One of the most challenging situations in my counseling ministry is trying to place counselees in a long-term, “sanctification context” in their local churches where they may receive ongoing care from competent disciple-makers.
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Counseling is a temporary solution to a long-term problem. The long-term problem is our toxic and adversarial relationship with sin that is juxtaposed to the ongoing solution found in progressive sanctification within a local church. Though counseling can bring temporary relief while setting a new trajectory for your life, it is a short-term relationship with a counselor in a temporary context.
Sadly, sin never takes a holiday, and we’ll always be fighting it until we see Jesus, which is why we need a proactive plan for sanctification that is long-lasting and practical 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.
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
#1 – Modeling Your Teaching
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 in Philippians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians.
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. – I Corinthians 11:1
It would be a tragic misstep to teach those under your care without modeling your instruction. One of the questions that I ask pastors is, “What do you want your congregation to be?”
Whatever those things are, you must model it before them. If you do not model what you are teaching, your instruction will suffer and it will be harder for your disciples (church) to mature.
Here is a “conceptual video” of how the leadership of the church can identify and isolate potential leaders while providing contexts for them to mature in their leadership gifting.
#2 – Contexts Don’t Change People
The “formula” for leadership development is (1) modeling, (2) instructing, and (3) creating environments where your 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.
There are many other contexts where change can happen, too. E.g., your network of friends, hospitality, ministries of the church, small groups, and Bible studies. I’m sure you can think of more.
An essential key regarding these “contexts” is that they are not the “means” in which sanctification takes place—having the right programs do not bring change. They merely provide opportunities for transformation to happen.
A context is no more significant than the depth in which the people who participate in those contexts are equipped and envisioned to do the work of sanctification within the context.
Nearly every week I am told by a struggling counselee how their small group does not have a “sanctification view” in it. They talk about their frustration with the superficiality of their group, 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.
#3 – People Change People
Though people may learn things while in the contexts provided by the church, the issue for many Christians is not a lack of learning but an inability in applying the information practically. It is rare for me to tell folks within my immediate sphere of influence 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.
#4 – Equipped Leaders Equip
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 very likely be tempted to get frustrated with the people within your care because of the lack of transformative, sanctification care.
Jesus repeatedly took advantage of the contexts that He was in by helping others grow in their sanctification. Regardless of the setting, He used the moment to bring personal, effective change into people’s lives. The contexts provided an opportunity for transformation, but without His intentionality, there would have been no transformation; it would be just another religious event.
Call to Action
- Is your church a caring community of intentional Christlike disciple-makers? Explain your answer.
- Are you quicker to grumble about the problems or bring solutions by your example of how discipleship care should happen?
- Is there a “reciprocality-effect” for discipleship, where the care goes “both ways” rather than just you doing all the care? Do folks “give and receive” when it comes to disciple-making?
Also published on Medium.