I’ve been a pastor for over a quarter of a century now. I can’t remember when it started, but I’ve seen myself referred to as a “veteran” pastor (translation: old). I’ve made many of the mistakes. I have the scars. I’ve learned some of the lessons.
By God’s grace, I hope to finish well. That means watching my life and doctrine. It means discharging my responsibilities faithfully, including the task of discipleship.
Easy to Ignore
Pastoring is multifaceted. Few roles demand so many things. We pray; we preach; we shepherd; we lead. One blogger has identified 16 often-ignored roles of a pastor. The complex nature of pastoring is what makes being a pastor so challenging and rewarding.
It also means that it’s possible to pastor and ignore crucial roles.
If you are approachable, preach fairly well, and know how to manage an organization, you will do reasonably well as a pastor. It’s possible to be known as an effective pastor while ignoring the very purpose of the church: discipleship.
I know. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. Don’t let it happen to you.
In 2011 I attended a workshop for pastors in transition. At that conference I met an older pastor. He had planted a church that had grown quite large, and he’d just retired. I asked him what he was planning to do in his retirement. His answer shocked me. “I’m going to take about six months and try to figure out discipleship,” he said. He had ordered the books. He’d blocked off the time. Now that he retired, he was planning on figuring out how the church goes about making disciples, growing followers of Jesus Christ.
Think about this.
- Imagine an accountant telling you at retirement that he wanted to learn addition.
- Imagine a retiring auto mechanic telling you that at retirement that he planned to learn about internal combustion.
- Imagine a retiring hockey player tell you that he wanted to learn how to skate.
For a pastor and a church to not make disciples is unbelievable, when you think about it. Someone’s said, “For a church to be deficient in its discipleship is to be deficient in its fundamental reason for existence” (Transformational Discipleship). It’s like a doctor not knowing how to use a stethoscope, or a referee not knowing how to blow a whistle. It’s inconceivable.
And yet it’s also very understandable. It’s possible to run a church that looks successful, and fail at the very reason for which the church exists. It’s possible to hold church services and to run programs, but to fail to make disciples.
If you’re a pastor, please join me in figuring out discipleship now. Don’t postpone it until the end of your ministry. Don’t settle for ministry “success” that doesn’t include an intentional strategy for discipleship.
Gospel for Life exists to help pastors and individuals experience discipleship. We have a desire to come alongside individuals, and help them build habits that help them grow (including the habit of participating in the life of a church). We also want to help pastors develop an intentional strategy for discipleship. We’re using G4L Discipleship in churches, and seeing how it helps with discipleship, and we’d love to help you as a pastor.
We love pastors, and want to help as many pastors as possible to disciple their people now. Don’t settle for ministry that doesn’t include discipleship.
G4L Discipleship is a seven-week program. You wouldn’t think that we would spend one of those seven weeks on rest. And yet that’s exactly what we do, and for good reason.
We’re convinced that rest is a biblical and a theological issue. We’re also convinced that one of the enemies of spiritual growth is excessive busyness and an inability to slow down. Rest is a key theme in Scripture, but it’s often neglected.
Let’s look at just one area of rest: sleep. Sleep matters for two reasons: a practical one, and a theological one.
A Practical Look at Sleep
Sleep is crucial. It helps maintain health, and helps improves performance and mood. Conversely, a lack of sleep has devastating results on health, performance, and mood. “Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of infection, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and infertility,” writes David Murray in Reset. “Two days of sleep reduction lead to a more than 20 percent reduction in attention spans, reaction times, strength, stamina, accuracy, and speed.” We simply function better when we get enough sleep.
John Piper recommends sleep as part of a good spiritual regimen:
For me, adequate sleep is not a matter of staying healthy. It is a matter of staying in the ministry. It is irrational that my future should look bleaker when I get four or five hours sleep several nights in a row. But that is irrelevant. Those are the facts. And I must live within the limits of facts. I commend sufficient sleep to you, for the sake of your proper assessment of God and his promises.
Theologian Don Carson gives similar counsel:
If you are among those who become nasty, cynical, or even full of doubt when you are missing your sleep, you are morally obligated to try to get the sleep you need. We are whole, complicated beings; our physical existence is tied to our spiritual well-being, to our mental outlook, to our relationships with others, including our relationship with God. Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep— not pray all night, but sleep.
Sleep is one of the most practical things we can do to function in every area of our lives, including in our walk with God.
A Theological Look at Sleep
According to David Murray, sleep is also a theological issue. “Few things are as theological as sleep,” he writes. “Show me your sleep pattern and I’ll show you your theology, because we all preach a sermon in and by our sleep.”
For example, when we pride ourselves on little sleep, we’re proclaiming the following truths:
- I don’t trust God with my work, my church, or my family.
- I don’t respect how my Creator has made me.
- I don’t believe that the soul and body are linked.
- I don’t need to demonstrate my rest in Christ.
- I worship idols.
“What sermon are you preaching in your sleep?” he asks.
So, Get Sleep!
We’re finding that in today’s culture, it takes deliberate action to get the rest and the sleep we need. Because it’s so important, we must take this action. It’s more important than we realize.
We can learn to see the importance of rest. We can gain biblical wisdom about rest. And then we can learn practices that help us build more rest, including sleep, into our lives.
We’d love to help you develop habits of rest in your life. We’ve created a program called G4L Discipleship that combines gospel, coaching, and habits to help you experience transformation in every area of your life.
Sleep is an important part of our lives. It’s also an important part of our discipleship. Rest well!
When my wife, Charlene, started working for a nutrition company, I was skeptical. I had never heard of them before, and the idea of online nutrition coaching seemed a little sketchy.
I didn’t change my mind very quickly. I have a radar for gimmicks, and it was searching for anything to confirm my distrust.
Charlene began to take coaching with them, and I saw her change. Later, I also took their coaching program, and I too began to change. We received habits to build in our lives, supported by daily lessons and great coaching. The content was top-notch, and it was doable and helped build the right mindset to succeed.
One day I realized: they do a lot better job of discipling people than the church. We began to think: How can we begin to apply their approach to help people apply the gospel in their lives?
Helping People Change
We began to analyze what the nutrition company did. We signed up for their coaching certification. Charlene also continued to work there and learned by watching them.
We realized that they had worked hard at a few things:
- They delivered world-class content written by experts in the field.
- They helped people build habits in a sustainable, doable way.
- They provided coaching using great coaching principles.
They’re very good at what they do. (Their name is Precision Nutrition, in case you’re interested.)
We began to think about this: How could we deliver great biblical and theological content, help people build good spiritual habits, and provide great coaching? We couldn’t get it out of our minds.
In late 2015, Charlene realized it was time to try to apply what we’d learned. She quit her job as an accountant and took the first steps to create Gospel for Life.
In 2016 we launched our beta version of Gospel for Life Discipleship. In early 2017, we launched G4L Discipleship to the world for the first time.
We’re continuing to expand the curriculum, and have great plans for the future. We want to see people change, and to give churches tools they can use to help people apply the gospel to every part of our lives.
We learned the power of great content, achievable habits, and supportive coaching from a nutrition company. We’re excited about helping people and churches apply these same principles so that many can experience transformation in every part of their lives.
It’s remarkably hard to change. A recent article in The New Yorker shows that facts don’t change our minds. Studies show that many patients don’t change their lifestyle after suffering a heart attack or stroke.
So how can we change?
Paul Tripp, co-author of the book How People Change, has good news. “Not only can people change, they do,” he says. Here are a few insights into how people change.
Focus on the Heart
Change isn’t just a matter of new facts or behavioral changes. Rules and discipline aren’t enough. Real change requires a change of heart. The Bible identifies the heart as the control center of the person. It’s the motivational center of each person. The heart is the source of all of our thoughts and actions. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
To really change, we need God to give us a new heart, something that he’s promised to do (Ezekiel 36:26). God changes us to the core of our beings.
Don’t Change Alone
To really change, we need outside help. We need others to encourage us, support us, and hold us accountable. We need allies who are committed to us, and who will both support us and challenge us.
We also need God’s help. God promises the Holy Spirit, who remodels and refashions us.
We’re never left to change on our own efforts. We need others, and we need the Holy Spirit.
Identify and Deal With Roadblocks
What stops you from changing? We all have sinful tendencies that get in the way of change. While we’re all different, we tend to have a lot in common when it comes to these roadblocks. Pride and selfishness, for instance, are common to all of us.
It’s important to know what tends to hold us back. It’s also important to know how to handle these roadblocks. The Bible tells us to practice daily faith and repentance. We can:
- identify areas where we’re likely to struggle
- avoid things that strengthen our temptations
- strengthen ourselves through new habits
- motivate ourselves with the warnings and promises of the Bible
Habits like reading or listening to Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and worship help shape our hearts. They help us access God’s resources to create positive change in our lives.
For Further Reading
Change is difficult, but with God’s help, it is possible.
If you’re interested in exploring more on how to change, you may find the following books helpful:
We are, in many ways, the product of our habits. It’s crucial, then, that we build habits that help us become the people we would like to be.
This applies in every area of our lives, including our spiritual lives. Godly people develop habits that put them in the path of grace, and that enable them to practice disciplines that help them grow.
How can we learn to build good habits?
Books on Habit
One of the best books on habits I’ve read is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg explains how habits work, how we can develop them, and how to break bad habits. If you’re looking for a clear and entertaining book on how habits work, The Power of Habit is a good one.
Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is a great book for those who struggle to build habits. Rubin covers four kinds of people: upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels. Each type of person needs a different approach in building habits.
If you’re looking for a book on how to apply habits in our walk with God, then you’ll enjoy Habits of Grace by David Mathis. It focuses on three key habits: hearing God’s voice (Word), having his ear (prayer), and belonging to his body (fellowship). It’s a fresh look at an old topic: how to build good spiritual disciplines in our lives.
James K.A. Smith wrote a helpful book called Desiring the Kingdom in 2009, but it’s a bit of a challenging read. He’s written a more recent book, You Are What You Love, that translates his ideas to a more general audience. His insights on how we’re shaped by habits is profound.
B.J. Fogg is a professor who specializes in behavior design. He runs a fascinating project called Tiny Habits. Over 55,000 people have participated in his free training program. He regularly runs new sessions, and you can sign up on his website to participate.
David Mathis has written a great post called How Your Habits Show and Shape Your Heart. It’s a great introduction to habits and why they matter.
It’s important to learn about habits for your own sake, and for the sake of helping others. Habits are helpful in shaping our hearts, and revealing what we love.
Our program, G4L Discipleship, is designed to help you build habits that help you experience transformation in your life. If you’re interested, sign up for our email list so you can hear of future sessions.
Learning about habits, and building good spiritual habits, is crucial for our lives. We all have habits. Let’s work on building habits that help us become who God wants us to be.