By Chad Spriggs
Like any young boy, I wanted to be like my dad. He never spat, chewed tobacco, or used foul language. He never drove fast cars, disrespected women, or forgot my basketball games. It was smooth sailing for me.
That is, unless you count his hard-headed, single-minded, do-it-my-way mentality. I was a true disciple of my father. If he was hard-headed, I was going to be worse. If he was single-minded, I was going to be laser focused.
I’m so glad that’s not all I picked up.
My father loved the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. As he pastored our church and shepherded our family, I learned about grace, peace, hope, and love. He shaped my desire to be a pastor. I learned how to care for my family as well as others.
I learned that being a disciple of my father was really being a disciple of Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20)
And so I ask, “Who are you following?”
God wants all people to become disciples, followers of Christ. The work of the Church is to make disciples and equip those disciples to make new disciples.
Mike Henderson says, “Discipleship is the process by which people grow in their understanding of God’s Word, equipping of the Holy Spirit to overcome the pressures and trials of life, and to become more Christlike.”
In my experience, the most impactful pastors have been dedicated disciple-makers. Their impact will run deep and wide. So what are the marks of a disciple-making pastor? Here are some of the characteristics found in pastors worth following.
Prayer is a vital expression of discipleship. True disciples of Jesus model Him. Disciples are those who are becoming people who think, feel, speak and act like Jesus.
Jesus prayed often. And so will those who follow Him. Prayer is critical because it reveals a disciple’s utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit in all of life.
Becoming like Jesus is something that is both taught and caught. Modeling a life yielded to Jesus is essential to the reproduction of disciples. Programs don’t make disciples. People make disciples. And it takes disciples to make disciples.
This means discipleship must move from theory into everyday life to be effective. Jesus best modeled this principle for us by inviting His followers to walk with Him in all of life.
Mentoring is Jesus’ preferred method of making disciples. It’s the way He did it. It’s also the way in which His disciples made disciples as seen in the New Testament.
The most effective discipleship models will have mentorship at all levels. Mature disciples mentor maturing disciples. Maturing disciples mentor the newest disciples. And the newest disciples are working to make disciples of those who don’t yet know Jesus.
Pastors need to be mentored and mentor to stay connected and accountable to the truths of Scripture.
Teaching is one of the key functions in making disciples along with “going” and “baptizing” in Matthew 28:18-20. According to this passage, it is “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
Said differently, the important point of teaching isn’t informational but transformational. Teaching culminates in doing and not just knowing.
For a pastor to lead through teaching, he must be more than informing. He must be doing the work of the gospel.
Disciple making is a team sport. It must be done in community.
Having clearly defined relational networks and roles is just as critical as having solid biblical teaching in furthering the mission of Jesus in making disciples. It is helpful to think of discipleship in two dimensions: content and context.
The content of discipleship is the Biblical gospel. The Scriptural baseline of all that Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection have achieved for those of us who trust in Him must be reinforced in all realms of life.
And the context of discipleship is committed, loving, and accountable relationships.
Coaching is most helpful for those who are responsible for leading leaders. While mentoring primarily works with a one-on-one structure, coaching improves the effectiveness of those leading small groups, ministries, and churches.
Everyone in leadership should receive help (coaching) from those who have the benefit of having had more experience in the same role. The pastor should champion the efforts of the leaders within the church. The pastor as coach can help leaders be more effective. In return, disciples will be better equipped.
Discipleship must be viewed through the paradigm of all of life. Money and work occupy huge portions of time, energy, and thought for most people in our culture. So if we don’t address these categories for those who follow Jesus, we’ll fail to make fully devoted followers.
It’s helpful to think through growth for disciples in four realms: the heart, the home, work, and the world. The pastor must work to cultivate a church environment (discipleship environment) that encourages people to worship Jesus in everything they are, everything they do, and everywhere they go.
To evaluate the health of disciples and the mission-critical function of making disciples, pastors need to first define the profile of a disciple. For example, a pastor could hone in on distinct characteristics of a disciple in the realm of worship, community, and mission.
The pastor can then have quantifiable metrics for evaluating leaders. For other qualitative measures, the pastor could ask questions like, “are we growing together in loving one another?” According to Jesus, this is the calling card of those who follow him. He says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
In conclusion, making disciples is the priority of the church because it’s first on Jesus’ agenda. If it’s first on Jesus’ agenda, then it should be first on the hearts of our pastors.
The simplest way for the church to make disciples is to intentionally disciple people through every ministry and event. Pastors must ensure discipleship is the focus of everything. Discipleship isn’t meant to be an appendage in the church body. If it becomes this, the mission of Jesus becomes peripheral.
For more discussion regarding the pastor’s discipleship role within the church, discuss these questions with key leaders within your congregation or network:
- How does prayer shape your discipleship?
- How does modeling discipleship help equip your people to become disciple makers?
- What role does your mentoring play in making disciples?
- How does your teaching make disciples?
- What types of training environments within your context help cultivate discipleship?
- How does coaching foster healthy discipleship within your context?
- How is stewardship (the concepts of faith, work, and economics intersecting) encouraged as an act of discipleship?
- What types of observations and evaluations can be implemented to help stimulate healthy disciple-making within your context?
CHAD SPRIGGS is the husband of Deanna, a father, and church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board, serving Northern New Mexico.