These days, there’s a lot of emphasis being put on the need for one-to-one discipleship (and rightly so). Christians need to be encouraging one another in the faith and those with a more seasoned faith ought to be coming alongside newer or less mature believers to guide them into maturity. But how do we do it?
That’s the dilemma that Ted Kluck faces when he’s assigned by his church to disciple Dallas Jahncke, a recovering drug addict, ex-convict, and brand-new Christian who Kluck would take under his wing—a pairing that, at first glance, might seem more appropriate for the plot of a summertime buddy comedy than a title you’ll find in a Christian bookstore. But Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship, the book chronicling their burgeoning relationship, offers an often painfully honest but encouraging look at the fruit of Christian discipleship.
While the popular thing seem to be to set up shop at a coffee shop and do a book study over coffee, it’s not for everyone—including Kluck and Jahncke. He explains:
The book-and-coffee model of discipleship seems semi-absurd to me, partly because we don’t see Jesus doing this. Jesus taught, He led by example, He came alongside, and He healed. Of course, He also had the distinct advantage of being sinless, all-knowing, and the Son of God. I am none of these. It’s clear to me that I’ll have to learn to disciple Dallas by mimicking the person who discipled me: my dad. He was far from perfect—and in fact, I would argue that this honesty about his imperfections made him an even better discipler—but the way he talked with me, listend to me, and spent time with me will provide a road map for my time with Dallas. (p. 32)
So how would this whole discipling thing work? They’d rebuild a 1974 Triumph Spitfire. And that, for Kluck, was the thing that made discipleship click. As they built a relationship doing something that Dallas was extraordinarily gifted in (auto mechanics), the formality of “discipling” gave way to becoming friends. Kluck took on the role of friend and father figure to a young man who desperately needed both, complete with all the joys and heartaches that come with both roles. But through it, Kluck learned a key lesson about discipling, one that we all would do well to consider:
I’m learning that discipleship has less to do with the books we read together and more to do with the kind of time and availability we give to one another. That is, discipleship is highly relational, and while it often “works” within the confines of a set program, it’s probably better if both parties want to communicate with one another. I’m not sure what Cory [Kluck's friend who offers him insights into discipleship throughout the book] is talking about when he talks about ways of doing it that need to be discarded, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the awkward coffee meeting that inevitably starts with a question like, “So . . . how are you doing . . . spiritually? I hope I’m such good friends with my friends that I never have to start a conversation that way. (p. 75)
That’s the key—that really is the thing that makes discipleship “work,” and it’s something that took me a long time to figure out. I get together with a guy about 8 years my junior named Josh. He’s a really great guy and a good friend. But for the first couple years of our “discipling” relationship, I was trying to do what I’d been shown—reading books together. The only problem was this wasn’t really Josh’s thing. So instead, we talk about life—what’s going on in his world, what’s going on in mine, what we’re reading in the Bible, I ask him about video games (and yes, we do meet over coffee). But it’s great and it’s really helpful (at least I hope it is—Josh keeps wanting to get together, so I can only assume).
Readers familiar with Kluck’s other books know that he has a flair for the sarcastic; it’s in full-display in Dallas and the Spitfire, and thankfully so. There’s so much emotional upheaval going on in the pages of the book that, in the hands of another author, it could have gone to a really, really dark place (think Darren Aronofsky dark—and if you have no idea who that is, it’s okay). At the time of its writing, Kluck faced career challenges (two book deals fell through and he was broke) and an international adoption fell through (and along with it went a great deal of money)—and then, there was Dallas, a young man figuring out the faith while still dealing with the turmoil and temptations of his old life. There’s a weightiness to the book, make no mistake, but Kluck keeps it from becoming so oppressively cynical that it requires listening to music in a minor key the whole time.
For readers looking for a book that’s less about the abstract concept of disciple-making and more about the practical realities, Dallas and the Spitfire. This book gives readers a wonderful picture of Christian discipleship, one that doesn’t shy away from the messiness of personal sin, even as it shows God at work in the lives of both men. Read it, be encouraged and persevere in discipling others (even if it means you drink a little less coffee).
Title: Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship
Authors: Ted Kluck and Dallas Jahncke
Publisher: Bethany House (2012)
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group