by Kathyrn McDonald
Cedarville University is unique because of the people who are most involved in the community. Many people work behind-the-scenes to create a vibrant, Christ-centered community. Invariably the behind-the-scenes moments go unnoticed yet are the lifeblood of this ministry.
Aaron Cook is one of the biggest players in these behind-the-scenes moments. In his role as Director of Discipleship, Cook is responsible for managing Discipleship Groups, Fit to be Tied—a premarital counseling course, Tied and True—a mentorship program for married couples, and the student chaplains.
Cook’s time at Cedarville began in 1995 when he enrolled as a student. He said that this is simply evidence of God’s grace in his life. Before visiting Cedarville with his youth group as a senior in high school, Cook said, “I wasn’t planning on going to Cedarville. I didn’t know anything about it.”
After graduating from Cedarville in 1999 with a degree in Bible Comprehensive/Christian Education, Cook began his ministry at Scioto Hills Christian Camp, where he loved the ministry he partnered with.
Before God called Cook and his family back to Cedarville, Cook did not anticipate leaving Scioto Hills. “I loved it. Thought we would stay forever,” he said.
Eventually, God compelled Cook to go back to Cedarville where it seemed that “Cedarville would be the greatest place to leverage his talents for the Gospel,” said Cook. It has now been seven years since Cook began serving as Cedarville’s Director of Discipleship, and it is evident that God has been using Cook in a mighty way for His Kingdom.
Jon Wood is the Vice President of Student Life & Christian Ministries, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies and a close friend of Cook’s. Wood explains that he loves how Cook refers to the Discipleship Council as “dear ones” because they are truly dear to him.
“I think he means they are dear to God as well,” said Wood. “And ‘dear ones,’ recognizing that whether there are 12 or 14 or however many on any given discipleship council, that he’s acknowledging he values and loves each one of them individually. His very way of expression, ‘dear ones,’ is conveying his heart for ministry and discipleship.”
Cook’s unique ministry to students is reflected in the unusual opportunities for relationships to be built between the students and the faculty and staff.
“I need partnerships with faculty and staff to do my job, and a major component of Fit to Be Tied is the mentorship couples. Even with my chaplains, I have different faculty and staff come in and interact with them on a regular basis,” Cook said.
It is this intergenerational component that is designed to prepare students for future ministry opportunities in their own local churches, both now and after they leave Cedarville.
The heart of all discipleship ministries on campus is the desire to foster the growth of individuals within a Christ-centered community. Cook and his partners in ministry use Psalm 1 as one of the
key passages to illustrate this growth. Cook said, “We want to cultivate individuals who look like that tree that’s planted by streams of water.” Down to the very logo of discipleship ministries on campus, the goal is to display flourishing.
Cook also points to John 15 where Jesus uses another tree-type metaphor for the Chrisitan life. Jesus Himself is the vine, and His followers are the branches. And out of that relationship comes fruitful flourishing. For Cook the mission does not stop at multiplying these fruitful followers, but rather “multiplying multipliers.”
He said, “That goal of spiritual transformation means helping individuals understand how that works and then understand how to help others grow. And that is directly transferable into the local church.” All discipleship ministries are engaged in preparing to see more people multiplying and discipling others beyond Cedarville.
What does that look like? Cook said that this kind of success has no recipe.
“We just keep walking alongside them pointing to truth, trying to counsel with truth,” Cook said. “And there is no formula for that. It’s just taking them to the Word, pointing them to the Gospel and then asking and praying in that time. ‘Spirit of God, please reveal this truth to them and lead us.’ But you can’t manufacture it. You just can’t,”
The key is faithfulness. No matter how much activity you have, it cannot replace long-haul commitment to pour into people’s lives. Over the years of serving at Cedarville, Cook said that he has learned that change doesn’t happen overnight. Our God is in the business of transforming people one small interaction at a time, and the sum of those interactions that produces lives are radically renewed.
Jeremy Kimble is an Associate Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and a good friend of Cook’s. He recalled one of his first interactions with Cook and what he learned about the way Cook lives out his ministry in his own family.
Just after Cook and his family moved to Cedarville, Kimble invited them over to dinner. Kimble remembered that they had originally planned to eat at 5:30, but they ended up being almost an hour late.
At the time, Kimble thought, “We could never be friends.” and that, “He’ll be a nice guy. I’ll talk to him, but whatever.”
The following day, Kimble was surprised by a knock at his door sometime that afternoon. When he opened it, Cook and one of his young children stood at the door. Kimble remembered looking at them both and seeing that they looked forlorn.
Kimble said, “I was like, ‘Yes?’And then he said, ‘So-and-so has something to say to you.’ I looked down at this child, and they had a toy in their hand. And they couldn’t talk. They were all choked up. And so I said, ‘Is that my son’s toy?’ They nodded, ‘Yes.’”
It was obvious that the child was there to apologize and return the toy. After resolving the situation, Cook explained that he just wanted to make sure that everything had been taken care of, thanked Kimble and left.
Kimble remembered exactly what he thought after that experience, “There’s a man committed to the very fine details of discipleship. He’s just committed to that process, and he knows what it is to be a disciple and to pursue discipleship. I just knew that he’s not just in a position. He lives this.”
For Cook, this faithful discipleship was modeled by different men pouring into his life over the years. Cook told the story of one mentor who he described as living his life, “really depending on the Word of God and expecting God’s Word to make a change in people’s lives. And I watched it happen.”
This was a man who not only spoke the truth into Cook’s life, but truly treasured it. “My mentor lived that out, and he actually depended in such a way that if God’s Word didn’t come true, his ministry would fall on its face. What I learned from him is basically the foundation of everything I do here,” said Cook.
The Student Chaplain’s Council integrates both these one-on-one relationships and student chapels. Each year, the student body elects a group of five young men to lead different student chapels.
Student chaplains and a cohort of their peers have one of the greatest opportunities to benefit from Cook’s mentorship. They then share the overflow of that growth with the student body.
This year’s student body chaplain is Justin Schlabach, who has served as his class’s chaplain since freshman year. He said that through all of the time that he spent watching Cook’s ministry, there are a few things that stand out to him.
“I’ve seen Aaron be a godly father, a godly husband and a faithful friend,” said Schlabach. He also said that if there were two passages that characterize Cook, Psalm 1 and John 15:5 can be seen as, not only the guiding principles of his ministry, but also of his personal life.
Aaron’s delight is in the Law of the Lord, God’s Word, and his ministry is fueled by his commitment to remain in Christ who is the vine.
Schlabach said,“Those are two of his favorite passages. And there is a reason why: because he lives them out. Aaron’s demeanor is just, ‘I depend on Christ because, apart from him, I can do nothing.’And he lives that out in his ministry, in his family, in his friendships and in his church.”
Last year, Cam Sardano served as Cedarville’s student body chaplain. Cook’s impact on Sardano’s life is still impacting his own ministry as he begins to step beyond Cedarville.
He remembered first hearing Cook speak during a chapel service on Psalm 23. But even outside of Cedarville, as Sardano got involved in his local church, he realized that the men who poured into his life were those who had been poured into by Cook’s ministries.
“I remember meeting with them every week. It was just so evident that Aaron Cook and his ministry and his discipleship had just borne immense fruit in their life and was continuing to,” said Sardano.
After a series of events, Sardano decided to campaign for the chaplaincy. After being elected, he joined the chaplains council where Cook played a huge role in preparing him for the job.
“He wasn’t leading from above, but from beside,” said Sardano. Not above as one who is superior, but beside as a comrade and friend with whom to fight the good fight.
Sardano said, “I think that what makes Aaron Cook, Aaron Cook, is simply time plus grace. It’s the Lord working in his life over the course of his life. I think that Aaron would want that to be an emphasis.”
It is the same grace that was at work in the lives of the Apostles of our New Testament that is at work in the lives of faithful servants of the church today.
Cook’s ministry extends far beyond the ministries that he is directly involved in. His philosophy of generating “multiplying multipliers” is transforming the lives of young people across campus and beyond.
Kathryn McDonald is a junior Psychology major and a Campus News writer for Cedars. When she’s not at her desk studying, you can probably catch her in the library writing a letter to a friend, reading her favorite American poetry or drinking coffee from her favorite mug.