Breaking Up with the Groups/Discipleship Pastor

One of my mentors, Brad Waggoner, recently told me that he noticed a major shift in church ministry in the early ’90s when “senior pastors of churches broke up with their discipleship pastors/ministers of education and ran off with the worship pastor.”

Of course, a senior pastor does not need to choose between the two. Both the worship ministry and the discipleship ministry of a church are vitally important to the health of the church and the maturation of believers.

But in many cases, the senior pastor has left the groups/discipleship pastor. In many contexts, love for the discipleship ministries of the church has grown cold. The big gathering, with her flashing lights and carefully designed stage, has been a seductress to some.

And this is tragic. It is tragic because God matures His people in biblical community. It is tragic because the ministry of a church must be much more than a gathering on Sunday.

How do you know if your heart has left the discipleship ministries of your church? Perhaps these questions will help:

  • Do you spend disproportionately more time in conversations about the weekend worship service than about the discipleship process at your church?
  • Do you know what is being taught in your groups or classes?
  • Do you treat the teaching your people receive outside of Sunday—teaching done by others—with the same concern you view “the weekend”?
  • Is it enough to “have groups” or do you want your groups built on the solid foundation of the Word?

A church exists to make disciples. Clearly this mission includes the worship gatherings, and it definitely goes beyond them.

Please note I am not suggesting “the weekend gatherings are not important” or advocating senior pastors “break up with their worship leaders.” Nor am I saying that discipleship does not occur in worship gatherings as the Word is taught and people are brought into the presence of Jesus. I am, however, saying that it is tragically unhealthy when the discipleship ministries of a church are minimized and neglected.


  1. Tom says

    I’m a worship pastor (along with a few other hats) and I’m not sure I fully get the analogy, but the message here is right. Resource the artists to support the pastor’s vision, but rally the team at large on real discipleships. Every ministry in the church has to be built on that brand of community. Love it guys!

  2. says

    Fascinating observation! My first question is, “Is it true?” – is there a verifiable trend. But my second question is, “What do we do?” I spent 15 years as a large church discipleship/small groups pastor and always felt we didn’t get the airplay, attention, or resources we needed. Now that I’m a large church senior pastor I know why. The demands on quality for weekends grow and intensify. This is a great tension to discuss!

    • Andrew says

      Demands of quality are the problem! Those demands are not from God, but from consumers. God demands the pursuit of righteousness, not quality of show.

      • Bill Search says

        I’m not confusing the “What” [pursuit of Christ] with the “How” [quality]. Any missionary communicates the Gospel contextually – and excellence and quality is the context in the US. But The purpose behind the excellence is to clearly communicate the Gospel of Jesus.

  3. eric says

    Tom — thanks for looking past the analogy :)

    Bill — It is good to hear from you on both perspectives. I definitely don’t think “down with the weekend” is the solution, but a commitment to the total ministry of the church — not only the weekend.

  4. says

    I know at Rolling Hills we’re deeply concerned with both. Without a high impact weekend experience is essential to set tone and teach/lead the majority who call Roll Hill “home”. But we’re very dialed into what we’re calling people to and how we do it. Groups are essential to the process. Without groups you lose accountability, the opportunity to dig deeper, ask questions, feel more connected, etc. And I imagine I would reflect the opinions of a lot of your readers – we want transformation not simply information. It is helpful to have a groups base as a senior pastor since it provides me able stories of the value of groups helping the teaching ministry play out.

  5. Donnie says

    Good post! As a teaching pastor the reality that Theology drives and ends in Doxology the failure to focus on the less ‘glamorous’ side of discipleship actually becomes a danger to both. I think it was Steve Timmis use this, “our Sunday mornings do provide an environment for those drawn into the gathering but it is our small groups that provide the environments for those drawn into community.” To neglect either IS to neglect both. Thank you Eric!

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