Discipleship is all the rage. Commercials, sports commentary, and social media feeds teach us the story of the world, what we should believe, and how we should live.
Sometimes I’ll hear this comment: with all of the indoctrination we and our children receive through the week, what can a one hour sermon do? I’ve thought that. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. Here’s some good news. First, that one hour sermon is more powerful than all of the rest of the hours in a week combined if the Spirit uses it. Second, that one hour informs how we go about all of the other hours in a week. But, third, it’s not the only hour in which Word ministry takes place among us.
This post is about that third point. Our elders have designed a new role for our pastoral staff team, “Director of Discipleship and Theological Development.” I want to tell you about that. But first, let’s talk about discipleship—deep discipleship—in the local church.
What Do We Mean by Deep Discipleship?
Given our many new challenges as disciples of Jesus, we may think that we need equally modern answers. What the church needs, however, are the same old things Jesus had in mind when he said, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20). In slightly different terms: preaching for conversion, church membership, and ongoing discipleship.
What does this ongoing discipleship involve?
If we want to know what Jesus imagined for the church’s discipleship, we need only to look at how the Apostles went about obeying and stirring the church to obedience to Jesus’ command. Even better, we should listen to how the Apostles specifically instructed pastors to lead and order churches to that end. What did they emphasize? How did they instruct churches to go about this work?
Discipleship has as specific content:
- Deep storytelling. “Great indeed,” Paul wrote to Timothy, a pastor in training, “is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1Tim. 3:16) This was a poem known and recited by the first Christians, perhaps even in church. It’s the story of Jesus, the central character in the story of the universe. It’s the true story of everything and it is the beginning and end of our story. Discipleship involves knowing the Scriptures. To know the Scriptures is to know this story.
- Deep truth. The church is “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1Tim. 3:15). The church is a people that confesses truth about Christ, that defends truth concerning Christ for her own sake and for the sake of her witness. “Now the Spirit expressly says,” Paul wrote, “that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (1Tim. 4:1, 2). We are easily deceived. But we will not be deceived if we give ourselves to teaching and to confessing the “trustworthy word,” to “sound doctrine,” and to “sound words.” (Tit. 1:9; 2:1; 1Tim. 4:7).
- Deep transformation. The story of Scripture and the truth of Christ are formative. “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth” (1Tim. 3:14, 15). The truth of God is unmoving but that doesn’t mean we are. We are formed and moved and commissioned by this truth. We behave differently because we are different. We are the “pillar and buttress of truth” in this world, the way the world sees God and his salvation. Truth is for life, doctrine is for devotion, and the Word is for our worship and our witness.
This kind of deep discipleship has a specific context:
- All of God’s people in all sorts of ways. Who is involved in this work of discipleship? Jesus’ great commission was for the whole church. Nevertheless, there are different roles for us to play. The Lord Jesus gave “shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Pastors and teachers devote themselves “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13). This is the role of qualified men, leaders of God’s household as they are of thier own (1Tim. 3:1–7, 15). But that’s not where the Word ministry ends. Equiped by her pastors to stand up under doctrinal winds, members teach one another, “speaking the truth in love” until the body “builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:14–16). Sometimes that means encouraging and helping; at other times that means warning and correcting; at all times this means patience (1Thes. 5:14). Whatever the need of the moment, members pick up where the pastors leave off by pressing God’s truth into the details of their own lives: “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24, 25).
- Every day and especially the Lord’s Day. When does this happen? Clearly, there’s formal teaching in the New Testament in settings where the church is gathered on the Lord’s Day. In Acts 20 we read an account of Paul teaching for so many hours that one man fell into a deep sleep and fell out a window and died. Paul resurrected him, thankfully. There is a need for gathering together and being taught, for the church needs teaching and there is much to teach (Acts 20:27). But all of this teaching gives way to informal and unplanned interactions in which we seek one another’s spiritual good: hospitality in our homes, conversations over coffee or in the hallway after church, one-to-one Bible studies, text threads between moms. All of this is Jesus’ plan for our growth as his disciples.
At Heritage we go about this with a church calendar that is meaningful (with plans that are purposeful, intergenerational, and thoughtfully placed and paced), minimal (so you have time to be good parents, neighbors, workers, and—importantly—good church members during the week), and with a view to multiplication (of disciples and leaders of every kind).
How does this look practically?
In the first place, it looks like a habit of gathering together on the The Lord’s Day for planned and purposeful interactions around the Word. We place the greatest emphasis on the Lord’s Day gathering where we give ourselves to the ordinary means of grace—reading, preaching, praying, and singing the Word to and with one another. We follow that gathering up with a variety of planned interactions in a variety of settings: meeting in one another’s homes twice a month, meeting once a month to pray for an hour, meeting every eight weeks in Family Meetings to partner in membership and mission. Informing and feeding all of this, we meet most Sundays for classes with planned breaks to teach and be taught the story of Scripture, the truth of Christ, and to consider how these form and transform our lives.
Second, it looks like spreading out to our various parts of the community for less-planned but no less purposeful interactions with the Word. For an encouraging shot in the arm mid-week, some of our men and women will gather for organized Bible studies for modest stretches at a time up at the church. But otherwise we’re on our own to minister one to another, to be present with our spouses and children, to be known and available in our neigborhoods, and to be faithful in our vocations. The days between Sundays are the days for our many custom-taiored expressions of love and good works.
That’s discipleship at Heritage. Now, about that role.
Framing Up a New Pastoral Role
Recently we sent out dear brother and pastor with his family to preach in a lead preaching role in North Carolina. Abe Stratton has filled several pastoral roles on our team for some fourteen years, most recently in the role we called, Pastor for Member Growth.
We are entering the process of a search for a pastor for this role on our staff pastoral team. But this role will have both a different name and a slightly different focus. First, the name. We found over the years that the name for this role needed regular explanation. I would often say, “Abe oversees all of our adult discipleship ministries.” And that was fair. With fourteen years of relationship and leadership depth, Abe’s role involved oversight of the following: Membership, Shepherding Groups, Electives, Men’s and Women’s Ministry, Sunday Host Ministry, and Local Outreach. He stewarded all of this so very well.
Whenever we have a change on our staff team like this, our elders don’t necessarily look for a one-to-one replacement but consider how the development of our philosophy and the needs of the church might inform the shape of a slightly different role. What does our church need in this role?
In this case, our elders came to a few conclusions. First, one man should not oversee all of these areas. It made sense for Abe given his history and relationships, but even Abe would say he was spread too thin. Secondly, one man should not oversee both Shepherding Groups and Electives. The best man for either one of these is probably not the best man for both at the same time. Both because of the time investment they require, but also the skillsets. So, we decided that this new role would focus on deepening and developing our Elective class ministry both with the development of a scope and sequence for our church and the material for these classes. Importantly, we want him to be a developer of teachers and of others who would write classes. This is the kind of man who might flourish in academia but who desires to teach and equip teachers in the local church. This is a man that understands that the church’s everyday discipleship interactions feed on and flow from the quality of the church’s more prepared teaching. By investing up-stream in our Elective Classes we will nourish and support the whole of the body.
Imagine in a few years that we might have three tracks of classes: Bible and theology, Church life, and the Christian life and mission. Imagine several levels within each track and teachers trained and scheduled as far as a year or two out for deeper planning and richer teaching. Imagine a Saturday lecture series on Christian ethics, marriage and parenting, or evangelism. Imagine an annual theology conference with guests to speak, friends of our church from around the country. We’re just imagining here. But this is what this role, focused on the church’s teaching and teachers, would devote himself to with creativity, energy, and depth. In the mix, he would be the pastoral point for oversight of our men’s and women’s ministries, each anchored with a Bible study ministry.
We do not believe he can or should devote himself to this vision while also overseeing our Shepherding Groups. Our Shepherding Group structure and leaders will need their own devoted pastoral oversight. For now, Jason Read will oversee that structure, a reasonable temporary assignment given our committed leaders and congregation. In fact, all of Abe’s former areas have either new permanent or temporary assignments (Pray for us!).
However, there is another assignment that we believe pairs well with this role.
Going Broader by Training Pastors
Our church’s mission is “to spread the unsearchable riches of Christ broader in the world and deeper in the church.” This spreading vision commits us to going and sending for the church among the nations, but not just among the nations.
For many years our church has raised up, developed, and sent out pastors and preachers. We’ve done this with full-time and part-time pastoral internships. Timothy Martin is right now our full-time pastoral resident. We gather aspiring preachers monthly in the Preaching Cohort to work on their preaching craft. We host an annual Greenville Preaching Workshop for preachers and aspiring preachers in our area.
Recently our elders agreed together around a more structured vision for training pastors, to bring more coherence and energy to these plans. Here are our goals in three levels:
- to help aspiring pastors discern their fittedness for pastoring through part-time and full-time internships.
- to develop those committed to pastoring through a full-time pastoral residency and multi-year pastoral assistants.
- and to deploy these men by sending them out or in some cases hiring them for our own staff.
We’re still working out how all of this will work, but one encouragement is in order. Our elders’ focus on pastor training is not a labor that takes our attention away from you or our shared evangelistic mission. Rather, it multiplies both. For, these men would be meaningfully deployed for your encouragement and instruction, your friendship and partnership. Then, what a joy it is to send them out, as we did with Brad Baugham so many years ago, who preaches now at Emmanuel Bible Church, an outpost of gospel ministry born out of our church. Or consider that both Jason and I were Pastoral Assistants many years ago at other churches where our roles matured into staff pastor assignments, which in turn prepared us to serve you today. If other churches are incubating pastors that may serve us, then let’s incubate pastors that can serve other churches.
Let’s Pray and Plant, Water and Wait
That’s the vision for this role, a vision that flows from and to our calling as disciple-makers and disciplers. Now, lets pray for the Lord to bless these plans for deeper discipleship and a deeper church.
Let’s do so in the spirit of the Apostle Paul’s own Apastolic ministry: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1Cor. 3:6).
- Pray for the Lord to send us a capable teacher and preacher.
- Pray for the Lord to send us an equipper of teachers and preachers.
- Pray for the Lord to send us a man who will love our church and the work we’re about.
To read more about this role, visit our Job Searches page for a role profile and a profile of our church. If you have someone in mind, you are welcome to point them to this page and to the application. You’ll notice that we call it a “director” role. We typically do that for all of our staff-pastor roles, with some exceptions. This role, though, is intended to mature into a staff elder/pastor role in due time. For that reason, we are looking for a man who not only has a skillset and strengths that fit the assignment, but who meets the biblical qualifications for elder.