Discipleship and Leadership in Indian Churches
Dr. Daniel is the Pastor of Hebron Indian Pentecostal Church in Houston, TX. He previously pastored India Pentecostal Churches in New York, and Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala in India. He is a graduate of Hebron Bible School, Kerala, India, (1963), University of Mysore, India (Master of Arts), and Serampur University, India (Bachelor of Divinity). He was ordained on July 31, 1970, by the Presbytery of Indian Pentecostal Church of God (I.P.C). He has served as a teacher and the registrar of Hebron Bible College, Kerala, President of Pentecostal Young People’s Association (Youth Ministry of I.P.C), and as the chief editor of Zion Trumpet, a monthly Christian Journal. He has written many articles for various Christian magazines, and a commentary on the epistle of Galatians. He and his wife, Kunjamma, were married in 1969 and have four children: Grace, Stanley, Stephen, and Nancy.View all articles by John Daniel, D.Min,
The focus of this chapter is to discuss some of the socio-cultural and spiritual reasons involved in the lack of disciple-making among the Indian Pentecostal churches in the United States. Practical and biblical patterns of disciple-making are explored.
In Indian churches, traditionally the laity never involves itself in the activity of disciple-making. Many members of these churches believe that the disciple-making process is solely the responsibility of the pastors. In traditional Indian Christian churches there are many customs and manners adopted from Jews and Hindus, which were later claimed as orthodox Christian tradition. These churches give more importance to these traditions than the Word of God. Although Indian Pentecostals have given greater importance to the Word of God, they have not completely discarded these traditions either. The lack of understanding or comprehension of the meaning of the word disciple is the root cause of this double standard.
It is evident that Indian Churches have neglected the final commission of the Lord Jesus Christ that tells us to, “Go and make disciples” (Matt.28: 18-19). Even though there were Christians in Kerala, India, from the first century AD, there is no evidence of any missionary activity by them to reach other areas of the Indian sub-continent. Since the local systems rather than the power of the Gospel dictated the lifestyles of these Christians, they were reluctant to interact with the low caste people in Kerala. Similar to the “high class” Hindus, who maintained a strict caste system and untouchability of those in the lower castes, the early Christians also, maintained these differences. Even among the modern Indian Pentecostals, where most of the converted Christians can be found, this social evil is still prevalent.
Until missionaries from England and other parts of the world arrived and ministered in various parts of India, no missionaries from Kerala went to evangelize other parts of India. Most of the Keralite Pentecostal pastors who went to North India worked mainly among fellow Keralites. This trend has continued in the United States where the believers are more active in their regional and domestic affairs than religious activities. Carnegie Samuel Calian, the author of Today’s Pastor in Tomorrow’s World, comments, “their [the laity] primary mission during the week is to earn the bread and butter for the family and to help maintain the church as a character building institution for their children, and as an activity center for the women.”1
Many lay people do not feel that they are a part of the Christian ministry. They consider the clergy to be appointed for the Lord’s ministry and therefore, it is their responsibility to maintain the spiritual growth of the church. Furthermore, they have the misconception that the laity exists solely for providing for the material benefit of the church. They consider their purpose to help the church with contributions and offerings. Their attendance in church, therefore, is a matter of convenience. These attitudes prevail mainly because the pastor does the entire ministry rather than training the people. A caring pastor must train the people to become disciple-makers. The common problem among Indian Churches is a lack of skilled lay disciple-makers.
The word disciple is very much connected with the idea of teaching and learning. John A. Davis defines a disciple as, “a pupil or scholar (Matt. 10:24); especially the follower of a public teacher, like John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14). A person taught of God (Isaiah 8:16). It is used of all of what ever age who in faith received the divine Master’s instruction.”2
Though preachers often use the word disciple in their sermons, it is rarely defined and taught seriously. Jesus Christ, who is our example, deliberately concentrated His ministry on a few people. He showed special interest in training a few selected disciples. Disciples are those who are loyal, learning followers of Jesus Christ. According to Vine, Unger and White, “A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher.”3 So, a disciple imitates his master to finally be like his teacher (Matt. 10: 25). Jesus expected the same principle from His disciples, and invited them to follow Him (Mark 2:14).
A disciple is a cross bearer. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt.16: 24). It is implied that if a disciple is to be a loyal follower, he must deny himself. This can be called the affective aspect of discipleship. If he is a teachable follower, he must be willing to take up his cross, that is, the cognitive aspect of discipleship. According to Kuhne, “A disciple is a Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit.”4
A disciple discerns his true self and maintains balance between intellect and emotions. He has to achieve inner strength to face difficulties confronted in everyday life, in the family, in society, and in the ministry. As he is to serve others, he needs a renewable inner strength to be able to strike a proper balance between the material and spiritual aspect of life. This can be obtained by the help of the Holy Spirit through learning the Scripture, spending time in prayer, and fellowship with the saints.
Furthermore, a disciple is characterized by abiding in a fruit bearing union with Christ, by having a continual relationship with Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourself to be my disciples” (John 15:5, 7-8).
Disciple-making is an essential aspect of the last commission of the risen Christ who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples . . .” (Matt. 28: 18-19). To effectively fulfill the call of disciple-making, a pastor must also serve as a coach. He must step out from behind the pulpit and train the people to apply his teaching. As the ultimate aim of training disciples is to replicate the master, they must be taught the skills of disciple-making.
In order to develop strong ministry skills, the minister must allow trainees to practice their skills. According to Bill Hull disciple-making trainees must have the foundation for ministry skills: “Character, faithfulness, and suitability are the foundation on which a disciple-making pastor can build.” Training, however, is not limited to the classroom experience. Certain skills for disciple-makers are the following: (1) effective communication of the Scripture, (2) the ability to manage, (3) the ability to motivate and inspire, (4) the ability to counsel others, and (5) the ability to correct others.
The word “teachable” is very important in discipleship. Jesus selected teachable people to follow him. There are people who are not willing to accept new ideas and thoughts. But a disciple must be willing to learn from the Word of God. According to David E. Schroeder, who is the director of Higher Education for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, there are three reasons why people do not accept teaching wholeheartedly. He explains it using the parable of the sower. In this parable Jesus tells His disciples why good seeds do not bear fruit. Schroeder says, “The problem is in the soil.”5 Some seeds fell on the hard soil that was too hard to penetrate. According to him, the hard soil represents prejudice. The second reason is the rocky ground that denotes personal preferences. Though the seed sprouts quickly, the roots never fully develop. The third reason is that the ground is thorny, meaning people are often unteachable, or are preoccupied with other things. Jesus explained the thorns as, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches.” This represents our preoccupation with material security and status.6
Though Protestants believe in and teach the priesthood of all believers, they rarely practice this theory. To bring this theory into practice, the disciple-making pastor must commit himself to the understanding of the priesthood of all believers. The clergy must be willing to invite the laity to serve the Lord within and outside the church as co-pastors. According to Calian, “One way this can be brought about is through a shift from a paper theology to practicing theology of the priesthood of all believers.”7 A strong church will encourage its members to serve as co-pastors to develop mature believers and disciples in the church.
To understand current leadership issues within Indian churches the reader must understand the background of the formation of and, subsequently, of the institution of leaders within these churches. During the 1960’s, many young men from Kerala, India came to the United States for theological studies. Since they lived in different cities they could not establish any common Keralite churches. As a matter of fact, their purpose was not to establish churches but to establish themselves in America. As foreign student visa holders, they had great difficulty obtaining jobs and had many financial problems.8 In the 1970’s a crucial shortage of nurses existed in urban hospitals in the United States. Nurses were recruited directly from Philippines and India.9 These nurses were able to bring their husbands and parents. Many of the student visa holders who were in the US already married these immigrant nurses and thus become immigrants themselves.10 They started small congregations to worship the Lord in their own mother-tongue. These congregations appointed one person, who could lead a meeting and give exhortations, as their pastor. During the week, all the members of the church including the pastor would work, and on Sundays the pastor was their leader. And by 1991, according to P. S. Philip who did a study on the “Beginning and Growth of Malayalee (Keralite) Pentecostals in North America”, there were 8000 members in a total of 140 Indian Pentecostal churches across the United Sates. 11
These small congregations had many limitations: (1) the members were not all from one organization or denomination; (2) since many wished to go back to India after a while, they never felt the need for an organized church; (3) they could not afford to appoint a full-time pastor; and (4) the members wanted to send their tithes and offerings to their parent organizations and needy people in India. For these primary reasons Indian Pentecostals never established strong local churches, strong leadership, or strong disciples.
Indian Churches face a real leadership crisis today. Although there are many pastors and Christian workers, none are properly trained to meet the needs of the American immigrant society, especially second-generation Indians born and brought up in the United States.
There is an old saying that no church or organization will rise higher than its leadership. According to Ephesians 4:11-13, “It was he [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It is clear that the purpose of the five-fold ministry of the Church is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Perhaps the greatest challenge and responsibility of a pastor is to equip the saints for ministry. Today most pastors deliberately ignore this purpose of their call.
Indian Churches and their pastors must understand that a pastor is God’s gift to the Church; the Church is God’s gift to the world! The Pastor should be building mature Christians with the goal of multiplying witnesses in the world.12
A wise church administrator’s responsibility is not to do the work of the church, but to train the whole church to be involved in effective Christian witnessing.13 If we agree with this assertion, I fear that Indian Churches have no such leaders. Our
Pastors are afraid of encouraging a young man or woman to develop his or her talents inside or outside the church. David Mains wrote an article in Leadership where he mentioned his four greatest ministry mistakes: (1) while pastoring, I often allowed myself to fixate on issues; (2) I was overwhelmingly naive about certain social problems; (3) in encouraging the gifts of the congregation, I minimized my leadership role; (4) I feared failure so much that I held onto Church too tightly.14
We are continuing these mistakes. We have to unleash the Church so that it may fulfill its call and ministry. Why are the so-called leaders not training their members for the ministry in the church? It may be because of their ignorance and fear.
Moses, the greatest leader of Israel, after crossing the Red Sea, served as both the legislative and judicial leader. It was usual practice for the people to line up before Moses from morning till late in the evening to have their problems settled, and to know the will of God. When Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, saw what Moses was doing for his people, he said, “What is this you are doing alone for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all those people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:14). Then following Jethro’s advice, Moses “chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:24). He trained them by instructing them in the precepts and the laws of the Lord, and appointed them as judges.
We can say today that Jethro was teaching the art of delegation. When he suggested this principle to Moses, he had two reasons. The first reason was: “you will only wear yourself out.” The second reason was: “you cannot handle it alone.” It is advisable for any pastor to delegate the responsibility to men of ability, honor, and fear of God. If selection fails, this method will also fail, so select faithful men who are accountable. In this way, the leader can accomplish much work without overly burdening himself. All pastors/leaders must understand that they cannot handle the Lord’s work alone, because it is a corporate work. If a pastor is ignorant of this fact, he will ruin himself and the church under his care.
While many leaders are ignorant of delegation and accountability there are others who are afraid of delegating any work to anybody. They are not sure about their own ability. So they think that if they entrust responsibility to another person he will do it better and threaten their role. Secondly, they are not sure about their position. They are always afraid of others because they think they will pull them down and take their position. These are clear evidences of the lack of leadership qualities. Kenneth O. Gangel, the author of Feeding and Leading, suggests we have to learn from the Lord how to learn, and we have to learn from the leadership of the Lord how He led.15 All leaders must learn Christ-like leadership. Our Lord said, “I am gentle and humble in heart;” this was the leadership pattern of our Lord Jesus. This was a call to the restless leaders to find rest in their leadership by carrying the light yoke of Jesus (Matt.11: 25-30). His leadership pattern was a servant leadership, which the prophet Isaiah explained in chapters 42-53. The prophet introduced the servant, “Behold my servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth” (Isaiah 42:1-3). Quoting Isaiah in his gospel, Matthew testified that Jesus was the gentle and meek servant (Matt. 12:18-21). Therefore, “gentleness is a biblical mark of the Christian leader.” 16
Jesus gave us the understanding of His leadership pattern: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We do not serve the Lord today by offering an animal sacrifice, but we serve Him by serving others. LeRoy Eims, the director of worldwide evangelism for The Navigators, says, “The leader must offer his own life on the altar of God to be consumed in the flame of God’s love, in service to others.”17 Jesus’ leadership was a servant leadership, which was in direct contrast to the most secular leadership patterns. When there was a dispute among the disciples about who was the greatest among them, Jesus explained His leadership pattern by saying, “The kings of the gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves . . . Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22: 25-27). What a difference in today’s leadership and the leadership of Jesus!
Lack of Unity Among Churches
Although there are many churches in every city, they lack unity among them. Church growth is taking place by transfer and biological growth. There is competition among churches to get members. Since these churches do not get new souls, they steal sheep from other churches. This is the main cause of disunity and unrest among the churches. Even the churches of the same denomination fight against each other. Many times when someone plans to attend a certain church, pastors and believers from the competing churches discourage him with rumors about that church. Eventually he decides not to attend any church. What happens here is instead of making disciples, they become disciple killers. Many Indian churches are currently trying to unite together under the banner of their parent organizations in India or the US. Although this can be useful, it will not help in getting all Indian churches to work together. The urgent need of the hour is to make these churches ready to work for a common purpose, that of disciple-making. For this work to be successful all pastors must observe at least the following ethical practices: (1) Do not interfere with the internal problems of other churches. (2) Do not induce or encourage the members of other churches to visit or join your congregation. (3) Do not visit members of other churches without the knowledge of their pastor and without reasonable cause. Every pastor and believer must understand the need and importance of Christian unity. Unity among the believers is the will of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of all saints and He gave the Holy Spirit to the Church so that it would become one body.
Some people think that all Indian Full Gospel churches in a city should join together as a mega church. Even such a merger does not guarantee unity. Different local churches function as different parts of a body, so that everyone is a part of the Body of Christ. This is not a human philosophy but is the desire of our Savior. Jesus, in his famous vicarious prayer in John 17, prayed for perfect unity among his disciples. “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17: 21). According to Wiersbe, “The disciples had often exhibited a spirit of selfishness, competition, and disunity; and this must have broken the Savior’s heart.”18 So He prayed for the unity of His disciples. The believers must love one another and make peace with all saints on this earth. The reason is that we love and trust the same Lord and we are preparing to go to the same heaven.
Often we are more attached and faithful to our organizations than the Church of God, the Body of Christ. Even though the Church can be within that organization, that organization is not the Church, for the Church is the assembly of saints! (A. W. Tozer). There is no religious group or church organization in the world that God will not desert and abandon the very hour it ceases to fulfill and carry out His divine will. Although we need an organization, we must always remember that we are the members of the living Body of Christ.
A Guideline for Disciple-making
If mature Christians are trained they will be able to assist the pastor in the disciple making process. The training of disciples to be involved in the disciple-making program is needed because many members of Indian Churches are not active in church programs except on Sunday mornings. The training of disciples through prayer, Bible study, and meditation will result in their spiritual growth and help them to draw closer to the Lord in fellowship and love. They will lead others to Christ and teach them to become effective disciples. Jesus is the perfect, infallible teacher. So it is best to adopt His methods and strategies to train people.
Skilled disciples can be produced through training. They must have the qualities of a disciple and must be equipped to make other disciples. Jesus and the apostles gave much importance to discipleship. The word “disciple” occurs 260 times in the gospels and in the book of Acts.
Jesus was very specific about the requirements of discipleship. A disciple must be prepared to forgo home, kindred, and possessions for Christ’s sake. He said, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Furthermore, a disciple must be willing to carry his cross (Luke 14:2). When a disciple is taught and trained, he will be like his teacher (Matthew 10:24-25). It is surprising to note the fact that in this great nation of “twenty two million church going evangelicals, only seven percent had taken any evangelical training and only two percent had directed another person to Jesus Christ.” 19
Disciple-making must be the prime responsibility of the Church and training believers for disciple-making must be the vision and responsibility of the pastor. Discipleship means obedience to the Lord, the result of which will be the intentional and systematic process of growth into the image of Christ in total personality and willingness to dedicate time and talents to equip others. I strongly believe that training mature believers to disciple others would ensure the growth of Indian churches as caring, sharing, and loving churches that would produce disciples and fulfill the final great commission of the Lord.
Two Studies on Disciple-making
Rev. Dr. Samuel John of Oklahoma conducted a study on discipleship in an Indian setting. According to him, mentoring is a positive method that any pastor can adopt. He did an experiment in his Bible College in Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. He divided his students into two groups, group A and group B, and administered a test for both groups together to evaluate their biblical knowledge, Christian commitment, prayer life, faith life, and their hunger for souls, using a questionnaire that was prepared with statistical accuracy. Group A then had three months of training from the researcher and he took them wherever he went for the ministry. The method he used was a mentoring system. Group B was kept as a control group. After three months Samuel again administered the test to both groups using the same questionnaire. There was a significant difference in the score between these groups in all categories. Those in Group A had much higher “results”. From this study he drew the conclusion that mentoring is a very good method for developing discipleship quality among converts, so that they in turn could be sent as disciple-makers.
In my own research I found that if pastors were willing to train their members as disciple-makers, these trainees would be effective workers. I conducted a study in which 12 disciples were selected from the India Christian Assembly, New York, for discipleship training. A test was administered on the first day of the training session using a carefully prepared questionnaire, and the scores were recorded. Following three months of theoretical and practical studies, a post-training test was administered using the same instrument that was used for the pre-training test. The comparison of test results revealed several truths and verified that the training had helped the participants grow in all areas of spiritual life.
A Model Program of Disciple-making
From the findings of the above studies it can be inferred that the mentoring method is good for the qualitative and quantitative growth of the church. The pastor is the God appointed leader of the church and he has the God given authority to control, direct and educate the people under his care. A pastor has to establish his authority through a powerful ministry. If God appointed him, He will be responsible in giving the message and power to His servant. For that, the leader must find time to wait upon the Lord in prayer and studying the Word of God. The One who called him will make ways and means to overcome any situation. He does not need to worry that a deacon, or an elder, or an assistant pastor will take his position. Though Moses appointed seventy elders and judges, nobody captured his position. Jethro advised Moses to select capable men . . . and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. “Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you.” Pastor, you do not need to take responsibility for every department. Your leadership will be proved as you handle the difficult problems that are brought to you.
If you are part of an average church of one hundred and fifty to two hundred members, the pastor can select men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, to teach them discipleship and discipling methods. The pastor can teach them leadership, delegation and accountability, prayer life, faith life and principles of communication and counseling. Above all, he should let them know that he trusts them. In other words, the pastor will be the mentor of this selected group and will divide them into small groups for Bible study and prayer. This is the South Korean model, adopted by the Rev. Dr. Paul (David) Yongi Cho. When we say there are hundreds of thousands people who attend his church, we must understand that there are hundreds of pastors, deacons, elders, prophets, and evangelists working together with Cho.
A Call for A National Leadership Seminar
Church leaders must become aware of the need for a national leadership seminar where the ideas of various qualified and experienced leaders may be brought and discussed. There are two factors to consider. First, where does the Christian world stand today? Secondly, where does the Evangelical, Full Gospel or for that matter Pentecostal world stand? Pentecostals have changed a lot in many ways. If we look back to our childhood, our fathers stood for separation, and they had a clear boundary that defined where believers could go. Some people may say it was unnecessary and wrong to draw such a boundary. Some others might say we have gone too far from the original teaching and so we must come back to the place where we started. It is necessary to sit together and evaluate the situation and find a solution for such differences.
As those that have a burden for unity, growth, and disciple-making among Indian Pentecostals take the initiative to organize such a forum, resolve differences, and establish new directions I am confident that Indian churches can achieve great success in the United States.
1. John A. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids,: Baker, 1978), 186.
2. Carnegie Samuel Calian, Today’s Pastor in Tomorrow’s World (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982), 9-10.
3. W. E. Vine, Merril F. Unger and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 171.
4. Gary W. Kuhne, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-up (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 21.
5. David E. Schroeder, “Follow Me” The Master Plan for Men (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 26.
6. Schroeder, 30.
7. Calian, 9-10.
8. P. S. Philip, “North American Malayalee Pentecostal Churches: Beginning and Growth.” Souvenir of 9th Pentecostal Conference of North American Keralites, 1991, 51.
9. Philip, 38.
10. Raymond B. Williams, Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 107.
11. Philip, 39.
12. Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John, Vol.1 (New York: Crossroad, 1968), 306.
13. Schnackenburg, 2: 385.
14. Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Discipleship (Old Tappan: Revell, 1987), 25.
15. Kenneth O. Gangel, Feeding and Leading (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 52.
16. Gangal, 55.
17. Leroy Eimes, Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be (Wheaton: Victor, 1975), 40.
18. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1 (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 371.
19. Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 59.