When the Pastor Makes Disciples

It was jealousy, pure and simple. She — the self-proclaimed matriarch of the congregation — was really upset that I was spending so much time with the same eight men. “You are the pastor for the whole congregation! You need to spread your time equally among us all.” I would later overhear her say to one of her cronies, “He has never spent that kind of time with me!”

The way we define pastoral ministry in North America today is often unbiblical. At the very least, it does not have the making of disciples as its driving purpose. The American pastor is much more a manager or executive of the church organization than an intensive investor in a few key leaders to multiply God’s kingdom rule and¬†reign throughout the congregation and community. The American pastor is the administrator, hired by the church to keep things running smoothly and to take care of the wants and desires of the membership. And so a serious problem is propagated: there is no demonstration — no intentional reproduction — no transformational process with ongoing guidance and accountability — of disciple making that sets the pattern for the whole church family.

If the pastor is not the primary leader in making disciples, it is most likely that disciple making will diminish as the prime directive within the church family. If the pastor is not purposefully and consistently pouring into key leaders so that they grow and are empowered for harvest-oriented ministry, then those leaders will not be such an example for the congregation. Church becomes about the pastor trying to meet the needs and desires of the members, rather than leading a transformational movement. Leadership is not transformed and begins acting more like a board of directors than a board of elders. The people are not called to change to become more fruitful — more like Christ. And ultimately, the local congregation becomes entrenched in their unchanging way of “doing church,” responding to innovation with, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Resistance to change in the church is a clear sign that disciple making is no longer a priority.

When a local church begins to see their condition diminish — young people are jettisoning, offerings are down, the membership is aging out, there haven’t been baptisms in a long time, etc. — it’s amazing to me that they will nearly always go one of two fruitless directions: Either they will blame and replace the pastor, or they will blame and replace their primary programs. But the solution to their dilemma is neither of these things. It’s actually something most will refuse to do — reestablish a pattern of making disciples for Christ.

It begins with the pastor — given freedom to prayerfully select a few key leaders who are solid, Spirit-filled believers, to develop them with respect to their biblical role as those who will lead the congregation into the harvest. Then each of those leaders reproduce what they are learning in others. And the pattern continues throughout the membership so that some of the disciples being made are people who do not yet even belong to the church. The solution to what most American congregations are facing today is not a different pastor, not an administrative or organizational plan, but simple and faithful obedience to Christ’s commission on us to make disciples.

I have seen what happens when a local church will take the step of faith and do this. More often, I have seen what happens when they won’t. Every congregation has the same choice. What will yours do?