The Forgotten Disciple-Making Ally

At a recent Youth Pastor Summit, pastor, speaker and illusionist Drew Worsham shared the story of a Chinese pastor who had visited the US for the first time. At the conclusion of his visit, he was asked for his impressions on the American church. His response reflected amazement, but it was also a subtle rebuke.

“How much they can accomplish without the Holy Spirit.”

Worsham then said this. “If the Holy Spirit moved out of our church, most of us wouldn’t even notice.” Is he right? Would we notice?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been at some very impressive churches that hosted the Youth Pastor Summit in their youth ministry buildings. Yes, these churches have youth ministry facilities large enough to host a conference for several hundred youth workers. Their facilities are impressive. They are larger than most of our churches. They are beautiful, state of the art facilities. One staffer shared, and he wasn’t bragging, that they had spent 23 million dollars on their youth facility. It’s easy for us to get enamored with beautiful buildings, bulging budgets and bustling activity at churches like these. We equate success with how large they’ve grown, the cool programs they run, and how amazing their facilities are. It’s easy to get youth pastor envy  when you walk into a youth building like that. I know nothing about the inner workings of these ministries and their effectiveness in making disciples, but I do know that the size of their buildings and their budgets does not equal success.

What is God’s Spirit doing in these places? Are students’ lives being transformed by the power of the gospel? Are disciples being made and multiplied? Are campuses being impacted? My guess, my hope, is that God’s Spirit is at work, lives are being changed, and the community is being impacted.

It’s worth asking the question though. Is it possible to accomplish everything these ministries have, with their impressive buildings and incredible programs, without the Holy Spirit? Would the Chinese pastor marvel and say, “Look how much they have accomplished without the Holy Spirit?”

Could it be that we’re losing the next generation because all they see is a Christianity full of platitudes and plans but devoid of power? Are they looking for something more? Rather than being entertained, are they hungry for a genuine encounter with the living God? I believe they are!

7% of the next generation globally identify themselves as Christ-followers.

This Barna Group statistic was the focal point of a three day conversation in January among leaders gathered in Orlando from various youth ministry organizations. That statistic is alarming. It should cause us to ask, “Are we losing this generation?” 

Throughout this series, we’ve been unpacking SEVEN REASONS why I believe we’re failing as the church, and what we must do about it. If you missed the first six weeks of this blog series, you can find them here:




We have ignored the Holy Spirit

When Jesus concluded the Great Commission with “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” how was He going to deliver on that promise? He had already told them how.

The night before He went to the cross, Jesus told His disciples this in the Upper Room.

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and to be with you forever- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.”

John 14:16-17 NIV

When Jesus said He would give “another” Advocate (Counselor, Helper), the language He used was that this person would be another of the same kind. In other words, everything that Jesus had been to them and meant to them, this Advocate He was sending would be just like Jesus to them.

This Advocate Jesus was sending was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. This Advocate was already known by them. He had been with them. They had seen Him at work. As they were sent out two by two, they had experienced the Spirit’s power working in them and through them to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead (Matthew 10:7-8).

This Advocate Jesus was sending would come to live in them. No longer would He just be with them when they needed Him. Now He would come to live in them. Forever.

The Model of Jesus

Jesus had already modeled for them what it looked like to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit. It’s strange for us to think about Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, fully God, needing to depend upon the Holy Spirit during His earthly ministry. That’s exactly what Scripture teaches though.

“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.”

Acts 10:37-38

How did Jesus do everything He did in His earthly ministry? He was anointed by the Holy Spirit with power to accomplish the Father’s work and His will. By the Holy Spirit, God (the Father) was with Him.

Luke 4 gives us a great overview of the spiritual dynamic in the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…” Luke 4:1a

Though He was, is, and always will be fully God, in His humanity, Jesus chose to live His life full of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit.

“…left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Luke 4:1b

As God, Jesus would have full authority and ability to go where He wanted and do as He pleased. By doing so, He would of course be operating in unity with the Father and the Spirit, for they are One. In His humanity, it’s clear that Jesus willingly chose to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside.” Luke 4:14

Being filled with and led by the Spirit also meant that Jesus was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. Every step He took, every deed He did, every word He spoke was empowered by the Spirit of God.

Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Luke 4:18a

What does it mean to say Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit? Simply put, in His humanity, Jesus was given divine authority and divine ability to accomplish everything the Father asked of Him.

Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit.

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Luke 4:18b

Jesus talked a lot about being sent. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” His Messianic mission was prophesied, but the specifics of that mission came as the Father delivered His daily instructions by the Spirit. Jesus had been sent. That’s the incarnation. He also lived with an awareness of His sent-ness.

Jesus is our model.

He lived His earthly life in complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He has filled with, led by, empowered by, anointed by and sent by the Holy Spirit.

After reading Luke 4, Peter’s words in Acts 10:37-38 make even more sense. So do His words in Acts 2:22 when he preached at Pentecost.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him.”

How did Jesus perform miracles, wonders and signs? Our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “He performed all these because He is God!” Scripture tells us something different. Yes, Jesus is God! Absolutely!!! But the miracles, wonders and signs were done by God… through Jesus. That “by God through Him” clarifier is an indication that it was the Spirit of God working in and through the Son to accomplish the Father’s will.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to miss this. The same Holy Spirit who had worked in and through Him was now coming to live inside of them. He would be another Helper. The Spirit of God living in them would work through them to accomplish the Father’s will just as He had done with Jesus.

The Mandate of Jesus

It’s often overlooked. I had missed it, but it’s right there. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He promised His ongoing presence through the Holy Spirit. “And surely I am with you always.” Jesus gave the command. Make disciples. How would this be accomplished? With His help. By His Spirit. We need His presence. We need His power. Apart from the Spirit, the Great Commission is impossible.

Consider Jesus’ final words before He ascended to the Father. What did He say?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

There’s a connection here that needs to be made. A connection between the Holy Spirit and witnessing. A connection between the Holy Spirit and disciple-making. It’s an important if-then connection.

If we are filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit…

Then we will be witnesses and disciple-makers.

Now let’s flip that around.

If we are not witnessing and making disciples…

Then we are not filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We cannot say we are walking in the Spirit and not be sharing our faith! If we are walking in the Spirit, filled with and empowered by Him, then He will lead us to make disciples. This is the Father’s will. This is Jesus’ heart.

It’s not meant to be a secret. The Holy Spirit is our source for the Christian life. 

  • It is the Holy Spirit who produces the Character of Christ in us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace….” 
  • It is the Holy Spirit who gives us victory over sin and temptation. “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit….”
  • It is the Holy Spirit who enables us for ministry. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit….” 
  • It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us for mission. “You will receive power….”
  • It seems self-evident, even silly, but it must be said.

Don’t try to do ministry and mission without the Holy Spirit.

  • Don’t walk into and through your day without the Holy Spirit as your fuel.
  • Don’t lead others without first being led by the Holy Spirit.
  • Don’t make plans without the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  • Don’t minister without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.

For me, my dependence upon the Holy Spirit and the practice of prayer are inseparable. It’s been said, “Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.” If and when I am dependent upon the Holy Spirit, it shows up in the frequency and intensity of my prayer. Am I beginning my day with God? Am I inviting His Spirit to fill me, speak to me, and lead me throughout the day? Am I being quiet and still and giving the Spirit room to speak? Am I coming back to God throughout the day, seeking His guidance or help?

The only ways I know to adequately evaluate Holy Spirit dependence in my life or in another’s is by prayerfulness on the front end and by disciple-making fruit in both character and mission on the back end.

I’d be broken-hearted if one of my ministry friends from across the globe visited, was asked for their impressions of my ministry, and said, “I’m amazed by how much Doug can accomplish without the Holy Spirit.” God Forbid! May it never be so!

What next?

  1. First, look in the mirror. Are you modeling a life of dependence upon the Holy Spirit for those you’re discipling and leading?
  2. Evaluate your leadership. Does your leadership team make plans without praying, or merely pray for God to bless the plans you’ve already made? What might it look like to truly lead from a posture of prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit? How would your planning be different? How would your meetings be different? How would your preaching preparation be different?
  3. Teach on the Holy Spirit. Make sure those you are discipling know the role of the Holy Spirit in their life. Make sure they understand how to walk in the Spirit. Help them begin to listen to and be led by the Spirit.
  4. Recalibrate your expectations. Have you somehow communicated that it’s possible to be filled with the Spirit and not be a witness? Be sure to connect the power of the Spirit and the mission of Christ so they are linked. When you walk in the Spirit, you will live on mission. This is where the Spirit will lead you.

There’s a generation hungry to see and experience the real Jesus. They will see Him in and through us by His Spirit. The dynamic presence of the living Christ is made manifest in their midst by the power of the promised Holy Spirit in our life and through our ministry.