I am a regular pastor, and I have a heart for regular pastors and the churches they lead. When I think about a regular pastor, I think about a guy pastoring a small to medium sized church. Despite the attention given to celebrity pastors and their massive churches, most churches in the United States aren’t mega-churches. That means most pastors in the United States aren’t celebrity pastors. They’re regular. Just like me, and probably just like you.
There are a number of challenges that come with the position of “regular pastor”. You wear an incredible number of hats, and you never seem to have enough week left at the end of your work. Additionally, there are some things your church simply can’t do because you just don’t have the money or resources. However, every regular pastor can do the one thing Jesus sent us to do: make disciples. Church size doesn’t matter. Church budget is irrelevant. Church location is no excuse. Every regular pastor can be involved in making disciples.
The Biblical Mandate for Making Disciples
The Biblical mandate for making disciples begins with the ministry of Jesus. Early on Jesus called men to follow him (John 1:35-51). Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael we all early followers of Jesus. They listened. They watched. They spent time with Jesus. Later, Jesus formally called twelve men to be “apostles”. Mark describes this development with these words, “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles), so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:13-15). These men eventually went out as representatives of the Messiah, but first they were called to simply be with Jesus. The Master made disciples before he sent apostles. Every regular pastor can find someone or some group to simply “be with” for the purpose of making disciples.
Eventually, Jesus did send these men on permanent mission. Matthew records the Great Commission Jesus gave to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). As many scholars have pointed out, the sole command in this passage is “make disciples”. Everything else explains how sent ones go about the process of making disciples. Every pastor can find ways to be intentional about making disciples.
This call to make disciples was echoed by the apostle Paul when he wrote to his disciple, Timothy. Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “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” (2nd Timothy 2:1-2). These words were the last Paul wrote to his protégé. 2nd Timothy contains the final instructions Paul would ever give to a young pastor. Included in those instructions was a call to make disciples, to pass down the faith once for all delivered to the saints from one generation to the next. Additionally, Paul expected pastors to entrust the gospel to faithful men in such a way that those men would be equipped to teach others also. Every pastor can find his place in this process.
This emphasis on disciple making is also found in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. This is important. Not only did Paul want pastors like Timothy to embrace their role as disciple makers, Paul also wanted churches to embrace their role as disciples. In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul lays out the various people God has given to the church. These include apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Then Paul explains the end game. He explains these people have been given to the church, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Paul wanted to see local churches making fully formed, mature disciples, not simply recording decisions. Every pastor can fix his eyes on the same goal.
Practical Advice for Making Disciples
Over a dozen years of regular pastoral ministry, I’ve made numerous attempts at intentional discipleship. Some of those attempts have focused on relationship, and others have centered on a curriculum. Some of those attempts have been one-on-one discipleship, and others have taken place in a small group. Through all my efforts, here are a few principles that should guide any particular attempt to make disciples.
First, recognize the power of your position. As the “pastor” you have incredible influence over the people in your church. Many people in your congregation will respond to a personal invitation from you simply because you are the pastor. These folks may have no interest in focused discipleship, but if the “pastor” invites them to participate they will accept. As a pastor, you must recognize the power of your position. Specifically invite individual men to participate in focused discipleship knowing that many will participate because of who asked them.
Second, think strategically about what you want to accomplish in your discipleship relationship or discipleship group. Do you want to equip husbands to lead their wives? Do you want to equip fathers to teach their children? Do you want to equip believers to share their faith? Do you want to equip men in your church to teach Sunday school? Each of these goals will require a different approach to discipleship. Rather than just implementing the latest program or curriculum, take time to think strategically about what you actually want to accomplish.
Third, think strategically about how you will accomplish your discipleship goals. Yes, you need a clear purpose, but you also need an approach that fits with your purpose. On this question of “how” you’re going to have to think through discipling an individual as opposed to a group? If you start a discipleship group, will that group be open or closed? When and where will you meet for discipleship, and what will be the length of the program? All of these “how” questions need to be answered up front and the answers shared with the men you plan to disciple.
Fourth, center on the Word of God. I’m not saying you should never use books or curriculum or non-biblical material, I’m just saying the Word of God has to be at the center of all discipleship. Ultimately it’s the Spirit of God using the Word of God that will bring change to the men you’re discipling. Not your program or your teaching. Not the bestselling book from Lifeway or Mardel. It’s the living and active Word of God that cuts to the core and changes us into the kinds of people that God wants us to be. Center on the Word of God.
Last, make sure to share your expectations up front when you begin a new discipleship relationship or group. If you expect participants to be prepared before you meet, make that clear and hold people accountable. If you expect participants to be active in your church, establish your expectations up front. If you expect participants to take what they learn from you and share it at home or at work, say so on the front end. Be honest with people about what you expect from them and what you want to see God do through them. Help them count the cost of discipleship up front.