I’ve been traveling to several different churches since I got back from Ukraine, and one of the things I have noticed is that several of them are in a state of transition with their pastors. Either one is about to leave, one is just coming in, or they are currently looking for a new pastor.
Just last Wednesday, I was visiting a large church in Indianapolis, and, during one of the conversations with one of the staff members, she told me that their pastor had resigned a few months ago and they were looking for a new one. She said that two of the assistant pastors were teaching on Sundays, another pastor was taking the leadership role of the church, and that they were still looking for a new senior pastor. Now, that confused me a little.
I asked her why the “lead pastor” didn’t take that position in the church. She replied that he didn’t seem like the right guy for it. I then asked her if there was anyone else in the body that could take that role, and she said that no one else seemed to be the right fit for it.
Firstly, I want to say that I don’t believe this church is doing anything morally wrong or against God by looking for a pastor outside of their “faith family”; however, with the way I was spiritually trained and raised, it makes much more sense to me to look within rather than without, if for nothing else that someone coming from the outside could also come with a drastically different perspective on ministry and vision for the church. I would think it would be easier on the church body to simply have someone that was raised under the original pastor’s leadership, accountability, and vision to take the reins, someone that the congregation already knew and loved.
The true problem that I see is that this doesn’t seem to be an isolated instance. Like I said, I’ve been to several churches the past couple of months, and, of the ones that are in transition, they have all been looking outside of their body for a new pastor to come in. Here is my question:
Are we that bad at raising up disciples within our churches?
I was taught in Bible college that you should always have a Paul, a Timothy, and a Barnabas in your life. The “Paul” is there to instruct you and keep you accountable, the “Barnabas” is there to be your friend, encourage you, and give you counsel, and the “Timothy” is your follower, the person you pour yourself into, the person that will take over what you do when you are taken from that position by the Lord.
I’ve seen a few ministers do what I call “pulling a Peyton Manning.” I think most of my readers are familiar with the Colts’ all-star quarter back of currently the worst team in football. I’m a really big fan of Manning, and I believe that he is the greatest QB currently in the game (if he is still in the game with his injuries…), but he never took the time to raise up a successor that could truly step in to those big “size 18” shoes and command the Colts’ offense to a semi-victorious season. I wish he had, but, without their “coach on the field”, the Colts barely pulled off two victories last season.
He didn’t disciple someone to fill that position, and the team suffered the consequences when he could no longer do his job.
We aren’t invincible. We have a stopping point. We can’t count on our ability to keep going in the ministry indefinitely.
Some of these concepts are derived from a book that I read during college that outline the process of discipleship. It s called The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman. Discipleship starts at evangelism and ends at our “graduation from this life”, when we take off the mantle of our fleshly bodies and join the Lord. I think every Christian is in some part of this process of discipleship. Every Christian should be an active part of this process.
Many people think that they can’t be ministers because they don’t have a seminary degree or aren’t on the church’s payroll. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The Bible and the rest of history are filled with people that were able to step up and do something with their faith without being a “full time minister” or a “seminary grad”. I know many pastors, the ministries of whom are great and fruitful, that have not graduated from a seminary – they were simply discipled in a proper way (some through discipleship programs such as HSE or CCBC).
Some of you may be thinking, “Ok… You keep using that word ‘discipleship’… Now, what does that mean?”
Discipleship is simply the process which occurs when God takes two people and uses them to better one another spiritually while one serves as a spiritual leader and the other as a follower. Jesus commanded us to do this in Matthew when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB)
How should we begin to disciple these future leaders? I believe it starts with two things – investment and invitation. We need to invest our time and energy into building real relationships with those around us. We need, then, to invite them to follow us. Like Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”. As we are doing this, of course, we MUST endeavor to follow Christ as closely as possible. How can we lead others to follow someone that we are out-of-step with? We MUST follow Him.
Secondly, we need to give them opportunities to minister and work, to succeed, and, yes, even to fail. That last one is the one I most struggle with. I never want to see anyone fail, especially someone on my team… But, they must get a sense of what real ministry is like – with the training wheels off. Now, this all must be kept in perspective. Just as you wouldn’t hand a ten-year-old the keys to your Harley on the day he graduated from his training wheels, I don’t think it would be wise to send someone off with an obvious, though inexperienced, gift of teaching to preach on Sunday their first time before people. Let them share a devotion with their peers, then build them up to a home study, etc. Take it in stages, encourage them, and see how God uses their particular gift (they may not teach exactly like you…).
Also, teaching others to eventually disciple still others is essential for our work to continue. Our followers have an expiration date, just as we do. We will all stand one day before the Lord. They will need to raise up a new generation to carry on the Glorious Gospel that was handed down to us.
Lastly, we should pray for them. This really should’ve been first, in the middle, and all the way to the end of this process. God uses prayer. He responds to us when we call to Him. “…You do not have because you do not ask.” (James 4:2 NASB). “”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7, 8 NASB) For the sake of our churches, for the sake of our pastors, for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s ask.