He was so passionate about what he was sharing that he could barely get the words out.

In a meeting of 12 members focused on strengthening our congregation’s stewardship, this 40-something man testified to the spiritual growth he has been experiencing over the past f[ive years.  Service to others was a strong impetus to his deepening discipleship to Jesus.

“Your sermons are beautiful…but sometimes they are just  too hard for me…” he said.

I listened for a bit longer, but probably not long enough.

When I did speak, it was to confess my struggle to bring the transforming Gospel of Jesus to over 350 people who are all in different stages in their discipleship to Jesus.  We talked about messages that challenge and messages that comfort.  My friend was definitely in favor of erring on the side of comfort.

After a while I asked, “How then do I challenge you, so that you continue to grow spiritually, if not in the sermon?”

“One to one,” he said.

And he is right about that.  It will be a one-to-one conversation where I remind him that the the hard stuff in sermons and teachings confronts us with our need for Jesus. drives us to trust in Jesus, through and with whom all things are possible.  The impossible becomes possible for us as we learn to trust in and live out of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The more I have reflected on this conversation, the more I realize that many of those in our congregation who are growing the most are men and women, children, teens, and adults who are in one-to-one conversations with their pastors and spiritual friends.  Sometimes the conversations are centered on God’s Word, and sometimes they are devoted to discussions about the joys and struggles in our lives.

It is becoming clear to me that more and more of my time needs to be dedicated to discipling people one-to-one. Today being a pastor means helping people discover the deep love God has for them and how they can access that love through spiritual practices like prayer and service and study.  They didn’t teach this in seminary 30 years ago.  So I am learning along with the people whom I am discipling.

I am learning to listen deeply so that I can suggest the spiritual practices that will transform peoples’ lives.  I am trying some of these practices myself for a season, to understand how they can guide us into discipleship with Jesus.  And I am praying for guidance as to who may be waiting for the invitation to a one-to-one conversation about life in Christ.

Starting with my friend who struggles with the hard words.


May you live in God’s amazing grace+

cross-posted at the Church Doctor Ministries blog