I’ve been reflecting recently on my calling as a minister of discipleship and trying to make sense of it, to the degree that I’m able.
Discipleship is a broad topic. I believe a case could be made that virtually every area of ministry in a local church could be justly categorized as discipleship. This is quite unhelpful to someone who has the word “discipleship” in the title of his ministry. But at the end of the day, this is what it’s all about. The Lord Jesus himself has charged his followers to go into all the world and make disciples. And the one lesson I keep learning over and over again is that the “HOW” of making disciples is wide and varied.
As I said, the broad heading of discipleship covers a lot of ground. Some have called counseling “intensive discipleship.” The idea behind this is that every now and then a follower of Jesus falls prey to a particular problem that becomes an obstacle that impedes his or her progress on the path to Christlikeness. Thus, the usual means of discipleship don’t seem to work quite as effectively, and so, for a short season, a counselor might come along side the person and help them navigate their way through.
Spiritual Direction could also be seen as discipleship. A primary purpose of spiritual direction would be to help followers of Christ go deeper with Christ in more of a “one-on-one” setting. I believe that in addition to counseling and spiritual direction we could add mentoring, teaching, writing, developing leaders, and coaching as subcategories of discipleship.
What draws me to each of these areas of ministry is the common thread of investing, building, or pouring my life into the lives of others for the purpose of helping a person come to know, love, follow and become more like Christ in every sphere of his or her life. Some have called this “life on life transference.” Many have pointed out that this was Jesus’ primary way of ministering. We might also notice that this was one of the ways in which Paul, Barnabas, and company ministered – by encouraging, strengthening, and building up their brothers and sisters in Christ. (We remember that Paul tells us in Acts 20 that he went from “house to house.”)
Serving in this way is a blessed privilege that brings me a joy that I just can’t communicate. Being given the permission and opportunity to come along side to minister to those God has entrusted to my care is humbling beyond words. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it truly gets me up in the morning. Of course, it’s also accurate to say that it sometimes keeps me awake at night.
I graduated from seminary and took my first church in 1992. However, while I certainly learned much during my first seven years of ministry, it’s been the last 11 years that I’ve been serving as the Minister of Discipleship at the church I serve. When I first arrived I saw my call and ministry almost exclusively in terms of teaching. But over the years, through a myriad of experiences, learnings, reflections, prayer, seeking God’s direction, etc., I’ve experienced a transformation or, perhaps, an evolution of my call. Over the last 21 years (if I count seminary) I’ve had a series of “short-term” calls that led me to my present ministry. And even in my immediate ministerial setting, I’m learning that God is still at work, “tweaking” my call, my passion, my vision, and my gifts.
To be sure, my desire to pour or invest my life into the lives of others hasn’t changed one iota. Actually, that’s not true. It has increased exponentially. But what has caused such a dramatic increase in that desire is the fact that I keep learning more about the wonderful variety of ways in which I can “disciple” others. I’ve always known that discipleship was more than teaching. I never believed it was just that. But until I really started counseling others, discipling (one-on-one) others, mentoring others, etc., my ministry was, in a way, one-dimensional. Yet God continued (and continues) to reveal new ways to minister, with coaching being the latest tool in my ministerial toolbox.
Actually, that last sentence is fairly premature. I’ve been trying to apply what I’ve been learning about coaching when the opportunities arise, but I’m a long way off from being very skilled at it. But I’ve been diligently seeking to grow in this area of ministry. I’ve been learning more and more about coaching over the last couple of years and the more I learn the more excited I get. I hasten to add that the more I learn about coaching the more overwhelmed I get. When I graduated from seminary in Atlanta the only coach I cared anything about was Bobby Cox. “Coaching” as a form or discipline of ministry was certainly not only my radar screen. Thus, while I’m excited to be learning about it and seeking to become trained in this field, even with 18 years of ministry under my belt, I still feel like a rookie. Or, to change the imagery, I feel like I’m drinking water from a firehose.
Well, all of that was to get to this summary. Here’s what I “think” I’ve learned so far regarding my ministerial journey: In many ways mine is not a pure ministry of any particular discipline. It’s more of a hybrid. I’m seldom only teaching, or only counseling, or only spiritual directing, or only coaching. I need to have some skill and aptitude in each discipline because the demands and expectations of my ministry require that sort of fluency in each area. I need to be able to move from teacher to counselor to coach, quite often, within a single ministry encounter. At least that’s how it seems to me presently. While I’m learning so much from the many resources on these various areas of ministry, I guess my task is to learn how and when they apply to my ministry setting.
So that brings me fairly up-to-date. Why have I spent this time sharing all of this with you? At least three reasons.
1.) Because it’s sort of cathartic for me to get this off my chest and share it with others who take enough time and interest to read this blog.
2.) Because it just might be helpful for others who have experienced or are experiencing the same sort of “evolution” in their own call from God.
3.) Because there are a good number of folks who read this blog who are serving in many of the ways I’ve described and I would love to hear their thoughts and to learn about their experiences. So, if you’re a coach, I’d love to hear about how you became one. If you’re in some sort of discipleship ministry, I would profit greatly from learning about your ministry. Perhaps you could offer a comment or a link to something you’ve written that would benefit those of us on this journey we call discipleship ministry.
I look forward to hearing from you.
PS – Here are a few posts I’ve written on the subject of coaching.
PSS – I just received today a training resource from Building Champions called, “The Coaching Leader System.” I can’t wait to dig in.
PSSS (is there such thing as that?) – I just ordered and downloaded Linda Hedberg’s Guide to Christian Coach Training. I hope to read it and reread this week. It looks great.
The Lord bless you,
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