It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelist strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.
Those are the first words of the first chapter of Robert Coleman’s excellent book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. In his small treatise, Coleman lays out Jesus’ own process of making the first disciples, and in doing so has created a great resource for the church. It is simple and accessible. Read it. But my point in writing is not to gush over Coleman’s book. Instead, I want to echo a very important point that is often lost in contemporary pastoral ministry.
Pastor, don’t do it alone.
Discipleship is working yourself out of a job. I have written on this before. However, this is even true for the pastor. Perhaps, it is especially true for the pastor. Effective, healthy pastoral ministry rises and falls on your ability to raise up other leaders. Church planter, are you strained to keep up with the responsibilities and obstacles of getting a fledgling church off the ground? Bivocational pastors, are you barely keeping your head above water? Megachurch pastor, are you staring down a moment when inevitable transition must occur, wondering what happens when you are no longer the pastor? Responsible pastoral ministry does not do it alone.
Of course, pastors have a unique struggle when it comes to disciple-making, especially those who find themselves providing regular corporate teaching for their congregation. It is a high-profile role responsible for feeding a whole flock. This is the macro-ministry of shepherding a congregation. The weekly pressures of sermon preparation, of keeping the whole operating and afloat, pull pastors away from interpersonal ministry. To this point, Coleman provides a healthy critique.
Concentrate on a Few
If we are to follow Jesus in making disciples, then we must concentrate on a few. In a stage and auditorium world, pastors may find this a near impossible suggestion, but it is essential to shepherding a flock. Coleman writes, “One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master. The necessity is apparent not only to select a few helpers but also to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them.” Pastor, you need a small group of others that get your best ministry attention. Shepherding well these few is vital for shepherding well the whole.
This is true for a number of reasons. First, as Coleman notes, the whole only changes as people themselves change. You want deep congregation? An congregation active in making disciples? That starts with deep people, and deep people are formed by deep relationships. Making true disciples is primarily a micro-ministry. It is not done from a stage.
Furthermore, concentrating on a few is multiplicative, not additional. That may seem counter-intuitive at first. If you have the chance to spend an hour with two people or an hour in front of 200, which is more impacting? Many quickly assume the latter has more effect. And yet, impact is a slippery concept. While an audience allows from quantity in impact, concentrating on the few allows for quality in impact. The result is a small group who begin to look like their Master, and that is a group that can lead. They are the ones with shoulders to bear the weight of shepherding the whole. Soon, the pastor who concentrates on the few finds reinforcements in the whole. Then, in the fashion of true discipleship, these few can do for others what was done for them.
Pastor, this is not new, but is it something you practice? Certainly, you have encouraged your congregation to do this, but have they ever seen you do it?
But don’t neglect the masses
The immediate objection from many pastors is, as mentioned above, their responsibility to the whole. They, after all, are the one who has to get up in front of the entire congregation and provide sustenance and refreshing from God’s word. An idea is birthed, that focusing on a few must result in neglecting the masses. This is a false dichotomy. After all, did Jesus not preach to the multitudes? Did he not have many more followers than his twelve (and the even more select three among them)? Jesus missed no opportunity to proclaim the gospel before a crowd. Coleman claims, “These were the people whom he came to save – he loved them, wept over them, and finally died to save them from their sin. No one could think that Jesus shirked mass evangelism.”
The call to concentrate on a few is not a call to abdicate responsibility for the whole. Instead, it is a realization that the whole is best discipled by concentrating on a few. On this, Coleman is profound:
Surely if the pattern of Jesus at this point means anything at all, it teaches that the first duty of a church leadership is to see to it that a foundation is laid in the beginning on which can be built an effective and continuing evangelistic ministry to the multitudes. This will require more concentration of time and talents on few people in the church while not neglecting the passion for the world. It means raising up trained disciplers “for the work of ministering” with the pastor and church staff (Eph. 4:12). A few people so dedicated in time will shake the world for God.
Pastor, don’t do it alone. Realize the source of help and relief in pastoral ministry that comes when you are willing to set aside the aspirations of meeting all the needs of your congregation by yourself. Your first priority in shepherding your whole flock must be finding those few key people who will bear that responsibility with you. Concentrate on the few to meet the needs of the many.