Most ministry leaders want to see their ministries grow. I refuse to believe the narrative that this is all about ego or self-aggrandizement. Sometimes it is. But in most cases I think ministry leaders truly do want to see more people impacted for God’s kingdom. We want to see growth. We want to see our numbers moving up and to the right. As you may know, I think a key strategy in both propelling and sustaining that growth is enlisting high-capacity volunteer leaders to oversee some of those growth engines.
But as we think big, we must also work small. The church is still in the disciple making business. Not event planning. Not project management. Not life coaching. Not crisis counseling. Jesus was clear, “Go and make disciples.” Disciples can’t be mass-produced. And disciple making is a deeply personal, slow, sometimes painstaking process.
In the process of building a world-changing movement, we must never forget that the pathway to get there is by building world-changing disciples. The apostle Paul showed us a model. Not a neat and tidy step 1-2-3 model. But a messy, complex one that holds both priorities together. Build a movement by building disciples.
In Acts 17:1-9 we read that Paul was in Thessalonica for 3 weeks. A Jewish mob formed and whipped the whole city into an uproar. They went to Jason’s house (which had apparently been some kind of headquarters) and they dragged him out. The accusation? “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:6b-7)
Needless to say, Paul had to leave abruptly, and because his time was short, he was rightly worried about false teaching creeping in to the church. Even though his stay was brief, Paul had a deep and spiritual connection with the people of this church. He would later say, “I wasn’t’ happy about how I left – I feel like I had to leave too early.” And while this global movement was growing and Christianity was spreading like wildfire, we get a glimpse through the window at what Paul’s ministry was like for those three weeks. It can become a model for us about focusing small as we’re thinking big.
The passage is in 1 Thessalonians 2:7–20. Paul begins with a contrast. There are two very different ways of approaching ministry. One is an approach that focuses on ME. He says we never came using flattery or seeking self-glory, or using our position to make demands (2:5-6a). Instead, he says, we chose approach number two that focuses on YOU. We were gentle, and affectionate, and we shared our very selves (2:7-8). He goes on to use family imagery to describe his short time with this church. I think through three family metaphors, Paul teaches us:
How to Build World-Changing Disciples and in turn grow a world-changing movement.
- Give them your whole heart – like a mom (1 Thess 2:7-8)
we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children
My wife is a construction manager and carpenter. She builds houses for a living. I have never seen her be gentler than when she was nursing our three kids. Delicate, whispering, connecting, nurturing.
A baby is nothing but need. They don’t pay the rent. They don’t leave tips. They just take, take, take. It’s hard to be gentle sometimes. But when they are your beloved, when you are committed to providing them with life-giving nourishment, you will do anything to make it happen. Sleepless nights, juggling schedules, ugly diapers, screaming and crying.
It is a completely one-way relationship, but a nursing mother just continues to give.
So, why would Paul use the imagery of a nursing mother when describing a discipleship relationship among adults? It’s because he understands that adults can take crapping and puking and crying and screaming to a whole new level! It can feel like all the good stuff is going one way. And yet a leader must continue to give. Let them in, give them your heart.
What does it look like to give someone your heart with gentleness and acceptance in a disciple-making relationship? A good first step is to ask them lots of questions. Get to know what makes them tick, their hopes and dreams. It’s amazing that simply listening to someone has the ability to communicate so much care.
- Give them access to your example – like a big brother/sister (1 Thess 2:9-10)
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.
One of the most critical components of the discipleship process is positive role modeling. Here Paul appeals to the example of his life. He says, “You got a front row seat to my life! We busted our butts, we taught you about Jesus as we patterned every aspect of our behavior after Jesus.”
Paul understands the adage faith is more easily caught than taught. So, not only did he love and accept this church like a mom, but he provided a positive role model example like a big brother. Paul gave them unique access to his personal life.
Do you know what’s the best way for people to learn forgiveness? It’s not a lecture. It’s not even a workshop. The best way is to see a real-life example of forgiveness in action. The same is true for generosity, and Christian responsibility, and purity, and biblical community, and committing to the right priorities. Positive role models make all the difference.
Have you figured out a few appropriate places to let people in? Give them a glimpse into your decision-making processes? Let them in so they can hear how you’re working through a sticky situation. How might you do a better job at giving people access to your example of faith?
- Push them toward progress – like a dad (1 Thess 2:11-12)
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Paul continues with his family metaphor, but now he’s moved from the care of a nursing mother to the prodding of a father encouraging a toddler to walk. He’s saying, I completely love and accept you, but I also want to teach you the joy of movement. I love you where you are, but I’m not content with where you are. It’s time to make some progress and call you forward.
This is not an attempt to pigeon-hole the roles of moms and dads. Regardless of which parent, in every home there needs to be radical acceptance, but it also must be coupled with a commitment to ongoing development.
Paul uses three words here to describe the role of the discipler, “exhort, encourage, and charge.” All three involve words that will enable the person on the receiving end to meet a difficult situations with confidence, to not lose heart, and to approach every opportunity with a sense of urgency.
The goal? Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom. We’re preparing our children first and foremost to walk spiritually. A key role for every leader is to push our people toward spiritual progress. Love them? Yes. Set an example for them? Yes. But we also need to compel them to serve God well with their whole lives.
And there is a payoff for the leader as well. When we engage in these discipling relationships, the people are the prize. At the end of your one and only life, when Jesus shows up. The prize of a life-well-lived will not be the number of locations, not the services or the programs, not budget surpluses or well-designed buildings. The prize is the people whose lives have been changed. Paul says, his spiritual children will be the thing he’s most proud of.
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess 2:19-20