We’re talking about discipleship in these two sessions. The claim that I made last session was that you cannot make disciples without first being a disciple. But now we come to this second session, which I’ve titled Making Many: The Pastor/Elder As Disciple Maker.
A Voice of Encouragement
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, there is this famous scene when Christian finds himself walking, approaching a dark valley. His fear as he approached the valley was dramatically increased when two men came running back from the darkness, shouting to him, “Back, go back. That valley is as black as pitch. This is none other than the valley of the shadow of death.” Christian replied to them, “But there is no other way to the celestial city.” But they continue to run back the other way. And Christian went forward slowly and carefully, for the path was, Bunyan tells us, exceedingly narrow.
And before long, Christian was beset by all sorts of evil thoughts. Even evil thoughts intruding themselves on his mind. But as he was despairing and about to give up, at that moment he thought he heard the voice of someone going before him speaking to God. Immediately Christian took courage, and that for three reasons. First, he gathered from this that there were in the valley others who feared God besides himself. Second, he perceived that God was with them. And if he was with them, why not with him. And third, he hoped to overtake them and have their company.
That is, I think, a beautiful picture, a beautiful example of someone a little farther along the path having an effect on a Christian disciple — encouraging him and strengthening him to keep following Jesus. And the question is, how might that happen in your life and ministry and mine? The church where I pastor was planted 16 years ago, and right from the start we wanted to establish the church in certain kinds of biblical values — the glory of God as our highest aim, the functional centrality of the gospel, wholehearted love for God, the importance and profitability of sound doctrine, the necessity of pursuing sanctification, the active presence in ministry of the Holy Spirit, biblical manhood and womanhood.
And one of the things that got emphasized a lot in the early years of our church life was the importance of men leading, in their homes and in the church. Not in some kind of macho way, and certainly not in some chauvinistic way, but in a Christ-like way where the people around them would flourish. But the question is, how is that kind of thing going to come about? How is that kind of thing going to be sustained? And it’s really important that it does come about, that it is sustained. I believe with all my heart that if we’re going to have spiritually healthy homes and spiritually healthy churches, we need a large group, a large percentage of spiritually healthy men. And that’s not just a kind of practical leadership conviction, it’s a biblical conviction. So how’s that going to happen? How might that happen in your life, in your pastoral ministry and mine?
The Precedent of God-Oriented Men
Well, I want in this session to do my best to provide something of an answer to that question. I want to begin answering that question by making a claim that I trust you’ll find it very easy to agree with. Here’s the claim: the main thing for a Christian man is to be in a real relationship with God and giving top priority to that relationship. The main thing for a Christian man’s — it’s true of any Christian, but I’m focusing on men here — is to be in a real relationship with God and giving top priority to that relationship. What does Jeremiah say? What does the Lord say through Jeremiah?
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
The main thing for a man is to be in a real relationship with God and give top priority to that relationship. And we see that exemplified wonderfully in various men throughout the Bible. We see it in Noah who walked with God. We see it in Abraham who was called a friend of God. You have these moments in these men’s biographies where there’s this kind of summary statement of their lives. We see it in Moses with whom God spoke as a friend. We see it in Samuel. We see it in David who was a man after God’s own heart. We see it in Job who was upright and who feared God. So we see it in all of these examples. But we also see that claim taught in many places in the Bible, explicitly taugh>
You shall love the Lord. your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
And that’s the first and greatest commandment. Jesus said:
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
So God’s word calls us to make God the dominant reality in our lives. We are called to be God-ward, God-oriented, God-focused people. The main thing for you as a man, and the main thing for the men in your church, is to be in a real relationship with God, giving top priority to your relationship with God. Now, how does that reality come about? Well, as you read the Bible and as you watch how God works in church history, three things emerge with amazing consistency: communion with God (especially via his word), being among God’s covenant people, and connection with other God-focused men. These are the things that emerge with amazing consistency that the Holy Spirit uses to cultivate this reality of being a God-ward, God-focused, God-oriented man.
Connected to Faithful Men
We had a conversation recently with a group of about 20 men from our church, and I just asked them the question, “What do you need? We’re going to talk about it for the next hour here. What do you need in order to develop as a follower of Jesus?” And I was not totally surprised, but it did strike me how consistently two things got named. First, they said, “I need the word. I have to have the word coming in and abiding in my life.” And second, “I need connectedness with other men, other Christian men, some of them ahead of me, some of them alongside of me.”
And guys, it’s the second thing there that I want to give some particular attention to this afternoon now. The importance of purposefully connecting with other men to encourage them and equip them in their relating to God, in their following of Christ, and in their making that the top priority in their lives. We’re talking here about disciple-making as part of your life and your ministry. You’re a disciple first, but you’re also a pastor.
What might your engagement in disciple making look like? Basically when we’re talking about disciple-making, we’re talking about Christians helping others become more Christ-like. I think that’s what disciple making is. Christians helping others become more Christ-like — helping someone love Jesus more, and form their life around Jesus more, and join more fully into the mission of Jesus. This is something we should be personally engaged in as pastors, but we also want to be looking as pastors to create a culture of this kind of disciple making in our churches. It’s a big part of our role as shepherds. It’s a big part of how we bring people to maturity in Christ, which is the goal of our pastoral ministry.
So what I want to think about in this session is, how might we do that? How we might carry this out in pastoral ministry, which will, by the way, strengthen your church. Listen, if all we’re doing is being busy trying to build the church, we might not ever make disciples. But if we engage in disciple making, we will inevitably be building the church.
Five Objectives Toward a Discipleship Culture
Now, I know there is probably a tension in every one of our stomachs every time someone talks about this topic. I know I’ve felt it myself. We think, “I know this is important and we should be doing something here. I should be doing more here.” But we think about our schedules and we find ourselves asking, “Who has time for this? Who has time for another thing added into the weekly schedule?” So I’m going to do my best in this session, I hope, to be very helpful, modest, and even methodical. When Joe asked me to do these sessions, he said, “Maybe be a little bit more theological in your first session and a little bit more methodological in your second session.” So I just want to be as methodical as I can be here even at the risk of sounding reductionistic or oversimplifying.
But I want to suggest five goals, five objectives. And there is a sequence to these so I suppose we could call these “steps”, although there’s something in me that’s resistant to doing that. I just don’t want this to sound like “five easy steps to disciple-making in your pastoral ministry’. But from some going through this as a church, and more importantly, from some feeling of the pressure of biblical principles, let me offer this in this session: five sequential objectives for disciple making.
Let me just name them up front and then we’ll deal with them one at a time. Number one: get yourself envisioned. There I’m feeling the pressure of the biblical principle “study to show yourself approved”. Number two: engage yourself in disciple-making. There I’m feeling the pressure of the biblical principle of leading by example, to say nothing of making disciples. Number three: envision the church. And there I’m feeling the pressure of the biblical principle of teach. Number four, equip others. There I’m feeling the pressure of the biblical principle of training. And then number five: facilitate. We’re going to have to do some facilitating. I know we had four nice E’s going there. I just ran out of steam with number five. It’s an F, facilitate. And there I’m feeling the pressure of the biblical principle of overseeing, managing, and leading in the church.
So five steps, let me just repeat them. Get yourself envisioned. Engage yourself in disciple making. Envision others. Equip others. Facilitate.
1. Get Yourself Envisioned
Objective one: get yourself envisioned. Another way to say this is to get a conviction about this. Get a conviction on the importance of disciple making for your pastoral ministry. Certainly, Ephesians 4:11–13 speaks of this, and you know the passage I’m talking about there. It’s a good place to go and not just kind of read that but understand it and get conviction from that. It tells us what the goal of our shepherding should be. But I find those words of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1–2 probably the most compelling to me. Let me just read them. I know they’ll sound familiar:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
Paul has just been telling Timothy, if you remember the context of that passage, “Guard the deposit. Guard this thing that has been entrusted to you.” And then just a few verses later, picking up some of that very same language that he’s been using in chapter one, he now says, “And what you’ve received from me entrust that to other men.” I take from that the conviction that necessary to faithfulness in gospel ministry is the transference of what we have to other men. Necessary to faithful gospel ministry is the transference of what we have been given, what has been deposited, to other men.
Now, I don’t know about you, but with the challenges and the weight of pastoral ministry, sometimes I can find myself thinking, “Lord, just help me to be faithful to the end. I just want to make it to the end without having fumbled or messed up in some big way.” And in one sense, that almost sounds kind of biblical. “I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). But Paul won’t let us be satisfied with that definition of faithfulness. He says to Timothy, “No, you guard that good deposit, not just by protecting its integrity during your years of ministry but also by fighting to preserve its continuity beyond your years and beyond your reach into the next generation, the next generation after that.” And you do that by investing yourself with word and life into specific men.
So you read stuff like that in your Bible and then you ask, how is disciple making happening in my ministry and in the ministries of our church? Where is that happening? And how can it be strengthened? So let me just give you a few concrete suggestions to help you in this envisioning of yourself. As you find your heart stirred up by passages like that, let me just give you a few concrete suggestions. Like I said before, I’m just going to try to be as direct and helpful as I can, and some of this grows out of what’s been helpful for me recently.
Read a Book
So first of all, first concrete step under that first objective, read a book. Let me mention three. Some of these I think were listed in the resources in your program, but let me just mention these three. And by the way, before I mention this, can I just say the purpose of reading, guys, is not to get the right answers, at least not in reading in this kind of area. The purpose of reading is not to get the right answers. The purpose of reading is to stimulate your thinking and to stir up convictions.
So here’s some books that will have that effect. They’ve had that effect on me and on us as a church. So here’s one. This is called Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson. I just found this very helpful. Here’s a second book that I’ve read recently. It’s called Insourcing by Randy Pope. It’s very stimulating, very stimulating.
Here’s another book I mentioned this earlier by Mike Breen called Building a Discipling Culture. Guys, you don’t have to agree with everything in these books in order to benefit from them. Let them stimulate your thinking. Let them stir up convictions. Let them help in this process of getting yourself envisioned. You won’t, like I said a moment ago, agree with everything that gets said in any book. That’s not the point. Let them stimulate your vision for this.
One other resource that I want to mention here is 9Marks. They put out these e-journals every once in a while. Back in October, late October of 2012, they had a very, very helpful collection with some very stimulating articles all on the topic of discipleship. I have found that particular e-journal from 9Marks to be very helpful. So first concrete suggestion under this first objective, read a book.
Start a Conversation
Second, start a conversation with the key leaders in your church. Now I don’t know exactly what this may look like for you. All of our leadership structures look a little different. But whatever your leadership structure looks like, whether this is just you and one other person who’s kind of a leader in the church, or whether this is you with 15 or 20 elders, start a conversation with your key leaders. Maybe read one of these books together. I find in working with our pastoral team and our elders that it’s hard to get guys to read books, but it’s easy to get guys to read chapters. So take a chapter out of those books, photocopy it, get it to them, put it in their hands, and say, “We’re going to talk about this at our next meeting or at the next retreat.” Start a conversation. After you’ve read together or thought together, just ask the question. And sometimes these conversations can be hard. Just ask the question, is this happening? How might it happen better?
Begin to Pray
Third, begin to pray. Brothers, can I just say, don’t neglect this. Don’t neglect this. If anything’s going to happen, it’s going to be God’s doing. So objective number one, get yourself envisioned.
2. Engage in Disciple Making Personally
Objective two: engage in disciple making personally. Take a step, begin. Boldness has genius in it. “It’s in the very going forth that God will meet you.” That’s JC Ryle. Here I am trying to inspire you a little bit. This step is primarily about you discipling someone, but it will be seeded in your church towards something bigger.
Randy Pope says at one point in his book, “If you want a seed discipleship into the soul of your church, all you need is one group.” And I would add, that group can be as small as two people. In fact, in that book, Pope just regularly encourages us. He makes this a point to start small. Great leaders start small. Be purposefully slow and deliberate. Now, I’m not going to say much here about example. I argued in the first session the importance of being a disciple and how God will leverage that in other people’s lives. And there will also be an exemplary effect of you being a disciple maker, certainly to those who you’re discipling, but also to others. But you’re not doing this in order to be an example.
God will use this. So being an example of a disciple maker is not so much your purpose as it is a result. But the fact is your engagement will have an effect. It will give vision and it will give attractiveness to disciple making. So let me encourage you to take some concrete steps, again, under objective two now.
Seek One Person to Disciple
Pray specifically that God would lay someone on your heart. Think through the younger men in your church. Think through those who you might see some pastoral or elder potential in. Think about those who have recently come to faith. Maybe go through your directory, pray, and ask God to lay someone on your heart and then invite someone to meet with you. Go out for coffee.
What will you do when you meet? Well, there’s any number of ways you could spend that first hour and an hour together each week. If you read through those 9Marks articles that I mentioned a little while ago, you will not lack for suggestions. But let me just suggest three simple components to an ongoing kind of disciple-making meeting: word, life, prayer. Let’s find this very helpful: word, life, prayer.
Somehow be in the word together. Either reading together or sharing what God’s doing in your life through his word, or memorizing together. I just find it so helpful to memorize Scripture together with another person.
Share life, speak about matters of real living. Ask questions about matters of real living. Share life together and then bring word to life and pray. Pray for each other. Maybe include as part of your disciple making a little bit of an outward focus, maybe praying for others in your lives that God might be giving you opportunity to share Jesus with. So second objective, engage personally in disciple making and give it some time.
3. Envision Others
Objective three: envision others. Envision your people. You don’t have to wait till you’ve got it all figured out. It’s probably good if these other two objectives have got a little bit of momentum going. But third now, envision others. Envision your people. Begin to help your people see that this is a part of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Following him means helping others follow him. So envision them for that idea. Help them to see discipleship biblically and fully.
I can think of two specific lines along which you will want to envision your people. One positive, one kind of negative.
Speaking of the Goodness of Discipleship
So first, positively, you’re going to want to speak of the goodness and the importance of discipleship-oriented relationships. They can be relationships of very intentional discipling, mentoring, and investing pretty one directionally, though it’s never one directional into another guy. But it could also be relationships that are a kind of mutual encouragement. I get that phrase from something that Paul writes in Romans chapter one:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:11–12).
This is all of the one-anothering of the New Testament. This is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25). So whether it’s more intentional discipling, or whether it’s more like this mutual encouragement, envision your folks to think in terms of discipleship-oriented relationship. Help them to think of a discipleship orientation to their relationships, helping one another follow Christ.
It’s interesting, we took a survey not too long ago at a large men’s gathering that we had and one of the questions that we asked was very simple, which discipleship-centered relationship is most appropriate to your life right now? And we gave them three options for discipleship: a discipling relationship as a discipler, discipling relationship as one being discipled, or a relationship of mutual encouragement. Almost exactly 50% said mutual encouragement. Almost exactly 25% said discipling as a discipler. And almost exactly 25% said discipling as being discipled. How do you like that?
I almost wanted to say after that survey, “Okay, can we all get back together again? And you guys, you mutual encouragement guys, you go over on that side of the room and just kind of spend time together. And those of you who want to be discipled, we’re going to give you a red arm band. And those of you who want to disciple, we’re going to give you a white arm band and then we’re going to let you loose and spend time with each other. And this is all going to work out.” I mean we were just so encouraged by the way that that worked out. It’s not always going to be those perfect percentages, but you’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities there are in the men, and what kind of desires there are.
There’s a second, more negative line along which you’re going to need to do some envisioning, and that is addressing and confronting objections, obstacles. There are internal obstacles that you’re going to have to confront. I’m going to name two of them. And there’s external obstacles you’re going to have to confront. And I’m going to name two of them. So this is part of your teaching, part of your envisioning. It’s not only the positive idea of discipleship oriented relationships, but you’re going to have to confront and address these obstacles. I’ve got names for each of these, although a couple of them I got from a friend.
The first internal obstacle we can call the INWLT syndrome, which stands for, “I’m Not Wired Like That”. Not everyone is wired to gravitate toward relationships and connections like this. And sometimes you can think this discipleship-oriented relationship stuff is for people who are wired in a certain way and we need to confront that. Even if you’re not wired like that, none of us is wired for isolation. We need this. We need it because we need it for help and for growth. We’ll need to help people get over INWLT syndrome and not let ourselves get away with that.
The second internal obstacle that we can maybe just call this the IDHATO syndrome. And that stands for “I Don’t Have Anything To Offer”. Of course, that’s not true. And by saying that, when I say that’s not true, that’s not some sort of rah-rah statement. It’s just a description of reality. We all have our presence, and we can all direct others to God. You don’t have to be some sort of charismatic, dynamic, extroverted person. You can be boring and faithful and that’s just fine. We need to help people see that there’s no need for power leadership or eloquence when you invest in someone. Just get together, get some coffee, ask one another a real question and read the Bible together. Help your people put IDHATO to death.
And there’s some external obstacles to investing in disciple making as well. The first one of those is what we could call the IDHATFAT syndrome — sorry, I hope this is helpful to you — which stands for “I Don’t Have Any Time For All This”. So think about that. As soon as someone says that or thinks that, they’re making a value judgment about this compared to other things that they’re doing, and saying being in relationship like this doesn’t really rise to the level of importance that the other things that I’m doing does. Folks, we need to gently challenge that. We need to say, “Okay, okay, let’s look at your life and the other things that you’re doing. Because what I’d say is that helping one another grow in following Jesus feels like it should be pretty high on the priority list.”
So let’s help ourselves and let’s help others by thinking not first about our schedules. Let’s think first about our priorities. I think we all recognize that time’s a very limited commodity. It’s precious, and our lives are full. I mean, you can just list off the things in your life. We know what’s going on. And we’re supposed to add getting with a guy or two once a week or even once every other week. Are you kidding me? And so when someone says that the answer isn’t, “Sorry, you’re right. I know you’re busy.” No, the answer is, “This is tough so we’re going to have to be committed to it and get creative and maybe make adjustments to our schedules.” Because IDHATFAT is a syndrome, it’s a disease, it’s not good for discipleship.
The second external obstacle that we’ll need to address is the IDHAIML syndrome, which stands for “I Don’t Have Anyone In My Life” to disciple. And the one thing I think we can say here is start with who’s already in your life. The fact is there’s guys all over the place. We just need to envision men on where and how to look. And sometimes we’ll need to come alongside them and help them make connections. Well, much more could be said about that. No doubt there is more to envisioning people than that. But we will need to address objections, help people see their internal and external objections, and we will need to help people think a certain way about their discipleship-oriented relationships.
4. Equip Others
Objective four: equip others. So you can kind of see what we’ve done here. Envision yourself. Engage yourself. Envision others. Equip others. And I’m just going to say a couple things here. There will need to be some training component in this. So for example, for the first 10 or 12 years of our life as a church, we had something we just called leadership development. We met on Saturday mornings during the school year, so about 39 or so meetings. There was a group of 20 guys each year that we would invite into that, guys that we wanted to invest in and build into leadership in their homes and in the church. Over the space of 12 years, we ran 240 guys through that course.
And I love this illustration that we sometimes use at our church. Do you remember when you were a kid and those backyard pools were in the neighborhood, those above-ground pools? And you’d kind of go on hot summer days and get in the pool and inevitably at some point someone would say, “Let’s make a current.” Remember that? They’d say, “Let’s make a current.” And you’d all kind of line up around the outside of the pool and you’d all start going in the same direction. And the thing that I get from that is it’s amazing. It’s amazing what a lot of people moving in the same direction can get done.
So over 10, 12 years, we had 240 guys who had been through that leadership development. And I think there was some fruit born in that. But we, after looking at that after 10 years, realized that we had turned it too much into a classroom time. It was too much about knowledge and doctrine, and not enough about character and practice. And so we shut that thing down for the last two years and we are now rethinking. We’re thinking, what does our leadership development look like? How can we equip men to bring them to their own maturity and to help them as they think about investing in other people’s lives? The best equipping, guys, will take place in the context of your disciple making, as someone watches you, life on life, and learns from you. It’s not just about how to pray, and how to read God’s word, and how to deal with sin — both before you sin and after you sin — but also how to invest in another guy’s life, kind of like Jesus did with his disciples.
The fifth objective toward disciple making in your pastoral ministry: facilitate. This has to do with you now, kind of in a different role as pastor, organizer, and administrator. You don’t have to do all of this, there just needs to be some impetus to make sure there is some facilitation that is providing structures and providing tracks. There’s a danger, of course, in this. We don’t ever want disciple making to kind of be turned into just a program rather than a culture, a mindset, a heartset, a way of life. But we’re going to have to have some programmatic dimensions to it. So having envisioned and equipped people growing out of your own envisioning and engagement, now create opportunities and invite people to participate.
You’re going to need to provide some structure without too heavy-handed an oversight. So whether it’s Jonathan Dodson’s “fight clubs” — that’s what he calls them, which, by the way, if you want to read one chapter of his book, read the “Fight Club” chapter — or whether it’s Randy Pope’s life-on-life, missional discipleship groups, or whether it’s Mike Breen’s huddles, there’s going to need to be some vehicle, some structure that you encourage. And again, don’t be afraid to start with one, maybe as a spinoff of what you’ve been doing in your personal engagement with disciple making. Be ready to provide some guidance and some support. Suggest a plan for this. They don’t have to be flashy. Guys, listen. Culture gets created by doing simple things repeatedly over time. So think word, life, and prayer. This is where books like these can be so helpful, just giving ideas.
All right, let me wrap this up. I know that this can feel daunting. It feels daunting to me, and I know that we’re busy, some of us perhaps too busy, and we need to actually do something about that. But guys, there is something here we cannot neglect. Something grounded in Jesus. Something grounded in the Bible. It is essential to our discipleship. Making disciples is essential to our discipleship, our following Jesus.
He’s called us to make disciples. It’s essential to our pastoral ministry, equipping others and helping them on to maturity. I also believe that disciple making is an essential part of their discipleship. So if you have, whether it’s today or whether on other occasions, sensed God’s Spirit has been stirring, even a little bit, laying this on your heart even a little bit — maybe in fact this has been stirring already over a long time, bringing a measure of conviction and excitement and hope, along with that feeling of, “Oh” — then I would simply encourage you, take the first step. It is in the very going forward that God will meet you, and he will, as he always does, do much with the little loaves and the little fishes that we have to offer to his glory.