Last week I enjoyed the privilege of traveling with my wife to a Pastor’s Fellowship sponsored by ARCH Ministries. ARCH is a network of likeminded churches and pastors who emphasize discipleship in their local churches towards the goal of planting churches in every county in the United States (or partnering with likeminded churches in every county).
It was my second time attending the National Pastor’s Fellowship. Last year when we came, my heart was heavy with the burden to make disciples. But the seed of discipleship was really planted in my heart years ago when I was a teenager.
Impacted as a Disciple
God used the discipleship focus of my youth pastor to influence me. He took time to pray with me, he taught me how to preach my first fledgling sermon, and he encouraged me through the emotional and confusing years of high school. In so many ways he was a role model for me to look up to and a tangible example for me to emulate.
So when I sat in my first session at ARCH and listened to testimony after testimony of how God was using pastors to reach and disciple the saved and unsaved within their own communities, I wept. It was refreshing to see so many in ministry focused on the same biblical goal. I have always wanted to play a part in a broad, sweeping movement that revitalizes the desire in our churches to make disciples through one-on-one, life-touching-life ministry. And, by His grace God led me on paths I would have never chosen to walk so that I could become a part of this wonderful wave of true discipleship that is taking place all across America and even throughout the world.
At the heart of this movement is a crucial question I think every Christian should ask themselves. Regardless of your position in the church, regardless of your age, regardless of your gender, regardless of your gifts, regardless of your personality, the question is, “Who is called to disciple?”
We find the answer in Ephesians 4, a chapter that explains to us the various leadership roles God provided for the church to establish it at its inception and then for its continuation. Verse 11 says, “And he [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” But the next verse is equally crucial because it explains how these leadership roles strengthen the entire church. Church leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Called to Disciple
The text is quite easy to understand. Church leaders equip saints for the work of the ministry. But in our American mindset, we live as if our Bibles say that church leaders are “supported financially to do the work of the ministry for the saints, for building up the body of Christ.” But that’s not what the text says. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that the hard work of church leadership is the equipping process. What tools, what support, what helps, what prayer, what preaching, what giving of ourselves will best equip the body of Christ so that it builds itself up? The church building itself up as a body is the end goal of pastoral ministry. Notice Paul’s conclusion in vv. 15-16.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way
into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,
joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,
when each part is working properly,
makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The radical yet biblical conclusion is this: a healthy church is a self-discipling church. So the answer to our question, “Who is called to disciple?” is everyone! We all are ministers of the gospel. And we do not just minister in capacaties like being a greeter, or singing in the choir, or staffing the nursery. Those are all wonderful things, and our churches need those positions filled, but the church is so much more than that. It is a living organism, connected to its head, Christ Jesus, “from whom the whole body…makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Many, many people come and go from church every week remaining spiritual babies because no one has taken the time to teach them how to walk, to eat, and to mature spiritually.
If you are a believer in the body of Christ, are you doing the work of the ministry? A good place to start would be to evaluate three key relationships in your life.
- Am I being discipled?
- Am I discipling a believer within the church?
- Am I seeking to make a new disciple outside the church?
It really can be that simple. Let someone pour into you. One of the biggest obstacles to discipleship is our own pride and individualism, a maverick mentality that refuses to be vulnerable and embrace the accountability of other wiser believers in our lives (1 Thessalonians 3). The best leaders are humble followers of Jesus.
Then, pour yourself into someone else. You may teach Sunday school or even preach frequently, but nothing can compare with the self-sacrificial imparting of your self to another individual. It is arduous. It is glorious. Paul compares discipleship to the task of a nursing mother; it sounds rosy, but the reality is discipleship and nursing alike are truly labors of love (1 Thessalonians 2). Paul is the model Christian for us in this way. And don’t just pick a family member to disciple; reach outside your comfort zone and look for someone who needs help. For some people, the church is the only family they’ve got.
Finally, befriend someone in your community with the goal of calling them to be a disciple of Christ. While building relationships takes time and effort, it is possible to be salt and light even in your own neighborhood. It doesn’t take anything spectacular; it takes just the opposite. It takes a plodding faith undergirded with prayer and intentionality. The beauty of this calling is that everyone plays a part. In the words of our Lord, we all are to “go… make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
If this is going to happen in our churches, it needs to start at the top. Every church leader should be a disciplee, a discipler, and a disciple-maker. This kind of ministry will truly “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” What are you doing to create a disciple-making culture in your church? We all must do our part.