Some of the best ministry related conversations about my work and calling are conversations I have with my wife. Quite often, she can see things that I can’t, since she is looking from a different perspective. Over the weekend, we had a conversation about what success in the church looks like while I was getting ready for Sunday. There was a lot to take from it but most of all, it was a good reminder that success isn’t always what we think it is.
Most of us as pastors have been conditioned by denominations, seminaries, culture, the business world, etc. to believe success in ministry is more, bigger, better ministry: more people, bigger buildings, better programs. And most of us believe it whether we want to or not because we are trained as human beings to measure results by what we see. If a church is big and busy, God must like what they are doing and be blessing it or they have a great formula for building a congregation, everyone needs to copy it and make other large congregations. Pastors look at this and get discouraged, especially when parishioners want to know, “Why doesn’t our pastor preach like _______?” or “Why doesn’t our church do/act/grow/become like _______?” I can’t count the number of times I have left denominational meetings and felt like human garbage because some megachurch pastor came to speak to us on how to build a big church and I left knowing that I don’t believe in the megachurch mindset and have no intentions of trying to build one.
And you don’t have to because we are not called to make big churches or big congregations. We are not called to make programs or institutions. We are called to make disciples as in “…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20). But what is making a disciple? How do we make disciples?
I believe disciple making is a craft and an art. It is not mass manufactured. It is not found in a series of lectures or some test that you take. Disciple making, like salvation, is a process, one that takes time. Think about it, Jesus spent three years working with twelve guys to prepare them to carry on in his name. The Son of God, the Light of the World, the greatest teacher to ever take a pupil only took twelve disciples. So, why do we think that a church of 1200 is better than a church of 120 when Jesus worked with 12? Churches are not successful by the biblical model (making disciples) for having lots of people, churches are successful by the biblical model for seeing people turn away from a way of life that is toxic, painful, and damaging to them (repent, part one) and turn toward the life of the Way, the life modeled after the life and teachings of Jesus (repent, part two).
Disciple making is doing exactly what Jesus said in the passage above: baptizing people into the faith (making them part of the community) and teaching them the things that Jesus taught his disciples (as best we understand it from the written, spoken, and shared experience of the church). It takes time. It takes effort. It takes commitment.
So, go make disciples. If you make a lot of them great! If you make a few, great! But that is the goal, that is true ministry.