The Difficulty of Balancing Ministry and Discipleship

April 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

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).

I tend to think of Ministry and Discipleship in two different grids:

Ministry Discipleship
Reactive Proactive
Low relational investment, relative degree of anonymity High degree of vulnerability, involves a long term commitment
Meets immediate, felt needs Transformational and replicating
Often leads to immediate results and draws crowds, results in addition Often painstakingly slow with a few, but results in multiplication

The question to ask, I think, is why is balancing them so difficult?  Why is it so tough to remain faithful to the model of discipleship which Jesus demonstrates?  Here are a couple reasons that distract me:

  1. Ministry often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds (for examples from Luke, see Jesus casting out demonsJesus healing people, and Jesus’ miracles).
  2. Discipleship often is painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christthen immediately denies him, and the disciples making mistakes).
  3. 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).
  4. 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.  To do one to the exclusion of the other is to be patently unbiblical in our approach to either.

Ministry, however, 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 should utilize 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 that Jesus did not simply minister to the crowds, but instead remained faithful to the twelve. 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!

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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