Pastor: Who are YOU Discipling?

Hey Pastor! I hope that things are going well for you right now. My earnest prayer is that as you read this, you will find encouragement as you consider how you might multiply your life in the life of another person.

Pastors are plenty busy already – but…

I know you’re busy. I’ve been there. I was a bi-vocational pastor of a small church, and because it was a small church, I was expected to do everything except lead the Youth Group, and that was only because the Youth Leader had been doing it, and loved it – which was good, because I was LOUSY at Youth Ministry! But I printed and folded the bulletins, set up the PowerPoint (when we got a computer, that is – when I first took over as pastor, the church was using an overhead projector, and this was in 2001! Thankfully, the overhead projector caught fire during a service while a guest preacher was using it. I say “thankfully, because that got rid of any excuses for getting something a tad more modern…), got Communion ready, decided the music, recruited volunteers, chaired board meetings, did hospital visits, and took my turn cleaning the church building and mowing the lawn.

So all you need is for someone to come along and tell you to add ONE MORE thing to your plate, right? Right.

Actually, I’m hoping that you will be able to let go of some of the things you are doing that might be unbiblical and unreasonable and are keeping you from actually leading your congregation in obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples. (I address some of that HERE – link to “Setting Your Pastor Free from Non-biblical Expectations”)

One of my biggest convictions regarding pastoral ministry is that pastors are supposed to lead by example – especially in terms of personal evangelism and discipleship. I believe that pastors should always be looking for opportunities to share Christ away from the pulpit and personally discipling at least one person.

If we want to develop a disciplemaking culture in our congregations that involves the people in the seats, and not just you and small group leaders who may or may not be trained or interested in personal discipleship, then seeing the pastor set the example goes a long way.

Let me distinguish quickly between discipling and “mentoring.” I think of mentoring in terms of training for a new job or task, allowing them to work with you and slowly taking on the tasks for themselves. I don’t see discipling someone as the same thing. Discipling is the intentional establishing of a new believer in their faith in Jesus, helping them on to maturity in Christ, and equipping them to help others do the same. There is certainly mentoring involved, particularly in the last area, but discipling is much more than spiritual on-the-job training.

Why should a pastor do this? Can’t lay leadership (or staff pastors) take care of it?

Yes, your lay leadership and staff pastors should be doing it, along with everyone in the congregation – including you. Let me give you some reasons why YOU need to be doing this, and again, I hope you find this encouraging rather than an admonition to get out of your “cushy office” and “do something.”

  • Leadership by example.

I mentioned this earlier, but since I’m making a list, it just seemed appropriate to include this on it…

To expand on this a little bit, the fact of the matter is that if the congregation thinks the pastor is uncaring or unwilling to be involved in anything, they won’t want to do it, either. But if they see the pastor being excited and involved, the chances of greater congregational excitement and involvement are much higher.

In this case, if they see the pastor out in the town meeting with people one-on-one, developing relationships with non-believers, or having coffee with someone new to Jesus to help them learn how to pray, read their Bibles, serve, etc., then they are much more likely to get involved when you invite them to be part of it.

(Shameless plug: Discipleship DNA is designed to help congregations kickstart a discipleship culture by inviting your people to get involved in the Great Commission as individuals – not just by participating in or leading a small group, but by personally helping new believers get established in their walk with Jesus. You can learn more HERE).

When I was a young believer, my pastor let me accompany him on his Wednesday night visits to people who had visited the church. It was awesome to see him reaching out to people and becoming friends with them. Watching him share the gospel with people in ways that were clear and relatable to unchurched people was inspirational to me. It got me even more excited about sharing Christ as a college student.

He taught me and answered my questions, but more than anything, he showed that he was willing to get out of the office and be with people. He didn’t count on reaching everyone with his Sunday messages – he met them outside of church as well.

So be an example to your people, and you will see people in your congregation respond more positively when you invite them to join you in helping new believers become established. And THAT, my brother, is exciting to see!

  • It can be the beginning of “The Wave.”

I’m a baseball fan, and especially of my beloved Minnesota Twins. In my part of the country, “Twins fan” is just another way of saying, “Real Christian,” or “Real American.”

Okay, maybe not.

If you’ve ever attended a baseball game or any other athletic event, you may have participated in “the wave.” The fans rise by sections, standing and raising their arms and shouting, and when it’s done correctly, it looks like a giant wave going around the stands. When it keeps going for cycles, it’s even more cool.

But it takes someone to get the wave going. It’s usually one or two people, and then a few others, then more, and pretty soon it’s going full strength.

That can be how a discipleship culture starts in your church. It might start with just you meeting with a new believer to get them established. Then as that person matures, you can train them to establish a new believer – and so both of you are now meeting with people in discipleship relationships. As you both establish and train other people, those people do the same thing. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a lot of people helping other people find Jesus, live for Him, and helping others do the same.

That’s the kind of organic growth that is sustainable for churches and builds excitement in a congregation.

I’m all for evangelistic outreach events (and I suggest you have them from time to time), but having growth fueled by your individual congregational members is something that I believe models biblical discipleship and pleases God immensely.

The fact of the matter, Pastor, is that you are commanded to fulfill the Great Commission, even if no one else in the congregation is willing. Who are you discipling, even if no one else is discipling anyone?

The good news is that if YOU are obedient to what YOU can do, even if it’s meeting with ONE person, God can use you to bring a major culture shift in your church that will bring glory to Him as Jesus sees you being obedient to His command to make disciples.

And what if NO ONE else in your congregation ever gets involved? It’s okay. God sees and will bless your work. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain, brother, even if you’re impacting just one single life at a time through personal discipleship.

Which leads me to…

  • It demonstrates to your congregation that being obedient to Jesus is the main priority.

If someone complains because you’re not fulfilling a pastoral role that has traditionally part of that congregation’s history, this is an opportunity to gently confront that.

There was a time in my pastoral ministry when a board member chided me for not visiting every family in the congregation every year. I simply picked up my Bible and held it toward this person and said, “Show me in here where it says that’s a pastor’s responsibility, and I’ll hop right on it. But you won’t find it in there.”

At the time, I was working THREE other jobs outside the church to feed my wife and 5 kiddos. We didn’t have cable TV, we drove beaters for cars, and eating out meant McDonald’s or Burger King once in a blue moon. I simply didn’t have time for things that weren’t actually biblical pastoral responsibilities. One of the highest priorities of a pastor is to care for his family. And I wasn’t going to take even MORE time away from them to fulfill a role that frankly would have been better filled by someone who really enjoyed that kind of thing and was gifted at it.

Letting go of some things, either because they are not reasonable or because you are not gifted in those areas so you can concentrate on making disciples is a good thing!

It not only frees you up to make disciples, it also presents opportunities to bring other people into those areas of ministry that might get ignored otherwise.

For instance, if home visitation is really a big deal to someone in the congregation, you can encourage them to do it as a ministry within the church. Their passion for it will shine through, especially if the church leadership sanctions it as an “official” ministry carried out by people called and gifted for that.

If no one is able or willing to take on a task like that, then you may have to just let it go – knowing that some will be upset – but also knowing that you will be able to stand before God and say that fulfilling Jesus’ command to the Church was more important than fulfilling traditional pastoral roles that had no bearing on making disciples.

Believe me, I know how hard that can be. I fought that battle on more than one occasion. But I’ve never regretted it. Because it freed me up for things like establishing relationships with non-believers in the community and (GASP!) meeting with new believers for discipleship.

  • You get to see the lives of individual members changed as you open your life to them.

One of the great joys in ministry is to see the Holy Spirit use you to help someone become more like Jesus. To see their eyes light up as they grasp a new concept or see God answering prayer and giving them understanding in the Scriptures is a wonderful thing. As you invest in the lives of one or two people, God does amazing things in both your lives.

And Pastor, can’t we all use some of that kind of blessing in our lives? In the midst of the hustle and bustle of congregational ministry and expectations, you have an incredible opportunity to have direct impact in someone’s life that you simply won’t get from them listening to your sermons, as awesome as they are.

Get alone with God and ask yourself some questions…

Are you currently helping a new believer become established in the faith, and letting that develop into a long-term discipling relationship? If so, that’s AWESOME!!

When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone one-on-one? When was the last time you had the opportunity? Are you so tied to the office that you are unable to develop relationships with non-believers outside of the church walls?

Are there some SACRED COWS (link to “Slaughtering Sacred Cows) that need to be slaughtered so you can lead your congregation in making disciples?

Are you willing to ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit to give you the unction necessary to not only be involved yourself, but to lead and challenge your congregation to be involved, even at the cost of uncomfortable change?

Are you willing to trust that God will work in awesome and might ways IN you and THROUGH you, even if it takes some time as your congregation gets used to the idea that obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission is paramount?

I don’t ask these questions to be discouraging or accusatory. Quite the opposite! I ask them so you can get with God to discern how you can more personally be involved in this awesome ministry and model that involvement to the rest of your people.

I’d love to pray with you about this. You can get hold of me with the contact information HERE (link to “Contact Brian” on website). Please feel free to write or even call. I’ll listen, and if I can be of any help by suggesting some things to guide you, it will be my genuine pleasure. But mostly I’ll be glad for the opportunity to pray with you and for you and your congregation.

So ask the questions. Then comment below with what you hear God saying. If you are currently in a discipling relationship with someone, I’d love to hear how you carve out the time for that so others can learn from you. Please put that in the comments below.

Blessings on you, my friend. I love you and care for you.

May God be honored and glorified as you work to make disciples in obedience to Jesus – and may He cause you to be a beacon for Him to your area. Amen.