Sometimes clarification of spiritual terms is necessary:
For those in the Body of Christ who are unfamiliar with the term "keep watch over your souls"....I'm sorry about that. It’s a crying shame that this all so important function of Christian spiritual leaders so often goes neglected and unpracticed...
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they KEEP WATCH OVER YOUR SOULS as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
The most important part of this verse is the end...that this relationship and activity is for the benefit of the one watched over...NOT for the benefit of the shepherd.
The fact is, ALL spiritual leadership is intended by GOD to benefit the ones led more than the ones who lead. Jesus modeled this so well for us.
He paid a heavy price for the benefit of those who would follow Him.
(Sadly, in much of the modern Body of Christ the institutional systems of the world control Christian organizations – churches and ministries alike – and the people being led really ARE there for benefit of leaders.)
It is not so with Jesus and His faithful and obedient followers.
The term "keep watch over your souls" means to literally "lose sleep over" - an image of a vigilant shepherd...guarding, guiding, teaching those entrusted to him by the Lord. This is a relationship of sacrifice and is WONDERFUL to practice and experience as both the one watched over and the one watching over.
It doesn't seem to be practiced very much by the former because it takes humility and transparency and honor.
It doesn't seem to be practiced very much by the latter because it is hard, usually doesn't yield much in the way of financial profit, takes time and patience and focus and prayer and tears and is not simple
It’s NOT good business to watch over souls because you can't practice it effectively with large groups of people.
The business model currently used by most of the Church worldwide isn't set up for leaders to spend lots of time with the very few people God assigns to them to watch over. Instead it exists largely as an effort to teach (not disciple) large groups all at once and to amass financial and people resources, theoretically to advance God’s Kingdom.
THIS is why most Christians have never heard the term "keep watch over your souls": true discipleship is all but non-existent in the Church today.
However, a FEW do practice it...and these reap the rewards of this first part of the Great Commission:
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20)
(Note that despite the fact that the KJV mistranslates the Greek word for “make disciples” as “teach”, the terms “make disciples” and “teaching them” are completely unrelated and are translated correctly in virtually all other versions of the Bible.)
Making disciples can never be accomplished via sermons and Bible studies and retreats....all of which I have done in my years as a Christian. They are great things to do....but are NOT discipleship.
In the Fall of 2017 the man who watched over my soul, pastored and discipled me, Don Gunter, died and went on to be with the Lord.
Recently, a woman I pastor and disciple locally looked at me intently and asked me, “What will we do when you’re gone?”
I responded, “One day I WILL be gone. When I am gone you will be…..me, so to speak, working through you.”
Before you think I was being blasphemous please let me explain (which I did for her and her husband who were in that room spending time with me.
I went on:
“I am me and you are you. The most valuable aspect of me is Jesus Who lives inside me through His Holy Spirit in MY human spirit. In the 30 plus years that I have been a Christian I have actively sought to learn as much as I could and practice it.
I’ve had a number of godly men and women in my life and part of what you know as ‘Mike McInerney’ is a compilation of who I was in Christ plus everything God put into my soul through all these people.
The last time I saw Don Gunter I carried a message to him from Gary Sturgeon, a man I watch over and disciple. Gary wanted me to tell Don that although he had never met Don, he felt he knew Don because he had experienced so much of Don through me.
I believe that Gary was completely correct in that and it pleased Don to know he would still be touching other people through me and others he pastored and discipled long after his death.
The truth is that everyone who has received from me has also received from my wife Laurie, from whom I have learned so many things.
Everyone who has received from me has also received from Don Gunter and his wife Shari, Brother Bo Adkison, Roy and Sandy DeLoach, Roy Faubion, Pastor Wallace Henley, Dan Ledford (the man who led me to Jesus), Paul and Patsy Bellington, Sam Soleyn, James Jeter, Rick Denson, and Dr. Neil Anderson. These are just a handful of so many leaders in the Body of Christ.
Everyone who has received from me has also received from all my favorite Christian authors: Leonard Sweet, Dan Allender, Dr, Neil Cole, George Barna, Frank Viola, Francis Chan, Robby Gallaty, Dr. Michael Brown and many, many more.
Everyone who has received from me has also received from everyone I have ever watched over and discipled.
To be true, we can go back through all these people and we will eventually find ourselves praising God for the way Jesus has discipled us, ultimately, through HIS original disciples.”
THIS was God’s plan all along.
It was NOT for us to be taught in huge groups so much as it was for all of us to be discipled personally by someone who knew us.
I paid attention in church and went to Bible study, conferences, retreats, etc…and I took something from all those people who did those things.
I spent a LOT of time with Don and Shari Gunter, Dan Ledford, Bo Adkison, Roy and Sandy DeLoach, Paul Bellington in particular.
They were practicing discipleship with me. A LOT of how I practice my relationship with Jesus comes as a direct result of being DISCIPLED by these people.
Real discipleship is time consuming…even though the time usually seems to pass quickly. It requires transparency and humility.
Real discipleship is up close and personal...and delightfully hard,
challenging and rewarding.
REAL discipleship is worth it!
May ALL Christians become hungry to practice this all important COMMAND of Jesus....which was one of the last things He COMMANDED prior to ascending into Heaven after entrusting the Church to what?
To make DISCIPLES!!!
Not students. Not members.
May the Lord reveal to you who HE has chosen to disciple you.
Think outside the “box” (the Christian institutions with which you are most familiar) because God isn’t limited to the nearest organizational charts.
Spend time with that person and open your heart to receive from him or her.
And, may the Lord reveal to you who YOU are to watch over when the time is right.
Spend time with that person, give them what the Lord would have you share from what good things have been placed inside you and open your heart to receive from him or her.
May the Lord build His Kingdom in and through you…despite any systems that may exist in our current world that satan intends to impede that.