Using Jesus as the model for ministry.
It is hard to believe, but not everyone is excited about using Jesus as the model for ministry. It truly baffles me that we look to Jesus for our salvation, we look to Jesus as an example in godly living, we look to Jesus as a source of wisdom in teaching, but we don’t look to Jesus as model for ministry.
Some pastors I’ve talked to have been outright resistant to the thought. They are insulted by the idea. As I’ve listened to their complaints, I have heard some consistent misconceptions about Jesus’ ministry that need to be tackled head on. One of them is that Jesus didn’t have a strategic ministry plan.
Jesus’ strategic ministry plan.
Many pastors don’t think that Jesus had an intentional plan of ministry. As they read the gospels, it looks like Jesus randomly flowed from one village to the next, performing miracles and teaching without any strategic forethought.
The gospels have become a resource for the teaching of Jesus and the life of Jesus, but not the ministry of Jesus. Honestly, that was where I found myself in my early days of ministry. I looked more to the epistles for instruction on ministry and the church, not to Jesus.
To be honest, I never really spent much time digging into the life of Christ. Then I was exposed to a small book by Robert Coleman, oddly titled, The Master Plan of Evangelism. I say it’s oddly titled because at first glimpse you would think it is a book about how to share your faith. Actually, it’s a look at the ministry of Jesus. In his book, Coleman points out that Jesus had an intentional plan, and he worked that plan to perfection. I remember reading this book for the first time. I had just graduated with my Master’s Degree from Seminary, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It was a game changer for me. I had never read anything like it before. Listen to Coleman describe Jesus’ intentional strategy.
“His (Jesus’) life was ordered by his objective. Everything he did and said was part of the whole pattern. It had significance because it contributed to the ultimate purpose of his life in redeeming the world for God. This was the motivating vision governing his behavior. His steps were ordered by it.
Mark it well. Not for one moment did Jesus lose sight of this goal. That is why it is so important to observe the way Jesus maneuvered to achieve his objective. The Master disclosed God’s strategy for world conquest…It is tremendously revealing to study it. Serious reflection at this point will bring the student of Christ to some profound and perhaps shattering conclusions, though the realization will likely be slow and arduous.
In fact, at first glance it might even appear that Jesus had no plan. Another approach might discover some particular technique but miss the underlying patter of it all. This is one of the marvels of his strategy. It is so unassuming and silent that it is unnoticed by the hurried churchman.
But when the realization of his controlling method finally dawns on the open mind of the disciple he will be amazed at its simplicity and wonder how he could have ever failed to see it before. Nevertheless, when his plan is reflected on, the basic philosophy is so different from that of the modern church that its implications are nothing less than revolutionary.”
Not too long after reading Coleman’s book, I met a pastor named Bill Hull. I was taking doctoral classes at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Chicago and Bill was teaching a seminar. I was fascinated with the concept that Jesus had an actual plan. We met for dinner after class at a small restaurant in town and talked about Jesus and local church ministry. I felt like Bill knew exactly what I was experiencing because he had been a pastor as well.
When I got back to Oklahoma I read Bill’s first book. The old version had a royal blue cover simply titled, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker. Not that sexy a title, but it communicated. In the book, Bill described the four stages Jesus led his men through to produce disciples and disciple makers.
I remember reading the following statement. It’s still underlined and highlighted; the page is dog-eared in my copy. “A leader should usually choose the option that will, in the long run, reach the most people with the message of eternal life. This is why discipleship is ordained by God: because its design is to multiply through people the good news to the entire world. This is the essence of the Great Commission.”
God was opening my mind to the idea that Jesus had a plan and I needed to understand it and work it. Not long after that I bought a copy of A Harmony of the Gospels, by Dr. Robert L. Thomas and Dr. Stanley N. Gundry. If you are not familiar with a harmony of the gospels, it places all the texts of the gospels into chronological order. In it you can see what Jesus did first, second, third, and so on.
I still pore over that book today, now stained with ink markings, penciled notes, highlights, and turned down pages. It’s even frayed on the spine where one of my dogs decided to use it for a chew toy.
Jesus’ intentional process for making disciples.
By the time I was nearing the end of my doctoral work, I chose to write my dissertation on how Jesus used small groups to raise up and train leaders. I was beginning to see Jesus in a whole new light. No longer was I blindly grasping at one facet of Jesus’ ministry. I was beginning to see a chronological order, an intentional process, and a strategic plan Jesus had for making disciples.
Once my project was complete and I was ready to defend my dissertation, I came into contact with Dr. Dann Spader. Dann was teaching large conferences all across the country about the life of Christ and Jesus’ plan for disciple making. Like everything else, I scarfed up his books and manuals.
Interestingly, though the terminology was different, Spader was saying the same things that Coleman and Hull were saying—Jesus had a clear plan for making disciples. On September 12, 2001, the day after the towers fell in New York City, Dann sat on the evaluation team as I defended my doctoral project on disciple making.
Doing ministry, Jesus’ way.
As I returned to Oklahoma City, I had a new sense of excitement. I was determined to put Jesus’ plan into practice no matter what. I called staff meetings to study Jesus’ plan and sat through hours of training. I can remember banging out definitions, processes, and details. I was compelled to do ministry Jesus’ way. I still am.
Just a few weeks ago I sat down in a restaurant with two young professionals. One of them, Rick, attends our church; the other doesn’t. At the time, Rick had been coming for a few years, staying mostly on the fringe because of his fast-paced life and high-pressure career. I took him out for coffee and challenged him to take the next step in following Jesus. He agreed to meet me one night in my office.
When he showed up there were four other young business execs sitting around my conference table. For the next hour I talked to them about Jesus’ plan for ministry. I drew it out on a piece a paper. I offered to invest in them for a period of time and train them to walk with Jesus in a deep, personal, and intimate way. They were all in.
Over the next several weeks we met, prayed, studied, and encouraged. One night I challenged these racehorses to step it up a notch and recruit someone they could train. The wheels started turning. Several days later Rick asked me to join him for breakfast and he introduced me to another business friend. Rick had led his friend to Christ about a year earlier, but he never knew how to help him grow.
As we sat at the table, I pulled out a napkin and drew out Jesus’ plan for building world changers. The young executive watched my every pen stroke on the edge of his seat. When I finished, he said, with tears welling up in his eyes, “This is what I’ve been looking for. I’m all in!”
Jesus had a plan, and his plan is compelling. His plan is what men and women need today, and they are begging for someone to show it to them. Our job, and our joy, is to do just that.
This blog features an excerpt from one of our books, Bold Moves.