Editor’s Note: AFA Journal frequently tells the stories of other ministries and their impact for the Body of Christ, but rarely features a ministry before it has proven itself. However, DownLine Ministries shows such great potential that the Journal is pleased to give a preview of this promising discipleship initiative. DownLine Ministries founder Kennon Vaughan recently visited AFA Journal offices to talk about DownLine.
February 2006 – Youth, optimism, calling and passion ooze out of Kennon Vaughan, founder of DownLine Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee. Vaughan is humbled and a little overwhelmed that God has called him to a ministry with widespread implications for the Body of Christ.
DownLine is a discipleship program that will train young Christian men (ages 23 to 37) to disciple younger believers. At this stage, DownLine is a story of both the ministry and the man God has tapped to lead it.
Vaughan displays not only zeal, but also patience and wisdom that belie his 27 years. His eyes sparkle with excitement and his voice rises with optimism. But it is his focus and the depth of his insight that make him an impressive voice for the new ministry. However, as a struggling young believer, Vaughan didn’t always have such focus.
“I grew up in a home with somewhat of a Christian influence, but definitely not your standard Bible-belt, Southern Christian household,” he said. “My mother was raised Jewish. My father’s side of the family was not religious.” When they found a pastor to marry them, he required marriage counseling and was able to share the Gospel with them.
Vaughan’s mother eventually became a Christian and took the young Kennon and his two sisters to church at Christ United Methodist in Memphis. The major element in his relationship with his dad was sports – both were avid athletes.
At age 13, he went to Kanakuk Kamp, a Christian sports camp. “All these college athletes were our counselors,” he said. “Chris Creighton, a quarterback in the Canadien Football League at the time, shared the Gospel very clearly. It was the first time I understood what sin was. I prayed with Chris that night [to receive Christ].” But hardly any follow-up occurred and Vaughan grew very little.
His dad’s death when Vaughan was in high school motivated him to search for meaning in his faith. He began to attend church youth groups and retreats and study the Bible for the first time.
He tried to put together a baseball career at Auburn University, then transferred to play at Vanderbilt where an injury ended his college career. Still, he had the opportunity to travel one summer with Athletes in Action, a ministry that takes sports – and the Gospel – around the world.
He remembers one game in Africa: “I think it was a defining moment in my life, when things started to make sense for me spiritually. One night, our chaplain reminded me it was my turn to share the Gospel after the game. I didn’t feel like I was one of those who should be out there sharing.”
He knew that his teammates were much better prepared than he was to share Christ, but God used his short and simple testimony to bring a number of people to Christ that night. In that moment, Kennon resolved never again to be a “casual” Christian. The next school year, he transferred back to Auburn because he felt “there was unfinished business there.” He wanted to return and establish a stronger witness for Christ.
Genesis of a vision
Growing up, Vaughan knew that he needed more than was available to him as a Christian teenager and young college student. After he graduated from Auburn in 2000, that void in the church grew even more evident when he became youth minister at Liberty Christian Fellowship in Liberty, Missouri, just north of Kansas City.
“I absolutely love working with the student generation,” he said. “At Liberty, there was a real influx of students. My desire was to see each one of them trained individually in the Word. All of a sudden, there was not near enough of me and a lot more of them! I’d never been discipled myself, but I started recruiting guys – college students, young adults – that we could plug into training these students.” Eventually, he had 26 college and young adults trained and about 200 youth in the discipleship program.
After speaking at a Disciple Now youth retreat in The Woodlands, Texas, in February 2002, Vaughan left the event wondering what would happen to the hundreds of students who had just made decisions for Christ. Would they be discipled and encouraged and challenged? Or would they be left alone to struggle with their faith?
“I felt an emptiness in the pit of my stomach,” he said. “Just a few hours earlier, I was offering a final challenge to a crowd of students, ready to take the world for Christ. Now, I wondered if those newly birthed dreams would ever become a reality.”
Increasing opportunities as a youth evangelist fed his passion for giving students solid teaching on the Christian walk. “I was having serious conviction,” he said. “We’d have a retreat and hundreds of kids would make a decision for Christ. You’ve got three youth workers and they don’t have a clue what to do with them. I thought it was quite dangerous to the Kingdom of God to be just producing backsliders.”
By 2004, Vaughan had returned to Memphis as youth minister at Christ United Methodist. That year, he founded DownLine.
Getting a vehicle
Because of DownLine’s far-reaching potential, Vaughan is confident that the ministry is from God’s heart and not from men. Indeed, it appears to be a vehicle which could take discipleship around the world.
The first DownLine Institute, the ministry’s premiere event, will kick off August 14, 2006, more than two years after the ministry was born. The Institute will train committed young laymen how to disciple younger men. The goal is for these young leaders to reproduce their faith in others who will then follow the same pattern to disciple still more young men.
The debut event is in Memphis, but Vaughan believes it will be replicated in other cities. The program is built on the pattern established by Jesus in teaching and leading His 12 disciples. DownLine looks also at Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
DownLine will select 40-50 participants for a rigorous 10-month Bible study, the heart of the Institute. Participants will include mostly men from the Memphis area plus a few from across the nation and five from other countries. Minority representation comparable to that in Memphis is also built into the program.
The men will meet from 5:45 to7:45 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 10 months. The first hour will focus on Bible study led by outstanding Bible teachers. The second hour will train the men to make disciples. Joe White of Kanakuk Kamps and Tom Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church, are among the leaders who will come in to teach in such areas as worldview and apologetics.
“We have an application process for the local and national students,” Vaughan said. “We already have 60 Memphis applicants for the first year and about 15 national applicants. We have identified the five international students we will take from the Philippines, Kenya, India, Nigeria and Nicaragua.”
That latter demographic reveals DownLine’s global potential. The international students make a commitment to receive the training in Memphis, then go back and train 10-50 men to be disciplers in their nations. DownLine will provide continued training through teams to those alumni.
Gauging the value
Vaughan is blessed by the encouragement of a number of key Christian leaders in Memphis, among them Rev. Herb Hodges and Roy “Soup” Campbell. Over the past four decades, Hodges has made more than 160 trips around the world training pastors through his Spiritual Life Ministries. His input is critical in selecting DownLine’s international students and his training materials are the foundation for the curriculum.
Hodges believes Vaughan’s passion for authentic discipleship will have immeasurable value for the Body of Christ. He says the church is made up of a “95% sitting army” in the pews and we need to reverse that so the 95% are in the marching army. After pastoring Baptist churches several years, Hodges founded Spiritual Life. “We had great churches,” he said, “but as far as impact was concerned, it was all implosive impact instead of explosive impact.”
Campbell has traveled with Hodges on more than 30 trips to train indigenous pastors. “I believe DownLine is a ministry of Jesus Christ and is meant to be productive and multiply,” Campbell said. “And I believe Kennon is the right one to pull it off.”
Anything of great value comes with a price. For its inaugural year, DownLine must raise $200,000. Russ Griffith, the second staff member at DownLine, is on board helping Vaughan strengthen their network and raise funds. Griffith and Vaughan met at Denton Bible Church’s discipleship program a couple of years back. They quickly discovered their common passion for discipleship.
Griffith said that, during his high school years, he benefitted from the leadership of a volunteer discipler at Reston (Virginia) Bible Church. “It was something I saw work so well in my life,” Griffith said. “And my favorite part of doing ministry as a student at James Madison University was the guys I got to disciple.”
The diverse list of churches coming alongside the ministry includes Christ United Methodist, 2nd Presbyterian, Germantown Baptist and Fellowship Bible. “We want DownLine to be a blessing to the local church,” Vaughan said. “We are all about strengthening lay leadership in the church.” The eight churches involved in Memphis may each select a man from their church to attend DownLine.
Griffith said most of the contributions to this point have come from individuals who believe in the vision of DownLine. “We’ve got a great board of directors who are helping us get off the ground financially.”
Both Griffith and Vaughan are keenly aware of, but not worried about, the financial needs they face.
But being men of great faith, they look forward to seeing how God will provide for the ministry He has ordained. And they eagerly anticipate the debut of DownLine Institute in August.
For more information:
• DownLine Ministries
8808 Featherleigh Lane
Germantown, TN 38138
How you can get involved:
• Underwrite a scholarship at the DownLine Institute.
• Contribute to travel or living expenses for an international student.
• Underwrite the expense of one of the discipleship trainers.
• Donate to the general ministry including staff and overhead expenses.
DownLine is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.