The Parable of the Lost Pastor
In truth I was lost as a Christian too. I had been to Bible college, loved God, and served as a youth pastor, but I was directionless.
Have you ever known that something was wrong, but couldn’t identify what? Maybe you’ve known that someone wasn’t “the one” but you couldn’t put your finger on why… It’s like that only on the even deeper question of why do I exist?
I accomplished the modest goal of building a youth group that was average for our church size. I knew others with better paying jobs or really big youth groups and I knew that even if I got there, would that mean anything to me? Would it mean anything to God or to the kingdom? Would I feel like God was more proud of me? The answers gnawed at me.
So I did what I had to. I distracted myself with other pursuits. I did my job. I truly cared for people, I just didn't know where to lead them outside of "growing closer to God" and maybe being involved in a small group. I thought of my work at the church as a job. And I was cynical of it and the American church as a whole. I didn’t know what would make it better. Just didn’t entirely trust it. I knew I wasn't alone in that either.
But God saved me. I was already saved eternally but he saved me from an unfulfilled life. My favorite saying of Jesus has always been the shepherd analogy of John 10:10
"A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life—life in all its fullness." (NCV)
Like all new things God does, he started by changing me first. It took repentance, pain, and more discipline and obedience than I was used to (it’s a story for another time, but an important one). Because then I was ready to hear the new thing that God had for me.
Through a breakout session at Exponential (a church planting conference) I was turned on to the idea of discipleship and missiology. My spirit immediately recognized that there was something more holistic and slightly closer to the New Testament than what I was practicing.
I researched, read, and simply had my eyes opened to what God was already doing. God put some good books in my way. I found an old one my father-in-law gave me and it had the word discipleship in it so I started reading. Little did I know that it was a classic by one of the foremost guys, Bill Hull. Hull has been way ahead of modern discipleship movement and my favorite of his is, Jesus Christ: Disciple Maker.
Then the action. I was blessed enough to be at a great church in a free environment. So if I felt God telling me to shift my priorities I could. And I began investing heavily in 5 high school guys. I had never been in an official discipleship relationship, and never been around anyone who had. That's not the same as no one ever discipling me, but still...that didn’t matter, because God was in it.
Not only were the dudes who were in the group great guys, but they really took to the extra attention. And now all of those tasks that I hated because I didn’t know how they benefited the kingdom became useful for in-the-moment teaching.
When I prepped a food eating challenge for youth group I had the guys help me and I explained the tie in to the sermon to them. When I had to clean up after a service I made them help and modeled service. Instead of writing my own talks, I asked them to share sometimes. And all of a sudden this completely unintended side benefit, not only did they grow by serving alongside me, but my work load often was easier because of it.
We got together officially once a week, and saw each other more often than that. We did life together. I'd visit them at work and they'd mostly act like leaders at youth group.
I did my best to prepare those guys to disciple other guys less spiritually mature than them. And we brought on a couple other adults to try and do the same thing. Some stuck, some fizzled. Sometimes a leader and a discipler didn’t mesh. Often times I couldn’t communicate the breadth of the vision.
It's a slow often painful process. It's been 5 years since God first started awakening me to it. We've had a lot of failure as the world would judge it. Then again Jesus' earthly ministry would have been a failure by American standards. But discipleship is a work of God. If I fulfill my role, the change/progress/discipleship is on Him.
So I had vision now. Even in relative failure, following God is better than sloughing through success.
And despite all of the setbacks, friends who left, disciples that didn't quite catch on...even as I edit this I am encouraged by one of those five high school guys who is now at Johnson University, interning at a church and has started a discipleship relationship with 2 other guys there. Kyle Klee's story next time.