Disciple-Making in the Local Church (Speaker Panel)

Workshop for Pastors – 2015 Conference for Pastors

Where Sin Increased: The Rebellion of Man and the Abundance of Grace

Jonathan Bowers: Welcome to our speaker panel workshop. I’d like to introduce you to the speakers that you’ll be hearing from. They’re going to discuss disciple making in the local church from a senior pastor’s perspective. We are joined by Mike Bullmore, who we’ve heard from in the previous sessions. He serves Crossway Community Church as senior pastor in Bristol, Wisconsin. Jeremy Rennie is the senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. And Matthew Molesky serves as senior pastor for Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Our panel moderator is David Mathis, who is executive editor at Desiring God.

David Mathis: It’s a privilege to be joined by these pastors and to try to move into some of the nitty-gritty of disciple making. We’re going to make this as much a dialogue as possible, as we have three local church pastors being able to dialogue over these things. We’ll cover some of what Mike has talked about in the last two sessions of cultivating a culture of disciple making.

I’m assuming most of you have heard from Mike in the last two sessions, but this is its own session. So a good way for us to start would be to hear from each of these guys just to get a brief little bit of context of what they’re doing in terms of disciple making in their context in Minnesota, in Boston, and in Wisconsin. We’ll set the scene there, and then I’ll jump in with some questions and these guys will dialogue and we’ll try to make the most of this session on the nitty-gritty parts of disciple making in the local church. Matthew, would you start us off with your context?

Matthew Molesky: I’m in St. Cloud, Minnesota, so about an hour from here. I think what I would like to tap into, Mike, is what you said about being asked to speak and where you were at as a church and admitting the things you did. I was so relieved when you said that because I wasn’t quite sure why they were asking me to be a part of a panel on disciple making in the local church. I was feeling the same. We’re certainly not there. Our context is really quite similar to yours, brother.

At the end of the fourth quarter of this year, after recently making some changes in the purpose of our church and trying to make this very central for our people as an eldership, we were on a retreat and we started talking about this. We asked, what does this look like for us as leaders? How can we possibly call our people into this kind of life of following Jesus if we’re not doing it ourselves? We were asking really hard questions. Literally, when was the last time this happened for you? It’s not just about when we were involved with discipling someone, talking to someone about this, but really bringing that to a point of engaging them with the good news of the kingdom of God and seeing someone come into the kingdom? We asked, when was the last time that happened? Was it six months ago, seven months ago, eight months ago? And we had a room of men being broken and saying, “This is not a part of our lives.”

So this is very fresh for us as well at Calvary and our leadership and with our people. We want to be this. We don’t want to just talk about it but to do it, and to follow Christ. So thank you for sharing that. That’s a context of where we’re really at too. We’re going hard after it and praying for God to bless.

Jeremy Rennie: I’m at South Shore Baptist Church in the South Shore of Boston. I would say we’re somewhere in a transition trying to push and move toward more of a culture of disciple making in our church. It’s happening, but we want to see it happen more. In terms of a church culture, we’re moving away from disciple-making through programs and events, and trying to really empower and equip people to be making disciples through relationships, time spent with people, one-to-one Bible reading, growth groups, Bible studies, etc., as opposed to putting time and energy into hosting events in the church from a program model.

I think we’ve been shifting that way and we’ve been leaning into that more. So we’re definitely in process in a New England context. Probably like a lot of places, people are super busy. People do their thing, they have their lives, and they are intolerant to change. Change has to happen very slowly and you have to be very patient. Culture change takes a while, and it takes a lot of wisdom and patience and persistence and prayer.

David Mathis: Mike, would you summarize for maybe others who have missed the first two sessions?

Mike Bullmore: Crossway is a 16 year old church that’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin, down in the very southeastern corner of the state, right below Milwaukee. From the beginning of our church life, as we envisioned our philosophy of ministry, we had what we called the “basic ministry structure.” It was a triangle. The apex of the triangle was Sunday morning. One of the base corners was a care group, a small group structure, and then the other corner of the bottom of the triangle was some point of service, some place you’re involved in serving and ministering to the body. We were asking our members to make sure that those three points were represented roughly each week in their life. That’s how we called people to be involved in the church.

Our assumption, even though it wasn’t really named, was that discipleship was happening somewhere in each of those corners, but particularly, we were assuming it was going to take place in that small group setting. Over the years, we began to realize — and it was really a hard thing to come to grips with — that it wasn’t happening, and we began to understand why. There are just some dynamics of small groups that inhibit it, and there’s some envisioning that maybe we hadn’t done really well. But it wasn’t happening. So now, I mentioned this in one of the talks, we have named this as a pastoral team. This is a priority. We’ve gone public with it in the church. This is an area that we want to emphasize.

The challenge for us right now is do we, A, replace small groups? Should we just get rid of small groups and go to something else? B, morph our small groups? Or C, should we try to re-envision our small groups for discipleship? The difficulty is we don’t want to just keep our small groups and add another layer, another thing that we’re expecting our people to do. So we’re trying to figure out right now, is there a way for us to take our current structures, and maybe within our current structures, be more intentional about discipleship? I guess that’s a little summary of where we are and the emphasis at this point.

David Mathis: Any of you guys want to jump in at that point on ideas? Have you wrestled with that tension? Are you moving forward in that area?

Jeremy Rennie: It’s challenging. It really depends group by group. There are some small groups that we have where people are really growing and really engaging in each other’s lives. I think a lot of it depends on leadership. And then there are other groups perhaps where people have been meeting for years and it’s a good fellowship support group, but I don’t know to what extent the group is actually helping people press into obedience more and to Christian growth more. So I think it is a mixed bag. A lot of it depends on the leadership and upon the people in the group. I think it’s good to remember that in discipleship and disciple making, there isn’t a structure that’s the silver bullet, and if we all just figured out the right structure and employed that, then everyone would be discipled well, though structures are important, they matter.

Mike Bullmore: If I can go back to the assessment of our small groups regarding something you just mentioned, Jeremy. Some of the groups were doing all right. Certainly community was being built in those groups, and that’s an important quantity. But we wanted this idea of helping one another, equipping and maturing that process. Two of the features of our small groups that we felt were perhaps working against that and needed to be reexamined were size and gender. It’s interesting, in these books that I mentioned before, all of them are talking about single gender small groups, huddles, or fight clubs. Here’s just a basic thing we’ve operated under for years: We want to keep our couples together.

One of the ways we’ve thought about morphing our small groups is to say, “Okay, you all meet together one time a month, and then the other two times you meet, you break into guys and ladies, and maybe even break those up.” Let’s say there’s eight guys in a small group. Now we break those into two small pods or two small huddles. We can still maintain the community, but now engage a little bit more deliberately in the kind of thing that you can with a single gender and smaller size, which facilitates, or helps anyway, a more intense life-on-life discipleship kind of thing.

David Mathis: Those smaller pods, then, would you have someone who’s appointed the leader, and are they leading that in a way that’s not just peer to peer, but it’s a discipler?

Mike Bullmore: Those smaller things would fit under the category of the mutual encouragement kind of relationship that I was talking about. Sometimes there can be a more discipler/disciplee kind of thing where there needs to be some leadership. But we’re trying to bring another opportunity, another possibility, for guys either within their care groups or outside of their care groups to line up with two or three guys that meet now completely separate from the small group setting and context. Usually there’s one guy that gives some leadership to that, not so much out of spiritual maturity as out of some necessity for some administration, like, “When are we going to meet? What are we going to do?”

David Mathis: Mike, you spoke about the time intensiveness of this, and we all feel that. How about numbers? How many people can you honestly disciple and effectively disciple in a given season of ministry? What range have you guys experienced, learned?

Mike Bullmore: I’d be really interested to hear what you guys say. I’ll mention one thing, but I’d love to hear and benefit from what you guys are finding out. I mentioned engaging in this personally and praying about it. I regularly have a list on my desk. Right now it’s on my dresser at home, and there’s, I think, 10 guys on it that I feel like I want to meet with on maybe an every other week basis. You can’t do that. And it’s really hard to take guys off the list because they’re on your heart. But you have to realize you’re not the only one that’s supposed to be doing this. That’s why I love that Randy Pope suggestion. Start small. Rather than letting that list intimidate you and do nothing, take one or two guys, and start meeting with them. Right now, I meet with two guys roughly once a month. It’s not very frequent, but it’s intentional and I don’t feel like it’s maxing me out. I think there’s a little bit more capacity. But that’s where I am right now.

Matthew Molesky: I want to come back before that to say, I was so helped by you saying, “Listen, here’s what a disciple is. It’s loving Jesus. It’s wanting to see your life formed by Jesus.” That order, I’m sure, was very intentional on your part. And then it’s now making disciples out of that kind of love. The way that we’ve been talking about a little bit like you were saying. I’m trying to get myself and our people to see that this is supposed to be natural. If it’s love, if I truly love Jesus, if I want my life to be formed by his life, then how can I not make disciples? Because then disciple making is merely talking to someone about who you love so much and is having such a tremendous impact on your life, just like any other relationship would be.

One of our common ways of talking about it is, if you ask me about my wife, Susan, my eyes are going to start to light up. I’m going to be excited to tell you about her. I think you’re going to see that I love her and that she has a big impact in my life. I’m going to be passionate. So when making disciples now is born out of that, then I don’t have to worry about so much structure and where am I going to have the opportunity, where am I going to find time, because it’s there as a part of living that out. That’s, I think, so foundational to this. Because sometimes, I think, we really rob all the power of loving Jesus and walking with Jesus. It’s really that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s that simple.

Then maybe to answer your numbers question, one of the ways that I did this really accidentally a number of years ago is that there were a couple guys on staff when I was newer at the church. And I just thought, I don’t want to meet in a conference room. I want you to come into my house. I love people coming into our lives, the messiness of four kids, my wife, and the regular functioning of a home. I said to come in on an evening. We won’t set any end time. We’re going to spend some time together. Over time, that just grew. At one point, it was eight guys. Now we have five guys.

For a long time, it was every Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m., having coffee, drinking an adult beverage every once in a while, and maybe smoking a cigar. We were really living life, reading the word, doing what you’re saying, praying, having time together, sharing hurts, victories, enjoyments, and pleasures in God. It was the maturing process. That’s still going. It’s been, I don’t know, six years now of guys moving in and out of that. That’s just one way. And then I’m asking them and challenging them, “Now, how are you doing this?” We recently, about six months ago, took that back to every other Tuesday night and said, “Okay, you have to go do a Tuesday night now. Who are your guys that you’re going to do this with? Who’s your Tuesday night group?” But still continuing with them. It’s just one small way to try and work that out of living life together.

Jeremy Rennie: I feel like I can meet with a couple guys to go really deep on a regular basis, and then I think there’s other people I meet with more infrequently. And then there’s a group of guys — we call them growth groups — I’m able to deal with at a higher level. So I feel like I have levels of discipleship. I teach a group of guys on a Thursday morning with the other pastors, and we read theology and things like that. So I feel like all of those things are contributing. But in terms of real life-on-life, go deep, meet every week (maybe I’m an introvert too), I just don’t have room in my soul for 20 people. But a couple, I can do. So there are layers. Preaching is discipleship too.

Mike Bullmore: One of the things that relates to this question, David, is that we’re trying to encourage people to pay attention to what’s already in their life. So rather than adding something, now it’s just re-envisioning what’s already there. For example, one of the guys that I do meet with, he’s lifting two or three times every week with another guy in the church. They get up early, they’re committed to this, and they’re lifting. I just said to him, “Hey, have you ever thought about leveraging that for mutual encouragement in following Christ?” And he was like, “Oh, you can do that?” I said, “Yeah. You could, in fact, just pray. And then maybe during the course of your lifting, you could ask one another a question or two.” I came back to him a few weeks later, I said, “Hey, did you try that?” And he was so excited. He said, “We never knew that was sitting right there in front of us.”

So I think as pastors or elders, whatever ministry we have, we have to think that way as well, and then help our people think that way. There are so many opportunities. It’s not just adding another thing; it’s thinking differently about things that are already in place.

Matthew Molesky: Jeremy, you just said preaching is discipleship. Could you flesh that out a little bit, like what you mean by that, how that works?

Jeremy Rennie: I think preaching is an important part of discipleship. It’s not the whole thing. I think of expository preaching in the church as the prow of the ship. It’s sort of pointing the way, it’s setting the themes and the agenda. It’s modeling for people the sufficiency of God’s word. Week after week, the thing that is changing people’s lives and affecting them is the word itself. As people are affected by God’s word, it sets an agenda, without even having to say it, that it’s the word that changes lives, so that when they’re doing discipleship, it’s relationships around the word of God. I think that’s important. I think preaching is making disciples, preaching is building disciples, but there’s more to it than that. So it’s an agenda setting thing. But you can’t get rid of preaching and just do discipleship. You could, but something is lost in the way God has designed discipleship to be congregationally shaped, especially.

David Mathis: Anything else someone would like to say on preaching?

Mike Bullmore: In fact, I think you need to think about your preaching in a way that it is part of a discipleship, larger package. All of us know that we could preach in such a way that’s not contributing to discipleship in the least. I’m not just talking about bad preaching, I’m talking about a way of thinking about preaching. Even in your preaching, you want to be thinking about this idea of how this contributes, as Jeremy has suggested. Think about what part this is playing in the larger discipleship process. Because I couldn’t agree with him more, preaching is a necessary part of discipleship. You can’t get it all done in preaching, but preaching has to be there. But I also think we have to think about our preaching in a particular way.

Matthew Molesky: I think that it should be an encouragement if you’re a pastor preacher out there, just like you said with the lifter guy, here’s a way that I can do this that’s already a part of my life. Here’s a way that you can do this as a pastor and a preacher that’s already a part of your life, especially if the goal of your expository preaching and exultation is to point to Jesus. Now you’re fulfilling that. You can ask, “Am I helping my people love Jesus? Am I helping my people have their lives formed around Jesus?”

I think that’s another wonderful thing at Calvary that we’ve experienced. We’ve been in Luke for about two and a half years now. It’s so fantastic not to have to run to find Jesus. He’s there literally on every page and every text that we’re going to. We have seen, I think, like you were saying, Jeremy, some real fruit because they see who he is and what he’s doing and what he cares about week after week after week after week. You see how certain things are heavy on his heart. Just like you were exhorting us to be driven by love, he is driven by love for lost people. His values and his priorities were driven by seeking and saving the lost. I want to be like him. I want to be like Jesus. I know I personally have a long way to go, but to see him and to walk with him in that way has been so transformative for me and for a number of others I know in our congregation.

David Mathis: I know of one old veteran disciple maker who would call the weightlifting together killing two birds with one stone. If you’re going to lift weights anyway, take a brother with you and invest in that time. Or if you’re going for a jog and you can converse while you’re jogging, then take someone with you. Or it might be Tuesday night at Molesky house. Do you have any other ideas for getting disciple making out of the church doors or out of the coffee shop, out of just the formal meeting, into other avenues of life?

Jeremy Rennie: I guess I have a question for you guys. This is something I’m wrestling with and I’d like to try to figure out more in our church: How do you do less at church so that it frees people up to have time for relationships? But also we want to make sure that if they have the time, it’s not like, “I have more time for my favorite show or more sports,” or something. But maybe we could see the reason that they’re not doing as many programmatic things at church is that it frees them to invest in relationships. I wonder if anyone’s had success at that. It’s something I’ve been noodling on lately.

Mike Bullmore: By saying this, I’m not suggesting that I or we as a church are doing this super well, although I know some people in our church that are outstanding at this. I’m talking about the importance of the home. The home is not just a place of hospitality, but a place of observed life. One of the ways that discipleship is happening at Crossway, and I’m very grateful to God for it, is that because of our proximity and association with Trinity Seminary, we have quite a few guys who are on the track to go into pastoral ministry. We have felt a stewardship at our church to care for these guys and disciple them particularly. So we have formed what we call the Crossway Pastoral Training Course. It’s not replacing their theological education, it’s coming alongside it in the context of the local church.

An important part of that is the context of our home. My wife meets with the wives of those guys. We try to get them into homes and into social settings. And again, it’s not so much for some kind of formal, “How’s your devotions going this week, Jeremy?” but interaction that not infrequently goes to matters of real life. We ask things like, “How does marriage work in ministry? We noticed you interacted with your son that way. Can you tell us what you were trying to get done there?” Those kinds of things that have to do with important parts of our own following Christ now get observed and talked about. What I’m trying to get at is that home just seems to be an incubator of discipleship. Good things happen in the home and around tables and around meals.

Matthew Molesky: There’s something you said at lunch, Jeremy, about beating the drum. To put two things together here, you said change in culture is about having small things repeatedly over time, like beating that drum. Our girl, Calvary, is a 132 year old girl, so there’s a lot of history there. But one of the things that I think we’ve been doing is our purpose statement actually shifted recently as part of this. A purpose statement isn’t going to make the culture happen, like you were saying with that, but we say that we exist to make more and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. So that’s your two pieces, more and maturing. We want both to be present.

If that is going to be the thing, if I’m beating that drum, then I’m finding ways to get to that in the text and mention that and preach explicitly on it a few times a year. I’m asking, “How is this pointing to either growth (I’m going to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ), or getting more in so that they can grow in Jesus.” Now we just ask that question of the ministries and of the programs. We brought a new pastor on staff recently, Pastor Steve, who’s meeting with people. If you’re dreaming of a ministry or you’ve got an existing ministry, how’s it accomplishing one of those two things? Because if it’s not, then it’s robbing resources and energy from our ability to do what we’re here for.

I love what you were saying about making that normal part of life, finding the ways to do that, and helping them to see it doesn’t happen by showing up at 1200 Roosevelt Road, but it happens in the home. Telling stories is maybe another way. I didn’t ask if I could share this story, but I’ll risk it. My wife was in that category of thinking, “I don’t have the time,” and, “I don’t have anything to offer.” She just realized, “I can do this if I just have girls come over and hang out at my house with me while the kids are here and we have tea and talk about life.” And the next thing you know, she had four or five of those, just like you were saying, to see those contexts and to see them grow. So I think first, how does this tie or not tie to our purpose? And then second, how is it being worked out in non-campus places?

David Mathis: We’ve mentioned Jesus a few times. We should ask about his example. The classic book on disciple making may be Robert Coleman’s the Master Plan of Evangelism from the 1960s. He tracked Jesus’s own ministry through the Gospels and made observations about how Jesus went about making disciples. What can we learn from Jesus, and then what can we not learn from Jesus? Or how do we say we don’t just do exactly what he did? We as disciplers can’t die on a cross for the salvation of our disciples. How do we help point to Jesus of where he is a model for disciple making, and then in what sense is he not?

Jeremy Rennie: I think facial hair is important.

Matthew Molesky: Amen. Preach it, brother.

Jeremy Rennie: I do think you have to be careful to look at Jesus’s model as a formula. You could think, “Well, he had 12 guys, so that’s a good small group number, as studies have shown.” No, this is the new 12 tribes of Israel. This is the eschatological people of God. There are theological reasons. I think we can jump to pragmatic reasons. Or you could think, “He had 12 disciples, and then he had a group of three. He had a growth group and he had three, so he had three guys in a small group.” There may be wisdom there, but I think you have to be careful of looking at Jesus like that.

But there are other things that we can look at. He spent his life with people. A disciple is someone who follows a model, and so they’re following us. Paul says, “Follow my example. Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” In some ways, that’s part of the heart of discipleship. So they imitated Christ and they learned his teaching. He taught and taught so that they memorized it and they could write down the Gospels. I think that there are some things like that. The teaching that Christ gave we need to teach to others, teaching them to obey everything he’s commanded us. And then we need to spend time with people and model the life of Christ. It’s life and doctrine. I think in that sense, it can’t just happen from afar, lobbing in discipleship, but it has to be life-on-life, and that’s an important part of that whole process.

David Mathis: Other thoughts there? How about for the guys who would say, “I want to do this, I want to disciple others, but I have not myself been ‘discipled.’” Mike addressed this some. But what else can we share by way of encouragement or counsel for guys who want to start something new? They’re not the product of someone else’s disciple making, but how can they be someone who initiates something and leaves in their wake generations of disciple makers?

Jeremy Rennie: I’m just encouraged because I was not really discipled like that, and so I feel like in some ways I’m Johnny-come-lately to the way ministry should be. I feel like in my whole ministry I’ve been catching up. But I would say the thing I’ve discovered as I’ve leaned into discipleship is that, as we say in Boston, it’s wicked easy. You just hang out with people and you share your life and you talk about stuff. But instead of just shooting the breeze, you just are a little more intentional. When people talk about things, you say, “Well, now, wait a minute. Let’s talk about that.” And you lean into it and maybe you read the Bible together and it just happens. It’s a lot easier than it sounds like.

I think that the problem is that it’s just not tried. I’ve found it’s easier than you think. It’s relationships. Unless you’re a total hermit who can’t talk to people, it’s not that hard. And then you grow in it, just like anything. You learn how to do it and it develops. I think that’s the thing that’s been encouraging me. Just jump in and get going with one person.

Mike Bullmore: I think all of us have a conception of what it’s supposed to look like. So we find ourselves saying, like you just said, Jeremy, “I was never discipled like that.” We all have an image in our mind of what it’s supposed to look like. Many of us would say we didn’t have that. But then stop and ask the question again. Were there any influences in your life? Did anybody love you? Fundamentally, discipleship is an act of love. It’s not an act of skill. So do you have a genuine love for somebody and are you willing to spend some time?

I think about the people who have formed my life and shaped my life. There’s not been a whole lot of times where it looked just like that. But man, there was a lot of discipling going on. I think about my dad. We didn’t do a whole lot of sitting down and reading the Bible. I watched him, and he discipled me because he loved me. I think about various pastors or teachers along the way and the influence they had. I think discipleship is fundamentally influenced through word and relationship, and that doesn’t take a whole lot to have that happen to some degree of effectiveness. It doesn’t have to be brilliant in order to be faithful and fruitful. I think the love piece is a really important piece.

Jeremy Rennie: If you ask, “What are the tools of discipleship?” it’s the word of God, love, and prayer. They’re all simple and they just need to be employed. I think it involves prioritizing it. Really for me, it was increasingly getting the vision of the long-term fruitfulness of it. You put on an event at church on a Friday night, and it’s a men’s gathering and 30 people come and it was great, and some good comes out of that. And you think, “Wow, look at the buzz, look at the activity.” And then you think, “Well, meeting with a guy at Dunkin’ Donuts every week or every other week and reading a book or reading the Bible, that’s just one guy and I pour it all into that guy.” But what if that guy is becoming an elder, or what if he is being trained up to be a fellow minister of the gospel?

It’s the old multiplication versus addition thing. We should really believe that discipleship has a long-term fruit to it. We overestimate what we can do in five years, but we underestimate what we can do in 20 years. Believe in that long-term pattern.

Matthew Molesky: I think what you guys were saying before is that the church tends towards complexity and has to be limited. I’ve only been at this for 10 years, but people seem to want me to give them the five steps. And I think we almost need to release people to say, “No, it really is that simple. It really is this simple. It will really have a huge impact on someone to live life with them.” That it is word, life, and prayer, like you said.

I think maybe that’s the crossover from your question of what we can learn from Jesus. Guys, as I just continue to move through Luke, the thing that I feel is not necessarily prescriptive, but descriptive, is his absolute blood earnest love for others. There was a continual laying down of his life. We always think of his laying down of his life at the cross, which is there, but there is this continual laying down of his life and his desires. He is always saying, “I’m doing this for you, Father.” Man, he loved people. He just loved them so much. And just say, “Yeah, do that. Love someone.” Here’s a particular way that could work out.

Mike Bullmore: David, can I go back to something we were talking about just a few minutes ago? We ask, “How much of this can you actually do?” And we talked about just having one guy. We are moving toward the idea that we want to create a discipleship culture so that at some point, everybody’s participating in this. But getting that thing going is part of it. If I’m just one guy and I’ve got this limited capacity, and yes, I mentioned small beginnings have genius in them, so just get started. But how does this relate to an eldership? How necessary is it? I guess I’m interested in you guys weighing in on this. How necessary should it be to an eldership that they be participating in specifically this kind of disciple making? Should this be a requirement for an elder? Is this part of the definition of an elder? And is that a way that we share the load of disciple making in a church as we seek to create a culture? What do you guys find in your eldership along these lines?

Jeremy Rennie: I increasingly can’t distinguish between disciple making and shepherding. I’m not sure what the difference is. So if an elder’s primary task is to shepherd the flock and they’re charged with that, then that’s making disciples. Think about Ephesians 4:12. The calling of pastors is to equip God’s people for work and service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach maturity. Well, that sounds like disciple making. It’s to raise up mature people who obey everything that he’s commanded. I think I can’t separate those things. I think that is the work of an elder. It’s to set the pace for the church in disciple making. They’re called to teach. The whole church is called to teach one another and admonish one another, but elders set the pace for teaching, and I think they set the pace for disciple making too. So I think that’s something.

That’s a shift that’s been happening in our church. It’s trying to get our elders to move from thinking, “We’re a board of directors who hires and fires the people who do the ministry. And they come to us asking for funds and we say yes or no.” No, you’re fellow disciple maker shepherds with us. And I think that is a huge effect when the elders make that shift.

Mike Bullmore: So Jeremy, are you saying you would articulate before a guy comes on to eldership, “This is what we’re expecting of you”? Is that a very clear statement that this is part of your job description as an elder?

Jeremy Rennie: Yes. In fact, when we look at potential elder candidates that we nominate to our congregation — because we’re congregationally governed but elder led — we’re looking for guys who are shepherding now. A lot of times, they come out of our small groups. They come out of different fishing holes where we’re looking for guys who are learning how to shepherd. Or we just know, “Well, that guy meets with that person and that person and they’re already discipling.” This is the heart of a shepherd, so we look for that. And then I think it involves constant teaching among the elders. Because even if you get elders who believe in that on paper, we forget.

There are certain drums I feel like you can never stop beating in the church. You can never stop beating the gospel, and you can never stop beating the word of God drum. You have to always beat the glory of God in all things. And you’ve got to always beat the membership drum and the shepherding, disciple-making drum, because those are the ones that just fade out of people’s minds. Even elders who would on paper say, “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be shepherding.” It just needs to be really continuous and relentless.

Matthew Molesky: As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the process of really talking through this. When we’ve had a process of bringing some guys in recently, we’ve asked the question, “Who are you currently discipling? When was the last time you really explicitly proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God to a person? When did you bring it to that specific kind of conversation?” So we’re asking questions like that, but we haven’t made it literally a requirement yet.

But I think it’s interesting. One of the things you brought up in your talk was about this. You said we have to be a disciple before we can make disciples. And then you moved to saying that being a disciple fundamentally means making disciples. It made me think of something, I think, Mark Dever said when asked about this. He said, “Well, I simply don’t know what you mean when you say you’re a Christian, but you’re not making disciples. I don’t understand what that means.” We have to face that reality. I don’t want to guilt people into this. I don’t want to do that to our people. But are we willing to confront this? This is an issue of obedience. If I’m not making disciples, if I’m not proclaiming the good news, well, why not? I think you said it. Those are hard conversations and hard things you have to face.

I’d be curious to hear from you guys. So you’re asking that question coming in, but how do you have those conversations, either as an eldership or maybe in your preaching? Because though I want to beat the drum I don’t necessarily want to beat you. I want to attract you. But also, if I have a role by God’s grace to be a means of his conviction in your life in this area, I want to attract you and say, “You have the opportunity to share the good news of the kingdom of God with people. He actually called you to do that. That’s fantastic. But I also want you to see that he’s also your king who’s commanding you to do that.” So how do you have those conversations with each other and with your people?

Mike Bullmore: Well, we have tried to put in place a system for shepherding that we trust will be a ripe context for discipleship. In other words, we’re communicating to our elders, “This is what’s expected of you in sharing shepherding load. You are not a board of directors. You are the shepherds of the church. You bear responsibility. You will give account to God for these people.”

We have a system of shepherding and a mindset of discipleship inside of that system. So rather than saying every one of the elders needs to go out and have two or three relationships where they’re meeting with guys, we’re saying, “Within your system of shepherding, you have to be thinking about discipleships.” Our system is that we have elders over our spheres of small groups. Each elder has two or three or four or five small groups, depending on their load. And now they’re shepherding those people through their oversight of the leader of the care group, but they’re meeting with the leaders of the care groups. So they should think of discipleship. When they’re counseling with people in those care groups, they should think about discipleship. Be thinking discipleship in all of the exercises of shepherding.

Matthew Molesky: How does that work? When you say “think discipleship” what do you mean?

Mike Bullmore: What they’re working towards is bringing that person with whom they’re in conversation to greater maturity in Christ, and equipping them to be doing the same thing in their conversations with their people in their care groups, including their conversations with their care group leaders. It’s that discipleship mindset. When we talk about a culture, that’s a mindset. It’s a way of thinking about things that you didn’t have before. Now we’re thinking about things differently. It’s a system of shepherding within which a mindset of culture of discipleship can flourish.

Matthew Molesky: How often do you have elder council meetings?

Mike Bullmore: Twice a month.

Matthew Molesky: So are you coming back at every meeting or every other meeting to follow up? Do you ask those questions, then, saying, “How is it, guys?”

Mike Bullmore: At our elder meetings, for example, we have the same business that every other church has to take care of. We spend some time praying and we spend some time doing our business. And then we typically spend a good half of our meeting — and we do not have short meetings — doing shepherding care together in which we’re trying to help one another figure out how best not just to shepherd crisis situations, but think about disciple making. Sometimes we do it better than others, to be honest with you. But we are trying to be thinking about, “What does helping someone move to maturity in this situation look like?” That would be a major part of our meeting.

Matthew Molesky: So part of the discipleship in that conversation is both the moving toward maturity and reaching more people? Where are we asking the questions to see if more are coming in? I feel like in our church, we’ve been okay in the last few years in the growing part, where people are growing in Jesus, but not as much in reaching more. So do you ask that question specifically as well?

Mike Bullmore: That’s interesting, Matthew. That question right there, the evangelistic side of disciple making, is not as explicit in our elder care. We are now in this conversation trying to figure out how, in our rethinking about how we facilitate disciple making in our church, more and more about a missional component. I know that word can get bandied about a bit, but at least an outward expression or impulse to our discipleship as well. I think that’s a place where we’ve identified we need to pay more attention to that part of disciple making.

Matthew Molesky: I’m not saying I want it to be about the numbers and we report these numbers. But I feel like that’s part of the question I’m going to have to answer. You’re number three on the mission of Jesus. Goodness, he’s going to ask, I think. I just confess, I’m not where I want to be at all. I think Jesus is going to ask, “Boyd was next door to you. Dave and Jen were next door to you. Where were you moving out?” Again, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty over it, but to spur you on towards loving those who are outside the kingdom in that way.

Jeremy Rennie: Maybe I’ve just come to realize, there is a difference between shepherding and disciple making in the sense that when elders are called to shepherd the flock, there’s a sense in which they’re called to be accountable for the members of the church, not people outside of the members of the church. As a believer, they’re called to do the work of evangelists, just like every Christian. But the specific role of an elder is to watch over people for whom you must give an account. And as a pastor, I’m not giving an account for every Christian in the world or every person who happens to come into my church or every guy I bump into, but I’m giving an account for specific members who’ve covenanted together.

So I’d say in that sense, there’s a subset maybe. Being an elder and shepherding is a subset of broader disciple making that does need to be distinguished. The church isn’t just a generic disciple making center, but it is also a marked out body marked by baptism and membership. So there has to be a congregational shape to disciple making too. It’s not just me and individual relationships. I think that’s helpful.

David Mathis: Brothers, thank you very much. The conversations will continue, hopefully, throughout the conference.