How God Used Turkey Hunting to Teach Me About Making Disciples, Part 1

Neal Nelson Blog

Turkey Hunting PicEveryone loves Spring – warmer weather, blooming flowers, and most of all gobbling turkeys.  I need to confess that I begin thinking about (and looking forward to) turkey hunting in January. I get excited about the thought of standing on an oak-covered ridge listening to gobbling below me. It begins to reoccour more than is spiritually healthy toward the end of February.  And by mid-March I am getting up at 5 a.m. to drive out to listen for turkeys sounding off at daylight before I go in the office.  I shall not even speak of April.

This almost-obsession is why years ago I think God used turkey hunting to give me an example of what effective discipleship could look like in my context.  Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:16-20), and as his follower I have tried to both be a maturing disciple and help others to follow him.  To this end I have studied scripture, read books, attended conferences, asked other believers about their convictions and practices, and gained insight through personal experience.

After several years I concluded that there seemed to be two polarizing approaches to making disciples.  The first approach I will call a “programmed” approach.  By this I mean that discipleship is approached like an educational course.  It becomes a process of transferring information through a lecture, workbook, or just reading and discussing.

The second approach I will call the first century approach. By this, I mean that discipleship was having someone “doing life with you” just like Jesus did with the disciples.  Discipleship was the process of teaching others orally, then having them observe you, then sending them out, and so forth just like Jesus did.  This approach always sounded more biblical and was fun to theorize about. To be truthful, I have rarely seen this approach applied. So which approach is the best?  My answer would be neither. This is where God used turkey hunting to give me a peace about what making disciples would look like for me.

Let me set the story up. I met Scott James a long time ago when I moved to a small town in Arkansas to begin serving as a campus minister and finish seminary. Scott was (and still is) a Christ-follower, engineer, husband, dad, churchman, redneck philosopher, and an exceptionally good hunter. Before I met Scott I had turkey-hunted but never “bagged a bird.” He realized I needed some instruction and mentoring so he offered to teach me everything he knew, and because of his help I killed my first turkey and eventually began to help others.  Years later I would retell Scott’s and my story to young wanna-be turkey hunters, and I had an epiphany.  The sudden revelation was that what Scott did to help me eventually become a mature turkey hunter was what I could do to help young believers eventually become mature followers of Jesus.  What did Scott do? (WDSD)

Scott encouraged me… I was pretty discouraged about turkey hunting when I met Scott because I had tried it without success.  He was confident that with a little instruction and some work I could become a proficient turkey hunter.  His encouragement was enough to get me excited and reignite the desire needed to learn.

Scott spent time with me… Scott then began asking me to go with him to listen for turkeys before work or church. Not only was actually hearing turkeys gobble a huge motivator but during these trips he would tell me stories about his turkey hunts, answer questions I had, walk me through possible scenarios, and just have fun.  He did not ask me to move in with his family or shadow him twenty-four-seven, but the time together was consistent and intentional.  He would later follow up with me after I had gone hunting to see how I did and capitalize on any teachable moments.

Scott shared stories with me… Stories, I have learned, are powerful because they are memorable and relatable while being entertaining.  This combination was literally lethal during my first turkey kill.  Without going into too much detail I found myself in a situation with a gobbler that kept gobbling at my hen calling but would not come close.  I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I remembered some of the stories Scott told me about similar situations, and I tried what had worked for him, and amazingly, it worked for me. The value of stories has proved itself to me over and over again in turkey hunting and many other aspects of life.

Scott taught me skills… Scott knew that to be consistently successful in turkey hunting required real skill and not just dumb luck.  He bought me a turkey call, gave me a brief lesson on how to use it, and told me to practice.  When I started I sounded like a mouse with its foot caught in a trap. Scott would laugh and then instruct me as to what  adjustments were needed and how. Eventually I was able to make sounds that sounded like a wild turkey.  He taught me some basic wood skills like what turkey sign to look for and where. He taught me how to pattern my shotgun, where to aim to maximize my chances of a kill, and many other skills that I will not go into here.

These four principles (plus a few others) became my basis for discipling college students while I was a campus minister in Arkansas.  In my next post I will write about how I applied (and still apply) each of the principles to helping others follow Jesus.

To be continued…