Do You Disciple Your Staff?

Article
06.28.2011

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col. 1:28)

Pastors help Christians grow, and effective pastors understand that proclaiming Christ is the great power source for progress in the Christian life.

But how do pastors grow? Is the path to maturity different for a pastor than for a church member? The short answer is “No.” But just as a plumber’s house may have dripping faucets—he’s too busy working on everyone else’s—so the soul of a pastor may suffer from neglect.

For this reason, a pastor must disciple his staff. And he must make sure that the flow of discipleship runs from his staff back to him, and from his staff members to each other. The doctrine of progressive sanctification must be applied to pastors as well as to the rest of the church.

This requires humility. Pastors, like all disciples, need to hear again about Christ. They need to benefit from the “one another” of Christian community. And they need to be encouraged for progress made and to be warned of dangers ahead. Let’s consider why and how.

WHY SHOULD A PASTOR DISCIPLE HIS STAFF?

We who are pastors must remember a simple but important truth: pastors are sheep, too. We are the proclaimers of Colossians 1:28, yes, but we are also hearers implied by Colossians 1:28. We are tempted just like other Christians. We grow through the means of grace just like other Christians. And we can be spiritually blind just like other Christians.

Paul Tripp captures this brilliantly when he says, “I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 54). Pastor, who is helping you really see and know yourself? Who has your permission to adjust your self-perception?

Discipleship of pastors is vital not only because pastors are sheep, too, but also because we pastors qualify for our vocation through our character. My doctor doesn’t need to disclose to me whether he’s leading well at home or whether he’s being hospitable. But pastors must be godly examples who are both above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2) and growing (1 Tim. 4:15). Pastoral failure is traumatic for churches and has sad consequences for their testimony to the gospel.

For these reasons, pastors need to disciple the other pastors who are serving with them. The senior or lead pastor should be responsible for this, though he need not do it all personally. The man leading the staff or the team of elders won’t likely be more mature and knowledgeable and gifted in every area, so why should he lead everything? This is where the benefits of team ministry are significant. More on that later.

WHAT ARE KEY AREAS OF DISCIPLESHIP FOR PASTORS?

Pastors must keep a close watch on their own lives and also on the doctrine they teach (1 Tim. 4:16). So it might be helpful to think of discipleship and growth in three areas:

1. Character: marriage, parenting, spiritual life, personal evangelism, putting sin to death, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and so on.

2. Ministry skills: leadership, preaching, counseling, use of time, administrative skills, care for people suffering or in crisis, developing leaders, and so on.

3. Doctrine: biblical knowledge, biblical theology, systematic theology, church history, and so on.

HOW SHOULD A PASTOR DISCIPLE HIS STAFF?

There are many variables here. Some pastors serve as the only staff member, some have lay elders, some serve on teams with other pastors who are bi-vocational, while others may have a larger staff serving together vocationally, as is our situation. There is no one structure that works for everyone, but the New Testament provides a principle that can serve us all, and that is the plurality of elders.

As the apostolic church grew and spread, the practice of having teams of elders serving local churches was commonplace. This creates an excellent context for the discipleship of pastors. A team of elders provides one setting in which pastors can care for one another, encourage one another, and spur one another on to growth.

If you are in a small church or a church plant you’ll need to be creative, and you may need to seek help from trusted brothers outside your church for a time. But we would encourage you to seek ways within your church, and alongside a few key leaders in your church, to position yourself to grow and to lead others to grow.

PRACTICES FOR DISCIPLING PASTORS

What might discipleship of pastors or elders look like? We’ve got lots to learn, but here are some practices and structures we have found helpful.

Care Group

We ask all members of our church to be involved in a small group for the purpose of fellowship, relationships, and sharing spiritual life. Our pastors do the same.

We meet twice a month in one another’s homes. Our wives our included because our marriages are of first importance, even more fundamental than our calling as pastors (Eph. 5:25-33), and the opportunity to share our lives as couples is wonderfully helpful in strengthening our marriages.

We gather to sing, pray, discuss a message, share needs, and give and receive counsel. We each leave our titles at the door when we walk in.

Accountability

We meet in men’s and women’s groups (of 3 to 4 people) once or twice a month. Here we can seek help in areas related to personal issues difficult to bring up in a larger mixed group either because of the topic (e.g., lust) or the situation (e.g., a parenting issue that is somewhat complicated).

We can also confess specific sins and make ourselves accountable to change. It’s also a good venue to check in with each other about personal evangelism.

Studying together

Just yesterday we spent time studying the book of Leviticus during our elders meeting. We’ll be preaching from this book in the fall, so we’re studying it together now. We also read books together that address topics (e.g., polity, discipleship, preaching) that are timely for us.

Retreats

Twice a year we get away for a three day elders retreat where we can study, pray, discuss, strategically plan, and dream together. We also take a yearly couples retreat for the elders and their wives to be refreshed in the gospel, grow in our relationships, and focus on our marriages and parenting.

Classes and Conferences

Attending seminary-type classes or conferences together can be rich times. The conversations that arise out of these times have far outweighed the costs of registration and travel.

Mentoring and Discipling within the Team

Each team has men with a variety of gifts, and those gifts can be put to work to help others on the team. Perhaps one man can help another with a parenting issue. Or two guys might meet together for a time to help a man sort out a sense of calling to church planting.

Team ministry, flowing from a plurality of elders, relieves the senior pastor of the burden of having to always lead. We want the wide diversity of Spirit-given gifts to influence and aid the rest of the elders in their growth.

I (Mark) am the senior pastor, but I’m in a care group led by someone else, and in an accountability group led by someone else. Yesterday I led a discussion on Leviticus, but next month a younger pastor will lead a discussion on the book of Psalms. This kind of arrangement also provides opportunities for younger men to lead, and it promotes the benefits of multi-generational ministry.

PASTORS ARE SHEEP, TOO

How does a pastor disciple his staff? Pastors are sheep, too. Pastors need gospel-centered, Christ-exalting instruction and exhortation and relationships. Pastors must not only be the source of Christ-centered ministry, but also the objects of it.

A senior pastor will do well to seek to create structures and identify gifting that will allow for Colossians 1:28 to be carried out not only to the church, but also to himself and the other pastors.

By:
Mark Mullery

Mark Mullery is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, Fairfax, Virginia.

Vince Hinders

Vince Hinders is the executive pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, Fairfax, Virginia.