November 20, 2012 — 5 Comments

In an article at Christianity, Kevin A. Miller tells about playing basketball with some younger guys from his church where he serves as an associate rector. He claimed that the young men he played with probably weren’t even alive the last time he had played basketball. Afterward, on his way home he thought about how he had embarrassed himself. He must have looked “painfully old and uncool” to all those young guys who played so much better than he. But the next week one of the young men asked him if he was going to come out and play with them again.

“I, uh, no, I’m kind of busy,” he responded.

“Well, okay, but we’d love to have you.”

Later Kevin ran into another one of the players. “It was great having you play this week. Hope you come again.”

Over the following days several other guys invited him back. Kevin wrote, “I got more positive comments from that lame basketball performance than from most sermons I preach.” He went on in the article to suggests “Baby Boomers tend to ask me about results; ‘How many showed up last night?’ Millennials ask about relationship: ‘Next Tuesday, can you hang out?’. . . While Boomers want church leaders relevant, competent, and efficient, a new generation is looking for a different kind of minister. . . (Millennials) want me to be a spiritual father. For some, I’m the Christian dad they never had. For others, I’m the father figure who’s here now.”

I think Kevin is right when he suggests the Millennial generation is really into relationships. But to a large degree, hasn’t that been true of every generation? Jesus’ success lay in his ability and willingness to build relationships. When the masses heard about his miracles they came to check him out. But they didn’t hang around for long.

Our Lord invested most of his time developing a small group of twelve men. While he spent some time preaching and teaching to larger groups, his most effective, life-changing work was the result of the coaching and mentoring he did with the Twelve. The number of people who were showing up for His revival meetings dwindled until there was practically no one left at the end. I guess Jesus was lucky that he didn’t have to report to a Personnel or Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. No doubt he would have been deemed a failure by most bishops.

But Jesus didn’t judge his ministry by the number of people he signed up. He had a longer term vision. He understood that mentoring and coaching a “few good men” would pay greater dividends in the long run. He understood that people aren’t generally debated into the Kingdom; they are loved into the Kingdom.

In our culture we demand results NOW. I had a friend call me up earlier today who wanted my advice on whether or not to take a part-time position as pastor of a local church. He works in the community and some time back started a ministry in a poor section of the city. He told the church leaders that he would be interested only if they really wanted to become a servant church. I suggested he be very specific about what that meant to him. I also suggested he ask them if they were willing to lose membership before they gained membership. If the church really makes radical changes some people will leave, especially those who have traditionally held the power. In addition, doing ministry the way Jesus did ministry is a messy business. It takes a lot of time and effort and the visible results will not come overnight.

In his Christianity Today article Kevin Miller wrote, “In the 1070’s, when Boomers began to graduate from seminary, pastors began shifting their role from shepherd to leader. Now, of course, the leader-CEO model is rejected by many. But what will take its place?” I was among that group, getting my first seminary degree in 1974. I went on to three other seminaries to do additional study, eventually getting a Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership Development fromPrinceton.

Now, I’m still convinced that the church needs leaders. But what it needs even more is disciple makers. People who will, like Jesus, invest their lives in the lives of others. We need mentors and coaches who will come along beside others and nurture them in the faith. A faith that is caught more than it is taught. God is looking for a few good men and women who will enter into accountable relationships with others in order to grow into Christian maturity.

This is, indeed, a messy, slow process. But it is the way to change lives and develop disciples of Jesus Christ. It works with all generations; its the only way we will reach the Millennials.


Dr. Gary Thompson


I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I write adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church and have been doing so for over 10 years. My passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to help individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.

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  • Joel Hawting

    Great article… thanks for sharing! I like your closing statement:

    “This is, indeed, a messy, slow process. But it is the way to change lives and develop disciples of Jesus Christ. It works with all generations; its the only way we will reach the Millennials.”

    The church for too long has been scared generally of mess – scared of the messy ways that the Holy Spirit shows up at times, scared of messy looking (or inwardly messy) people, and scared of processes like you discuss in terms of discipleship that don’t necessarily fit into neat boxes. You are totally right: we as ‘leaders’ need to enter into the messy, slow process with those under our care or influence. It’s the only way that disciples of Jesus Christ will truly be made! And besides… it’s actually enjoyable to journey through life with people, building positive relationships with them. We were created for relationship with God and others and what better way to develop them with both God and man?

  • DrGaryT

    Thanks, Joel. Great points.

  • Heather Dawbarn

    What I’ve been saying for years! I’m hopeful others are doing the same. Quietly building relationships of trust love and acceptance.

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