August 8, 2011
Continuing with "What I would have done better...or differently..."
Last time (110801) I began a reflection on pastoral ministry triggered by the 25th anniversary of my ordination. I tried to explain some things I have come to believe are essential and I would do better or differently as a pastor. I have already talked about (1) Keeping Christ the center of everything, both personally and professionally; (2) Living the Gospel story; and (3) preaching the whole Gospel to the whole people.
This time I want to talk about:
Making disciples relationally
My most painful confession as I assess my pastoral ministry is that I did a lot of good,
faithful ministry – but I didn’t make many disciples. Yes, I introduced persons to Jesus
Christ. Yes, I did a lot of baptisms. Yes, I was diligent about the Christian education
programs in my churches. Yes, I worked with youth, did camps, held Vacation Bible School,
led mission trips, did leadership training, etc., etc.
Maybe that was the problem. I was too programmatic about discipleship. It’s what I grew
up with and it’s what I was taught. We presumed if we put together the right program, with
the right curriculum (or right technology), with the right objectives and the right teacher
that the inevitable output would be mature disciples. That clearly has not been the case.
Something has been missing.
If we look at Jesus’ model of disciple making in the Gospels, we see something quite
different. We might dismiss the absence of “programs” and “curriculum” as inevitable and
inconsequential given the pre-modern, oral culture of Jesus. But I’m not so sure. And it’s
not because I am opposed to or feel a need to trash programs, curriculum or technology.
Jesus seized teachable moments as they came and used illustrations at hand to illuminate.
It looks like many just swept through that encounter and moved on. But others stayed.
And Jesus spent time with them. Jesus invested himself with them. Discipleship was built
on relationships and resulted in stronger relationships.
The relationship was never comfortably self-satisfied, but always moved to demands with
both personal and social impact. God’s Kingdom is rooted in and driven toward
discipleship. Go and do likewise. Go and sin no more. Sell all you have and give it to the
poor. Love God will all your being and love your neighbor. Take up your cross and follow
me. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the prisoner. Seek righteousness. Make
peace. Heal the sick. Receive the Gospel and repent. So send I you. Abide in me.
Jesus seized the moment, but was also intentional. Jesus was gracious, but was also
demanding. Those are tough things to balance. My “Easy Button” won’t resolve the
But the pressure of relationally-based disciple making on a pastor is unbearable. There is a
better pastoral leadership model. In addition to being consumed by ministry, I was so
concerned to avoid “playing favorites” that I did not spend intentional, relational time with
others so they could develop into effective disciple makers to multiply my efforts. In the
same way, I did not identify, cultivate, and nurture leaders. I trusted the Nominating
Committee to select effective leaders with spiritual depth whom I would train. Bad
mistake! It is not enough to simply “advocate” for lay leadership. A pastor must actively
implement lay leadership. I wince when I hear pastors say they want to do “real hands-on
ministry,” rather than the “chores” of pastoral leadership because I know where that road
Next time: Building community.
It is not irrelevant that discipleship is the focus of the GRR Annual Assembly this year. I hope to see you in Chesterfield MO, September 30th and October 1st, with Dr. Carolyn Gordon and Dr. Jeff Jones. http://abcgrr.org/annualmeeting/index.htm
Also, don’t forget the GRR Ministers Conference with Dr. Lee Spitzer: Making Friends, Making
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