This is a guest blog post from Jonathan LaFleur. If you’d like to learn more about Jonathan, check out his blog.
Dear BroJo, I have been pastoring my church for over ten years and it seems like we have hit a plateau in the last five years. In the first few years of my pastorate we saw some great growth and excitement, but we haven’t had that kind of energy since then, and it has become discouraging. I think what we need more than anything is an emphasis on discipleship. I know this topic is your passion – can you share some insight on the importance of discipleship?
My firm conviction is that a lack of discipleship and disciple-making is the greatest cause of church plateau and decline today. Dropping numbers in church membership, salvations, and baptisms can all be traced back to anemic efforts to truly make disciples. Not only does a lack of discipleship in the church negatively affect the body, but also the pastor. If the church is not making disciples, that is likely because the pastor is not making disciples and is therefore missing the greatest joy of ministry – pouring his life into the lives of others.
My definition of disciple-making is intentionally investing in the life of another person in order to teach and model the Christian life (Phil. 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thes. 2:8). I believe that the most effective, practical, and beneficial way to disciple others is to meet with a gender-specific group of 4-7 people for the purpose of sharing biblical truth, training in spiritual disciplines, and equipping for ministry service. I refer to this group as a Discipleship Group (or D-Group).
All churches should be raising up leaders who can disciple people through D-Groups, but it all starts with the senior pastor. If he is not modeling disciple-making for his congregation, why should they do it? The late great Billy Graham was asked what he would do if he had ever pastored a church. He said the first thing he would do is find a small group of men to meet with every week and pour into them everything he had and then have each of them start a group and do the same.
If pastors are serious about seeing their churches rise out of apathy and into a new era of passionate, Christ-centered ministry, one thing they can do is invest in a group of men to pour into them everything they have. Here are the top ten reasons why every pastor should be leading a D-Group:
1. To be obedient to the Great Commission – the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, commands us to “make disciples,” and if anyone in the church should be making disciples, it is the pastor. The apostle Paul told Timothy, the pastor in Ephesus, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In Ephesians 4:11-12, we read that God gave pastors to the church to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Disciple-making is an essential aspect of the pastor’s calling.”
2. To invest in the spiritual growth of others – what greater joy can be found in the ministry than seeing people grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ? In Philippians chapter one, as Paul contemplated the possibility of losing his life, acknowledging that to be with Christ would be better by far than to stay on earth, he told the Philippians that one thing made his life worth living: “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” The one thing that made Paul’s life worth living, his greatest joy, was discipleship – helping others grow in Christ.
3. To stoke the fire of his own spiritual life – I have heard numerous pastors confess to being so busy serving God that they no longer had time for knowing God. It is easy for pastors to slump into spiritual burnout, but when a pastor is meeting with a group of men who are growing in Christ, studying God’s Word, seeing glorious truth, and experiencing life change, he cannot help but be impacted by it. Leading a D-Group is a way to serve God while also being rekindled with spiritual fire.
4. To train the next generation of leaders – having discipled several men in the last ten years, it brings me great joy to see what God is doing in the lives of those men right now. From my former D-Groups, four of them are pastors, eight of them are on church staff, four of them are deacons, and five of them are leading in their churches in some capacity (music, teaching, committees). The others are faithfully walking with Christ and leading their families. God does amazing work through D-Groups as men go deep in their walk with Christ.
5. To use his gifts of teaching and leadership – the Holy Spirit has empowered each of us with gifts, and Christ wants us to use them for building up His body. Leading D-Groups is a great way to steward those gifts that are most common to pastors – gifts of teaching and leadership. All pastors have some duties that just need to get done, but leading a D-Group is one that will make you say, “I was made for this.”
6. To spend quality time with his people – spending quality time with your people means you can be yourself, you can joke and laugh, and you can just be a brother in Christ. Many pastors will confess that they do not have any real, deep friendships within their congregation. I have never heard any pastor who is leading D-Groups in his church ever make this claim. The friendships created in a D-Group are powerful and lasting because they are forged on the journey of seeking Christ together.
7. To have accountability in his own life – most church people assume that the pastor is in the word daily, spending time in prayer, sharing his faith, and leading his family in godliness. This may come as a big shock: pastors struggle and fall short in these areas just like everyone else. Pastors need to be in a context in which he can be sharpened (Prov. 27:17), exhorted (Heb. 3:13), and confess his sin (Jas. 5:16). The D-Group creates an accountability structure for the pastor that he may not find anywhere else.
8. To avoid discouragement and monotony in ministry – pastors will often pick up and leave their churches because they have grown tired of the “same old same old.” Go to the office, prepare a sermon, meet with committees, answer emails, make phone calls, visit the sick, preach on Sunday, repeat. Many pastors are desperately searching for something new to shake things up, but they can’t find it, so they go to a new church. Meeting with a D-Group, seeing them grow, watching God do amazing things in their lives, and then helping them start their own groups – man, that never gets old!
9. To multiply his influence in the church – the goal of disciple-making is to help someone become more like Jesus, not more like you. However, as you build close relationships with the men in your D-Group, they will begin to take on some of your characteristics and priorities. Dr. Tony Merida used to tell our preaching class, “Your people won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember what you’re passionate about.” As you pour into your D-Group, you will pass on your passion for the word, for spiritual growth, for church health, and they will become your greatest supporters in the church.
10. To start a movement in the church – the key to creating a culture within an organization is to have leaders model what you are seeking to achieve. I know a pastor who tried to cast vision for discipleship in his church and wanted to organize a program of D-Groups, but his people would not get on board. So he decided to try another route – he started his own D-Group and let the culture of discipleship grow organically. He said his goal was to start “an underground army of disciple-makers.” Within a few years, most of his church was involved in D-Groups.
Our churches are declining for lack of discipleship. Our churches lack discipleship because our pastors aren’t modeling disciple-making. Pastors who are leading D-Groups in their churches are creating a culture of discipleship, which is producing greater church health and spiritual vitality. Pastors who are leading D-Groups are finding greater joy in ministry and are building deeper relationships with their people. Pastors who are leading D-Groups are seeing godly leaders emerge whose lives will never be the same. Start a movement in your church – lead a D-Group!