When I first started preaching, I had a heart to help and love people. I believe that I went into it with pure, God-given motives. But as oft happens, Satan slips in, takes our eyes off Jesus, and puts them on ourselves, and the ministry becomes a self-serving thing. When this happened, I took on a method that wasn’t healthy or helpful in any way. I was creating molds for people instead of making disciples for Christ.
I’ve always been blessed to have the natural ability to get people to follow me and listen to me. It’s kind of a good thing because I’m always talking and it would be really lonely with no one to listen (ha!) The first one who kind of took to being my friend and started running with me was Josh Clapp. We were young teens, both pretty newly saved, and hungry to do something exciting for God. Preaching kind of looked exciting, and we ran to it. Little did we know that it was a God-given desire that left us both hungry to serve God.
We would spend hours studying the Bible, learning to be Soul Winners, listening to preaching tapes, going to meetings, and overall hoping to be used by God. It was awesome! I have so many fond memories. The only problem was some years passed, and my next generation of followers came about. By this time, my eyes were off of Jesus and onto myself, and it was trouble.
You see, at this point, I started trying to mold people into me instead of trying to disciple people to follow Jesus! I would tell them how to dress, cut their hair, what music to listen to, what to watch, and how to walk the walk and talk the talk like me. I’m not against Biblical separation, but this wasn’t separation to Jesus; it was separation to me, and that was the problem. It ended up with a bunch of young people that didn’t like me, church, or Jesus by the end of it because you can’t change people’s lives like this.
A few years went by, and I found myself in Arkansas as a youth director again. This time though, I had been influenced by the culture of discipleship. I learned to spend time with these young people, not making them like me but teaching them the Bible. I pushed them to read and study the Bible. I answered every question with the Bible. This changed things drastically! We started seeing these young people get genuinely saved. We started seeing them become faithful, growing, and begging to go soul winning and to do ministry.
By the time I ended up pastoring, it was like every boy, teen, young man, and adult man wanted to be a preacher. I’d often hear things like, “I wish I could be a missionary,” all because of the culture of discipleship that God allowed us to have. You see, my earlier mistake was making a mold instead of making disciples. So how do we prevent making this mistake?
1. Be people of the Bible.
Decide that you won’t say anything that isn’t Bible to your followers! If it’s not in the Bible and we can’t clearly show it to folks, we won’t recommend it! We won’t answer questions with, “my preference or opinion is…,” but rather with, “What does the Bible say?” Decide you will push your followers to get into the book, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and, most importantly, living it.
2. Spend time around ministry and not hobbies.
Before, I wanted every young man I worked with to hunt, fish, or do CrossFit. We’d spend hours around my hobby! The problem was that I was trying to adapt them to my culture and not God’s culture. We can have our hobbies, but honestly, usually, when it comes to the people who follow us in ministry, it is best to keep them separate. Meet around ministry and not hobby. Don’t go to the ball game together; go to Bible study together. Don’t go fishing together; go fishing for men together! Don’t go to the gym together; teach them how to teach and preach together. This does two things. One, it puts you in the place of a Spiritual influence and not just their buddy. If you want to go to the ballgame, take your son and have a good time. If you want to go on vacation, take your wife and have a good time, but save your discipleship time for doing ministry. The second thing that it does is it teaches them to love and hunger after ministry and not your hobby. When we get God and hobby combined, many times, we make idolatries and not disciples (Ouch I know that hurts). Think about it, though! We are telling them about the love and devotion of an Almighty God, but then we divert the time, attention, and money into our hobbies. Basically, we are teaching them love and devotion, but we are giving them an idol to devote it too.
3. Teach the Bible and let God change from the inside out
The philosophy our pastor has taught us is “BE, DO, SERVE, TRAIN.” Basically, we teach people to “Be a Christian,” which means for them to get saved and to see who they are in Christ! After we have been influenced by BE, we then DO the things a Christian does. For instance, BE faithful to church and go soul winning, the things every Christian does. Once they are doing what a Christian should DO, then we have them start to SERVE in the local church. After that, once they’re effectively doing it, then they are ready to TRAIN others. But before this pyramid gets built up, we have to get people in the Bible, and we have to get the Bible in them! If we just teach our followers the Bible, then the Bible will do its work without us forcing it down anyone’s throat.
The bottom line is that God commanded us to make disciples, and we won’t be effective shoving people into a mold.