-My father became a Christian later in life. Having spent more than three decades as a hardened atheist, a series of people and churches played significant roles in his departure from unbelief.
One of the most influential group of Christians in my father’s spiritual journey was a bunch of hippies who lived at an abandoned Coast Guard Lighthouse near Eureka, California.
In the early 1970’s, Jim Durkin; pastor, real estate agent, entrepreneur, felt a call to go into downtown Eureka and preach the gospel. After a few months he suddenly found himself with dozens of single young men and women, most of them with no viable job skills, and all of them looking like they just left a Grateful Dead concert.
While the young people readily ate up the good news of Jesus that Durkin preached out on the streets, it soon became apparent to him that there was a bigger problem; most of the young men were either living on the streets (a product of the mass migration of hippies to California during the late 60’s) or were on the verge of being kicked off the various sofas they were sleeping on. Of the young women, some were in abusive relationships, some were shacking up with strange men as a way of having a place to sleep, and others simply didn’t know what to do with their lives.
Like so many of the hippies back then; very few of them had any job skills, were uncouth, and needed a lot of one-on-one training to become functional adults.
Durkin took to heart the full message of the gospel; it was not enough for him to merely tell these young people about Jesus, if he was going to truly practice the Great Commission, then making disciples of these young adults called for a lot more than Sunday worship and weekly bible studies.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-18
Just as James mentioned in his gospel, these young adults were poorly clothed, lacked in daily food, and needed a level of discipleship that was far more intense than typically found in suburban churches.
Durkin and his wife had an otherwise normal home, and there was no way they could house forty to fifty young adults, and after much prayer and consideration, he purchased an abandoned Coast Guard station, complete with a lighthouse, right along the ocean near Eureka.
Of course, simply having rooms for all of these young adults was not enough; Durkin still had to feed them! He then began creating all sorts of companies; a donut shop, a car wash, the women made belts and buckles and sold them at market, and eventually Durkin discovered the ability to repair Leather and Vinyl in automobiles and airplanes.
Discipleship for Jim Durkin was not merely preaching the gospel on Sunday and on street corners. Discipleship involved caring for the whole individual; if a disciple didn’t have good job skills, Durkin trained him. If a disciple didn’t have a job, Durkin helped get him employed or created a company for him. If a disciple longed to be married but didn’t know how to properly treat women, Durkin taught him what it meant to be a man of integrity and honor.
Eventually, what became known as “Gospel Outreach in Eureka, Califonia” spread throughout the country. My father met some of these disciples who had been sent to Chicago to plant a church, and my dad’s life would forever be changed by the example of discipleship that was practiced by these young Christians.
If we ignore the very real material problems that people face around us, how can we expect people to take seriously a gospel that we maintain is about love? If we are going to practice the Great Commission, then we must realize that true discipleship is far more than what is currently in vogue at our local mega church.
*stock image Jaime Street