Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

A Brief Call to Pastoral Discipleship

  • Paul J. Dean Pastor, Counselor, Professor & Columnist
  • 2005 24 Feb
A Brief Call to Pastoral Discipleship

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, much of the church seemed to experience a rediscovery as it were, of the importance of the role of the pastor as equipper. Paul wrote in Eph. 4:11-12, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ...."


Rightly has it been said that 20 percent of the church performs 80 percent of the work. This estimate may even be generous with the regard to the non-working majority. If the church is to function as God intended, if the church is to be obedient to the command of Christ to "make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19)," the pastor will have to fulfill his role as equipper while the saints will have to fulfill their role as minister.


Large numbers of persons in the church today seemingly remain ignorant to the biblical revelation regarding the respective roles of the pastor and saint. Many Christians remain ignorant not only to the equipping ministry of the pastor, but also to the equipping ministry of the Holy Spirit as He gifts His people for works of service (1 Corinthians 12).


The church is in dire need of pastors who will understand their role and in turn teach the people their role that the cause of Christ might be advanced. A need exists for pastors to follow Christ, not only by way of personal discipleship, but by way of obedience to His command to make disciples by "teaching them to obey all things [He] has commanded (Matt. 28:20)." Moreover, a need exists for pastors to follow Christ in His example of training.


In his book, "The Master Plan of Discipleship," Robert E. Coleman points out that in being disciple-makers, pastors are to be learners of Christ and are to make learners of Christ. "It shouldn't seem strange that the Master Teacher places such a high priority on discipling. After all, Jesus was simply asking His followers to do what He had done with them. That is why they could understand it. As they had freely received, now they were to transmit what they had learned to other seekers of truth. The mandate was the articulation of the rule by which Christ had directed His ministry. Though slow, and not accomplished without great sacrifice, He knew His way would succeed. For as individuals learn of Him and follow the pattern of His life they will invariably become disciplers, and as their disciples in turn do the same, someday through multiplication the world will come to know Him whom to know aright is life everlasting."


The goal of the pastor is to make disciples who will in turn make disciples of others. As pastors learn of Christ, they can teach others to learn of Christ. This process of learning and teaching to learn can only occur if the focus is upon the Master, Christ Himself. A. B. Bruce, in his classic work "The Training of the Twelve," noted, "To be a dutiful under-shepherd is, in another view, to be a faithful sheep, following the chief Shepherd withersoever He goes. Pastors are not lords over God's heritage, but mere servants of Christ, the great head of the Church, bound to regard His will as their law, and His life as their model."


In the scene by the lake Jesus took pains to make His disciples understand this. He did not allow them to suppose that, in committing to their pastoral charge His flock, He was abdicating His position as Shepherd and Bishop of souls. Having said to Peter, "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep," He said to him, as His final word, "Follow me." The biblical mandate is to follow Christ. As one follow Christ, one can lovingly point others to Christ.


Writing in the forward to Bruce's book, D. Stuart Briscoe commented that "Dr. Bruce would have felt right at home with the present emphasis on training people to minister. . ." Further, "Seeing the church as the Body of Christ is another healthy contemporary emphasis. It serves to deliver people from the mistaken idea that the church is something people attend and introduces them to the biblical concept that the church is something people are.


"For Christians to see themselves as the Body of Christ and to order their lives in loving response to each other as fellow members, committed to mutual nurture, is potentially revolutionary."


Among other things, making disciples the way Christ did will require an investment of time in the lives of people. Periodically, a group of men and I meet for breakfast for a period of weeks to engage in some study or go through a book that we might be edified and better equipped for ministry.


Rarely does a day go by that I do not meet with someone in the church for lunch for the simple purpose of biblical fellowship that we might grow in grace. Afternoons are typically filled meeting with couples or individuals for counseling and discipleship. We offer classes and small group discipleship opportunities throughout the week. The wonderful result is that many in the church are now doing these same types of things on their own.


Early morning prayer meetings, couples meeting together, formal counseling, informal counseling at the local coffee shop, and a number of other dynamics are the norm in our congregation. Of course, God gets the credit for these things as He is the One who works in our lives.


I have much to learn regarding these things as well. I am no great example. I am simply putting into practice in a small way what others have taught me and I am calling others to do the same.


One of my favorite definitions for evangelism comes from D.T. Niles: "Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." His sentiment is applicable here. I have found bread for pastoral ministry. Much has come from my good friend and former associate pastor. Much has come from reading the likes of Richard Baxter (The Reformed Pastor). Much has come from the discipline of biblical counseling. All has come from God's gracious hand.


As Christians are trained to edify one another and make disciples of others, as they embrace Christ's now radical notion that they are the ministers, true reformation in the church and transformation of the culture could occur. To that end, we exist as the church that God might be glorified. To that end we should desire to train others, not only in our own churches, but in other churches that the members of Christ's body might make disciples who make disciples that God might be exalted in their hearts and lives.


May God kindle in the hearts of His pastors a blazing desire to equip, train, and minister, that souls might be saved, that churches might be strengthened, and that God might be worshipped by many.


Dr. Paul J. Dean is an adjunct professor at Erskine Theological Seminary and serves as the Director of Supervised Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is actively involved in the field of biblical counseling having co-founded the Southern Baptist Association of Biblical Counselors.