Serving Others in Disciple-Making
A pastor friend told me about attending a conference for church leaders about the latest trends in leading a church these days. He specifically chose a breakout session led by a well-known pastor of a very large congregation. During the leader’s presentation, he revealed a recent decision by himself and other leaders to discontinue their small group program. He said they discovered believers grow better spiritually by serving others than by meeting for prayer and Bible study. He said their small groups had become too inwardly focused, so they decided to disband them altogether.
My guess is that decision was met with no small amount of grumbling and maybe some outright resistance. (One of these days, I’m going to write a blog about the gravity-like pull of self-interest on believers when they spend too much time with other believers.) For now, I will simply say that the pastor and his team showed tremendous courage in moving away from a popular church program for the sake of making authentic disciples of Jesus.
Jesus’ call to help those who believe in him to become like him, i.e., to be his disciples, has not changed since he first gave the post-resurrection Great Commission: “ . . . go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19).
Jesus’ commissioning of the church was, first and foremost, to make disciples of people everywhere, not to make them church members. The two are not the same. They can be similar, but usually, they are not. The call includes a two-step process for making disciples of Jesus: baptism and “teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” The first is easy. It just takes a little water (probably more than some people believe) and a few people . . . since it is a testimony of one’s all-encompassing belief in Jesus and testimony needs witnesses.
The second part is harder, much harder, and it takes a lifetime to complete if it can be said disciple-making is ever completed this side of heaven. Be honest. To teach believers “to obey all I have commanded you” is a tall order. Yet, that’s what we are to do if we want to make disciples. Of all that “all that I have commanded you” includes, it certainly includes serving others (for more on this point, see the blog “4 Reasons Serving is Essential for Believers”.
Serving Others in Disciple-Making
Hundreds of books and articles have been written about disciple-making. It’s a popular subject. You may think me too simplistic, but it seems to me that disciple-making boils down to helping believers become more like Jesus. What did Jesus do? He served others . . . in every way you can think of. When they were hungry, he fed them. When they were lonely, he spent time with them. When they were sick, he healed them. When they were guilty of sin, he forgave them. His primary purposes were to reveal the Father and to be the sacrifice by which we are forgiven for our sins. Everything else can be summarized by serving others.
I don’t think there is any debate about this point. Even people who have trouble with the church recognize the compassion and selfless way of Jesus. People have always been drawn to Jesus whether or not they have anything to do with the church or organized Christianity. And that’s because they are impressed by his consistent serving of others.
Therefore, disciple-making must include serving others. One more time: If Jesus was about serving others, and if making disciples is about helping believers become more like Jesus, . . . THEN disciple-making must include a healthy portion of serving others. Not to do so is like attempting to build a Chevy with Ford parts! No matter how hard you work at it, you will not end up with a Chevrolet.
We don’t need another book about disciple-making. We already have the best one—the Gospels. Here’s the thing: if we (church leaders) would simply give new believers, regardless of age or status or background or anything else, a copy of the Gospels and tell them: “Figure out what Jesus did and what he told his followers to do and go do it,” serving would get a lot more practice and exposure than it does now.
True Story . . .
From Lexington, North Carolina. A church planning to conduct an Inasmuch Day discovered one of their projects—building a wheelchair ramp for a disabled homeowner—would have to be done earlier the week of Inasmuch; they let the volunteers for that project know of the change. One of the volunteers was a local lawyer who seldom attended church, but when they shared the opportunity to serve in an Inasmuch Day event, he signed up to do the wheelchair project. When the change came, he was told he wasn’t expected to participate because the new date was a workday, but he came anyway and thoroughly enjoyed serving a person in need in his community. When the Saturday of Inasmuch came, he showed up again, ready to serve wherever needed. Here’s the thing: from that day forward, the man was faithful in attendance to church.
Why? Because serving others is key to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. To put it another way: we are never more like Jesus than when we serve others. Even a backslidden lawyer knows that!
What do you think?
How has serving others helped you to grow spiritually? What insights would you share if you have reflected on that experience? Pastor, what role does serving others have in your discipleship process?