The role of the Senior Minister/Pastor is the most significant role of all in creating a disciple making church. I do not like making absolute statements, but I am going to make an important one. First, a little background on my statement. I have worked with many national disciple making groups, I have talked to many disciple making experts, I have helped pioneer several national disciple making networks, and I have coached many churches. The conclusion is always the same.
Unless the Senior Minister/Pastor is sold out to disciple making, their church will never become a disciple making church.
So, when I start working with Senior Ministers/Pastors I like to lay out the profile that they will need to fulfill if they hope that their church will become one of the less than 5% of churches in the United States that qualify as a disciple making church. The profile, in outline form, has five parts.
- You Must First Be an Authentic Disciple of Jesus
There’s an old saying: “Who you are thunders so loud that it drowns out your words.” To be a disciple-making minister/pastor, you must walk with God daily. This is why church leaders are people of prayer, Bible study and the inner life of the Spirit. Walking authentically with God gives legitimacy to our teaching and leadership.
Living out the life of an authentic disciple with our families is especially important. Too many church leaders neglect the most important disciple making mission field–their own homes. When we walk with God together with our families, the church will know it. Our authenticity becomes the daily testing ground that authenticates the teaching and leading we do in the church.
- You Must Be a Personal Disciple Maker
You must be what you want others to be. We describe it in this way:
- You can’t lead where you don’t go
- You can’t teach what you don’t know
- You can’t give what you can’t show (by your lifestyle)
There are a surprising number of Senior Ministers/Pastors who do not regularly, personally, and relationally disciple others, especially their key leaders. After being an authentic disciple, this is the second most important part of a disciple making church.
Get a model of intentional relational disciple making. Commit to a group of men and disciple them with that model (so they can use the same model to disciple others). The church will never make disciples and raise up disciple makers if the Senior Minister/Pastor does not set the example and model it.
All who hear the Senior Minister/Pastor speak about discipling others must know that he is practicing what comes out when he speaks and teaches.
- You Must Build the Church’s Disciple Making System
A disciple is a person who follows Jesus, is transformed by Jesus and joins Jesus on His mission. That’s the job of every believer. A disciple maker makes disciples. Every Christian has that job.
A Senior Pastor/Minister is more than that. They have the task of leading the church to create a system in which people are taught how to be disciples. In other words, they and their team are called to lead in the development of a church-wide system that will make disciples who make disciples.
The Senior Minister/Pastor’s central role in creating the system cannot be delegated to others–including executive ministers/pastors and discipleship ministers/pastors.
Leadership is a responsibility that is broader than just discipling others or leading a small group. We Senior Ministers/Pastors follow Timothy and Titus and build churches that serve as the “household of God” and the “pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:14-16 ESV) Included in Paul’s instructions to Timothy was the call to develop disciple-making leaders and systems. Paul writes about this in 2 Timothy 2:2 – “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
As the senior church leader, your job is to create the community-wide system in which people can be involved in intentional, relational discipleship environments.
You are the primary architect of a disciple-making community.
God will help you with team members, but the buck stops with you. Yes, you should build with teams of leaders who work together to fill in the gaps. We work together and are responsible for developing the program in which the team is trained, inspired, encouraged, challenged and fully developed.
4 . The Church’s Leaders Focus on Making Disciple Makers
The Senior Minister/Pastor and staff in a disciple-making church need to focus on developing disciple making leaders. Everyone is a disciple and can grow into an effective disciple maker, but not everyone is called or gifted to be a leader. Identify emerging, gifted leaders and disciple them so they can disciple others. The more disciple makers that the leadership makes, the more people who will be discipled by the church.
So, we really face three problems:
- Most leaders are too busy trying to do the work in the church themselves, and they don’t have time to see and develop the leaders God has sent them. The machine needs feeding, and you have to feed it–preaching every week, planning everything, doing weddings and funerals. Is feeding the machine keeping you from noticing the undeveloped people God has sent you?
- Church leaders are looking for already-developed leaders. They don’t see the potential in their midst because it’s not yet visible. Focus on developing future disciple makers.
- Ministers/Pastors tend to look for friends or spiritual all-stars, rather than someone who can become a disciple maker and help the team. No one can do it all. That’s why we need the whole body of Christ.
Not everyone can lead dozens, hundreds or thousands of people, but most can lead a group of three or 10. In a good church system, you need leaders with different leadership capabilities. We know that God gives specific gifts to people in the church to help the church work together effectively.
Raise up disciple-making leaders and apprentices.
When developing disciple makers, we recommend you intentionally develop disciple makers by utilizing something like the formula Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson write about in their book, Exponential:
I do. You watch. We talk.
I do. You help. We talk.
You do. I help. We talk.
You do. I watch. We talk.
You do. Someone else watches.
Jesus modeled something similar when He worked with the disciples, and a careful review of Paul’s writings shows that he did something like this with Timothy and Titus.
As the lead disciple maker in the church, the Senior Minister/Pastor needs a simple but effective model like this to successfully develop leaders.
- Be the Disciple Making Vision Caster for the Church
You must also be able to cast the vision that creates the disciple-making culture of the church.
You not only make it clear that everyone is to be involved in making disciples, you also constantly point people to the method–intentional, relational disciple making. That means sharing the vision as you preach and teach all the time. At every opportunity you have with the other leaders and people in your church, continually tell them, “This is our vision, this is where we’re going, this is what we’re about.” Every sermon is both a teaching opportunity and a vision-casting opportunity, a way of showing people what God has called the church to be and to do.
What is the vision?
The vision is that the church’s primary mission is to create disciples who create other disciples, just as Jesus intended us to do.
The church is a community that is developing people who follow Jesus, are changed by Jesus, and then join Him on His mission. (Matthew 4:19) State that vision, then state it again and again and again. And just when you think people are getting tired of hearing the vision, repeat it some more. People forget. People drift in their thinking. They get new ideas and want to explore different directions in a church.
Continual vision casting is particularly necessary when you meet with other leaders in the church. Discipling others can be hard work. Leaders get tired, discouraged and beat up. Continually remind and encourage your leaders to stay the course–keep making disciples who make other disciples.
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