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Reversing the Trend
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By Melvin Santos
 
“Pastor, what can I do to help you in the church?” This is music to the pastor’s ears when they hear leaders and members asking them how they can be of help. Unfortunately, pastors usually respond by giving them a task or two but fail to see the real opportunity. We end up contributing to the pastor-centered, pastor-dependency syndrome that has plagued the church for decades. This practice is not biblical. The Ephesians 4 model reverses this incorrect practice. The pastor should be asking the leaders and members, “How can I help you become equipped so you can do work of the ministry and edify the body of Christ?” 
 
In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul defines the job description of the leader and how to function in the team. Scriptural principles define the primary leadership roles of each one in the church. Pastors must realize that the Bible provides the proper strategy for developing new leadership and good leaders through discipleship mentoring.    
 
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”[1]
 
According to this passage, the main job of the pastor is to equip and disciple people. Equipping and training the saints to do the work of ministry and to edify the body is the most important function of all. When pastors do all the “work of the ministry and the nurturing of the church,” church members are merely assisting and supporting him. The results are catastrophic for the church with exhausted, burned out and frustrated pastors. Pastoral families are neglected and broken. Health is compromised and the experience with Christ sometimes lost. Members’ faith atrophies and all too soon, they attend church merely to see the pastor “perform” while they sit back and watch the “program” on Sabbath mornings.
 
A closer study of this text reveals that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers with leadership gifts must also equip the saints for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. These leadership gifts have specific roles within the body of Christ but their main job is still clearly to equip, train and disciple members. Carl George notes in Prepare Your Church for the Future that “a pastor forges an authentic ministry by modeling contact with three segments of society: the unsaved community, the church cell group, and the leaders of cell groups...but the major time and energy investment must be in the training of leadership.”[2]
 
It is important to note that discipleship is not a spiritual gift. It is an intentional mentoring process, training and leadership development in which the Christian employs his spiritual gifts to make disciples and be a discipler. All Christians are called to be disciples and to be disciplers of others. But not all disciples are gifted with the same spiritual gifts.
 
Therefore, apostles are not evangelists, as evangelists are not apostles. Nor are pastors to be prophets and prophets to be pastors. However, all apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to be disciples and must be involved in the discipleship process. According to this verse apostles (which is equivalent to church planters today), prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers need to train the laity to develop their gifts so they can plant churches, prophesy, evangelize, pastor, and teach.
 
Some pastors contend, “Are the members ready and willing to be trained? Are they not already over pressed by a multitude of activities? Can we really expect them to undertake a course of serious training, followed by responsible service?”  John Stott believes “The answer to these questions is that if the laity to whom we are referring are truly Christians, that is, personally committed to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, then they are not only ready but eager to serve him, and that they are disappointed, frustrated and even spiritually wounded, if we do not help them to fulfill their God-given calling to be active witnesses to Jesus Christ.”[3]
  
The church has placed a strong emphasis on the spiritual gift of evangelism and limited its potential for growth. Unfortunately, discipleship has taken a secondary role in the Adventist church for several reasons. The first is the immediate results evangelism produces. It is exciting to see people become baptized in a short amount of time. Second, the misinterpretation of the true goal of the Gospel Commission is evident. It is not proclaiming the gospel that is the primary goal – It is making disciples who will proclaim the gospel and make yet more disciples that is the primary goal. Evangelism has been, and still is, the major focus of the church’s agenda. This should not be a surprise because the church’s theology influences its methodology. There is a sense of urgency to proclaim the Gospel.
 
Finally, a church that primarily focuses on doing ministries, ie. evangelism, will result in fulfilling its goal: ministry. This is not all bad. However, when a church focuses on multiplying disciples and lay ministers, it multiplies its ministries exponentially. It will likely increase the spread of the Word, the number of disciples, and conversions. One wonders why the church still does not focus more on discipleship knowing the exponential results that can be achieved.
 
Imagine this: Ship + Sails + Wind  = Travel. The ship is a symbol of discipleship. The sail symbolizes evangelism and ministries. The wind is symbolized by the Holy Spirit, the true and ultimate power of the last day church. Combine all of these and the spreading of the Gospel to the cities and to ends of the world will have no boundary.
 
For the churches that have sails but have no wind or ship, take heart. Only be willing and God will train you to accomplish more than you could ever imagine.  A church lacking any of these components should take action by specifically asking God for all three. These three components are required to fulfill the Gospel Commission.
             
Discipleship completes the big picture. It preserves the pastor and their families, strengthens the church, empowers the members, and most of all, it reflects and makes clearly visible the awesomeness and power of God.  
 
Melvin Santos is the senior pastor for the Nashville First Church in Tennessee, and is also the NAD Ministerial Field Liaison for Discipleship and Asian Pastor
 
[1] Ephesians 4:11-12
[2]Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1992,) p.98.
[3]John Stott. One People, (Fleming Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ. 1968) p.60.