How Our Understanding of Discipleship Impacts our Ministry


As I look at the landscape of the church today. I wonder if due to our declining numbers we have shifted our discipleship practices to respond more out of fear and less out of a sense of mission. Have our discipleship methods created more silos because we are returning to the increasingly less Christian culture around us? Instead, should we be viewing discipleship more as an opportunity to equip followers for the challenges of this unconnected to God culture? The German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred at the hands of the Nazis once said, “the Church is the church only when it exists for others” what he meant was for outsiders.

Silo Thinking

In one of my former congregations sometime in the fall was time for the pastor to trick and guilt (00ps I mean encourage them to take on this opportunity to serve our Lord on our various dysfunctional boards and committees) members into filling positions of leadership in the church. I remember one time when I had decided gain some history as to how things had been done in the past, thinking that maybe there was a method that proved useful. My research uncovered a troubling bit of information when I inquired of my then 80-year-old Financial Secretary how he got the opportunity to serve. He described a sad, but I would discover a recurring tale of woe. The current Financial Secretary went on vacation and asked him to cover for him while he was gone, but the guy never returned. So this poor fellow had been stuck with this job for over 20-years. Me being who I am said to him so, “I guess you haven’t been able to trick anyone else into taking your place, eh?” This congregation was in the Rust Belt and upper a Midwestern culture.

To be honest, I fell into this trap of trying to get people into God’s Word to show them how they are called to serve in our congregation’s current congregational needs only. I fell into silo thinking. Silo thinking caused me to spend most of my time trying to keep the current institution alive and functioning.  Our ministry had become far too internally focused on our thoughts and practice. It made sense at the time we only had 54 in worship and were on District welfare. We needed to change our focus. We were creating silos and part-time low commitment disciples. We thought that asking for a higher level of engagement would only drive people away. We were not equipping the saints to share their faith, and the congregation suffered.

Silo thinking produces part-time disciples, and part-time disciples are:

  • More concerned with what people think. Gal. 1:10
  • More concerned with their public image. Gal 2:6-9
  • More concerned about bringing people into the church.

lightstock_788_small_byrene_haneyA significant shift took place in how we equipped our members for ministry. Our members spend only a few hours in church, but the majority of their other time trying to navigate the hard realities of the world that was becoming less and less Christ-centered. The challenge for us became how do we prepare them for being sent every single week into an ever increasingly hostile mission field. The answer was shifting to a sending mindset. Allow me to share this story, once my congregation made from silos to disciple-making, God blessed us with an increase in membership from 54 to 74 in worship in 18-months.

Sending Thinking produces disciples who are:

  • Concerned with what God thinks. Gal. 1:10
  • Worried about their private devotion. Rom 12:1-2
  • Concerned with the Glory of God. Rom 10:14-16

How Does Jesus Defined Discipleship in Luke 14:25-35

Jesus stated, at least, four critical elements for becoming His disciple:

  1. Jesus talked about the priority of a relationship with Him.
  • If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).
    • A question to ask your leadership in response to this is: How do we grow in our love for Christ so that it becomes passionate? I don’t define passionate as solely an emotional response. I define passion as what is that ministry or cause of Christ’s that will tug at your heartstrings and moves you to let that tug of faith cause you to act.

2. Jesus discussed having the right purpose.

  • Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27).
    • A way to evaluate this in your local congregation is by asking this question: In what specific ways could you use faith stories and parables to help the church feel the tension of being off-course and too internally focused?

3. Jesus told prospective disciples that their commitment must be long-term.

  • Christian discipleship addresses every dimension of life. It is concerned not only with doing the right thing in every circumstance but also with doing the right thing for the right reason.
    • “Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together, to remain faithful to the gospel.” Phil. 1:27
  • Christian discipleship is a work of grace. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms life, not someone who tries to be good. The term, disciplined grace describes this process. While God changes, a believer’s spiritual practice creates the transforming environment in which the Holy Spirit works
    • “But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women. Train yourself for a holy life! 8 While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has the promise for this life now and the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4: 7-8.

4. Jesus stated that the disciples must be willing to practice generosity.

  • Christian discipleship was intended by Christ to be reproductive. Those who follow Jesus’ life and teaching will be prepared to share their faith experiences eagerly and to invest themselves in the spiritual nurture of others with their time, talents and treasures.
    • “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. “A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.” Acts 2:42-43

We can look at the challenges of this age and try and circle the wagons and hide away until Jesus returns, but is that the mission Jesus gave us to do? I am reminded of the message Jesus gave a frightened bunch of disciples hiding in an upper room. He appeared to them and said, Peace be with you and then this interaction. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22. It is about equipping our people to be sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission of God is a world that at times is hostile to the Truth.

More in this series:


Congregational Life and Ministry, Leadership

Two Ways to Engage The People in The Pew


One of the most vital challenges congregations face now are how do you involve the people in the pew and motivate them to use their gifts in service to God and His kingdom.  Pastor’s sometimes are their own worst enemy in this undertaking.  If we are honest, we prefer the notion of being the professional leading from the front.  After all, we are highly trained professionals and have the student debt as a constant reminder. It is easy if we are not careful to take on the star quarterback mentality.  While leading from the front requires less time and effort it is not the most efficient form of ministry and discipleship.  Members get left behind and left out of ministry in this approach. This concept of ministry and discipleship is not what Jesus modeled nor advocated. Jesus fostered an environment where the disciples were fully engaged in ministry.  Modern disciples are called to do ministry in both far off distant lands and in the communities God has planted His Church.  And that call to ministry is not an occasional service here and there but consistent.   We get the honor to serve God and His kingdom in our community, in our vocations, at school, on the bus, at home, and even at church.  How do we make the mental mind shift to do this?

Connect people young and old to a greater purpose.

Your members will not be engaged because you as leader say they should. Lord knows that would be great. People need more.  Give your people a definite purpose “how” they can make a difference. Then give them the clear mission.  That is the “why.” Identify their unique calling.  That is the “what.” People care about the cause. Often in our congregations, we think we have communicated our purpose, mission, and calling, but if you forced churches to articulate those three questions many struggle to explain the reason they exist. Test this in your church.  Take a straw poll of the congregation’s mission you will get answers that are all over the map. If your purpose and mission are fuzzy, clarify them.  If you have no idea where you are leading people, take the time to gain clarity.  Then communicate that higher purpose to your flock when you seek to mobilize a team to go into the mission field with you make the mission about more than filling a position for an hour on Sunday.  Answer the questions of how their service impacts the overall ministry and purpose of the church. Before people give up their free time, they need to see tangible evidence of fruitfulness and a clear line between what they do and what moves the needle.

Give members the opportunity to serve.

Advice from Ross Perot about how to treat your people: “Never ask anyone to do what you haven’t done before and wouldn’t do again. That’s a pretty fundamental rule in leadership… treat them like you treat yourself. Things you don’t like, they don’t like. You don’t like to be jerked around; they don’t either. You don’t like to be talked down to, and they don’t either. You would rather work with somebody than for somebody. So, would they. You hate people who pound on your head after you gave everything you had and failed…It’s that simple.”

Christians are seeking a more prominent role to play in the Gospel story than merely sitting in the pews.They have heard countless sermons on all the various parts of the body of Christ and the many spiritual gifts given to the people of God.  Now they are looking for a way to put their talents and passions to work as a vital part of the church’s ministry.  To engage your flock in your church’s ministry, you’ll need to create opportunities or a path to leadership.Pastor’s here is the hard part for you look to give away leadership not just volunteer positions.

Even scarier invite opinions from those who are not seminary trained. To improve the overall feel and effectiveness of your congregation welcome feedback and push down decision-making to include your flock.  By giving your people a greater involvement in leadership and ministry, you create an environment of collaboration and improved ministry buy-in.

Discipleship, The Journey of Faith

The Dangers of a Joyless Christianity


There is a sense in some circles that being joyful is not a part of the Christian life. The tension is between reverence of God and the joyful expression that others may see as drawing attention to oneself.  I understand the delicate balance, but I also recognize that if what we do for the Lord does not give us joy and fulfillment how long can we survive the rigors of Christian service.

Is there a place for joy in Christian service?

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, SP Publications, 1990, p. 171.

Take this journey with me.  We will take this quote in sections because there is a wealth of wisdom contain it this paragraph.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…”

Joy is not something we can internally produce just like grace is not a natural concept to accept because both are birthed outside of our natural sinful human condition.  Joy is almost infused in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to carry out a great mission.  To announce the reign of Jesus Christ to the world “…as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Matthew 10:7

We are a people called for a divine purpose, to get the message out to those far from God. The heart of our message has the power to turn cold, unrepentant hearts, alive and ablaze with zeal for God.  The good news is God has sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. Jesus confronts the world lost in sin, while also comforting that same world with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.  Fellow travelers, you have the privilege to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  How can this not enliven your heart and give you a reason for celebration?  You have been set apart for a holy purpose and sent on a vital life-saving mission.

The alternative to embracing Joy.

“Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin or doctrinal error is that we lose our joy in Christ. When your heart stops singing, that is a warning to watch your life and doctrine closely.”- Jim Johnstone

“…the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Our other choice in life is to go around miserable and to complain about what a horrible lot life has afflicted upon us.  The danger of doing ministry without allowing your joy to shine brightly is the witness it gives to a believing and unbelieving world.  Who wants to journey with people who appear not to enjoy the ride?  The love we have for God should overflow to people around us in our preaching, teaching, and service. That overflow is a joy.

The psalmist describes it this way, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalm 43:4. It is possible to lead with a quiet, reverent sense of awe at the wonders of God while also having a heart filled with exceeding joy over the love and grace of our Lord and Savior.  Ministry is not about us, it is always about Jesus.  Since ministry is about Jesus, understand the awesomeness of God while rejoicing in the joy of our salvation.

Community Outreach, Faith Conversations

Is Outreach Necessary?


Yes, and here is why

This may sound like an absurd question. Many church people I meet with are disenchanted with the church, with America, and with the shifting society around us.  Those same individuals are encountering denominations that are dwindling in numbers and revenue.  There is a sense of desperation all around.  My response to this is you are right these are trying times for the church, but I have never been more energized.  It means the church is more important, more relevant, demands a bolder witness than ever before.

Outreach is not just needed; it is indispensable to the survival of our communities.  But not in the manner you may imagine.  I am not saying this will grow your church, but it will expand your capacity, your compassion, your heart, and you as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe outreach is more about using our God-given spiritual gifts than it is about church growth.  Churches may grow due to our outreach efforts, but that is a Holy Spirit thing, not a program thing, or an energy thing, or even a planned thing.

Our calling is to invite people to meet this Jesus Christ who has transformed our lives through His death and resurrection.  It is our opportunity to create an environment for people to take part in a foretaste of the feast to come.  Come and see the man who knows everything about you, yet still, loves you.  That’s why outreach is crucial, even more so, urgent.

Outreach is Necessary Because the Message is Powerful

Maybe this example will connect with you.

She was lying on the ground. In her arms, she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

Taking a bite, she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft, warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive.

Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived. Love is a costly thing. – Love is a Costly Thing, by Dick Hillis

God in His love for us and for a broken world “spared not His own Son.” God gave the mission to the church to tell the world of the everlasting, all-encompassing love of God. But God’s love came at a significant cost.  Believers, we must tell the world regardless of any personal cost to us. Outreach is an expression of that love’s cost. Our faith costs parents and sons and daughters, relationships. Faith costs the missionary life itself. In his love for Christ, the missionary must give up all to make the Savior known. You are a missionary. The world needs to hear your message of the salvation.  Look around you, there is brokenness, there is hatred, there is racial division, and there is anger.  The only thing that breaks the hold Satan has on the world is the power of forgiveness offered to the world through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ love breaks through hatred, division, and brokenness.  So, saints of God let your love for Christ, cost you something, and we will together live out the mission of inviting people to experience a foretaste of the feast to come.   Outreach is telling a lost and dying world of God’s costly love for us in Christ Jesus. Go, and be an outreach fanatic!


The Kingdom Needs You!


Top Ten Reasons to Get Involved in Kingdom Work

  • When you stay home, you get too many telemarketing calls.
  • Your family could use a break from you.
  • You might need to help yourself some day.
  • It’s hard to win a game of solitaire.
  • Soap operas all sound alike.
  • If you don’t go out each day, you get old.
  • Why let your boss have all the fun in life?
  • The car needs a workout.
  • Your mom would be proud of you.
  • Who cares about money?
    Unknown Submitted by Joy Pople, Baldwinsville Volunteer Center, Baldwinsville NY

I once heard a Baptist preacher say, “There are two things I would never want to be. The front pew of a Baptist church or the third verse of a Baptist hymn because neither is ever used.” As a Lutheran, our front row doesn’t suffer too much wear and tear either.

We have an innate desire—even a need, you could say—to be useful and to be used. Most disgruntled employees are disgruntled because they feel that their employer isn’t maximizing their skills. People want to be helpful, and they want to be used. Ask any player in the NFL if he would rather be the highest paid back-up or the lowest-paid starter, and the overwhelming majority would say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”

Everyone Has Something To Offer

God is calling you to be useful. The harvest wants you to be useful, and in Ephesians 4 Paul teaches us about how God seeks to use each one of us. Listen to his words.

(v. 7) He [God] has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. Eph 4:7

The word translated gift can also be translated grace or even ministry. One commentary I read said this verse can be translated, “to each of us ministry has been given…[The NIV Application Commentary, Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass]

Paul is talking about our usefulness. He’s saying, “As a member of the body of Christ, you have been given a special gift, a special grace, a special ministry, that Jesus designed especially for you. You have been equipped and empowered by the King of the Universe to accomplish this mission.”


Whether your gift is or isn’t obvious it exists. To help you maximize your gift or ministry, Paul teaches that God has given the church a team of leaders whose job it is to prepare you, train you and release you for ministry.  Once you have been sent, you go with a clear message, shout to the world in word and action that the reign of Jesus Christ has begun.  Christ and His church are ministering to a hurting and a lost world. This is how Paul said it:

(v. 11) He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ… Eph 4:11

God’s plan for the kingdom.  Our ministry should reflect Christ’s example and compassion for the lost.  God has a plan for you, a ministry for you. He has given you a special gift to accomplish it.  The Holy Spirit gives you the power to achieve it. Maybe your ministry exists within the parameters of this local church, but your kingdom impact expands far beyond your local flock or your established ministries organization. Look around you. Kingdom work occurs beyond our limited boundaries.  Impact happens in the workplace, or in your neighborhood, or even halfway around the world.  Don’t put God into tiny boxes and then sit on the lid.  God is bigger than that, the kingdom is greater than that. You are more important than that.

You are useful. You are valuable to God. You can be used by God and His Church to help accomplish God’s mission. He has a place for you to serve him, and he has given you the grace you need to do it. The strength you need to accomplish. He has also given you a community of believer around you to encourage in it.  And all the gifts necessary to achieve it. So never lose hope in living out the mission you were called to fulfill.



Developing A Discipleship Plan


As this discipleship series nears completion I wanted to give you some resources to use to assist and equip you with the necessary tools to add your discipleship ministry. In order to accomplish this monumental task, I cast a wide net calling to my aid all 1,500 of my Facebook connections. So the call went, please send me your best discipleship tools. Sounds like a great idea right? Well, the results of my cry for help resulted in disappointing mixed results. Some respondents gave me really good material that I did not know existed, other people said, use the Bible or Luther’s Small Catechism.  While any worthwhile discipleship program better contain the Bible as the foundation for content.  And Luther’s Small Catechism is a great resource it is often one that is taught only once or twice in a person’s lifetime?  My sincere question to some are how do you make the entire Bible a discipleship program?   What I mean by that is have you developed a plan to work your members through the Bible in such a way that it strengthens their walk with God.  I could never get more than ten percent of my members to attend more than one Bible class a year, let alone walk through the entire Bible.

Nevertheless, this exercise revealed one major revelation, the term discipleship is squishy. If you ask 10 pastors to define it you would get ten different answers.  However, the way people define it determines what resources would be most effective.  With that revelation, it makes it difficult to provide people with useful resources.

Well, the results of my cry for help resulted in disappointing mixed results. Some respondents gave me really good material that I did not know existed, other people said, tripe things use the Bible or Luther’s Small Catechism.  While any discipleship program better contain the Bible as the foundation for content.  How do you make the entire Bible a discipleship program?  No one could answer that question.  My frustration with that response is, I could not tell if people were being sincere or sarcastic. Nevertheless, this exercise revealed one major revelation, the term discipleship is squishy. If you ask 10 pastors to define it you would get ten different answers.  However, the way people define it determines what resources would be most effective.  With that revelation, it makes it difficult to provide people with useful resources.

Armed with this new found information this post will attempt to help you develop a discipleship plan.

Determine Your Definition of Discipleship.
Is discipleship for your congregation at 12-week adult instruction class followed up with the Holy Spirit working through the power of God’s word in preaching and teaching his disciples? Or is your view that discipleship is more hands on.  Do you view it as an ongoing outpouring of God’s Word into the life of believers, through living life with, and equipping your people for mission and ministry? How you define this will determine what kind of resources fit your discipleship plan.

Determine What Is Your end goal in Discipleship.
Think of your discipleship plan as sort of a church boot camp. What are you equipping and preparing your people for? Look at the world around you what tools do your members need to live out their calling as followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in an ever increasing hostile world?

Paul makes it very clear that the role of the shepherd is to equip the saints. Here is the context for that preparation from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, “12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head.”

If you are unsure of the end goal Paul gives you some insights into this passage, God’s goal is for the Christian to “become mature, fully grown and measured by the standard of Christ.” For what purpose are we equipping them, so the disciples are not “tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming.” If you don’t have an intentional plan to develop the people under your care let me encourage you to do so. The times they are a changing, and we need people well-grounded in God’s word and prepared to stand firm in the midst of opposition.

Other blogs in this series: