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Discipleship Is…

What does discipleship look like?

As hard as it may be, every Christian needs to take an ongoing look in the mirror and ask: have I ever “made” a disciple? The Great Commission is not a mere suggestion so if Jesus commanded it, we ought to be busy doing it (Matt. 28:16-20). If you’re not sure what discipleship books to buy or where to begin, the Bible is still the best place to go for insight on what discipleship looks like.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides valuable instruction for his protégé in the faith. His goal was to equip Timothy so that he would be equipped to serve the church in Ephesus. Through Paul’s words to him, we see a picture of what discipleship could look like for us today. In the particular context surrounding his letters, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was a serious need — as discipleship always is. Prior to this final letter he’d ever send, Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and protect it faithfully from those would attack it from the inside (Acts 20:28). This church was being opposed and the enemy was seeking to undermine its effectiveness. Ephesus was an important epicenter for pagan worship as it was home to the Temple of Artemis and not everyone was a fan of what the gospel was doing to their city. The church was in a battle for souls at Ephesus as the power of the gospel started putting idol makers out of business (Acts 19:24-26). Discipleship was vital to the health of the church then, and it still is today.

With that context in mind, here are three fundamental truths about discipleship that can be drawn from Paul’s pastoral letters.

Discipleship is hard work. Nobody worked harder than Paul to further the gospel and make disciples (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul travelled extensively, reasoned and debated with evangelistic prospects, was beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and eventually killed for the gospel. Through all of this he endlessly poured his life into his disciples. In 2 Timothy, the term Paul uses to describe Timothy is “son” (1:2;2:1). This would be inferred by the text but using such terminology would mean that Paul put in the time and effort it takes to earn that right. You don’t get the privilege of that kind of relationship without putting in the work. Other terms that correlate hard work, ministry, and discipleship are “soldier” (2:3-4), and “workman” (2:15). References to “suffering” or “hardship” (2:3; 3:12; 4:5) are reminders that advancing the gospel and making disciples is arduous labor because we’re preparing others for the same kind of work. Disciples aren’t made in a microwave; they’re made in the field. Keep your work boots by the door each day.

Discipleship is giving direction. Whether you blame passive fathers who produce passive sons, or fault societal assault on dogmatic instruction, it seems that fewer and fewer leaders are prone to giving clear, authoritative direction. Paul doesn’t hint at things or just shoot the breeze with Timothy; calling it “life on life.” He isn’t afraid to tell him what to do! While it’s true that discipleship can be more caught than taught, giving direction is essential if you want to get somewhere. Jesus, while making disciples in a “life on life” scenario with the twelve, still had precision and purpose in what He did. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he focuses on the task at hand and provides marching orders. Contrary to what anti-authoritarian opinions may be, discipleship includes telling people what to do and showing them how to do it. Paul uses imperative after imperative when directing Timothy. Jesus said that making disciples would involve “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship is much more than just telling people what to do, but it’s certainly not less. Of course, being an example is non-negotiable when directing others. The disciple-maker’s instructions must match his own actions as well.

Discipleship is duplicating yourself: One of my favorite portions of 2 Timothy is a section that not many people spend time focusing on. From 4:9-22 there are at least eighteen names listed. Two are those who either deserted or harmed Paul but the rest are people who have come alongside him in ministry and been discipled by him along the way. This is a powerful picture of duplication! Discipleship is not about creating a following that seeks after you, it’s about creating disciples who do ministry long after you. Paul was eventually beheaded and this was his last letter. But because he was faithful to the task of making disciples, his work empowered others to suffer for the gospel and advance the church.

Discipleship should never be far from our ministry repertoire. Without pouring into others we become cesspools of self-importance; forgetting that we have been saved to bring the gospel of salvation to others and we’ve been made into disciples to make disciples of others.

Chasing a Title or Carrying a Towel

When it comes to leadership, how do you measure greatness?

The mother of James and John thought it was having the best seats in Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). There are those today who would certainly say that church size, book deals, Twitter following, and global influence are sure signs of high status.

Our salacious, ever growing appetite for affirmation leads us to view the academic letters behind a last name as the moment of “arrival.” Ambitious and youthful pastors think greatness is eventually achieved when their subjective calling to ministry finally lands them an objective goal: The #1 spot in the pulpit.

But is that what greatness is in the end? Is leadership simply climbing a ladder of power, so as to eventually be a shot-caller? When it comes to leadership, if greatness is defined by a spot on the executive board, a large following, fancy letters, and dominating a one-way conversation on a weekly basis because you hold the mic, we need an intervention.

The church does need greatness to live out its purpose in Christ, but in God’s eyes, great leaders are great servants. Just a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that the word leader is used rarely when compared to the word servant. That’s not to say that leadership is not an important or prominent theme throughout the Bible (it is), but it is to say that leadership is not so much about carrying a fancy title as it is about carrying a servant’s towel.

No one nails having a humble servant’s heart every day, yet certain trends in our life reflect God’s grace in the midst of our own ambitious drive for significance in ministry.

If you are one of those passionate souls who believe they must do something great on this earth, here are three ways things to consider what greatness truly is:

1.) We Must Be Decreasing

Of all the people in the Bible, perhaps John the Baptist could have been the one who’d be let off the hook if he took just a little bit of the spotlight from Jesus. After all, he was the forerunner and ultimate set up man for Christ. Instead, he said he wasn’t the Christ, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t even a prophet. When pressed for the real story, all he could muster up was quite possibly the most unimpressive personal bio history has known. If John the Baptist had Facebook, the about section would read, “Just a voice. Not worthy to tie Christ’s sandals. Consistently decreasing and not worth a follow. Link to Jesus’ profile ‘here.’”

It can be a monumental challenge to stomach the obscurity that comes from consistent “decrease,” but it’s part of every pastor’s journey. There may be seasons when a gifted pastor is not in the pulpit, but desperately wants to be. There may be seasons when a pastor is called to play a supporting role in someone else’s ministry – and could do more on his own. None of this matters in the grand scheme of what God is constantly teaching His servants. If we cannot accept that His plans and timing are better than ours, that’s a sign that we are still living with an “I must increase” mentality.

Obscurity doesn’t mean obsolete. You don’t need to see your impact to have an impact. John the Baptist was locked in a prison waiting for his head to roll while Jesus – the Jesus he got to baptize – was adding disciples by the minute.

Greatness is giving up what you could do for what you must do. Everybody can be great.

2.) We Must Be Feet Washing

Yes, it’s true, regardless of how above-the-task we think we are. Imagine Jesus the Christ taking the towel and the basin as he washed the feet of Judas the Betrayer. Surely, a towel has much to do with greatness (John 3:1-17; Luke 22:24-27).

Greatness isn’t doing ministry from an ivory tower. Greatness isn’t well-manicured finger nails that click a wireless mouse through hours of Logos. Greatness isn’t preaching all the biggest conferences.

Greatness is bowing low to wash feet.

Ministry is messy and Jesus knew we would all long for clear calendars, simple churches, and well-behaved congregations that don’t interrupt our day in the study, so He showed us a better way. Dirty, smelly, crooked, cracked feet are the key.

Even for those who make our lives difficult. When no one is watching. And when no one washes ours. Greatness is grabbing a towel.

3.) We Must Be Stewarding

Paul set the standard for the greatness of a church leader by modeling the greatness of a servant. He considered himself a slave of Christ (Philippians 1:1), and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). The criteria for a steward in his mind was faithfulness (4:2). As we consider how we will leave a mark on this earth in ministry, it is imperative that we consider what it means to be a steward of all God has given us.

We will be called to give an account for how we managed for the Master. A leadership title is a responsibility that involves accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Stewardship is weighty in light of the implications.

On the minister as a steward Charles Spurgeon wrote,

…a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is “my lord.” It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage. Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master’s goods, is quite another matter.

Greatness isn’t in the title you’re called, it’s in the towel you carry.

8 Ways to Disciple Aspiring Pastors

Knowing God’s word on pastoral qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-7) is essential for aspiring pastors. Equally important to knowing the qualifications for pastoral ministry, is the practical application of those qualifications. Most seminarians understand that aspiring pastors have a long way to go, but they are usually desperate to be discipled in practical ways during their years of ministry training. The fact is, aspiring pastors don’t just need to be told about the high standard for ministry, they need to be coached on how to serve at a high standard in ministry. Sure, it’s easy to say, “If he’s got it, he’s got it,” but most men don’t naturally graduate from a seminary like gracechristian.edu/online as expert financial stewards and super-shepherds who go on to become the next John MacArthur. It takes faithful men who take them under their wing and guide them like a father guides a son – like Paul guided Timothy – for them to become strong leaders.

In this post we’ll consider 8 time-tested strategies that can prove useful in a local church setting. The list is not exhaustive, and not all of these need to (or should) happen simultaneously. Each depends on the stage of pastoral training and can be a starting point for examining how aspiring men can be well supported:

  1. Title Them Appropriately

One of the worst things an aspiring pastor can be given is the title of pastor. I’ll never forget the day I went from being a “pastor” (in my former charismatic life), to being a “pastor-in-training” at a Bible Church. It was humbling, but a great relief. I felt like the kid who just got the rod of correction and was set free from the heavy burden of my sin. Aspiring pastors shouldn’t be acting as something they aren’t. They shouldn’t be staring at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 thinking, “Hmmm…maybe no one has noticed yet.” Give aspiring pastors titles like: associate, coordinator, pastoral intern, or pastor-in-training. Never guarantee anything beyond where God has them right now.

  1. Let Them Preach

Yes, in Reformed circles these days everyone wants a Charles Spurgeon with “(Th.M)” behind his name before he gets to touch the pulpit. This is a good security measure so young men don’t make a mockery of the gospel, but if properly discipled by the pastor-theologians who regularly teach, aspiring pastors who possess giftedness for preaching should be able to preach in some forum within the local church. Options could include: the youth ministry, the Sunday or Wednesday evening service, Sunday school, Children’s ministry, small groups, staff devotionals, ministry events, prison ministry, street preaching, or pulpit supply.

  1. Coach Their Preaching

One of the fondest memories in my young preaching ministry thus far was when our teaching pastor introduced me to something called, “sermon mapping” after one of my pulpit excursions. It should have been called, “sermon shredding.” His sentiments were something like, “For 17 minutes you told us what you were going to preach about, then for 7 minutes you actually preached…it was as though God was speaking to people from His word through you for those few minutes. Then for 11 minutes you repeated yourself…then you circled the runway for a long time on the last section and it was getting about time for you to land that plane.” I’m forever grateful for the brutally honest feedback! It was back to the drawing board. Reading Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is great, MacArthur’s Expository Preaching is life-changing, but nothing beats personal coaching from gifted, proven mentors. Aspiring pastors need one-on-one feedback, manuscript deadlines, help with formatting their notes, body language coaching, special study assignments, and honesty when it’s clear they aren’t able to teach. Wise elders are the voice of reason for aspiring pastors.

  1. Coach Their Priorities

Aspiring pastors may think they know a lot about priorities, but marriage, parenting, and ministry will teach them otherwise. They may have some bad habits (and probably do). If they are a newlywed they’ll need coaching on biblical priorities within a marriage. If single, they’ll need to be taught that playing video games in mom’s basement is not the best way to prepare for marriage and a life in ministry. Most aspiring pastors need help learning how to plan their calendar, how to go about strategizing their workflow and study time, and how to say “no.” Keep them accountable when it comes to spiritual discipline, require prayer reports that show the evidence of their prayer life, and ask them often, “What is God teaching you through His word this week?” Effective prioritization is a make or break quality that a pastor must posses.

  1. Help Them Build a Budget

Ask seminary students what the #1 thing seminary didn’t help them with when they got their first pastoral position. Too many will say, “finances.” Dave Ramsey has made snowball debt pay down popular, but not every aspiring pastor has the “411” on building, balancing, and adjusting a budget. I had no idea how to financially plan my own budget when I first got married, let alone a church budget. It wasn’t until a long-time pastor sat me down with an excel spreadsheet and laid down the law. And that was only the first step! Many aspiring pastors are often unable to handle financial planning because they have never been taught. Insecurity cripples them from being honest because many in the church assume they should know what they’re doing, and the spiral of confusion only gets worse when they have kids. Aspiring pastors need to be coached on how to set financial goals, how to pay off debt, how to ask for a raise if merited, and how to ask for what they actually need when they’re scared of being labeled: “greedy.” They need strategies from wise men who have been where they’ve been so that they can lead the church through time-tested principles – not insecurity and ignorance.

  1. Affirm Their Giftedness

There is no greater disservice to aspiring pastors than to be led on when they are clearly not cut out for pastoral ministry. It’s equally as frustrating when a man is not pointed in the right direction based on his gifting. If young men cannot teach they must be told so. If they are better suited as counselors or deacons, they must be told so. Conversely, if they are a great leader but don’t see it, they must be told so! One of the most challenging aspects to this process is the fact that a man must be observed before his gifts can be affirmed so expectations about length of the observation period must be clear. All of this helps men and the church avoid wasting valuable time. If a man is not called as a pastor, he can readily enter the workforce and excel in his job, while joining a ministry team and building up the body as a valuable member.

  1. Model Pastoral Qualifications

Even the best of men are men at best, but hypocrisy has no place in the training of aspiring pastors. No leader is perfect, but there must still be a model of holiness worth following. Aspiring pastors need discipleship from wiser men in regards to how they function when under stress, how to respond to angry members, or even how to handle children who are disobedient in the face of biblical parenting. How should a pastor respond when offered an alcoholic beverage during a home visit? What should a pastor say to a woman who is crying and pleading for private counsel? How many nights a week out of the house doing ministry is too many when kids are young? Men need help answering these questions and more. One way to help aspiring pastors is to make them a “wing man” for hospital visits, membership classes, mission trips, funerals, and weddings. All of these opportunities help them see how the character qualifications of a pastor are put into practice. Finally, one of the best ministry models for aspiring pastors is the study habits of faithful men. When a young man sees the hours it takes to rightly divide the word of truth, and the hours spent praying and pouring into people, he’ll think long and hard about whether or not that life is for him.

  1. Spend Quality Time with Them

Much of discipleship is caught, not taught. This list would be incomplete without the relational element to pastoral training. Listen to an older pastor preach and it won’t be long before you hear:

  • “I’ll never forget my Systematic Theology professor taking me out for lunch one day and setting me straight…to this day we’re dear friends.”
  • “One day my mentor at the time looked me square in the eye and told me…”
  • “When I was going through one of the toughest seasons in my life it was an elder who invited my wife and I to his house. That evening he and his wife shared wisdom that shaped us forever.”

The ministry that aspiring pastors will go on to build will directly relate to the investment of the men who oversee them. With wives to love, families to raise, and churches to lead, pastor-elders can’t be expected to hold the hand of every young man who comes along. But discipleship can’t occur without some level of life-on-life relational investment. Aspiring pastors will remember the moments that shaped their life forever, and a generation will rise up for the glory of God.