Motivating Others Toward Vine Work
by Champ Thornton
As the service ended one Sunday during my early years of ministry, I noticed the new couple linger for a minute at their seats. I headed toward them, but got interrupted along the way. After glancing around, the husband and wife slipped toward the exit and walked out. Although this was their first Sunday at our church, I recognized them. We had met before. I knew the couple were visiting churches and I thought they could be a wonderful addition to our church family.
I hurried and caught up with them at their car. “It was great having you here today,” I said in an attempt to spark a conversation. “How was your morning?” “We’d heard about your church,” the husband began. “It’s got a reputation for being a friendly church. But we didn’t see that at all today.” I was stunned. Clearly this couple had left too quickly, before anyone could talk with them, I thought. (Typically our church was a friendly church.) But the husband’s comments had struck close to home. So, after managing a little more small talk before they left, I walked the long sidewalk back into the building.
At that moment, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone: I wanted to lecture them. Deep down, I wanted to make the members of our church family act differently. I didn’t want them to miss these golden opportunities to make new families feel welcome. But the couple was gone and didn’t come back.
Thankfully, the Lord helped me get over my bad attitude that afternoon. However, over the years, I thought about this scenario and encountered others like it. I wondered not only “What can I do to make people more welcoming?” but also, “How can I help them take initiative to disciple others?” Or, really, “How can I ‘make them’ do anything in the vine-work of the church?” And, slowly, an important pastoral question began to take shape in my mind: How do I as a pastor motivate people to move toward others?
As a leader, none of us can just manufacture the responses we want. Of course it would be great if we could press a button and voila!—believers discipling one another—but we can’t drive the sheep. Still, I came to see that there are at least six ways to influence others toward discipleship. They aren’t ingredients in a guaranteed formula, but they are six avenues we can walk, or handles we can grab, in order to encourage a discipleship culture.
As pastors, we can exhort those in our church families. Sometimes we just need to remind men and women what they need to do. It’s our responsibility to open our mouths and call the flock to disciple and serve one another (1 Thess 5:14). As opportunity allows, we should seek to verbally encourage others to follow the Lord and help other people follow the Lord.
As pastors, we must also model a pattern for healthy, discipling relationships. It’s not enough to encourage others to be disciplers. Why should we expect others to do what we are not willing to do ourselves? To influence others toward discipleship we must first show them what it looks like (1 Cor 4:16). We cannot disciple every member of the church, but if we don’t invest in a few, will we see dividends among the many?
Sometimes men and women would like to disciple others but they don’t know how, and all the encouragement and all the modeling won’t provide the support and resources that they need. Discipling seems to come naturally and intuitively to some believers, while others need more guidance (Eph 4:11-12). If the members of your church aren’t engaging with one another, you may want to ask whether your church is supplying adequate training or mentoring.
When discipling isn’t really happening, sometimes the problem is more mundane. Consider this: does your church’s calendar fight against your church’s priorities? If you have a church event or ministry scheduled four or five nights of the week, when will your members have time to engage in meaningful, edifying relationships? Ideally, of course, these scheduled events and ministries ought to be contexts where discipling relationships blossom. But, unfortunately, even good causes can consume all the bandwidth, causing discipleship to suffer (Luke 10:42). Ask yourself: what do we need to say ‘no’ to in order to help others say ‘yes’ to discipleship?
So, when you really want the members of your church to love, serve, and disciple one another, what’s your instinctive reflex? Do you bend your mind toward solving the problem—or your knees? What might happen if we devoted half our meeting and planning time to prayer? Without the Lord’s enablement, all the scheduling, modeling, training and exhorting are just so many gongs and cymbals. Our Lord said, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Prayer time is not wasted time. We cannot compel others to disciple, to force them to do what they don’t want to do. But we can ask the One who can change not only what they do but what they want as well.
Lastly, your love is the measure of your leadership. People will be shaped by what you love. And when the men and women who listen to your sermons don’t just learn the Word of God but behold the brilliance of God in the Word, they’ll be transformed (2 Cor 3:18). Slowly, they’ll come to treasure what you treasure. When that happens, then their behaviors and words and priorities will also follow.
Leaders lead. In contrast, those who demand, manipulate and compel are not leaders; they are tyrants. So, when it comes to leading the church of God, there’s not much we can do to force the flock down the path toward discipleship. But there are deposits we can make, seeds we can plant. And—who knows how, in his time—our Lord may bring forth fruit that will remain.