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Diligent Discipleship: Pastors, churches face new challenges, new opportunities


Pastor John Doe of First Baptist Church, County Seat, USA was faced with a dilemma when COVID-19 closed his church building and public activities for an indefinite season. He had some skills with technology — but not enough.

Larry Purcell

He needed help. He was already feeling overwhelmed with a busy ministry of caring for the membership, preparing sermons and lessons and managing all the ministries. How could he add one more thing to an already overcrowded schedule?

Pastor Doe illustrates too many pastors who express being exhausted because of so much busyness. It may not be biblical as a model for Pastor Doe being so busy, but it is certainly an expectation of so many churches. Pastors have long responded with more busyness to the sneer of, "Well, pastor, what did you do all week?"

I was taught a strong work ethic by my family and take it personally when someone questions my work ethic. Pastor Doe, like many pastors, is having his ministry defined for him by the demands of others. The Bible provides us the Lord's expectations for churches and pastors.

A biblical mandate

Scripture teaches believers that the work of a pastor is one of equipping. "Pastors and teachers…equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith" (Eph. 4:11b-13 CSB). Some churches are turning the work of a pastor into one who does all the work of a church.

In these verses, the pastor is to be viewed by a congregation as overseer and shepherd. A believer is given gift(s) by the Holy Spirit at salvation. A pastor has the responsibility of sharpening the axe since the gift comes from the Lord — and a church must provide training opportunities in developing believers.

Equipping views discipleship as the process of growing a new believer into a servant leader.

The Apostle Paul instructed a young pastor Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:2, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Paul had invested much time into equipping Timothy for ministry. The apostle knew his time was limited and he is providing Timothy an effective strategy for the continuance of the work of the Lord and of His churches.

The strategy posed by the Bible is in direct conflict with most practices today. Churches too often hire someone to take care of a need. This is not a bad thing necessarily, but it ignores biblical discipleship. The Lord has provided your church with one of its greatest assets, the membership.

New challenges and new opportunities

COVID-19 is a crisis, but a leader must discover the opportunity forced upon pastors and churches. Pastor Doe is being overwhelmed with the new challenges and opportunities offered due to the coronavirus. Churches have closed their buildings and face-to-face services during COVID-19.

This has offered new opportunities of using technology. The result of this new challenge is that churches with no experience of technology are beginning to experiment with new ways of preaching on social platforms, online giving and using technology for small group Bible study and prayer groups. Several churches in the west region of Kentucky were already using some technology, but now are exploring ways of improving their skills of preaching and teaching online, upgrading equipment and developing new ministries better suited to the use of technology.

This pandemic can be a primer for the more experienced pastor to embrace younger promising leaders. I have stated often that if I needed to find an expert in technology, then I need to talk with someone below the age of 20, like my grandchildren. Crisis moments can be an opportunity to enlist and equip a younger leader to step up to new demands of a changing area in ministry.

Volunteers are often few because they do not feel they are either needed or wanted. My experiences have taught me the key often to enlisting new people into a ministry is as simple as asking. The future is now, so seize the opportunity. You are preparing someone for taking on more ministry responsibility by employing his/her gifts now.

As people take on more roles of leadership, they can better identify what the Lord has called them to lead. I have heard many young seminary students express they sensed God's call to preach when they were asked to teach a VBS class.

Paul helped prepare men as Timothy and Titus by enlisting their help with smaller concerns that prepared them for the challenge of being a pastor. The real aim of discipleship is maturing a believer and connecting them to ministry. Some of the challenges of equipping new believers will be more enjoyable than others. Working with some of the most difficult persons or situations are when we learn the most about our spiritual giftedness.

My first teaching assignment was with a group of young boys in a Sunday School beginner's class (6-8 year olds). I learned that I was not as effective working with children as teens or adults. I also learned the joy of investing in young boys at an early age and developed lifelong friends.

Getting involved where there is a need in your church for a season provides the best discovery of your spiritual self while meeting a critical need. A spiritual gifts inventory may or may not rank high the gift of evangelism, but you and I are commanded by the Lord to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Gift discovery tools can be an excellent way for church leaders to introduce members to potential areas of giftedness, then talk through ways they can grow while serving others.

Calling out the called

Crisis moments as COVID-19 can be an opportunity for you to stop and look around your church or look through the church directory.

• Who is not involved regularly in serving?

• Who can you mentor?

• What are you presently doing that someone else could be doing?

Calling out the called can be one of the greatest blessings you experience. A young person is waiting for your invitation to be mentored and trusted to lead in technology, or maybe prayer ministry, to go out with you sharing the gospel and to help with the next mission project.

Larry Purcell is regional consultant for the west region of Kentucky.

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