By Justin Rossow
At the outset of His public ministry, Jesus began His mission by calling disciples: “Come, follow Me.” After the resurrection, when Jesus gently brought Peter back from a place of denial, He reiterated that call: “Don’t worry about that other guy [John]; YOU, follow ME!”
For three years between those two calls, Peter and the other disciples lived their daily lives with Jesus. They ate with Jesus. They walked with Jesus. They listened as Jesus taught, as Jesus debated, as Jesus healed, as Jesus prayed.
For three years, these disciples followed Jesus wherever He went and got in on the Kingdom work Jesus was doing. They experienced first-hand joy, frustration, confusion, understanding, failure, death, and resurrection.
A disciple is most fundamentally a follower: someone who walks close enough to their Rabbi day in and day out that they start thinking, praying, and believing like that.
Discipleship is messy. Discipleship is life-on-life. Discipleship is a daily grind. Discipleship is challenging and deeply fulfilling. And discipleship changes lives.
St. Luke—Ann Arbor has begun the process of filling a full-time discipleship position for the purpose of providing site leadership and helping create the kind of environment where the people of St. Luke are more and more intentionally following Jesus in their daily lives. And we are adding a part-time position to help support youth and youth families as they seek to follow Jesus together.
Let me share some of the background. St. Luke Lutheran Church made a decision to become a multi-site congregation. Years into this endeavor, in 2011, a Transition Team was created to help provide some direction and basic parameters for moving forward in mission and ministry together. The work of this Transition Team was overwhelmingly approved by the congregation in a Voters’ Meeting.
At that time, a vision for future staffing was developed, one that called for a site leader at St. Luke and at least two full-time site staff: a Minister of Discipleship and a Family Life Minister. Already back then, this vision for staffing incorporated the idea that faith formation happens most significantly in daily life: the congregation can resource and encourage growth, but discipleship happens in the home (and at school, and at work, and at the Tap Room, and …)
Faith formation happens most significantly in daily life.
Byron Porisch, who had originally been called to focus on youth, began to expand his ministry to include aspects of Discipleship and Family Life. When Pastor Jack Mackowiak concluded his interim ministry, Byron also took on more and more leadership of St. Luke–Ann Arbor. He still worked with youth and partnered with Paul Easterday (Family Life) from Living Water and Janette Haak (Part-time Children and Family) at St. Luke.
When I took the call as pastor and site leader of St. Luke–Ann Arbor, Byron was supposed to be my primary partner in ministry, helping to provide leadership and implement a broader ministry of discipleship and family life along with his work with youth and youth families.
Of course, it didn’t happen that way. I was honored to walk with Byron and his family over the course of this last year, but it was not the path we had expected.
I remember, shortly after the diagnosis became clear, Byron was able to express both his confidence in Jesus and his thankfulness; Byron was thankful that if he had to endure cancer, God would allow it to happen only after St. Luke had a new pastor. Byron preached for the last time on Life Sunday; I was installed that afternoon.
Byron was able to express both his confidence in Jesus and his thankfulness.
After Easter, the St. Luke multi-site leadership began prayerfully to consider how we were going to move forward with staffing. We acknowledged at least one full-time vacancy and began to imagine what our next steps might be.
We knew we weren’t going to be able to replace Byron; that wasn’t our intention. But we did want to continue moving in the direction Byron had taken us by proving site leadership, supporting discipleship, and caring for youth and youth families.
Over the summer, in conversation with St. Luke Elders and multi-site leaders, we began to work on a job description. We considered the needs of the St. Luke site and the context of the multi-site. With some leadership and expertise in Family Life ministry and the Family Friendly Partners Network already present in the multi-site, it seemed like Discipleship was our greatest need.
At the same time, it was very clear that we needed to support and care for our youth and families at the St. Luke site. For a while we tried to define one position that could do both, at least until we could afford to move forward with a second position. But the more we struggled with that idea, the more we felt like we were short-changing either discipleship or youth, or both.
So in the process of defining the job description, the pastor team took another look at the needs of the St. Luke site and the resources we have available to us, both in terms of people and finances. The result is that we are moving forward with two complimentary but distinct positions: a full-time Minister of Discipleship and a part-time Youth and Family Minister.
We imagine it working like this: the Minister of Discipleship will help provide leadership for the St. Luke site and promote an environment of discipleship growth for all ages. Things like new member assimilation and even a discipleship-focused confirmation process for youth and for adults would benefit from this leadership.
We are moving forward with two complimentary but distinct positions: a full-time Minister of Discipleship and a part-time Youth and Family Minister.
To help implement and encourage growth in discipleship in specific areas like families with young children or youth and youth families, the Minister of Discipleship will partner with two part-time positions: a Children and Family Minister and a Youth and Family Minister. In this way, the Minister of Discipleship would certainly provide some direct support of youth, children, and families, but also have a team to help implement a vision for following Jesus that includes daily discipleship in the homes and neighborhoods of our congregation.
Right now, both of the part-time positions are filled. Our Sheepfold Coordinator, Janette Haak is providing leadership in the area of children and family discipleship. And Andrew Osborne, who was brought on to serve during the youth vacancy, is currently working with others in the multi-site to help lead youth and youth family discipleship at St. Luke.
In the current plan, Andrew would stay on in this part-time role even after we hire a full-time Minister of Discipleship. We have begun conversations about the future with Andrew, and we will know more in January about whether or not we will need to fill a part-time vacancy in youth and family discipleship next fall. Either way, we are thankful that Andrew will continue to help provide continuity in the transition.
With this plan in place, a Call Committee has been formed and asked to bring to the congregation the name or names of people we might call to serve in the role of Minister of Discipleship. We are looking for someone with leadership experience, discipleship expertise, and a heart for helping others know and follow Jesus. As far as we can tell, the right person could be a DCE, Youth Minister, Family Life Minister, Pastor, or other leader who has the right kind of heart, training, and gifts.
We are looking for someone with leadership experience, discipleship expertise, and a heart for helping others know and follow Jesus.
If you know of anyone that might be able to help lead and serve in this way, please fill out and submit the Candidate Information Form, found here. We will submit a list of names provided by the congregation to the Michigan District shortly after December 15.
And please keep this whole process in your prayers. We are asking God to bring us just the right person at just the right time to help us get to know Jesus better and follow Him in the daily grind of our everyday life.
Following Jesus is at the heart of what discipleship is all about. Jesus’ final command was to disciple the nations. We want a leader who personally follows Jesus and can help others do the same.
I preached the following sermon at a pastors conference last year in Texas; it speaks to a discipling approach to congregational ministry.