I've been reading much lately on Pastors.com about pastors making disciples. I think I could read these articles and others like them repeatedly and still not get all the wisdom I need about this important topic. The message I've been thinking (or perhaps God has been saying to me?) is that 'Yes, preaching is important. But most of your disciple making does not take place in the pulpit!' If you are a preaching pastor of a small church like I am, THAT message hits home in a big way.
Maybe your seminary experience was completely different from mine, but I don't recall a lot of "disciple making" type of classes. I learned lots about the Bible and the correct means of interpretation (and how to document well in my footnotes.) Few parishioners have asked to read my sermons. None have ever asked to examine my footnotes! What I've learned about disciple making has come mostly by trial and error. Here are a few observations from a pastor also learning discipleship OTJ (on the job.)
1. Disciple making is not about knowing the right stuff. It's not about a classroom experience at all. It's about where the rubber meets the road in real life. It's about sharing the experiences of the good and the bad of ministry... and life.
2. There are no disciple tests at the end of the semester. There are tests - but they're different than what we had in school. Who are the people I'm discipling? If I can't answer that one, I've failed the test. How are they changing as a result of the mentoring/discipleship training? Do we both see growth and more dependence upon Christ's strength now than six months ago? Who are they mentoring? If we can't answer these last 3 questions well, then we've both failed the test.
3. There is a mix of skill sets training and lifestyle examples involved. Doing life together is a necessary component of discipleship training. Jesus' disciples hung out with him. Those who Paul was mentoring traveled with him. Class didn't start and end with a bell ringing. Every week I make time - usually around meals - to just hang out and talk with individuals and groups. Sometimes we have an agenda for me to teach or train a skill. Watch me. Here's how I do it. Now you try. Many other times, though, it's much more fluid. There's no agenda, but there are always teaching moments.
4. Disciple making is intentional. It never happens by accident. As the pastor of a small church there is always more to do than there are hours in the day. I could be working from morning until night getting tasks accomplished - and never meet with anyone! For me - and your personality may differ - I have to set up appointments to get together with those who I want to mentor. It's a priority for me! It's more important than the sermon I write. I make sure I have several standing breakfasts and lunches throughout the week. These are the people I am pouring my life into.
5. It's all volunteer! At one time I worked in a large church setting with dozens of employees. Lots of discipleship training happened at the staff level. Since planting Church Requel I've learned that model is really the exception to the rule. The vast majority of churches have a staff of one... or a staff of a half! If you're like me the only people you will mentor are people who WANT to be mentored. They are volunteers. This is actually an advantage! Volunteers are more motivated and more appreciative of your time and commitment to them.
6. It's all about Jesus! This is not a last throw away topic. I don't say it because it's the expected thing to say. It's important to remember that I'm modeling Christ. I'm not teaching just how I do things. I don't want little "Mark" disciples running around. I want to follow Jesus and let others see me following him, even making mistakes and correcting along the way. This last "all about Jesus" is the difference between growing a church and growing a cult.
What are you doing to make disciples of Jesus in your church? How do you go above and beyond the sermon in your church? I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.