Discipleship is at the heart of biblical leadership. Through the last seven weeks of study, we focused on the leadership principles of stewardship, influence, service and discipleship, but the last is uniquely Christian. After watching and reading the content from various leaders in secular and religious settings, I have come to see these leadership principles are interdependent on one another. A leader’s stewardship is basically taking care of that which does not belong to him. Part of a leader’s stewardship is indeed material things such as budgets and buildings, but I would put forth the most important part of a leader’s stewardship is the people whom he leads. Enter influence. One cannot be in leadership if he does not have followers. Those followers are influenced by the leader in various ways, for better or for worse. A leader who truly cares for his people and any who might follow him or those he influences in the future must himself have a strong emphasis on service. The biblical leader is the one who seeks to serve in order to influence people toward a saving knowledge and relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Enter discipleship. Discipleship is that ongoing relationship of influence and service toward those in the leader’s stewardship. While studying these principles, I also had an opportunity for an ongoing conversation with our senior pastor whom I see everyday and pray with at least twice a week—for each other, our families and the church whom we serve. My formal interview with him on December 2, 2021 was insightful. According to Pastor Kurtis, influence and respect is attained by first following Christ himself and encouraging others in everyday life to “point to Christ in everything.” Ultimately, the Christian leader should influence others by “caring, instructing, and walking with people.” We both agreed that this is a great definition of discipleship and that influence, stewardship, service and discipleship should all go hand-in-hand.
A Leadership Model
Before these studies, I had a general idea of an effective leadership model, given my own past experience and studies in Scripture. However, I have gained much perspective which has both confirmed my choice of language and helped me hone the true meaning of “Empower, Equip, Encourage.” The study of the pastoral epistles was particularly insightful, as I had never read them through the lens of “biblical leadership” specifically. Each letter features one of the four leadership principles prominently, yet discipleship is woven throughout. Thus, everything we do in our lives as Christians should be to the end of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the mission of every true Christian: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus’ disciples were never meant to carry out this mission on their own strength or understanding. They were supposed to keep at the forefront of their minds Jesus’ last words to them, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Mark also points out at the end of his Gospel, “..they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20, emphasis mine). Luke makes it clear at the end of his Gospel and his follow-up account in the book of Acts that this help and power is given through the person of the Holy Spirit. “You are witness of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49). We see this promise fulfilled in Acts 2. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:4). These early disciples speaking in other languages was a means by which to carry out the Great Commission in the midst of the people from various regions and ethnic backgrounds gathered in Jerusalem. Peter got up to preach, saying, “…Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Those who believed, having received the Holy Spirit, then sought to be discipled and eventually disciple others. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47).
Empowerment can also be seen in the pastoral epistles. The beginning of 2 Timothy is a good example of this. A verse often quoted is 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul is reminding Timothy of the source of his power to overcome fear and carry out his calling. The Spirit helps him love others, pointing them to Christ’s love (service). Discipline shares the same root word as “disciple.” Timothy can effectively influence others as he is living a disciplined life, reflecting his own relationship with the Lord. This may entail suffering: “…join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8). Paul encourages Timothy to “guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (1:14). That treasure is sound doctrine by which he is called to instruct others (1:13, 2:2). Paul also reminds Titus that the basis on which the Church is to “engage in good deeds” is the new life in Christ—“washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5-8).
Ultimately, to empower disciples of Jesus Christ we need to point them to the source of power—the Lord himself, through the indwelling and sanctification of the Holy Spirit. If the source of our power is our own wisdom, man-made structures or systems, or human-derived effort, will will burn out. We will also see that our witness, and thereby our discipleship, will be hindered. Submit to the Holy Spirit’s work, and we will see some awesome things!
Spiritual gifts are the primary means by which disciples of Jesus Christ are equipped. Every Christian needs to understand that through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit they have something to contribute to the Body of Christ. “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, emphasis mine). While all gifts are indeed from God, he often uses his people to carry out the equipping through various means.
Through Paul’s relationship and service, Timothy now has something to share: “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Timothy’s gifting was then to be entrusted to others who would disciple still others. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Similarly, Titus was to pass along what he learned from Paul: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you…but as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 1:5; 2:1).
Teaching doctrine, practical instruction for tasks, fervent prayer and sincere fellowship are all important for the work of ministry—the normal Christian life, not limited to those in vocational ministry.
The very fact that Paul took time to write to those whom he had entrusted to the Lord speaks to the power and importance of encouragement. We are not meant to be isolated in the Body of Christ; rather, we are meant to be dependent on one another as point one another to Jesus. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We each have a burden—or many. Christ took our biggest burden—our sins which would have led to eternal condemnation. In doing so, He brought us eternal life which is to be lived now by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul calls “the law of Christ.” Just before this verse in Galatians, Paul was instructing the Church to no longer live “fleshly” lives but to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Thus, we should be looking for ways to not only encourage each other with our words but also to meet each others’ basic needs in such a way that all would be empowered, equipped and encouraged to truly walk by the Spirit. This is a submission to Christ’s love, and it takes us all seeking to serve. This will start with those to which God has entrusted stewardship and influence. As retired Air Force general Loren Reno says, “Seeking to serve takes serving to a new level that will prosper a leader’s organization.” In the Church, this looks like every member prospering in their daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, overflowing in the exercise of spiritual gifts, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:1-7).
Applications for the Church
My hope is that the reader understands the spiritual implications of everything we do, whether or not you serve in vocational ministry. We are all in full-time ministry as born-again believers—Spirit-filled, Christ-following, children of God our Father. The Holy Spirit has empowered us to equip and encourage one another, and discipleship happens in the context of everyday life. We are all disciples of Jesus Christ, and we are called to seek to learn, to seek to serve, and to seek the lost. Who will set an example for the Church and for the world of the power of God’s love to bring eternal life? We are in this together, and the Lord is still working mightily alongside his disciples!
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Senior Pastor for Shoaff Park Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, IN.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!