Discipleship: The Neglected Ministry

 
The First article in a series on Discipling in the Local Church

by Dudley Foord

Interact Magazine 1990
Volume 1 Number 2

1. The Neglected Ministry

Discipleship sums up Christ’s plan for the world, yet for all its brilliant simplicity, it is the one essential aspect of ministry that most churches in Australia have neglected. In our churches there are many genuine Christians but few real disciples. This lack has been described as the lost art of disciple-making.

A disciple is a follower of Jesus. He has committed himself to Christ, to walking Christ’s way, to living Christ’s life and sharing Christ’s love and truth with others. The verb ‘to disciple’ describes the process by which we encourage another person to be such a follower of Christ. It means the methods we use to help that person become mature in Christ and so be in a position where he or she can now disciple someone else. A discipling ministry is always directed to a ‘few’ key disciples who are open and hungry to grow and be useful to the Master. This ministry develops the ‘few’ so they are enabled in turn to disciple others. It is this essential ministry that is neglected.

2. Why is it Neglected?

There is a whole cluster of reasons why a discipling ministry has been disregarded in our churches. Some of these reasons are:-

1. Pastors and Churches are distracted by a thousand other little tasks. Much of the feverish and frustrating activity of a local church bears no relevance to this necessary discipling ministry. Ministers very easily get caught up in the expectations for ministry of congregations and churches officers, rather than being clear as to what are the essential parameters for ministry. Our time can be absorbed and dissipated attending to a multitude of seemingly important tasks. These supposed-to-be-important activities consume energy and steal precious time. They must be delegated or be left undone! Nothing must stand in the way of a Pastor engaging in and modelling a discipling ministry.

2. A surprising number of Pastors and leaders do not really understand ‘the essence and the method’ of this discipling ministry. If they themselves have never been discipled, it is likely they never really understand what it is and how they should fulfil that ministry – even though they protest they do. Certainly they will never understand its importance. What then should they do? Peruse several books on the subject and then consult with a person who is engaging in this ministry, to gain some ‘on the job training’ as a prerequisite to doing the ministry themselves.

3. Some are not willing to pay the price of pursuing a discipling ministry. Too many are mesmerised by the success syndrome or the quick way of growth, rather than by following this clear pattern of ministry established by Christ Himself. I recall spending time with a busy Pastor of a church of 3,000 regular members. He wrote, ‘I made time to disciple men, who in turn, discipled others. It is the most lastingly effective ministry and the most costly I have found in 38 years of pastoring.’

4. It is not realised that ultimately a discipling ministry leads to multiplication of ministry. Jesus’ approach to disciple-making resulted in training an increasing number of men who were reproducing His ministry. This meant that as the work grew, there was a constant flow of new leadership to assume responsibility. Today our churches often operate so that the workload continually increases on the Pastor, which limits the church’s ministry and harms the Pastor.

If the local church does not train believers to evangelise and build disciples, then growth will stop. True multiplication takes place when disciples are trained in a discipling ministry. No matter how dynamic the Pastor, expansion will not continue if people are not developed in this way. It is true that a discipling ministry does not bring quick observable results. However, if persevered with, then multiplication does occur and growth will be geometric rather than arithmetric.

3. Christ is the Prototype of Christian Ministry

All Christian ministry has its source and pattern in Jesus Christ Himself. Even in that which is graciously done through others, Christ by the Holy Spirit is the true Minister. Others are indeed caught up in the ministry of Jesus Christ. But first and last it is His ministry – to be received from Him, learned from Him, discharged for Him, empowered by Him. It is Christ who continually renders service, not only in heaven but also on earth through the human instruments He has been graciously pleased to associate with Himself in salvation and therefore, in ministry, and who are now ministers as they minister for Christ and are used by Him.

We can observe three elements in the earthly ministry of Christ:

  • He preached to the crowds.

  • He ministered to the individuals.

  • He selected twelve and spent much of His time developing and training those twelve for ministry.

Every Pastor preaches and teaches publicly Sunday by Sunday; he ministers to individuals according to their precise needs. But is not the third element of developing and training a small group of key disciples strangely missing in many a Pastor’s pattern of ministry?

Well might the question be asked of any Pastor, ‘Who are your twelve?’ Of course, it need not be an exact twelve – but any Pastor should have a small group of key disciples whom he is building and equipping to be disciplers.

This article, therefore, is a plea to every Pastor, church leader or full-time worker to minister in a balanced fashion as established by Christ, and to make time to introduce the third component of ministry, ie. the intensive discipling of a small group of key disciples. It is critical that this activity not be added to an already overfull schedule. It means something must be cancelled to make room for this discipling ministry which has priority.

If the present program of the church makes such discipling impossible, the sooner adjustments are made the better. A man may kill himself trying to attend to the needs of his whole parish or congregation, but if he can give himself to a small group of disciples, many of whom may later become evangelists and/or leaders, his congregation will eventually thank him that he was not so immediately available to everyone during those earlier years.

Dudley Foord is an Anglican minister engaged in a church planting and establishing ministry in South West Sydney and is also a consultant in Evangelism for the Anglican Department of Evangelism.

© Rev Dudley Foord (1 July 1990)

Top of page