Discipling disciples

Ephesians 4:11-16

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

Tom was so excited about his promotion to Vice President of the company he worked for and kept bragging about it to his wife for weeks on end. Finally she couldn’t take it any longer, and told him, “Listen, it means nothing, they even have a vice president of peas at the grocery store!”

“Really?” he said. Not sure if this was true or not, Tom decided to call the grocery store. A clerk answers and Tom says “Can I please talk to the Vice President of peas?”

The clerk replies “Canned or frozen?”

            We are now at week number five of our seven-part sermon series from Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan. This week we come to priority number five: Leadership development. From MCUSA’s website we read:

Leadership development

The church calls forth leaders as prompted by God to inspire the congregation for its evangelizing mission in the world and to ensure that every member/ participant in the faith community is empowered, equipped and supported for their unique vocation in witness. As missional communities we will develop leaders at all levels of the church, helping every member to reach their God‐given potential as they follow Christ’s call.

 

            The word “leadership” scares some of us; at least it scares me a bit. This word brings to mind some top-down model where one person or a small group of people makes all of the decisions. This is the CEO or the Executive Board model of leading.

            There are people who want the church to be like a business with a CEO. Sometimes it is just easier to have someone at the top making all of the decisions, calling all of the shots. As long as everything is going well, nobody questions his or her choices. And when something goes wrong, sometimes you have to find a new CEO.

            If that is your understanding of leadership I want to assure you that the Purposeful Plan is not calling us to put a CEO in charge of our churches. What I think we are being called toward is leadership development in every person sitting in the pew. Each of us is called to be a leader in the Kingdom of God in some capacity according to our gifts.

            I believe that this understanding of leadership fits under the heading of “The Priesthood of all Believers.” This term can be a little hard to understand and a little misleading. The Priesthood of all Believers doesn’t mean that everyone in the church has to take their turn giving the sermon on a Sunday morning, though that does sound like fun to me. But the term does have a two-fold meaning. HS Bender wrote about the Priesthood of all Believers in 1959, “It means not only that no priest is necessary as a mediator between the human individual and God, so that every man has free access to God by repentance and faith in Christ, but also that all believers have a priestly office to perform for each other in that in Christ each can be a channel of God’s grace to his fellow and indeed has a responsibility to be such.”

            You are to be a channel of God’s grace. You are to lead people to the grace of God using the gifts that God has provided you with. And it is our job to help you develop those gifts.

            Our scripture from Ephesians chapter 4 talks about growing in maturity in Christ. I love that “Paul,” when talking about growing in maturity, says in verse 14, “Then we will no longer be infants.” Paul, this theological giant, church planter, and leader of leaders refers to himself as only an infant in Christ. Paul recognizes that there is still a lot of growing to do in the church, and that includes him! He goes on to give the goal of this spiritual maturation in verse 15, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

            Growing in our Christ-likeness, that is one of our goals. So how do we achieve that goal? Let’s go back to the beginning of the passage, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

            Paul names five different church positions: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These people are to equip the church in such a way that they, we, will become mature in Christ. Yes, these people have additional responsibilities as well, but it is clear that they are in charge of helping the church to develop more and more in their Christ-likeness. I would go further and say that part of any leadership role in the church always comes back to the purpose of helping people become more and more like Jesus. Treasurers, ushers, music leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc., etc., etc. One of the roles of these leaders is to help prepare other Christians develop in the fullness of Christ.

            I like to say that we have an unofficial mission statement (which I borrowed from someone else) here at Staunton Mennonite Church: we are to be disciples who make disciples, who make disciples who make disciples. A disciple is more than just a believer. A disciple is literally a learner, a student, or an apprentice.

            Discipleship is also more than just teaching. We have a different word in the New Testament that we translate as “teaching.” In Jesus’ Great Commission, which is found in Matthew 28, he says, “Therefore 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.”

            Make disciples, not believers, and teach them. Discipleship clearly possesses a teaching dimension, but it is more than sitting down facing a chalkboard while one person talks. Discipleship involves personal relationships, building a connection with one another, working side by side, and walking this path of Jesus’ together.

When we speak of the 12 disciples, we recognize that they did not just believe in Jesus, they followed him and learned from him like an apprentice might do.

Back in the olden day, if someone wanted to learn a trade, they didn’t go to a vocational school to learn how to be a blacksmith or a carpenter. A young man or woman would find a master in the trade that they were seeking to learn and they would work with them, and often without much as far as monetary compensation. Their pay was learning from the more experienced blacksmith or carpenter so that they could one day set out on their own and make their own career of that specific trade. So those 12 disciples learned from Jesus like an apprentice would learn from a master blacksmith or carpenter.

            So what does all of this mean for leadership development? I believe that each of us is responsible for discipling the next generation of leadership in the church. Regardless of how old you are, you should be training someone in one way or another how to continue the ministry that Jesus gave to his disciples. Whether that is teaching or just living out the calling that you have been given, we are all called to be disciples who disciple others. We are called to equip the next generation to continue God’s mission here on earth.

            I’ve never been one to use a lot of acronyms in my teachings, but I thought of one for today’s lesson and I think I am going to introduce it to you as a way of helping you to remember how we can help disciple the next generations of leaders in the church. The acronym is “ARM.” We talk about the church as the body of Christ and I believe we are to be acting as the ARM in preparing the next generation. We will start with the A, which stands for “affirm.”

            I am a little hesitant to use myself as an example because I don’t want you to equate church leadership with the pastoral vocation. Remember as I share that each of you is called to be a leader in some capacity or another as a part of the Priesthood of all Believers. I only use my story because it is the one with which I am the most familiar.

When I was 21, I went overseas on a short-term missions trip over a college break. There were two other guys from church that also went on different trips during the same time and we were asked to share our experiences during a Sunday morning worship service. I had never done any public speaking in church before, but I went ahead and did it because, let’s be honest, the church paid for some of my expenses and I felt that I owed it to them. I shared for my 10 minutes or so, and it was no big deal. But then probably two months later a woman from church approached me and said, “Kevin, I know that you have some other plans for your life, but I think that you would make a good pastor.”

            That affirmation set off a series of events that led me to this place right here, right now. So if you were wondering, you can blame Melanie. I had never even considered a career in ministry before someone else pointed out to me that perhaps I had something that might enable me to do what I am doing today.

            In a small church like ours we can see the many gifts that each of us possess. It is more difficult to hide your talents when you aren’t among 1,000 other people. From musical talents to hospitality to the gift of sharing a homemade muffin, each of us has something that we can contribute to the larger body. I want to encourage you to not just assume that someone knows that they are appreciated or that they already know that they are good at something. Please tell them.

            I believe that self-confidence is something that is lacking in our world today. Even the people that seem to carry themselves with poise and composure are probably struggling inside to gain acceptance. You might hear about how the younger generation is very narcissistic, posting photos and videos and quotes and phrases about themselves online and expecting other people to care. Some people even make it a habit to post pictures of what they are about to eat on Facebook, as if we really care that someone else is eating that juicy steak or cheesy pizza. Okay, maybe I am a little jealous. But I don’t think that shows the narcissism of this generation. I think that it shows how little we think of ourselves. We crave acceptance; we always wonder if we are good enough, smart enough, pretty enough. We post those things online because we need to hear affirming words from our friends and from the church. As we seek to develop leaders in the church, as we seek to disciple others into the leader that they are called to be, I think it begins with that kind word, letting someone know that you believe that they are gifted in a particular area.

            The second letter of our acronym is “R,” which stands for risk. When I began to test my call to ministry I was blessed with the opportunity to work as an intern in a large congregation for a year. I was still in college and this was a ¼ time position that gave me some real-life experience as well as testing my call to ministry.

            It didn’t require a lot of risk on the part of the congregation to allow me to tag along with the senior pastor for a year, but there came a time when I was permitted the opportunity to go off on my own and minister to the congregation. And during Advent of 2003 I had the chance to stand up and give my first sermon ever. That was a big risk for the church. I had never preached before in my life and I could have bombed. But I am told it really wasn’t that bad, though all that people remember is that I used a rubber chicken as a prop in my first sermon ever. My second sermon, well, that is another story.

            After that internship, another church took a risk and hired me as an interim associate pastor. My responsibilities increased, and with the increase in my responsibilities, the risk that the congregation took on also increased.

            Then, July 1, 2006, Staunton Mennonite took a huge risk and hired a 26-year-old kid with one year of seminary under his belt. And I just want to say Thank you. Thank you for taking that risk. Without the risks that you have taken over the years, church leaders might not have ever had the opportunity to develop into the leaders that they are today.

            How might we be able to take a risk on developing leaders for the next generation? How might we disciple others by taking chances on them? We try to give the children of the church a chance to play their musical instruments on a Sunday morning, we put people in charge of different ministries in the church, we call people out of their comfort zones and ask them to use the gifts that we have affirmed in them for leadership. Just as there are many parts to a body, there are many ministries in the church. How might we be able to take a risk to develop leadership qualities in the people of this church?

            The final letter of our acronym for today is the letter “m.” M stands for mentoring. One of the beautiful things about being connected to the larger denomination and conference is that I have never felt that I have had to go at ministry alone. In my early years I worked side-by-side with experienced pastors. I had the opportunity to learn from them, watching them and adapting what I saw work in their ministry to my own style. I had the opportunity to be an apprentice to experienced pastors; I was being discipled. Today, as a solo pastor, I continue to meet with my overseer on a regular basis as well as with other pastors in our conference. I am learning from those who have been where I am. I have people that I can ask questions and seek help even though we are not in an official mentoring relationship.

            Mentoring the next generation of leaders is a common them in the Bible. Elijah mentored Elisha, Jesus mentored his disciples, and Paul mentored Timothy. As I said earlier, discipleship is more than just teaching, it is learning by watching and doing. Watching an experienced person and doing the things that you have seen work.

            I want to encourage you all to be an ARM for the body of Christ. Affirm people in their gifts, take risks in allowing and inviting them to use those gifts, and mentor people along the way. In doing this we provide the opportunity for the church to thrive in the future. We have been commissioned to make disciples of all of the earth. And a disciple is more than just a believer. A disciple is the future leader of the church.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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