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Counseling is a temporary relief to a long-term problem. The long-term problem is our toxic and adversarial relationship with sin that we juxtapose to the lasting solution found in progressive sanctification within a local church. Though counseling can bring temporary relief while setting a new trajectory for anyone’s life, it is a short-term relationship with a counselor in a brief context. The problem is that sin never takes a holiday, and we’ll always be fighting it until we see Jesus.
We need a proactive plan for long-lasting and practical sanctification while situated in multiple contexts within a local body of believers. Paul lays out a conceptual plan for how pastors can develop their leaders so the church can mature into the fullness that Christ offers to any regenerated person or group of believers. Here is how he stated it for the church in Ephesus.
And he gave … the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Suppose you’re serious about discipleship in the local church. If so, I trust these four concepts will spur you on to a conversation with others that forms a proactive plan to implement biblical discipleship practices in your church. These concepts are not the final or exhaustive word on this matter, but they can be the beginning of something beautifully transformative in your church. Let’s begin with you, and here are your first four calls to action.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1).
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Step one of this proactive plan is for the church leadership to imitate the ideas they want their people to pursue. Notice what Paul said about the modeling aspect of discipleship in Philippians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians. Teaching those under your care without modeling your instruction would be a tragic misstep. One of the questions I ask pastors is, “What do you want your congregation to be?” Whatever those things are, you must model them before them.
If we do not model what we teach, our instruction will suffer, and it will be harder for our disciples (church) to mature. Check out the “conceptual video” below of how the church’s leadership can identify and isolate potential leaders while providing contexts for them to develop in their leadership gifting.
The “formula” for leadership development is (1) modeling, (2) instructing, and (3) creating environments where potential leaders can develop. The most important of these contexts is the family. Families are the heartbeat of the church; if the families are not humbly pursuing God collectively, as evidenced by incremental changes in the individuals of the family, the church will not mature. Change can happen in many other contexts, too, e.g., friends, hospitality, church ministries, small groups, and Bible studies. I’m sure you can think of more. The fundamental concept to nail down regarding these “contexts” is that they are not the “means” by which sanctification takes place but the environment for change to happen.
Contexts merely provide opportunities for transformation to happen. A context is only as significant as the depth in which the people who participate in those contexts have the equipping and envisioning to do the work of sanctification within those contexts. Nearly every week, someone tells me how their “religious context” does not have a “sanctification edge.” They talk about their frustration with the superficiality of their “context” and desire for someone to help them apply God’s Word in real and practical ways to their lives because it’s not happening in the contexts that the church provides.
Though people may learn things in the contexts provided by the church, the issue for many Christians is not a lack of learning but an inability to apply the information practically. I rarely tell folks within my immediate spheres more about the Bible than they already know. The number one breakdown for them is that they do not know how to take the words of God that they already know and apply them practically to their lives.
They need someone to come alongside them—within these contexts—to speak into their lives in personal, customizable, practical, and biblical ways. The people who work within these contexts must understand that the primary purpose of the contexts is not merely to get together to provide a function but to use the gatherings as opportunities to bring change into the individual lives of those participating in the group.
For example, if you are a nursery worker, you should see your primary responsibility as a nursery worker to speak into the lives of the moms who bring their kids to you. Taking care of the children is the context, but your primary purpose is to speak into the lives of the moms who come to you. If you do not see a calling any higher than providing a context for the church—babysitting—you could likely be tempted to get frustrated with the people within your care because of the lack of transformation you see in their lives.
Jesus repeatedly took advantage of the contexts that He was in by helping others grow in their sanctification. He saw the context as an opportunity to do soul work on anyone who would listen to Him. The environment provided an opportunity for transformation, but without His intentionality, there would have been no transformation; it would be just another religious event. Regardless of the setting, He used the moment to bring personal, effective change into people’s lives.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).