The Lord’s ways are mysterious. The sabbatical was only days old when the bishop with authority over me asked that I take up the Rectorship of a large parish that had lost its rector. I did not want to do it. The memory of my struggles in the last large parish and the desire I had to stay focused on new church planting work was uppermost in my mind. But prayer convinced my wife and I that we were to go. The leadership of the parish knew they were getting a missionary priest, not a pastoral one, but their need was acute, and they consented to the bishop’s wishes. The parish was averaging over five hundred on a Sunday, and they had had a succession of rectors who were theologically evangelical. The ground seemed to me ripe for bringing them to understand disciple-making discipleship, and disciple-making mission.
Five wonderful and fruitful years went by quickly. Changing the parish culture to a disciple-making one went slowly but steadily. My senior Associate was deeply committed to the principle, and he began to reshape many ministries to that biblical pattern. I was able to give attention to the global missions side of parish life. We reshaped our parish expectations for the missionaries supported by us, by making this question central: “Are you planting new Great Commission Congregations?” The leadership also embraced what had become the global church planting ministry of NAMS, at least so far as financial support was concerned. I concluded my season of ministry as agreed, and was delighted when they elected my young colleague to be their next rector.
During those years I had begun finally to realize how unhurried must be the ministry of making new disciples. A wise and loving older pastor in Colorado had become my discipling mentor, and we talked for an hour by phone each week. I was steadily applying the learning I was receiving from him to my work with men and women in the parish and the NAMS Community. Our new focus was beginning to reshape our global impact and our local one. At the center of the NAMS ministry was the continuing relationship with younger men that I had been discipling for many years, and soon it began to be very clear that it was time for them to take over the global work. At the end of five years Cynthia and I returned to the coastal town in South Carolina where we had lived twelve years earlier, and a wonderful new phase of learning ensued.
My priestly ministry was not often needed in the principle parish, but the opportunity to disciple men was everywhere. With a dear friend who also was passionate about disciple-making, a new chapter unfolded. Soon I was working with several dozen men who wanted to learn to be disciple-making men, developing a regular retreat ministry associated with that effort, and helping to start a once a year ecumenical disciple-making gathering. I felt as though I was finally understanding the basics of being a disciple-making man, not as a teacher but as a doer. I seemed at long last to be about to graduate from my education begun in 1988. I could truly say that disciple-making had become my life, from which there would ever be a retirement.
Next Week: When the Foundations are Destroyed.