Discipleship is a big word. It can be an overwhelming word. Even as I sit to write this I wonder how I can speak to discipleship effectively without rambling on and on to all the ins and outs of it. So instead I will attempt to explain how discipleship has most effectively taken place in Uxbridge FMC. These are things I have found helpful in my approach. I’m not claiming to be an expert, that’s why this is more of a “this is what has worked for me” rather than “everyone’s doing it wrong and should just do what Blake says”.
Make sure you are being discipled
One thing that has helped me be a more effective disciple-maker is continuing to be a disciple myself.
Being a young Pastor, I read over Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus every 3-4 months since my first day on the job as if Paul was writing them to me. In university I remember someone (wish I remembered who!!) say that everyone needs a Paul (mentor), Barnabas (accountability partner) and Timothy (disciple) in their lives. I wanted a Paul/Timothy kind of relationship, so I asked one person in particular if we could meet on a regular basis so that he could mentor me. I also surround myself with others who would build me up in the faith. I think we all want relationships like this, but maybe don’t know where to start. The best way I’ve found is to reach out to someone and say I want to learn from them! and then go and learn from them.
I know I can always call up the folks at the Ministry Centre, fellow pastors, retired leaders, my own Board members, and former professors to seek their counsel, advice, and knowledge on particular issues or personal growth barriers I am facing. And more often than not, these amazing leaders will check in on me or share something they’ve been learning that may be helpful to me now or down the road. Don’t stop being disciple. I intend that even if I’m the oldest man on earth I will still seek the counsel of those around me and learn something new from the younger generation.
Discipleship is Relationship
We can use Bible Studies, seminars, sermon series, planned programmes like Alpha or NUA, Base classes, Mileposts, whatever you may use to help aid as tools in discipleship. But they themselves are not discipleship, and just because we use those things we cannot claim to be discipling. In the most basic sense one can argue that you are discipling, in that a disciple is a student or follower of a particular teaching. But people followed Jesus as a way of life, not just a knowledge about God-things.
Jesus viewed His disciples as friends and invited them on a journey with Him. Every relationship is an opportunity for discipleship and discipleship ought to be done in the context of relationship. Being in relationship means being real, authentic, vulnerable, humble, trustworthy, loving, intentional, and sacrificial. People don’t like feeling like a project or just another notch in our belt. I’ve even changed the way we do membership here to be more of a one-on-one/family discussion with a booklet that covers the Base material rather than a classroom setting. I’d rather have coffee or a meal with someone in place of a formal study. I don’t want to just dump knowledge on people and hope they piece it together in their own context. I want to get to know people where they’re at, what they’re going through, what they struggle with, what’s holding them back, and then help them figure it out. And don’t forget, this means being vulnerable too. Admitting “hey, I’m not perfect either, but Jesus is, so let’s seek Him together.”
Don’t go it alone
With a small congregation and being the only Pastor, one can feel alone. Actually, I’ll bet in a large congregation having more than one Pastor, one can still feel alone. Being the only pastor of a small congregation, I often feel the full weight of discipleship. I work best with a team. I miss having staff meetings to bounce ideas off, share responsibilities, just someone who understood life in ministry. Even Jesus sent His disciples out two by two.
I’ve mentioned that I read Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus a lot. We see Paul commission Timothy to disciple others, protect good doctrine, and build up the leaders (elders/deacons). We see in Acts 20 Paul challenges the elders of Ephesus (where Timothy was ministering) to do the same! So like Timothy, my first discipleship act at UFMC was to equip and empower the Board and other leadership. The intention behind this was to have discipled disciple-makers, people to trust and work alongside, and demonstrate authentic relationship. I call my Board, former and current members, friends and co-labourers in the gospel and that way I help to combat the sense of loneliness I sometimes experience in ministry. So my advice to you is disciple your Board!
Prayer and the Holy Spirit
One final thought, and it’s the most important of all. Ultimately, we can’t accomplish anything without Christ. If successful discipleship is helping people grow in relationship with Jesus, knowing the love He has for them and thus falling deeper in love with Him, we have to see that love isn’t something we can force or achieve with clever words and knowledge dumping. No one forced you to fall in love with your spouse or feel the love they have for you. Someone may have made the introduction, but the love that developed was between you and that special someone. Same with Jesus.
In Ephesians 3:14-19 we see Paul kneeling before the Father, praying that the power of the Spirit work in them, so that they may “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (vv. 18-19). Sometimes I get frustrated when people don’t understand the basic principles I am trying to teach them, but then I read this last year and realized I don’t pray for those I’m discipling nearly as much as I should. If I’m completely honest, there are some people I don’t know if I ever lifted up to the Father before attempting to disciple them. Without lecturing on the obvious here, let me simply ask, Do you love the people you are discipling enough to kneel before the Father and pray this prayer? I think we would be amazed by how God moves in them and in us when we actually pray for these disciples.
Pastor, Uxbridge FM Church