What is ministry? If you ask that question to ten different pastors in ten different states, you’d probably get ten different answers. However, the bottom line is that all ministry is about making disciples. This means leading those far from the Lord to find life in Christ and developing those who already know the Lord toward a better future. So, if we want to make disciples, and if we want our ministries to grow, we must learn to develop our people for deployment.
As a young basketball player, there was a guy who was deeply committed to me, deeply committed to my growth and development as an athlete, and deeply committed to friendship. Joel and I played together for four or five years through middle and high school. I always looked up to Joel. He was a little bit older, a little bit taller, and a little bit better than me. It was easy for me to be drawn to him, because he had things that I wanted. But, what astonished me was that he was interested and willing to invest in me.
One of my favorite moments came in the locker room my junior year. We had just lost a tough game in the sectional finals of the state playoffs. After each game that season, we circled up, put our hands in, and Joel, our captain, would say something inspiring and call out, “1, 2, 3” to which we would say together, “Team!” That night, in Joel’s last moment to inspire our team, he looked to me and said, “Steven, take us home.” I remember feeling the weight of what he handed to me that night. So, I said something I’d heard him say before and fumbled my way through the whole thing. But, as I look back on that moment nearly 20 years later, it was one of the best lessons on development I’ve ever had in my life.
What did he do that made that moment so significant?
He pursued me in the present with the future in mind. Joel had taken an interest in me years before that moment. He sought to help me become better and invested in me to help me become someone that he could one day hand things off to. In our ministries, we must put in the exhausting work of investing in the next generation of ministry leaders. If our view of ministry is limited to us and what we can and will do in our lifetime or even this season, we are far too self-absorbed and short-sighted.
He led by example. Joel gave up things that he wanted, at times, to spend more time with me in the gym, in the car, and just hanging out. And, in all those spaces, Joel didn’t just tell me things to do or give me helpful tips on how to improve my jump shot. Rather, he showed me what he wanted me to become. As a ministry leader, are you committed to showing those you are leading the path you want them to walk? Do they see in you an example of what you want them to become? Or, do they just see you calling out commands for other people to follow?
He handed things off to me when he could have hogged the glory. Joel was good. He got a lot of recognition for his talent and his potential. But, Joel raised high the arms of others. He shared the trophy. And, a win for him was more than personal acclaim—it was the future success of others. In the ministry you lead, do you seek to self-promote, wave your own flag, and hog the glory? Or, are you setting others up to lead ministry better than you ever have or could? Is it about you or the Kingdom?
Interestingly enough, a year later and one game farther into the state tournament, I had the chance to do the same thing for a guy named Grant. Now, I don’t know if the pattern continued beyond that, but what I do know is that this moment marked me—all because Joel pursued me with the future in mind, set an incredible example, and handed things off at the right time. This is development with deployment in mind.
Today, Joel is an assistant coach for one of the greatest programs in college basketball. No coincidence, his job is recruitment and development of young talent. And me, I’m developing disciples of next generation church leaders. It’s no stretch to say that he’s been developing young guys for years, and part of the reason I do what I do is because of what he did for me. If we don’t develop people, our ministries will die. And, if we’re developing young adults without sending in mind, we’ll find ourselves frustrated when they leave. So, lean in to developing your people for their eventual deployment. This is part of what it means to make disciples.
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live out their love for anything sports and Cookout milkshakes in Murfreesboro, TN where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min. and an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.