Pastors and church planters have many tasks. We teach, preach, encourage, counsel, give pastoral advice, and generally build up the church. It is easy to get overwhelmed.
We need clarity and focus. Thankfully, the Bible gives us those things. Our core job is to make disciples. The apostle Paul described this job for church leaders in two key passages.
We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me (Col. 1:28, 29).
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Gal. 4:19, 20).
Notice how these passages are not just about leading people to Christ. They are about that, yes, but much more than that—church leaders are to present people as perfect (or mature) in Christ, to form people into the image of Christ.
Consider the leaders who wrote every book in the New Testament. Everything they taught us was really just about discipleship. Why did John write his gospel (he tells us in John 20:30-31)? What is the purpose of Philippians (see 1:9-11) and even Revelation (see Revelations 1:1-3)? Check this out—every book was written to help people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the apostle Paul summed up the whole of ministry in the church as discipleship with these words:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins puts it this way in his book Follow the Master: “Since all true Christians are disciples, the ministry of the church may be seen in its broadest sense as ‘discipleship.’ Various ministries within the church should be seen as specialization, aspects, or stages of discipleship training.”
In the end, everything in the local church is about making disciples. And the core focus of everything pastors and church planters do needs to keep coming back to discipleship.
That is why Jesus gave the apostles his final command.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).