Early in my journey as a follower of Jesus, a group called The Navigators pressed upon me a New Testament verse as the flow-chart of discipleship:
“ … the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2
A flow-chart of discipleship
Link that verse with Jesus’ call to his first twelve, “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In this linkage, we discover the primary task of pastoral leadership: to enable these processes of disciple-making to occur, by all possible means, in the context of a local community of faith.
Yet discipleship is a focus that is often eclipsed, or swamped, by other, apparently pressing, matters on a pastor’s agenda. Running a church; responding to crises; planning and preparing; plangent or plaintive, these tasks beguile, bewitch, and browbeat pastoral leadership away from discipleship.
However, they are all significant components of the pastoral ministry! So, the challenge for us as pastoral leaders is to keep a focus on, and in practice give attention to, the central call of making reproductive disciples.
Imitation and modelling
Now one of the unfortunate and unintended side effects of 2 Timothy 2:2 is that it may drive us to an overly narrow view of what constitutes disciple making. Misconstrued, the word “teach” can make structured communication of information, in a formal context, the hub of our discipleship practice.
This ingredient is not to be ignored in our discipling repertoire. Yet to be true to Scripture we would do well to frame it within a broader paradigm: that of imitation and modeling. It is the image of apprentice not student!
Throughout the Pauline Epistles a repeated motif is that of “imitation” [1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 6:2, 13:7; 3 John 1:11]. A clear statement of this motif is in Acts 20:18-35, Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders. Repeatedly he refers to his own actions, words and attitudes as a pattern for the leaders to follow. Importantly, however, he ends up with the example of Jesus (20:35). Paul’s practices are paradigms for discipleship only because they go back to Jesus!
So it seems to me that an indispensible foundation for our disciple-making practices must be the pastor as model, paradigm, archetype, and mirror. People are to be able to observe, follow and be apprenticed to our beliefs, practices and skills, and in doing so be able to become more like Jesus. We should seek apprentices to whom we try to pass on our apprenticeship with Christ!
Spending the day with Jesus
And is not this the pattern that Jesus Himself established? We encounter one of the loveliest expressions of this foundation in John 1:39. Two disciples of John approach Jesus with a rather odd, fumbling, over-awed question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus invites them to come and see. The text then observes that, “they spent that day with him.” In essence, discipleship is about spending our days with Jesus! For three years the Twelve “apprenticed” themselves to Jesus, spending their days with Him.
A good part of modern apprenticeship involves spending a day with the more experienced craftsperson. It does include some formal training in structured settings. Yet mostly, apprentices are engaged in learning as they do! And adults learn best that way
So it is for us as disciple-makers! The basic pattern of our task is to have people observe, imitate and follow us as we spend our days with Jesus. For good or ill they are already doing that! Consciously and unconsciously!
What practices might this involve us in as pastors, beyond the more formal structured aspects of disciple making? Let me suggest just three.
First, remember that your basic discipleship tool is acting as a model, so let that inform your speech and actions with others. Let your discipleship practices “ooze” naturally into conversations, how you spend your time, things that you let people see you doing, what is stirring your heart and feeding your soul. Feel the weight of that responsibility, letting this drive us to God for His help. Unless we lead ourselves in this, we will be unable to lead others.
Second, informally take people on as “apprentices” in smaller and larger ministry settings, when appropriate. Take people with you when visiting. Take on preaching apprentices. Adopt a new believer as a prayer partner. Visit people in their work places and let them watch you interact with others. In doing all of this a helpful pattern for helping people grow is this:“I do. You watch. We talk. I do. You help. We talk. You do. I help. We talk. You do. I watch. We talk.”
Third, actively seek out the “few” with whom you will intentionally model discipleship in a more structured way. Get equipped in mentoring and coaching!