It is all about discipleship. It really is. I firmly believe that the Church needs to focus on discipleship more than anything else, including evangelism. Of course evangelism is important, but if the people in our churches were strong disciples, there would be more people to do evangelism and we would be prepared to disciple the new converts.
A vision for discipleship can happen in many ways, but the role of the pastor(s) is key. I hope that most pastors understand the importance of discipleship. But churches need more than a pastor who wants discipleship, they need pastors willing to step out and promote discipleship.
Here are four ways that pastors can promote discipleship.
1) Discipleship and the Pulpit
Some people believe that discipleship has very little to do with the pulpit, as it can seem impersonal. However, the sermon can be one of the most effective teaching times for the pastor. People are there to hear the pastor preach from the Bible. This can be used as an opportunity to promote and even do some discipleship. This can be done by preaching on the topic of discipleship, including passages such as the Great Commission. But even more importantly, the pastor can model discipleship. Instead of just interpreting the Bible for the congregation, teach them how to interpret the Bible.
2) Discipleship and Small Groups
The role of small groups within churches seems to go up and down. One year small groups are the answer to all the problems and the next year small groups fade into obscurity. Small groups are important but the implementation is not always the best. I hear pastors getting excited about small groups and announcing they plan on getting 80% of the church in small groups by the end of the year. That is great except in the rush to get the quantity, sometimes the quality suffers. I would say that two quality small groups is better than ten mediocre small groups. The role of the pastor, beyond arranging small groups, should be in training leaders and providing ongoing discipleship to the leaders as the groups continue.
3) Discipleship and Mentoring
One pastor cannot do everything for everyone but one pastor can mentor three or four people. We see examples of this in the New Testament. Jesus spent extra time with Peter, James and John. Paul mentored Timothy and Titus. We know from early traditions that John had his own disciples. In a mid to large-sized church, mentoring four people may seem like a minor dent in the discipleship needs. However, if each pastor on staff did this every year and if those mentees went on to mentor others, the impacy would be significant.
My final word of advice for pastors willing to promote discipleship is to do something. The point is that pastors must present a vision of discipleship and must enter into that vision. You have been to the conferences and have read the books. Now it is time to do something. Pick even one of these three or choose something else, just do something for discipleship.