I had just completed a two-year internship with a senior pastor and was pastoring my first church on my own. I was excited for the opportunity to shepherd and lead God’s people. The church district was on the edge of the great Australian Outback and covered many thousands of kilometers. It had one larger regional town with a church and many smaller towns with small groups or individual members. I had many ideas to share the gospel and Adventist truths with the community. Immediately and enthusiastically I shared my ideas with the church leaders in a board meeting. There was little discussion on my concepts and what was said did not encourage me at all. What could I do?
One of the elders noticed my disheartened response. He asked me to visit him while he was at work. Owen worked with leather, crafting and repairing saddles for horses. I talked while Owen molded and stitched the leather. He listened and I talked some more. He finally said, “I love your enthusiasm for spreading God’s Word, but it may take a little time to understand how it is best shared in this area.” That made sense to me. So, for the three years that I pastored in that district I would often go over and talk with Owen about the challenges in ministry. He listened as I did most of the talking, but he guided my thinking in a way that connected with the people in that community. We played our guitars together as an outreach; in church we ran community seminars and cared for people. As an older elder, Owen discipled me. He made me a better follower of Jesus.
In Matthew’s record of Jesus’ commission to His disciples, the focus is on making disciples (Matt 28:18–20). “Disciple” in Greek is mathetes, from a verb that means “to learn.” As we go, as we teach, and as we baptize, the goal is to make disciples. A disciple is a follower—someone who learns from being with another person. In the Christian context a disciple is a follower of Jesus (Matt 10:24–25). To fulfill Jesus’ commission the church is to make more and better disciple makers. Every ministry of the church—whether Pathfinders, Sabbath School, Women’s Ministries, or Health Ministries—should be about making disciple makers for Jesus. Thus, every church member should be a disciple who is making more and better adept disciples. This is especially true of the elders, who are the leaders of the church.
EVERY CHURCH MEMBER SHOULD BE A DISCIPLE WHO IS MAKING MORE AND BETTER ADEPT DISCIPLES. THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF THE ELDERS, WHO ARE THE LEADERS OF THE CHURCH.
From the time I was a teenager, I have been blessed to have different people in my life to coach, mentor, and support me. They discipled me into becoming a better, more mature and productive disciple of Jesus. These people believed in me, listened, encouraged, challenged, and even allowed me to fail. But their intent was to help me—just like Jesus. Most of these people were elders. I always wanted to be the kind of pastor and elder who supported people like that.
Jesus was the best discipler. First, He invited people to come and see (John 1:39) and follow Him (Matt 4:19). As they interacted with Jesus, they saw His vision, His care for people, His time of prayer, His healing, and His teaching. They learned or were discipled. However, often it is not until you have tried something yourself that you really know whether you have grown and can do it yourself. Jesus trusted the disciples with challenging activities. Jesus told them to do what He had been doing, but in new places (Luke 9:1–6; 10:1– 16). When they came back from their own ministries Jesus provided, feedback (Luke 9:10–11; 10:17– 23)—encouragement, and challenge. Eventually Jesus left the disciples on earth and returned to heaven. With Jesus’ teachings and the Holy Spirit’s power, they became the Christian movement that changed the world (Acts 1:8; 17:6).
Jesus trusted people despite their weaknesses. He knew that James and John had a bad temper but still used them (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:52–56). He knew that Peter rarely thought before He spoke and was even used by Satan (Mark 8:33; Luke 8:45; 9:33). Jesus knew that Thomas could be depressive and doubtful (John 14:5; 20:24–25). But Jesus called and trusted all of them with the task of creating the church and sharing the everlasting gospel. Jesus’ call is the same today. He wants every elder to disciple others for His kingdom.
As a division president I disciple my neighbors, younger pastors, and local church leaders. I would challenge you to do the same. If you are good at chairing meetings and setting out agendas, take some new disciples of Jesus and show them how you do it. If you are gifted in hospitality, invite others to do it with you and tell them the tips you have learned to make it an effective ministry. Whatever it is—prayer, evangelism, visitation—disciple someone else in the ministry. As you do so, they will learn to be a better disciple of Jesus and you also will learn. Every elder can be a disciple maker with Jesus.