When I talk to leaders about personally investing in people, I often get a bit of push back. For some reason there is a resistance when it comes to personal investment in people. When I first became a pastor, I didn’t know much about how to invest in a man’s life. Most of my training had been in the Seminary classroom and in the management of programs in a large suburban church. But there were three businessmen who caught my attention. They were all three very successful in their careers. One owned his own construction business, another was a macular facial surgeon, and the third managed and sold real estate. All of these men were extremely busy, juggling high commitments and loaded schedules, but all three were committed to discipling men. I saw them get up early in the morning to meet with a man before breakfast. I saw them stay up late at night to disciple a group of men. I saw them go to a man’s office and disciple him there. They all used different tools and methods, but they were committed to personal investment. That was something I had never seen from any pastor I had served under. I had never even experienced it as a church member before God called me into vocational ministry, but I was seeing it now lived out in three businessmen. One of these men would often challenge me, “Ask God to give you a man, and then invest in him until he’s ready to do the same with another man.” It seemed so simple, how could I have missed it? The Apostle Paul put it this way: “And 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 Timothy 2.2). In this one verse, Paul refers to four generations of disciples: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, and others. Any time a man can invest his life in a man who will in turn do the same to the fourth generation, God will use him to ignite a movement. That’s God’s plan for every one of us – to be movement catalysts who make disciples and produce disciple makers. But why are so many pastors reluctant to make the personal investment?
Here are some of the most common excuses.
I don’t have time.
This is by far the most common excuse. “You don’t understand my crazy schedule. I’ve got sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, counseling to do, hospital visits to make, staff to manage, visitors to follow up, problems to solve, budgets to review…I just can’t add one more thing to my pile.” I get it. Pastors are busy. I am one. I know what it is like to work from before sunrise to after sunset and still not get everything done. I know what it is like to have the deadline of Sunday breathing down your neck and the people expecting your sermon to be fresh, creative, and wonderful. I know that there are lots of people who need help and lots of hurting people who need your attention. I get it. But one of the perks of being a pastor is you determine your schedule. You decide what’s top priority. When I first started transitioning a church to become a disciple-making church, I had to come to the realization that most of what I was doing was good, but not much of it was moving the church forward. I was managing programs, launching initiatives, overseeing budgets and staff, but I wasn’t investing my life in anyone and I was losing the joy of serving. I determined that if personal investment was Jesus’ top priority, it should be mine, too. I began to shift my schedule and create space for me to start investing in men. Listen, everyone is busy. Most of the men you will disciple are busy, too. If you expect them to carve out time away from their careers and family to invest in men, then you need to lead the way by showing how it can be done, even in a busy schedule. Busy-ness isn’t a reason to not make disciples, it’s an excuse. And a poor one at that. I can just imagine you standing before Jesus one day, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.10) where your life and ministry will be evaluated, saying, “Jesus, I would have done what you said, but I was so busy.” Something tells me Jesus isn’t going to be satisfied with that answer. If he’s not going to be satisfied with it then, he’s not satisfied with it now.
I’ve never been discipled before.
I’m a bit more sympathetic to this excuse because the unfortunate realization is that most pastors don’t disciple men because they have never been discipled themselves. Most have grown up in low-investment/highly programmed churches, led by low-investment/highly programmed pastors. Programs and production get celebrated. Life investment gets ignored. It is important, but not urgent, therefore it never gets done. Let me ask you, are you going to let the failures of others be your excuse for failing to do the one thing Jesus commanded you to do? While you may have never been discipled by another person, you know more about how to follow Jesus and share your faith than 99.9% of the people in your congregation. Plus, you have the Spirit of God in you. You are more than qualified to invest in another man. When I got started, I hadn’t been formally discipled. But when I look back over my life, I see that God had put people in my life that influenced me toward Jesus in powerful ways. My guess is that you have people like that, too–people God used to build you up and help you walk with Him. So, while you may not have been formally discipled, you are prepared and competent to invest in others. This is why making disciples requires great faith! Hebrews 11.6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” The essence of faith is trusting God to act according to His promises. So think about it this way, if Jesus commanded you to go make disciples, and if he promised that he would be with you “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.20), then don’t you think you can trust him to work through you? You can let excuses hold you back or you can take a leap of faith and trust God to work through you to impact the life of another person. Trust God. And if you feel incompetent or unsure of how to invest in another person, then find someone experienced and let them be a coach for you. Look around for people who are passionate about making disciples and ask if you can meet with them. Ask questions. Get tips and insights. Find solutions to problems. Read great books and blogs. Go to conferences. The resources are available and the Spirit is ready. God will use you powerfully if you just take a step of faith. He can do more through you than you think He can!
I invest in people through my preaching and counseling.
Some pastors tell me that they don’t need to disciple anyone personally because they do that every week through their preaching and counseling ministry. While preaching and counseling are vitally important to a disciple-making church, they cannot replace the one on one, or small group training in a disciple-making relationship. Preaching is unilateral; I speak…you listen. Disciple making is back and forth conversation. Preaching is information; disciple making is about life transformation. Preaching is about content; disciple making is about character. Preaching happens in the building; disciple making happens outside the building. Preaching tells a man what to do; disciple making shows a man what to do. Preaching is in-the-pew training; disciple making is on-the-job training. In preaching, you are accountable to deliver God’s Word; in disciple making the other person is accountable to obey God’s Word. Preaching educates leaders; disciple making equips leaders. Preaching can’t be reproduced; disciple making is intended to be reproduced. There is a big difference between preaching and disciple making. Both are needed. Jesus did both very well. However, Jesus spent four times as much time discipling his men as he did preaching to the crowds. Four to one. That shows you the importance of disciple making in the life of Jesus. It’s not my personality or passion. Some leaders just dismiss disciple making because it’s not what they like to do or not what they feel wired to do. Some guys are just introverts and really don’t like to be around people. Other guys are more passionate about preaching, leading, vision casting, counseling, or personal evangelism. But just because you don’t think disciple making fits your personality or passion doesn’t excuse you from faithfully discharging the ministry God has placed in your hands to make disciples. Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching…be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4.2, 5). Most pastors read “preach the word” and stop there, envisioning great sermons flowing out of their pulpits with people hanging on their every word. Certainly, we are called to preach God’s Word faithfully. But Paul goes on to say that we are to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” with all the patience the Spirit can give us. That doesn’t just happen in a one-way preaching context, that happens after the preaching is over and you are face to face with people. The best place for reproving and rebuking is in the context of a disciple-making relationship when you have their heart and their trust. Paul closes with a charge to “fulfill your ministry.” Jesus clearly told us our ministry objective…make disciples of all nations. So a failure to invest in people and train them to do the same would be a failure to fulfill the ministry given to you by Christ.
The church doesn’t need men of excuses, it needs men of action. Men who will follow the example of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Men who will love the people in their church enough to step down off the platform and into their lives and show them how to walk with Christ. Jesus’ method for making disciples was grounded in relationships. Making disciples requires you to build relationships with the people in your church in a way that motivates them toward Christ-likeness. Simply put, you can’t microwave life change. You can’t assembly line personal transformation. People don’t change by simply dropping them on a church conveyor belt and running them through various programs and activities. Life change happens one person at a time. One life at a time.
Photo Credit: Andrew Neel