What happens when your discipleship pastor goes missing?

Leaders and organizations make decisions all the time. They choose a direction, allocate resources, and execute. Often there are unintended implications, sometimes good and sometimes bad. The unintended implications don’t necessarily reveal themselves immediately but are often more understood as time passes.

In the last 6-8 years, the role of “minister of education” or “discipleship pastor” has been diminishing in many churches. For those unfamiliar with the role, for many years, in churches of 200 or more, a minister of education/discipleship pastor was often hired to lead all the “education” or discipleship ministries of the church. The staff member typically provided direction to the adult groups either directly or through a team and led staff and leaders assigned to other age groups. So in those churches, a kids ministry director/pastor and student ministry director/pastor reported to the minister of education.

Depending on the context, there may be multiple reasons why churches moved away from the role. One, of course, was financial. Some churches and church leaders viewed the “minister of education” as middle management. And we know what happens to middle management in a financial crisis. Instead of leading through the minister of education/discipleship pastor, senior pastors/executive pastors decided they would lead the kids, students, and adult teams directly.

In some churches, the move has worked well. Senior pastors/executive pastors have stepped in and effectively filled the need that the minister of education was addressing. But in many churches, three unintended consequences have emerged.

1) The emergence of ministry silos

The discipleship pastor/minister of education met weekly with the discipleship staff. In healthy environments, the team cared for one another, read and prayed together, and looked to work together. At a minimum, each ministry leader had visibility into the other areas of ministry. With that team no longer meeting under a strong leader’s direction and no longer seeing the bigger picture together, ministry silos developed or were solidified in many churches. Instead of the church feeling like one church moving in the same direction, it feels like several different churches sharing space and officing down the hall from one another.

2) Loss of philosophical harmony

A strong discipleship pastor/minister of education works hard to ensure the discipleship team is on the same page in thinking about ministry (ministry philosophy). The discipleship pastor invests in the team, provides insight and encouragement, and facilitates discussions about the theology and ministry philosophy underneath all the ministry activities. With that ripped out of some staff teams, ministry activity without a coherent and consistent ministry philosophy increased. In other words, without a harmony around ministry philosophy, kids ministries may function with a completely different ministry philosophy than the student ministry or the adult ministry.

3) Loss of continuity

A strong discipleship pastor helps the team think through how people develop at different stages of life, how a child progresses from the kids ministry to the student ministry, and how the family is served along the way. Without philosophical harmony and with ministry silos, transitions from one ministry area to another are more difficult. After all, the ministries within the church are so radically different that it feels like a completely different church.

Surely we can agree that ministry silos foster disunity and that it’s wise for a church to be aligned in their ministry philosophy. Whether a church has a dedicated staff member that fully leads this endeavor or not, churches are wise to invest heavily in the discipleship ministries of the church.