For my initial thoughts on the challenges of remaining faithful to discipleship in the midst of ministry, go here. I’d like to expand a little more fully on my thoughts from the last post.
In brief, I’ve found that it can be extremely difficult to continually cultivate the centrality of discipleship, or the process of selectively investing a small number of individuals in order to teach obedience to what Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20), in the face of increasing demands of ministry, or meeting the immediate physical and spiritual needs of individuals as you encounter them.
The question to ask, I think, is why is it difficult? Why is it so tough to remain faithful to the model of discipleship which Jesus demonstrates? Here’s a couple reasons:
- Ministry often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds (for examples from Luke, see Jesus casting out demons, Jesus healing people, and Jesus’ miracles).
- Discipleship often is painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, then immediately denies him, and the disciples making mistakes).
- Ministry tends to involve a much lower level of relational investment, and for both parties there is a relative degree of anonymity (crowds don’t know who Jesus is).
- Discipleship requires a high degree of vulnerability for both parties (Jesus weeps in front of his disciples).
Both types of investment in people are important (see Pauls discussion about he and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3), but the two are designed for the purpose creating multiplying disciples who participate in the Great Commission.
Ministry needs to have an end in discipleship (the public ministry of Jesus reaches its pinnacle in Luke with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ), and discipleship utilizes ministry for teaching (Jesus had his disciples observing most of his public ministry) and as an entry point into relational investment for discipleship (Jesus teaches and performs miracles before calling his disciples).
I find in myself, however, that the design of what I am calling ministry often is easiest to default because it offers quick successes and I can remain fairly distant from those to whom I am ministering. The process of discipleship is exhausting, inconvenient, and difficult, which make it so much easier to simply enjoy the fruits of ministry (just like the seventy-two after returning from Jesus assigned task) rather than labor with love toward replication.
I am thankful, however, that Jesus did not simply minister to the crowds, but instead remained faithful to the twelve, because the movement of the Gospel hinged so much on their faithfulness to replicating disciples. You don’t hear much throughout the rest of the New Testament about the crowds or those whom Jesus did something miraculous, but the disciples were at the epicenter of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Let us remain faithful to a few, while ministering to many, in hopes that God would redeem and renew all things!