I made it my priority to bring disciple-making to the center of my ministry in 1988. I had never imagined myself to be doing anything else as a priest before that, but in that year the Lord showed me by revelation that I was making Episcopalians. It was my deep conviction until then that good Episcopalians (think church people) were good disciples. I preached the gospel. I taught the Scriptures. People were invited into the liturgical life of the parish, and many came. The great feasts were celebrated, and the sacraments of the gospel honored and taught. The congregation was increasing every year. But the Lord showed me I was not accomplishing what he wanted. He wanted disciples, and he made it painfully clear to me that there were very few in my parish.
My first attempt to redress the error was from the pulpit. I began to regularly point out that the Final Command of the Risen Lord Jesus to his church was that she should “make disciples of all nations” and that meant beginning with our “Jerusalem” in Knoxville, TN. It was not long before I was being quietly spoken against as “having become a Baptist.” It makes me smile today, but then it was a tragic acknowledgment that many who lived the life of the parish I led were not biblical Christians.
My second plan was to reorganize the small group ministry so that the focus of all groups was on the task of “making disciples who could make disciples.” I recruited many of the most committed in the parish to join this new initiative, and I gave myself to training and launching it. After seven weeks of teaching I had eleven men and women willing to volunteer to lead new small groups (we called them 2:42 Groups, to focus on Acts 2:42-47) in a parish of over one thousand communicants.
One of those who went through the training, but did not volunteer to lead, was a former Senior Warden whom I admired greatly. I was so puzzled at his failure to volunteer that I went to him alone to ask: “Why?” His answer is seared in my memory: “I do not know enough to lead such a group.” This was a man who had served for twenty-seven years in the parish as a trusted and esteemed leader. He was a faithful worshipper and a praying man. He had been on the Vestry multiple times, had chaired a major building project, practiced tithing, and had served as Senior Warden. He had been a senior leader of one of the largest governmental organizations in the world. He had two degrees. He was a retired Colonel in the Army. What was it he lacked?
The responsibility of a 2:42 Leader was to gather up to six others who would meet weekly to “pray and share, study and care,” while learning to be disciple-making disciples. One of those gathered was to serve alongside the leader as an Apprentice Leader with a view to multiply and gather another group in time. My friend had no confidence, after twenty-seven years, that he could faithfully exercise this ministry.
I asked his forgiveness as priest of a church that had so failed him.
Next Week: A Rector Goes Back to Nursery School