By Chris Hefner
In today’s world defined by and demanding interaction with social media, it is not surprising that a pastor would have followers and friends on social media. Our number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers is some sort of expression of the reach of our voice and influence. I think social media is a viable, helpful, and even necessary arena for pastoral leadership.
But I’m not talking about those who follow from a distance. We sometimes need a reminder that we have been given a mission—a mission to make disciples. And the model for that mission was Jesus himself. He did not choose to accomplish that task by leading people from a distance, but rather by investing in people intentionally, intimately, and relationally. Certainly, he had followers in the masses, but his most influenced followers were no doubt the apostles with whom he spent years of life and ministry.
Maybe we need to recalibrate our perception of ministry into alignment with biblical expectations. As pastors serving others through study, preaching, writing, counseling, care, and other forms of ministry, I know that we don’t really need another thing to do. But ask yourself this, “Who has influenced you more?” The preachers you follow from a distance (through sermons, conferences, books, and social media)? Or the ones (professors, pastors, and mentors) who invested in you by getting to know you and sharing themselves with you?
The greatest of leaders are those who open themselves up to encourage, mentor, lead, and even be accountable to others. Certainly, we can’t possibly invest in everyone under our leadership. Nor should we attempt such an endeavor. But relational investment is a vital part of our ministry. These seven ideas are just a start:
- Take time weekly or monthly early morning to meet with a handful of others to discuss a book you are reading.
- Bring an intern, staff member, deacon, or church leader with you on a hospital visit.
- Adjust your ministry schedule so you are helping shape the life of a volunteer or team member at your church.
- Carve out lunches to get to know and encourage deacons or other church leaders.
- Create an accountability group.
- Let someone in on your study habits or ministry habits as a method of teaching and training.
- Rethink how you relate to our spouse and children. Instead of just “being there,” intentionally listen, relate, teach, read to, and lead your family as an investment in their future.
All the outward, visible, glorious (at times), and challenging (most of the time) ministry that people see from a distance doesn’t necessarily help them develop as followers of Jesus Christ. The best way, indeed the biblical way, of making disciples happens when we invest in people relationally.
To invest in people relationally is to open yourself up to messiness and disappointment. Notice throughout the gospels how many times Jesus chided his followers for their lack of faith or spiritual insight. Remember also that one of Jesus’ apostles denied him, one betrayed him, and all of them fled at the moment of his arrest. But also remember that Jesus modeled and taught spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and giving along with ministry practices like teaching, serving, healing, interacting with difficult people, personal and public conversations, and a disciple-making method by spending time with specifically chosen people. Jesus instilled himself in his apostles so that when he left them, they would know what to do, how to do it, and why.
So the next time you think about your following, maybe you should pause before you automatically check your number of readers, Twitter followers, and Facebook friends. Consider initiating or improving or developing those people and groups you can invest in. They’re the ones that will remember you and your influence for the gospel long after your last tweet is read.