There was a time in my ministry when I believed that I was responsible for everyone’s spiritual growth. In that season, I believed that a pastor was the resident spiritual expert. Meaning, I had to know the most, always be right, and always have the answer to every question. I viewed pastoral care and counseling as advice-giving. And let me tell you, I was really good at giving advice, even if people weren’t looking for it. Whether or not my advice was any good is a different question, but I could give it like it was nobody’s business.
At this time in ministry, I believed that this was disciple-making. I was the disciple-maker, and my job was to tell people how to live their lives. However, what I quickly discovered was that this version of disciple-making is impossible and exhausting!
The other thing that I discovered was that I was losing influence in people’s lives. I began to notice the more unsolicited advice I gave, the more people discarded it.
The Voice People Need to Hear
In John 10 Jesus uses the analogy of a shepherd and sheep to describe the relationship He had with His followers. He says,
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (v2-5)
This passage clearly emphasizes the need for a follower of Jesus to know and recognize His voice. As a pastor, I am called to shepherd God’s sheep. The Apostle Peter receives this call directly from Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection (John 21:15-17). In his first letter, Peter also calls the leaders of the church to shepherd God’s sheep. But he also makes a clear distinction that we are called to be under-shepherds and that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
Therefore, the role of the disciple-maker is not to be the primary voice in a disciple’s life, but to help them grow in hearing and recognizing the voice of the True Shepherd, Jesus.
Bringing people to Jesus
One of the verses that helped me understand this was John 1:42. John the Baptist had been preparing the way for Jesus. He had gathered a group of people who were eagerly waiting for the Messiah. He was calling them to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan River. Then one day, through revelation of the Spirit, he pointed out Jesus saying,
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’ (John 1:29-30).
Two of his disciples, Andrew and most likely John the Apostle, heard John the Baptist say this and immediately started following Jesus. After their first day of following Jesus, we're told that Andrew went back to his brother Peter and told him that they had found the Messiah. The very next verse says, “He (Andrew) brought him (Peter) to Jesus” (1:42).
He didn’t give Peter advice on how he needed to start living his life. He didn’t posture himself as a wise spiritual sage. He simply “brought Peter to Jesus.”
Jesus Cares More
The reality of discipleship is that Jesus is the primary disciple-maker. The truth is that Jesus cares way more about other people’s discipleship than I do, and I care a lot. Jesus is more intimately acquainted with their lives and situations than I am. And Jesus longs to lead people in their everyday lives.
Therefore, my responsibility in the process is to create space for people to hear from Jesus rather than me. It means asking good questions that drive people to the Lord to receive answers and then help them process those answers once they receive them. I need to let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit and simply be a companion on the journey with them.
There may be times when it’s appropriate to speak directly into someone’s life, but that should be a secondary response rather than a primary response. Jesus is always present and at work in our lives. The question is, what is He saying? What is He doing? How should I respond?