The summer is a weird time in the life of the church. During the summer, church members usually take week long vacations or shoot off for weekend getaways. Church attendance can be sparse every now and then. So pastors usually slim down the schedule for church life. Admittedly, summertime has a different rhythm than other parts of the year. Here is the danger; it becomes very easy to let pastoral vision and ambition vacation during the summer months.
But, what if you utilized the summer for gospel growth? Not only for yourselves but for the people God has called you to shepherd. Utilizing the summer for intentional discipleship is going to take a plan. When serving as a full-time pastor I found that having a strategic plan for personal and relational discipleship benefited my own spiritual health, as well as those I spent time with. It helped me be strategic with the majority of my time and kept discipleship before me as a focal point of life and ministry.
Have a Strategic Plan for Personal Discipleship
Eugene Peterson once noted that there is a tendency among pastors to treat busyness as a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. We move and breathe in a culture that champions busyness. Many pastors treat crowded schedules and rushed conditions as evidence of importance. Sadly, this is often done to the detriment of a pastor’s own personal devotion and rest. It is very easy to delude oneself into thinking that experiencing intimacy with God by virtue of one’s busyness for Him. In reality, this can be nothing more than religious activity. Without personal spiritual formation any pastor’s heart for God and others will dry up and wither under the heat pastoral activity. The rhythm of summer will slow down the church schedule, so claim that time for personal discipleship.
This summer, develop a plan for your own spiritual rejuvenation. Work through a few books of the Bible, work through solid Bible study curriculum, choose a few books to read leisurely on the porch in the cool night air. Get out of the office for intimate time with God enjoying His beautiful creation. Find ways to breathe in and enjoy the goodness of summer while praying and thinking about your ministry calling and context. Essentially, be strategic about claiming the energy and time to study and pray on a regular schedule, if needed for hours or days at a time (Acts 6:4). Personal time prayerfully reading, reflecting, and communing with God through His Word are vital to a pastor’s health, and by implication, the health of his ministry.
Have a Strategic Plan for Relational Discipleship
The primary means of caring for your congregation comes through the ministry of the Word (Acts 20:31; Titus 1:9; Ephesians 4:11). And the ministry of the Word occurs in formal and informal settings. Many pastors don’t realize that what they do during the week is just as important as what they do on Sundays. And too often, the pastoral life is defined by Sunday’s performance rather than day-to-day caring for souls. Certainly there is a place for formal instruction like sermons and courses, but there must also be informal instruction occurring through relational discipleship. While all Christians are called to admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), those who are pastors are to be especially gifted for teaching and ministering among the church body.
Relational discipleship requires time and intentionality. This is the type of discipleship that happens, as Chris Wright says, in ordinary conversation, in ordinary homes, in ordinary life, from breakfast to bedtime. Pastors, be careful not to ignore this vital aspect of ministry. Set aside time to spend with the people God has called you to lead and serve. Don’t just set time aside, intentionally block off hours in your calendar for relational discipleship. The summer weather allows for various venues for organic, informal discipleship. Find a few men to meet at the park and walk with while discussing theology and life. Organize biweekly cookouts at your home where you invite different couples over to hear about their journey with Christ. Invite a group of men to meet you for breakfast once a week to discuss a Bible study and pray for one another. The options are endless, and so are the benefits.
Be Proactive in Discipleship Strategies
When I served as a vocational pastor, I found great benefit in printing out the church calendar four times a year and developing a plan for personal and relational discipleship for the months ahead. I would gather books and resources that I wanted to either read personally or walk specific people through. I would make a list of men and families that I wanted to get to know better or invest in. I didn’t always do things well or right, but I had a plan and learned along the way.
In 2 Timothy 2:2 we see that the church is to be a learning and teaching fellowship in which the passing on of what we learn is vital to the health and spiritual progress of the body. It’s also clear that pastors are men set aside for equipping saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16). I believe that a lasting ministry is built in the quiet hours of pastoral reflection and in smaller intimate discipleship groups. Pastors, let me encourage you to not waste the summer. Develop an intentional plan not only for personal discipleship, but also for relational discipleship during the summer months – this is where faithful and fruitful ministry often occurs.