Being One: The Pastor/Elder as Disciple

Pre-Conference – 2015 Conference for Pastors

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

I want you to know that my preference standing here would be simply to right now invite you to open your Bibles and spend the next 45 minutes or so looking at God’s word together, but I have been given an assignment to address a topic, and so that’s what I’m eager to do with you all this afternoon. And so before we get into it, let me just ask you to join me and let’s ask for God’s blessing on our time together. So, let’s pray.

An Unlikely Candidate

Well, a little over a year ago — in fact, it was late October of 2013 — I received the invitation to speak at this gathering. And that invitation, to be quite honest with you, created a little bit of a crisis in my mind and in my heart. I had been recommended to Joe Smith, who was organizing this conference, based on some mentoring and discipling that I was doing with a group of young men who felt that God was calling them into the ministry. I had been teaching at Trinity Seminary, and as I was transitioning into planting a church, I was able to take several of those students from my spiritual formation group there at Trinity and continue to disciple them but now in the context of pastoral ministry. Over the years, that continued, and it seemed to be bearing good fruit. We met once a month in our living room and God did some good things in our lives.

After he had moved on, one of the guys in that group, in a conversation with Joe Smith, shared his own experience of that time of discipling and the benefits that had come to him in his life. And so, very soon thereafter, I received from Joe this email inviting me to speak. That was the history that prompted the invitation, but the irony of it all was that during that very time that I received that invitation, our pastoral team had come to this very kind of stark realization that, as a team and as a church, we really weren’t doing discipleship very well at all. We had just identified on a team retreat three specific areas of need. We had named them very specifically, and one of them — in fact, the one that emerged most powerfully for us — was the need to cultivate a culture of discipleship in our church among our people. And the more we talked about that as a pastoral team, the more acutely aware we became of our shortcomings and our need, and it was into that very climate that this invitation from Joe came.

And so I responded with an email saying that I was honored, but basically I begged off the invitation. I wrote to him these words:

Joe, as I read what you have in mind for this conference, I realized that much of the weakness that you described in your email is present in my own ministry and in our own dear church. I felt, as I read your email, like one of the pastors who needs to benefit from such a conference rather than be the one speaking. This is not some form of false humility, it really is the case. So I read your email and I thought, “He needs to ask someone who is doing this well and can speak out of some history of faithfulness.”

That’s what I told him and I encouraged him to look for someone else. I even made suggestions. I even gave him some names that I thought would do a better job. Of course, the response came back, “Thank you for your thoughtful and humble response. I’m even more convinced now that you are the one to speak.” So, be careful how you respond to emails. I wonder what would’ve happened if I had said, “I’m your guy. Why have you waited so long?”

So over the last 14 months or so, we have been engaged as a church, as a pastoral team, in thinking about discipleship and praying about discipleship and taking some steps toward cultivating a culture of discipleship in our church. We haven’t written a book. I’m not here sharing some success story with you today. We’re still engaged. We’re still trying to work out how best as pastors to be engaged in faithful, fruitful discipleship and in cultivating a fruitful discipleship culture. We’re taking steps, and what I want to share today with you is not so much the things that we are doing but rather the convictions that we’re operating on.

Disciple First, Pastor Second

The very first and foundational conviction when it comes to discipling as a pastor is this: you cannot make disciples without first being a disciple. You cannot make disciples without first really being a disciple. There is — and I’m assuming you’ve encountered this as well to some degree or another — this renewed wave of interest in discipleship. I’ve seen it in the young people who are attending our church in their mindset and what they express a desire for. We’ve experienced it and felt it on our pastoral team. It comes up when you talk to other guys in ministry. It’s the reason for this focus in this conference. There is an interest, a sense of need for us as pastors to not just be busy, kind of managing the business of the church, but to be investing, intentionally investing, relationally investing, biblically investing, through more than just our preaching, into the lives of others to encourage them on to maturity and their own fruitful investing in others’ lives. There is this renewed interest for this sense of need for focus on discipleship as a crucial piece, a critical piece of pastoral ministry.

Let me read you something from the back of a recent book on discipleship that I think captures this. This is from a book by Mike Breen called Building a Discipling Culture. Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

The truth of the matter is that we don’t fundamentally have a missional problem or leadership problem in the Western world or in the Western church; we have a discipleship problem. If we make disciples like Jesus made them, we’ll never have a problem finding leaders or seeing new people come to faith.

When you hear that and you read that, it has the ring of truth about it, and the part that has the ring of truth about it is that Jesus part — if we make disciples like Jesus made them.

Or listen to this from another recent book, this is from Randy Pope’s book called Insourcing. He writes:

Regardless of how you view it, spiritual formation through life on life discipleship is one of those topics that will never go away. It’s just too biblical.

You read that, and again, it has the ring of truth about it, and the part that rings true is that biblical part.

Being a Disciple and Making Disciples

Now, we sit here as busy pastors, very busy pastors, and yet still something in us says that we cannot ignore this. Discipleship does need to be in the picture of my pastoring, and more than just through my preaching, more than just my overseeing the small groups in my church. But as soon as you find yourself saying, “Yes,” a big question comes up — and I’m guessing it’s come up in your mind probably in the last few minutes, certainly over time as you’ve thought about this — what exactly is discipleship? What exactly are we talking about when we use that word?

Let me just take a moment here to try to put some handles on that word for us. It will help us as we talk about this to have it right in our minds. The fact is that when that word gets used, it can be used to talk about two very different things. That word discipleship can be used, it does get used, to talk about someone being a disciple. It’s almost like a definition of the Christian life. It’s a life of discipleship — a life of me following Jesus. And that word discipleship can get used, and it does get used, to talk about someone encouraging someone else in their following Jesus. This is something we do for others. We’re in a discipleship relationship with them. We’re discipling them.

Now, both of those are hugely important in a discipleship culture, which our churches should have. So think of that word discipleship as kind of a banner, and underneath that banner are two things: being disciples and making disciples. Being a disciple involves you and me following Jesus, growing in our discipleship to Christ, and making disciples involves introducing people to Jesus, helping them to grow, and teaching them to obey. And it’s these two things that I want to address in the two sessions that I have with you today.

I want to address being a disciple as a pastor, and making disciples as a pastor. Discipleship is first and foremost a description, a naming of the nature of my relationship with Jesus. It’s me following Jesus. When Jesus called you, he called you to something. Your coming to Jesus is not just being kind of transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light and having your ticket out of hell into heaven. No, Jesus has called you to something, and it’s not some safe and cozy kind of life, nor is it, on the other hand, some demanding, stressful, crazy busy kind of life. No, when Jesus called you, he called you to himself, and everything that means we call discipleship.

Then, discipleship is also investing in others toward their discipleship, which Jesus calls us to do, which means that disciple-making is part of being a disciple, like praying, like pursuing holiness. And that is part of our job description as pastors — doing the work of an evangelist and equipping the saints to build up the body of Christ toward maturity.

The Danger of Professional Discipleship

Now, the differentiation between those two things, between being a disciple and making a disciple, raises a really important issue. In fact, it’s an issue that is foundational to everything that I want to say today. We are disciples first and disciple-makers second. Or to rephrase it slightly, and I hope more to my point, we are not first pastors. We are first disciples of Jesus.

There is a particular danger here. I sense you feel this. There is a particular danger that we face as pastors, and the danger is that we let our primary identity slide too easily to pastor. And when that happens, both our disciple making and our own discipleship can become professionalized. We start thinking about discipleship only through the lens of our pastoring. Listen, we’re not called to discipleship as a consequence of being pastors. No, being a pastor is a particular way that God has called you to work out your being a disciple and a particular means by which he has called you to be engaged in disciple-making. Don’t be a professional disciple of Jesus. There can always be this tendency with us to slip into professional discipleship because we’re pastors. But we’re disciples first. That’s why I have the two titles today. The first is, Being One: Pastor/Eder as Disciple, and the second one is, Making Many: The Pastor/Elder as Disciple Maker.

So in this first session, I hope now with a greater kind of awareness and a greater vigilance on our part, I want us to focus on that first thing of being a disciple.

Discipleship in the Gospel of John

Remember that conviction that I stated earlier: you cannot make disciples without first being a disciple. And let’s not make the mistake of thinking, “Okay, okay, I’ll be a disciple, but then I’ll leverage that in my pastoring.” No, that’s a slip back into professional discipleship. Let God leverage your discipleship. Let us be disciples purely out of love for Jesus.

Well, what I want us to do is to get a picture of what this looks like. There are a wide variety of approaches that we could take to ground and to shape our understanding of discipleship. What I want us to do in this time is to take a kind of Gospe-biographical approach, something that is presented explicitly to us in the Bible to help us see how discipleship emerges in a person’s life, and that person that I want us to look at is Peter.

As we read through the Gospel of John, we are seeing the making of a disciple right before our eyes, the coming into being in Peter’s life of what Jesus is calling all of us to be. And as we read John, we can watch, we can see it happen, and we can be instructed very specifically on what it means to be a disciple. And then we know what Jesus says at the end of the Gospels, “What I did with you, you go and do with others. Go make disciples” (Matthew 28:18–20; John 20:21). But first, let’s look at Peter becoming a disciple. Turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter one.

The Making of a Disciple

There is a thread that I want us to follow through the Gospel of John. It’s the Peter thread. We’re going to kind of do a whirlwind tour of John’s Gospel this morning, and we pick it up first, that thread, in John 1:35, which says:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.

Here is the very first encounter between Peter and Jesus. Peter comes to Jesus. Actually, he’s brought to Jesus. It’s their introduction. And from that point on in John’s Gospel, Peter is now spending time with Jesus and coming to know Jesus. We see this in John 2:1–2, for example:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

We see the same thing later in chapter two in the temple, while they are observing what Jesus did in the temple on that day, his disciples remember that it was written of him (John 2:17). And it keeps on going like this through chapter three, chapter four, and chapter five. Peter, along with the other disciples, is with Jesus, watching Jesus, and learning from Jesus. We see the same thing in chapter six. Look there:

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples (John 6:1–2).

Deepening Commitment

Now, this is really important because of something that happens later in chapter six. In fact, look with me at John 6:66. Jesus has been teaching. What he’s been saying is very hard. It’s hard for the people who’ve been listening to him to accept what he’s teaching. In fact, it’s even hard for them to comprehend what Jesus is saying. And we read there:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Now that’s a reference, not to the 12, as we’ll see in just a moment. This is in reference to the other people who were there initially following Jesus, but now turning back. Now look at John 6:67–69:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Now, I point to this because clearly, prior to this moment, something had happened. Over the time that Peter had been with Jesus, which is described in John 2–5. Something in that time period has happened. There’s been some recognition of Jesus on Peter’s part. He’s seen Jesus’s glory and that recognition has progressed now into something like commitment, even love. From the time he had met Jesus back in chapter one — we don’t know exactly how long it’s been, probably a matter of months — there’s been this process of knowing Jesus turning into a commitment to Jesus. That’s where Peter is now.

He says, “No, I’m not going away. I’m with you. I know who you are. I know what you give.” And that leads Peter into even fuller, deeper discipleship. It’s not just loving Jesus, but now he is shaping his life around Jesus such that his life, the way he lives his life, is increasingly formed by his relationship with Jesus. But that involves some struggle. He has to deal with some things in himself. He’s committed, but his way of thinking about himself is going to need to change. His way of relating to other people is going to need to change a little bit. What he lives for is going to need to change and go through some further adjustment. That’s all in the process of being changed, formed more and more in his life, to Jesus. So we watch this process, this painful process, of going from just loving to following, his life being formed.

A Disciple’s Need for Correction

Look with me now at John 13:6–10. We know this scene. Jesus is with his disciples in the upper room and Jesus is washing their feet:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”

So here’s some enthusiasm on Peter’s part, right? I mean, Jesus needs to teach him and needs to kind of adjust him and correct him, but Peter wants to learn. He wants to grow. Many times, Jesus needs to teach him. Many times, Jesus needs to say to Peter, “No, Peter, that’s not the way we do things anymore. No, Peter, we don’t lord it over others. No, Peter, put away your sword. That’s not how we do things anymore.” But then watch what happens in John 13:36–38:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Following, Yet Falling

And sadly, that happens. Look at John 18:15–18:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

Now go down to John 18:25–27:

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Now, the other Gospels tell us that right after this, Peter went out and he wept bitterly, and if you’ve ever been where Peter is now, you know what that experience is like. See, Peter is on this path. He’s having his life formed. He’s following, but he’s stumbling. Here is a particularly painful time. He’s stumbled in a big way. It’s not an overstatement to say that he is now, after this, grief-stricken. He’s shattered. He feels anguish and despair. And the next time we encounter Peter is three days later. Look with me now at John 20:1–10:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together (just try to imagine what’s going on in Peter’s mind and heart), but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

You can imagine what is going on in Peter’s mind. Very soon he does see Jesus, but still the question, even when he sees Jesus, is there in his mind, in his heart, “Where do I stand given what I’ve done?” And right here is another key piece in the formation of Peter as a disciple.

The Restoration of a Disciple

There is this famous scene in John 21. Jesus is by the shore. Peter, with the other disciples, has gone back up to Galilee. They have resumed their fishing. Let me read John 21:1–22:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Do you see what Jesus is calling Peter to? His mission. He is saying, “This is what it’s going to look like for you, Peter. It will be different for John. I’m calling you and the other disciples to a very special role in my mission, but I’m calling everyone who follows me to my mission, to what I’m doing,” and we see Peter here committing himself to this mission.

A Life of Discipleship

Now, I know it’s dangerous to draw absolute conclusions based on a study of one life, but this is a faithful accounting, and it’s here to give us a picture of how Jesus means to call us into something, to radically shape our lives, to his person and to his mission. That’s why it’s here. It helps us see what Jesus calls us into, who he is, and how we should rightly respond to him to see what Jesus calls us into, what being a disciple is. I’m going to give you a definition here of a disciple. A disciple is someone who loves Jesus, who increasingly forms their life around Jesus, and who joins the mission of Jesus. Men, that’s what we’re called to be and that’s what we’re called to make. Put simply, being a disciple is living a life completely devoted to him, loving Jesus, forming our lives to Jesus, and joining the mission of Jesus. That’s what Jesus has called you and me to be before he called us to be pastors.

The Seriousness of the Call

Now, to bring this to bear even a little bit more closely on our lives, I want to point out two things from what we’ve just seen. First, we have to notice the seriousness of the call to discipleship. And what I mean by seriousness is not somberness. By seriousness, I mean Jesus really means this. It’s clear Jesus means this. He says, in no uncertain terms, “I want you to follow me, and I want you to spend your life following me. This is what I’m calling you to live for, not something else.” And it’s not just Peter, it’s everyone we see there. And it’s not just those disciples, not just these guys. Remember what Jesus said on another occasion, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24),” which means, “Your life is conformed to my life. Your life is devoted to my mission.”

Yes, it’s going to look different for each one of us, but it’s real. Whether you end up being a pastor or a police officer or a teacher or a tradesman, listen, Jesus really means this — loving him, forming your life to him, joining his mission to be the controlling agenda of our lives, not something else with this Jesus stuff kind of fitted conveniently into our schedules at a few places. He’s calling us to a life of discipleship, and he uses words like follow, which means he wants us to walk a particular path; and he uses words like yoke, which means we’re not free to just do our own thing; and he uses words like cost, which means there’s a cost.

This is now what your life is about. This is now what you live for, and not as some externally, professionally motivated thing, but motivated by your experience with Jesus. So, fellow pastor, fellow elder, is that what your life is about? Is it about following Jesus, loving Jesus, forming your life to Jesus? Is that what defines your life, or is your life more defined by pastoring?

Jesus’s Mission

We use that term, Jesus’s mission. What is Jesus’s mission? As a boy in the temple, remember, Jesus said, “I must be about about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). And later on, he said, “This is my food, to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). What is that will? It’s to gather a people for God — to ransom, to redeem, and to reconcile a people for God. And then he said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Or listen to 2 Corinthians 5:17–20. Paul says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

That’s Jesus’s mission, and he calls us to his person and his mission, and he means it, even though it’s challenging and it’s costly and it involves dying to self — like all the time.

The Attractiveness of the One Who Calls Us

And that raises the question, why? Why would I want to do that when I don’t have to? Why would I want to do that when there are other ways to go through life? I mean, I could just blatantly live for myself. A lot of people are doing that. Or I could more respectably live for myself. There’s a lot of people doing that. I could even live a somewhat committed Christian life, even as a pastor, and a lot of people do that. Why would I want to make following Jesus the controlling agenda of my life? Why would I want to be a disciple?

And that brings me to the second thing I wanted to point out from what we’ve seen: the magnetic attractiveness of the one who calls us. We’ve seen the seriousness of the call. I want us also to see the attractiveness of the one who calls. We see this in the tenderness of Jesus toward Peter. Did you notice this as we went through the Gospel of John, how amazingly tender Jesus was with Peter, how amazingly patient and compassionate and fatherly and brotherly Jesus was?

I mean, when you look at the composite picture of Jesus’s dealings with Peter, it’s amazing. His love, his patience, his hopefulness on Peter’s behalf, his commitment, it just keeps showing up in things Jesus says to Peter and things Jesus does for Peter, and that’s not some exception. Jesus was like that with Peter for one simple reason: that’s what Jesus is like to those who love him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . (Matthew 11:28–29).

Listen, when Jesus calls you to follow him, when he calls you to discipleship, he isn’t calling you to something impossible. He’s calling you to himself. He is a tender, loving, good shepherd who laid down his life so that you could have life, who conquered your sin and death so that you could be free. He’s done everything for us. And then he says, “Follow me.” And he’s with us every step of the way as friend and helper and shepherd and sovereign Lord. Peter experienced that, and that awakened a deep love and commitment and desire to follow him.

Think back to that scene in John 6. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the whole Bible. Many of the people who have been listening to Jesus are leaving. Jesus turns to the 12. He says, “Will you go too?” Peter, in a moment of Spirit-inspired brilliance, says, “Lord, where else could we go? You have the words of eternal life,” by which Peter did not mean, “Your words are about life.” No, Peter knew by then that Jesus’s words were life, life to us.

I read those words and I don’t just hear mental acknowledgement on the part of Peter. There’s devotion there. Devotion is commitment plus love, and we see it when Peter says, “We don’t want to go. We want to be with you. Lord, I would lay down my life for you.” And at the end, remember, Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” And three times Peter says, “Lord, not only do I love you, you know I’m telling the truth. You know everything. You know that I love you.”

Why follow Jesus? Think about it: because it’s Jesus we get to follow. The more clarity I get about what he’s done for me, the more clarity I get about what he’s like, the more I’m glad to be following him. When he says, “Follow me,” the first thing I want to be thinking is, “I just want to be with you. You’re walking that path there, and that path that looks hard and steep and kind of scary. That’s where you’re going and you’re calling me to follow? Well, you’ve got my heart. You’ve given me life. So even though I see following you will cost me, and I’ve got to give up my supposed independence and my supposed freedom, still, I’m going to stay with you and follow you. It’s the only place where there’s life.”

Implications for Pastors

All right, let me draw three summary implications from all of this for us as pastors and elders and we’ll be done.

1. Disciples First

First, I said this at the beginning and I just want to reiterate it again in light of what we’ve seen, we’re disciples first before we’re pastors. Disciple is our identity; pastor is a role, a vocation. Now, obviously they’re related. We live out our lives as disciples in our pastoring and we do this thing called disciple making largely as pastors, but underneath our sense of excitement and privilege at being a pastor there should be a foundational and burning excitement and sense of privilege at being a Jesus follower.

And then out of your excitement about your own discipleship, let there grow an excitement about being able to encourage others in following Jesus. Let that be the fuel of your pastoring. Any pastoring and disciple making that we do must flow out of our own discipleship to Jesus. I just felt the need to reiterate that because if you’re not living as a disciple, you calling others to discipleship is going to ring hollow — certainly to God, also to you, and at least in some, maybe only slightly discernible way, to them as well.

2. Whole Life Disciples

Second, implication number two, discipleship is whole life discipleship. I mean this as opposed to professional discipleship. And we all know the struggles here. We know there’s challenges. It probably helps us to kind of assess our lives and see exactly how this shows up for us. But the bottom line is, again, are we filtering our discipleship through our pastoring or are we filtering our pastoring through our discipleship? Because if we’re doing the first thing, the temptation will be very strong to limit our discipleship to the extent of our pastoring.

Jesus calls us to whole life discipleship, every single part of our lives. And as pastors, we cannot let our vocations rob our discipleship by funneling it only along the lines of pastoral duty. Following Jesus is a whole life thing, but let me quickly say that following Jesus is also the best life. It’s what we were made for. Discipleship to Jesus is optimal human existence.

3. The Word and Relationships

Third, finally, and very briefly, and this will be the segue into the second talk. I just want to mention the necessity to discipleship of both word and relationship. Remember Peter’s words back in John 6. He said, “You have the words . . .” We need the word if we’re going to be disciples. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Now go make disciples and teach them to obey all that I have spoken to you, all that that I’ve commanded to you” (Matthew 28:18–20). Discipleship depends on word, but it also needs company, especially company that’s maybe a little further along on the path of discipleship.

Now, I suppose, strictly speaking, you can follow Jesus alone, and I can imagine some in the history of the church have had to do that, at least in large measure. But the norm, the picture of the Gospels, the picture in the rest of the New Testament, is life on life fellowship, whether in mutual encouragement, one-anothering, or in very specific concrete mentoring Christians helping other Christians become more Christ-like. And that’s something we’ll seek to unpack in the next section on disciple making.

is senior pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin.