martyr. Every drop of my life spent on behalf of John Clutter actually brought more life to me. That’s the kingdom in action: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” (John 12:24). That is how discipleship works – Jesus in me becomes Jesus with those around me (God with us).
A year and a half later, it is now John who bleeds – at work, in his life group, as the new youth leader of Rivesville FMC and as my assistant. Though far from perfect, John’s life is truly a lamplight screaming to the world, “This is what Jesus can do!” I will continue to enjoy the privilege of pouring into John for as long as he’ll have me, but the greater joy is watching countless other lives change as John pours himself out for them.
Adam Stuck is the senior pastor of the Rivesville Free Methodist Church in West Virginia.