“The church is not just called to be a body of disciples; it is called to make disciples.”
William J. Abraham
What is it to make disciples? What are we talking about? Lack of clarity on this one question – what does it mean to make disciples – doesn’t seem to be a place of anxiety for many mainline churches today. Not that there is a general understanding or consent to the answer. The absence of anxiety is the result of the question not being asked. Simply, for many churches in the mainline family of the Christian church, “discipleship” simply isn’t the primary focus.
This, of course, begs the question, what is the primary focus of these churches? According to my friend and mentor, Greg Ogden, one only has to pay attention to the informal criteria by which professional clergy are measured by the membership. Churches that care about discipleship will ask, “Is the pastor hanging-out in diners and coffee houses connecting with people who do not have a meaningful relationship with Jesus?” “Is she meeting weekly with one or more small groups of people encouraging actual growth in personal discipleship?” These are the concerns of a church membership that takes discipleship seriously.
On the other hand, argues Ogden, if the questions are, “Has the lead pastor visited our members in the hospital?” or “Is the lead pastor calling on the membership in their homes?” then what becomes apparent is that the focus is inward. Such questions disclose a church that has directed its focus more upon “care of their own” regardless of the printed mission statement.
Of course some churches will have additional pastors that are called specifically for the purposes of pastoral care. And churches that have the resources to staff in this manner are blessed. Ogden’s contention is that pastoral care must not be the primary expectation of the lead pastor, senior pastor or solo pastor. The primary function of such pastors is to direct the church in making disciples. Nowhere is this observation made more forceful than the first seven verses of Acts, chapter 6. Here the apostles answer “no” for the request that they spend time administering pastoral care to the membership. Yet, they do recognize that excellent pastoral care is an important mark of the church. What they do is set apart specific people who have the particular gift of pastoral care. The result for the church is stated in verse seven, “and the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem.”