Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. 2 Corinthians 11:5-6(ESV)
Having the hindsight of 2 millennia, this verse fascinates me. Paul, arguably the most influential man in the last 2,000 years of Christianity, wasn’t a super-preacher. So how did God use such a man to build the foundation of His Church? The answer is Discipleship. But not the vague buzzword that everyone throws around, we are talking about radical commitment to invest in other men. We need to examine Paul’s methodology for disciple-making and compare it to our paradigm and adjust.
I believe it can be summed up in this – give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Making a disciple is more than just preaching a killer sermon Sunday and then running home to be alone. Don’t get me wrong, you need time alone and your sermons may be life-changing, but in of themselves they don’t make disciples. In Matthew 28:18 when Jesus says “make disciples,” what He means is to learn by becoming attached to your teacher. In other words, where they go, you go. Paul nailed this. He had disciples with him wherever he went. Notice in Acts 20:1-6, when Paul calls his disciples to leave. There are 7 men listed in this text, including Timothy, that were with Paul, not to mention other men he was spending time with like Titus and his travel companions Erastus, Gaius and Aristarchus. The bottom line is this – Paul was surrounded by an entourage of protégés and future leaders CONSTANTLY. He let them see the good, the bad and the ugly. Paul was a leader that people could interact with. He was attached to his men and his men were attached to him. He invested his time in people, not polish and panache. They learned by example. They learned to fish.
Creating a culture of discipleship and multiplication begins with the planter. We must involve other people in what we are doing constantly and intentionally. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:10-11(NKJV):
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.
This list could only be the result of years spent together in relationship with Timothy. Paul reminds his young disciple to reflect on the pattern that he witnessed as he imitated Christ and to apply that to his ministry. Men will shaped by the mold we create. If we are loners, others will be loners; controlling and they will be too; gracious, dedicated and engaging, and they will be too. But this is not done in a once a week free fish fry, it is day in, day out, life-on-life discipleship.
This last week I attended a Church Planter Round Table in San Diego, and was really challenged on my perspective of what a Sunday service really accomplishes in the process of discipleship. You don’t have to be a pastor very long before you hear the words “I need to be fed” from someone. I remember my first mentor telling me about a pastor who said “I do my discipleship from the pulpit, and it is all I will ever do.” I think it is our natural response to spiritually hungry people to try to satisfy them, so we become theological chefs, and somewhere along the line the pulpit turns into a meals ministry.
The problem with this was clearly outlined at the Round Table. Say you preach for 1 hour each week. Your average person shows up 2 weeks a month to hear your message. That means that over the course of a year they are being taught for roughly 24 hours informally by you. Now compare that to the average time that adults, ages 35-49 watch TV in a week: 33 hours, 40 minutes (according to Nielson). The question we have to ask ourselves is – Who is actually discipling our congregation if this is our approach? Us at 25 hours a year, or the TV, at 33 hours a week? Clearly our paradigm for discipleship has to shift and with it our focus and resources. If everything we do revolves around a Sunday service and we neglect to cultivate a strong discipleship process through the rest of the week, then we will fail to do our part to accomplish the Great Commission in our Churches.
Sundays are important, but more important is creating a culture of discipleship. It is how the torch passes from generation to generation. There is no such thing as a lasting movement of God apart from discipleship. I remember when I first was challenged with this idea of walking with Jesus. It was more than waiting for a sermon to be fed to me by some guy with a plastic spoon, while I was making airplane noises sitting in my high chair. I had been attending Sunday services for a while and one of the Elders in the church challenged me to get in the game. What did that mean? I was in the game, right? He said, “Sunday is the huddle, Monday to Saturday is the game.” I wouldn’t be writing this today if he hadn’t grabbed me and taught me to fish and his terminology has stuck ever since.
You can have the best motivational speaker in your huddle, but if no one goes out and plays the game the huddle doesn’t amount to anything. I would strongly encourage teaching your church the truth of scripture and walking with Jesus and then living it out the rest of the week (I think Paul would strongly agree). Without a strategy we lose the game. It would be like getting everyone pumped up to go fishing without ever teaching them how to fish. They may be on the shoreline Sunday afternoon, but they will come back empty handed and a little more discouraged because they just can’t seem to catch any fish.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Are you willing to do more then tell people to go to the shore and cast a line, but take them to the shore? To take their hands and help them learn the knots, how to bait the hook, catch, clean and cook the fish? Are you willing to let someone watch you get beat? To watch you cry? Are you willing to let them see you fail and fall, and stand back up again dripping blood? Discipleship is not a fair-weather Sunday sport. It is like rugby in a downpour – muddy, messy and painful. We need to focus and teach men to fish.
Paul wasn’t the best preacher around, but he was one heck of a disciple-maker and arguably the most important man in the last 2000 years outside of Jesus, for the Gospel. Maybe that can help us focus on the more important aspect of our ministry that we need to cultivate to have real, lasting kingdom impact. Our priority must be making disciples of Jesus who make disciples (2 Tim. 2:2) and Sundays alone won’t cut it. If we are relying on our ability to preach to make disciples and neglecting the rest of the week we are literally kidding ourselves. Don’t try to be a super-preacher, be a Paul. Make disciples.