Pastor Stephen Martin
If this last year has taught church leaders anything, it is the importance of personal discipleship. In the midst of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political instability and the shuttering of in-person church services nationwide, many pastors were shocked by how little their congregation understood the Bible and are going back to the drawing board, to search for more effective ways to disciple their congregation outside of the conventional models driven by services and events. To be sure, the best way to connect and serve is in-person but what if we employed a more “as you go” approach to growth and leadership?
Jesus’ first disciples were ordinary, everyday people who were so convinced of who Jesus was that they were willing to give up everything to follow Him. To them being a Christian wasn’t about a program or an event. Life was their program and everyday was their event. Jesus tells us this in Luke 6, verse 40 when He says: ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.’
What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying that a true disciple is someone who, over time, looks more and more like their teacher. So, in other words, a Christian is a disciple that looks like and reflects Jesus.
As Christians, we aren’t called to be religious do-gooders but instead to grow up in every way into Christ who is our head (Ephesians 4:15). In every way means in everything. We are to be disciples every day, not just Sundays. Discipleship doesn’t happen in a classroom, it happens along-the-way as you implement what you’ve learned into your everyday life.
What if the thing that we think is missing, isn’t really missing at all? What if instead of adding more activity, we refocus our efforts towards using existing activities as a training ground for more intentional personal growth, as a leadership greenhouse?
As it becomes even more evident that great content, services and events aren’t enough by themselves to build strong Christian disciples, at Vintage Church, we are turning to formal and informal coaching relationships to supplement our in-person environments. As a pastor over the last ten plus years, I have come to the conclusion that no one wants a boss but everyone wants a coach. When you study the Gospels you see the incredible coaching relationship that Jesus had with His disciples. This relationship was built on a new and greater Kingdom that had an entirely different set of priorities and goals than the world.
By observing how Jesus interacted with His disciples, we see several characteristics of a good coach. First, we see that Jesus always taught to the heart. Jesus used every opportunity He had to not just answer a question but to point back to the heart. He did this when confronted with the woman caught in adultery in John, chapter eight. Instead of answering the question asked by the pharisees, “should this woman be put to death?”, He countered with “let the one without sin cast the first stone”. In His response, instead of accusing this one woman of sin, He challenged everyone present to examine their own heart. In doing so, Jesus taught a higher truth than this one woman’s sin, the truth that we have all sinned. A good coach always teaches to the heart.
Next, Jesus always connected the temporal with the eternal. He, on many occasions, challenged His disciples to see their life in God’s plan. When His disciples began posturing for position and title, He taught them the values of the Kingdom of Heaven and how they were different from this world. In Mark chapter 10, Jesus teaches His disciples that the greatest in His Kingdom is the servant. A good coach always connects this life to eternal life. Sometimes we can get so entrenched in the day to day that we don’t make the connection between what we do today and how it affects eternity. I have found it helpful to help Christians develop a personal vision that positions God at the center of every part of life including relationships and priorities.
Jesus also taught a radically different set of values and priorities. In Matthew 25, He teaches the parable of the Talents. In this parable He emphasizes the idea of stewardship and the importance of investing what God has entrusted to us to expand God’s Kingdom. This idea is also emphasized by the Apostle Paul in
1 Corinthians chapter 9, when he teaches that our faith is like a race and we are in it to win it. A good coach helps his players develop a strategy to win. In the Christian life, this is living a life ordered by Kingdom priorities. By creating a plan, we use our time and resources to best steward what God has given us. The most valuable resource we have is time. Jesus understood that He had a purpose and used His time and energy to accomplish what God had called Him to while on Earth.
Finally, a good coach pushes their players to win before the game even begins, in practice. It is through discipline and practicing habits that the player is prepared for the Christian life. Ultimately, you never rise to the occasion, you always fall to the level of your preparation. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane modeled a discipline to prayer that allowed Him to push forward through the pain of the cross through to the power of the resurrection. There is no resurrection without a death, and it is through discipline that the coach pushes the player to their limits to ultimately win in life and faith.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, The Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to discipline their body “like an athlete, training it to do what it should.”
As we move into a new season of personal discipleship, it is important that we coach like Jesus by teaching to the heart, connecting the temporal with the eternal, modeling an ordered life and practicing discipline. These will, no doubt, take many forms but this Biblical model of personal coaching and discipleship can serve as a guide for you and your church moving into the future.
Stephen Martin has been in ministry, serving the local church for more than twenty years. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Stephen began serving in ministry as a teenager and young adult in his hometown church, Church On The Move.
Stephen is passionate about serving and resourcing the local church—specifically church leaders. In 2009, he started One Church Resource, a global, online, sharing network for pastors, church leaders, and creatives.
In 2013, Stephen and his family moved to Texas and planted Vintage Church just outside of Fort Hood, the largest military base in the United States. Today, Vintage Church is a multi-site church of thousands and continues to make a significant impact in the Central Texas region.
When he’s not pastoring people or coaching leaders, Stephen loves spending time with his family, hunting deer, and reading. Stephen’s wife, Kyla, is a Family Medicine Physician and veteran, and they have two beautiful daughters, Adilyn and Breelyn, and two sons, Greyson and Colton.