Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church. My guest for this episode is Darrell Stetler. He's a small church pastor, he's a father of seven. Yes, seven. And the author of some great discipleship curriculum specifically designed for small churches. In this conversation, Darrell and I talk about the importance of discipleship in the life of the church, how it is central to our role and to our calling as pastors. We will also talk about his specific curriculum, why it's so useful, why I recommend it, and how he even uses modern technologies in a very simple way to keep it up to date and fresh for everyone. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question, can this work in a small church?
Karl Vaters: Darrell, welcome to the podcast today. It's good to have you on.
Darrell Stetler: It is fantastic to be here, Karl, what a great privilege to be with you.
Karl Vaters: Thank you, and a great privilege for us to have you on. We're going to be talking about discipleship today and I'm really excited about it because in recent years, without question, the one aspect of the pastoral role that has been reemphasized to me more than any other aspect of our role is the aspect of discipleship.
Darrell Stetler: Wow.
Karl Vaters: I was taught in Bible college how to exegete scripture, how to teach scripture to others, a whole lot of pastoral role things, all of which are very important. But thinking back - it's been 40 years now, so who knows,my memory isn't what it used to be - but I don't remember discipleship receiving the importance that I think it deserves, and I'm glad to see it coming more into our conscious teaching in the pastoral role. So how does that come about it in your ministry that discipleship has become such a key part of what you do, not just in your congregation, but in the work that you do to help other pastors?
Darrell Stetler: Well, I would like to think that it was primarily a scripture thing. Obviously, the Great Commission is a huge, huge thing that Christ has given to the church. And even linguistically, the main verb in the Great Commission is make disciples. We really ought not to miss this. It's the big E on the eye chart, right? Like, we have to see that one or we've got a real problem. But the truth is that we don't think deeply enough about it, or maybe we weren't discipled as we ought to have been, or we're just not used to thinking that way. We're used to living in a culture where the overall direction of the culture helped us disciple our people, or at least didn't cause quite as much of a drag on it as it seems to more and more in recent years. So I think that partly the revival of that has been a sudden realization, like in the American church, we have discipled ourselves into the mess we're in and we're going to have to disciple our way back out again.
Karl Vaters: I don't disagree with it at all, but that's a really strong statement.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah. It is, and we would all look around and say we're in a mess, and it's easy to blame it on this political party or that political party or whatever, or the sexual revolution or whatever else, post-modernism, whatever boogeyman we come up with. But the truth is that the church of Jesus in America has discipled or not discipled its way into the place where we're at. And so I think that just looking at it as a way that we can take responsibility for becomes really, really important because we can only change the things that we can take responsibility for.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, exactly. It goes back to - I may butcher the saying - but it's a famous leadership saying, Your systems are perfectly designed to get the results you're getting.
Darrell Stetler: I love that, I love that. It's so true, and it's it's unfortunate and painful, but it's true.
Karl Vaters: But what you're saying is true if we take responsibility for it rather than blaming outside forces. And certainly, as you said earlier, outside forces have changed. We no longer have a culture that generally supports the direction we're going in, but if the blame is there and if that's where we affix the blame, it's simply not under our purview then to have any ability to adjust. But if we take a look at our responsibility, then we can make the adjustment to it. So where do you think we have particularly failed with our discipleship over the last generation or so?
Darrell Stetler: Well, there are a variety of ways we've really struggled, and we haven't asked the right questions. Sometimes we've failed to ask the question, What is it I'm really trying to produce? What is a disciple and what does that look like? So sometimes we've just assumed that it was a person who comes to church at least once a week or three times a week or has been baptized or whatever, and we haven't really sat down to take the time to think through, So what is it I'm trying to produce, what would that look like?
I read a quote. Honestly, I had this trouble for years. I've been a pastor since 2003 in the south part of Oklahoma City, and I had this trouble for years where I really hadn't thought clearly about what it was I was trying to produce. I wanted my church to grow, I wanted to collect attenders, but I didn't feel like I was doing a good job at making disciples who could make other disciples. So one day I read this quote by Dallas Willard and he said, Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if He was you. And that, it shook me up because I was like, oh, this is not about information, this is about transformation. This isn't about the head knowledge that I could give to those people, but it's about heart and hands as well. It's not just head, what I know, it's heart, what I love, and hands, the way I act and what I do.
So there's a transformation of habits, a transformation of thinking, a transformation of the things that I love and the things that I hate, more than just, here's a set of tips for Christians or doctrines to memorize. Although obviously doctrine's important, I'm not saying it isn't, but I'm saying the way we are in head, heart and hands all has to be touched by discipleship.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, I think we have split these pieces out. Sometimes in order to understand big concepts, we break them down into doable pieces, but then sometimes we fail to put the pieces back together into the whole again, and we see them as separate. So this whole idea of making disciples, most of the way I perceived it, and I'm gonna say to a degree I was taught, was like we go make converts and then we teach Christians. And then after we've done both of those things, that's what discipleship looks like. But it really isn't because we're not called to make converts, we're called to make disciples. We're not called to teach Christians, we're called to make disciples. Now, the conversion process and the teaching of believers is under the umbrella of discipleship, but if they're not brought back under the umbrella after we separate them out into pieces so we can understand them clearer, then we're really not doing the discipleship properly, I don't think.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah. So in the Great Commission, literally the main verb is make disciples, and the other three verbs are participles, if you're a Greek person. So it's like, while you're going, make disciples, ought to be the way it's translated. But that's like, it's awkward to say in English, and so they don't translate that way. But while you're going, make disciples. And then there are two kind of subcategories underneath that. Baptizing them and teaching them. And so we grab those two things, like baptizing and teaching. And so we're like, Hey, Sunday School program, this or whatever, and we think program about discipleship. But we forget that it says, Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. The point is to teach the people to be fully committed to the kingship of Christ, fully committed to living out that kingdom, and action in that kind of way is - the values of the Sermon on the Mount and all of that - that's got to play into discipleship, and if it doesn't, we're not doing what Jesus said.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Even the active verb in the verse you just mentioned, it's not teaching them to know everything I've commanded you, it's teaching them to do everything I have commanded you. And then of course, if you go to things like the book of James, where if you know it and you're not doing it, you're actually living in self deceit. It's really strong language in the New Testament for people who are filled with head knowledge without the follow through of the obedience and of the discipleship part of it, and I think quite often… I think some of it goes to gifting. Some of us feel like we're good teachers and not necessarily great, guides to walk along with people, and other people are great with people, but may not have what they would consider to be a strong teaching gift. And so we only lean into the half of it that we feel the most comfortable with or the most competent in, but while, yes, different people have different giftings, this isn't about a gifting, this is a command.
Darrell Stetler: Absolutely.
Karl Vaters: It's not make disciples if that's your gift, it's make disciples.
Darrell Stetler: Exactly. That's an important point because sometimes we create an understanding of discipleship that primarily rotates around or orbits around our set of gifts and proprietary knowledge. And I did this for years, where I was pastoring a church, and I made some disciples, I'm grateful for that. God's grace was active and we were making some progress, but I wasn't able to give it away because my strategy for making discipleship was primarily winging it based around my gifts. And so I was like, every time somebody gets saved, you're like, Hey, fantastic, let's go out and meet for coffee, and I'm like Indiana Jones, I'm making it up as I go along. You're so like, Okay, I'm gonna respond to this person, let's jump into the Gospel of Luke and let's start reading, and so call me if you have questions. And I can always answer their questions because I grew up in a preacher's home and I have a teaching gift. But how do you multiply that out and make it possible for multiple people in your church to be able to disciple somebody else? You’ve got to set it free from your gifts, because not everybody has those gifts. You’ve got to create a pathway, you have to create a strategy.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Let's talk about that pathway and strategy. Because you made a statement when we were talking before the podcast, and if I don't get the exact quote, go ahead and correct me on it. But you talked about asking the question, What habits do I want to create, not just simply, What ideas do I want to teach? Break that down for us, because that to me is really central to this issue.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, so it's not primarily about the ideas I want to teach or the content that I want to teach, the facts that I want to teach. A lot of churches, they do get good facts and good theology, and they gather up those things and put them into a membership class or a discipleship class, and they say, Alright, this is it, and this is what it means to disciple people. I would argue all of that information will come along if the disciple has the right set of habits that they're doing regularly. If they are regularly engaging in a certain set of habits, those habits will inevitably result in the continued transformation of that person, and nothing is more proverbial than a person who has all the content, they know all the content and they can spit it back out, but they haven't been transformed.
Karl Vaters: I was reading about a great pastor - it may have been Eugene Peterson, it may have been Martin Luther, who knows who it was - who was saying somebody had come to him and said, I don't feel all that close to the Lord, what should I do. And the response, I believe, was, Say your prayers. The answer was do the stuff. Pick up God's word and read it regularly, engage in your prayers at the regular time. Do the things. We work far more outside in than inside out.
Darrell Stetler: Yes. That is true. And so engaging in those disciplines. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, really similar kind of philosophy. Literally, the Methodist comes from they believed there was a method. And so there's a set of things. I want to be in the places and put myself in the places where God is going to speak to me and continue to transform me. And so what are those habits? Identifying those things helps to create, and which ones would we teach first, which ones would we teach second, what would we teach third, becomes a way of creating a strategy that doesn't revolve around information, like what do I want to teach, it involves what kind of habits do I want to create. And I think that's a really valuable way of understanding discipleship that we're starting to recapture as a church in America, I hope.
Karl Vaters: To me, that whole idea of developing habits rather than simply teaching information means that it can't just be done in the classroom setting. I'm not anti classroom setting, we have classes in our church too. But a lot of times I think what we're calling discipleship is really just simply teaching classes, and people think they're being discipled because they can list the classes that they've gone through. But it's really possible to go through classes and sit on Sunday morning services for year after year, decade after decade, and not be discipled, because at the center of discipleship and creating of these habits, it has to be a mentoring relationship. And one of the things I love about what you do and how you teach this to other pastors is that you really lean into the whole idea of making sure that this is done within a mentoring relationship. So walk us through why that is so important and how that might work itself out in the life of a small church pastor, for instance.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, so one of the challenges with how discipleship is taught in larger churches is that it seems to be that it's taught primarily in programs. It's meetings, we create programs. In fact, we can create so many programs that are really great and they’re quality - large churches can - that it makes it unnecessary to even have friends or nights of the week that aren't taken up with Christian activity. So I was listening to a friend of mine, Dr. Steve Gibson, teach at a discipleship conference several years ago, and he made what I thought was a really profound statement. He said, The dominant model of American Christianity for discipleship is a space suit. He said we want to create a space suit and put people in it as fast as possible or they'll die. And he said, you know what a space suit is, right? It's a self-contained environment that protects us from a hostile world. And so our churches then over the course of decades of this, have become collections of people in space suits, where they come waddling in in their space suit, and they wave at other Christians inside their self-contained environment and they give a few awkward hugs, and then they waddle back to their cars to drive back to their self-contained Christian environment home. And he said that while that has successfully made and sustained some disciples, it isn't the way the New Testament model, mental model of discipleship is. He said the dominant. New Testament mental model of discipleship is a baby born into a family. And we know this by all the metaphors. You look at the metaphors that are used, and you have born again, right? And you have the new birth, and you have brothers and sisters in the faith, and you have fathers and mothers in the faith, and you have drinking milk and you need to grow up and eat meat, and you've got John talking about little children and young men and old men, and all of these things, all these metaphors come back to a mental model, and that mental model is a baby born into a family. So connection becomes so, so vital. They tell us that…
I've got seven children, so this is soapbox area for me, because I'm tired and blessed. My children as they were born, I remember the doctor taking them and immediately - and it actually got more as my children got further, I got further into the seven kids, the doctors were learning more and more about how vital this was - they would immediately take that baby and put it up on my wife's shoulder and put it on her chest, and just let her hold that baby and have as much skin to skin contact as possible immediately. As opposed to, like, grabbing that child and putting it in a hermetically sealed container where we don't have any germs and there's nothing, and we sterilize the living daylights out of it, they literally pipe in all the nutrition and everything's like reach your hand through and touch the gloves. And I know that this kind of stuff may be necessary in some situations in neonatal intensive care. But normally speaking, that immediate contact with a mentor, that immediate contact with a loving parent becomes really vital. That kid has no idea what is going on, but there's something vital happening in their body. There's immune system responses that need that. And then it goes right on, and it just continues. Psychologists tell us that when you hold your newborn and they can barely even focus on you, but you're looking at them and you're looking into their eyes and talking to them, they have no idea the significance of the noises coming out of your mouth, but they're learning things on a really deep level, such as, I am worth looking at. I'm worth looking at. I'm a person. I'm worth speaking to. I'm an individual. And those are things that are so down deep that you can't even touch them. They won't even know how to articulate that until they're in college, but they're learning it. And so in the same kind of way, that high touch environment, so everybody with a mentor, no Christian by themselves, is one of the things I think that pastors have to fully adopt and buy.
Karl Vaters: All the metaphors you're talking about, of course, I've read them just as much as every other Christian who has spent time in the New Testament has read them. Anthropologically, looking around the world, there is no more helpless life form on earth than a human baby.
Darrell Stetler: True.
Karl Vaters: Any other life form on earth, even in its infancy, has a higher level of instinct and survivability than a human baby does. We are completely and entirely dependent upon older human beings for a ridiculously long period of time compared to all the rest of living beings as well. And so even if you take that parallel over, is there a more spiritually vulnerable time in our lives than as a brand new baby in Christ? And that's when we need that nurture more than anything else.
Darrell Stetler: Sure. My encouragement to pastors of smaller churches… That's one of the reasons, I love what you do. I am a small church pastor. I'm a practitioner, not a theoretician. Smaller churches can get in the same, they can fall in the trap of trying to be large churches and trying to act like large churches. And we really ought not to have the luxury of trusting in our programming. We can't just trust in, Hey, I've got a service on Sunday morning and a midweek deal and a Sunday school. It doesn't work that way. Actually, smaller churches are uniquely qualified to do this kind of work. They're uniquely qualified because you can go to a megachurch for a long time and be completely anonymous. You cannot, in my church. It just doesn't work.
Karl Vaters: Even if you want to be, you can't.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, exactly. They might wanna be anonymous, it's not gonna work. So I think that churches, small churches are uniquely qualified to do this kind of thing and to be able to say, Hey, baby born into a family, we can do that. I know what that is. So the value of being able to connect people together and say, you're not gonna walk alone here, we're not going to trust in our programs, we're going to trust in our relationships. To be able to walk people through this is beneficial, not only to the new convert, but it's also beneficial to the spiritual parent. I am a better person for having been a dad. Because it taught me, like I have to do stuff and I have to say things, and then I have to go live it out myself. And I'm a better person for that. And really, the mentoring relationship helps both the mentor and the mentee, and so really, really valuable for church culture.
Karl Vaters: You just said two sentences, it just amused me. They may be the best two sentences I've ever heard to describe parenting. I have to do stuff, and I have to say things.
Darrell Stetler: Wow. That is really profound. I'm just so glad it could be a blessing.
Karl Vaters: Now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First, forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a financial supporter through Patreon, Venmo, or PayPal. Just go to Karlvaters.com/support. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most. Our support link is in the show notes.
Hey, I'm gonna make a switch here that's going to sound potentially it pushes back against what we just said, but it isn't because we're talking about the closeness of it, the relational aspect of it, the mentoring aspect of it, the being involved in each other's lives. And now what I'm gonna bring up is the whole technological aspect of it, because in the work that you do, and we'll be talking about it in a moment, and there'll be a bunch of links in the show notes of how people can connect to your actual material, your material is very accessible to anybody who picks it up. You can know exactly where you are, you know exactly where you're going. There's not a small church pastor who's gonna pick up one of your books and go, Oh, I can't pull this off. It feels very accessible. But it's also very high tech. On every single lesson, there's a QR code to scan, and when you scan that QR code, you go to a page that you've prepared where there's a video teaching and there are links to Bible readings, both audio and visual. It is a very high tech format that you have used, and you've used it extremely well. So let's talk about - I don't want to intimidate the average small church pastors that they have to go as high tech as you have been able to pull off beautifully with your stuff, but why is it important to add the high-tech aspect to this, while we're still talking about a very hands-on relational process of discipleship?
Darrell Stetler: Yeah. So I'm a firm believer that the culture develops these…We develop these things, these habits, these rhythms, kind of cultural liturgies, if you will, where we develop these rhythms and these ways of doing things. And one of the rhythms - since this is audio they can't see me - but one of the rhythms is this right here. Pulling out your smartphone and checking it. What do we do, 50 times, 100 times, 150 times a day? I was not raised up with a smartphone. Nobody was. But the new generation coming along behind us, they are being raised with them. And so we have this routine that we get into to where now I don't go to Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia on my shelf when I want an answer to a question, and I don't go to the Yellow Pages, that's completely obsolete now. I had a friend who's younger than me, he said, back when Yellow Pages was still occasionally being printed, he said, I would just like to thank the Yellow Pages for printing out a big part of the internet for me to throw away. So when we want an answer, we have a routine that we go through. And that routine is you're picking this smartphone up and saying, I'm going to look for an answer. I'm gonna ask Google, I'm gonna ask Siri, I'm gonna reach out and find. So here's my opinion, is that you're only gonna get so far fighting the way that people communicate and seek for answers in today's world. You're only gonna get so far fighting that routine, Fighting that rhythm. And I know that smartphones get a bad rap and they get bad press. I don't let my kids have them until they are at least 16, but having said that, when we're talking about discipling people in the world who are already into that and they're already there, we have to understand that they are already there.
A while back I heard John Piper say, he said something like this, and I'm paraphrasing. He said, Smartphones get a bad rap, but he said, it has never been easier to get addicted to the Bible than it is right now. He said you already have multiple translations in an app, it's continually with you. And he said, Maybe the problem isn't a technology problem, maybe the problem is a heart problem. And I was like, Woo, that's intense and true. And so I've decided as a small church pastor and as a guy that creates discipleship strategy that's doable for small churches, I've decided that I want to engage that. I want to bring that in in such a way that low tech meets high tech, and that tech encourages connection, not discourages it. In such a way that tech is wired into the technology, you need to contact a mentor, you need to reach out. That there's reminders there to do those kind of analog high touch things, that technology can help promote that. So one of the things I try to do is take and offload the teaching and the information into the technology so that pastors can move over and concentrate on their relationship.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. I love that. So speaking of the high tech that you've built into the products that you've created, let's talk about some of that. You have multiple, in addition to pastoring a church and fathering seven children, you've just got tons of time to write some high quality curriculum as well, because why wouldn't you. But you have created multiple different resources. Can you walk us through some of the key resources that you've created, and we'll put links to all of this in show notes, of course, so people can find more. But what are some of the key places that some pastors who are listening now might be directed towards?
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, sure. So I create something that is called the New Start Discipleship Journal. It's a 50-day Bible reading plan for new Christians that features a five-minute video that basically teaches them what that day's Bible reading means. The first 25 days are the highlights of the New Testament. The very first reading is Luke 1 and 2, the birth of Jesus; day two is John 1:1-18, the identity of Jesus; day three is Luke 4:14-44, Jesus begins His ministry; day four is Matthew 5 and 6, the core of Jesus teaching. And each of those has a 5-minute video that says, Here's what this means and here's why it's important in the context of the story God's telling. The second 25 days, the readings are a little longer because they're Old Testament and they're longer stories and that sort of thing. So we go back and pick up the backstory in the second 25 days.
In fact, if your readers are interested, I'll give them a free copy of that in the show notes, like you said, Karlvaters.newstartdiscipleship.com. Literally, that's karlvaters.newstartdiscipleship.com. And that will take them to a place where they can just download an evaluation copy of the journal for free, with no cost at all.
But to learn more about that whole process, after the New Start Discipleship Journal, I go on to something called the Obedience Challenge, which basically focuses in on 90 days of obeying Christ's commands. Since that's how Jesus defined discipleship, I said, Well, I guess I should probably see what He commanded and figure out how I could work people through that. So depending on how you count them, there are 45 to 48 commands of Jesus in the New Testament. I pulled them out and did a three-minute teaching video on each one and just walked through 90 days. There's 89 chapters in the gospel, so we did a 90-day Bible reading plan through the gospels. The second step that focuses in on obedience and meditating and praying on that, listening to the Holy Spirit, how can I obey. The whole thing is is connected to video and online experiences as you're talking about.
So continuing right on after that, the baptism challenge is the next thing after that. It's 21 days to get ready for baptism, and walks people through seven days of what baptism means and why it's important, seven days of how to create your baptism testimony, and seven days of teaching through the Apostles Creed, since that's the baptism affirmation in a lot of places. In those daily, we encourage people to pray over friends that they're inviting, and to text a friend, like even right now, grab your phone and text a friend, invite them to your baptism testimony or your baptism service Sunday. So anyway, I love that whole process, and then it just continues on from there and trying to train people how to continue to grow, how to get connected to other Christians. Just a lot of different tools and modules that are part of that journey.
Karl Vaters: One of the top five questions that I'm regularly asked as I speak to other small church pastors is, Do you have a discipleship curriculum that you recommend? And for years, my response has been, Well, whatever works for you is fine because it's gonna be different for every small church. But I've also been along the way looking for answers where I can say, Hey, here's a couple opportunities for you to look at. Yeah, whatever works for you, and what works for one church may not work for another, but here are a couple places that are specifically designed with small churches in mind, and what you do is that, which is one of the reasons I'm so thrilled to have you on the podcast today and to continue to work with you going forward from this point on. Because what you're doing is you're really answering, what you mentioned earlier, and I'm gonna paraphrase you and probably butcher the way you said it, but you said something earlier like what we often do in discipleship is we just piggyback off of our gifts, and this provides a process because most small church pastors, including me, we have certain gifts. It might be preaching, it might be teaching, leading, it might be coming alongside people, but the process gifts are typically not what we're strongest at. That's simply not the sweet spot for most small church pastors. And you provide that in a way that is really accessible, really easy to understand, and that people can really have some confidence in the theological rigor of it as well, without it feeling like… It's not a heavy theology, but it's a strong theology and it's presented in a way both high touch and high tech that people can really get some value out of. And that the people in the church who then become disciple makers can walk through the next generation of disciples with. So I really want to encourage people with that. It's one of the reasons we really are excited about partnering with you on this.
Darrell Stetler: 2nd Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy, he says, The things you have heard from me. So we've got two generations of discipleship right there. The things you've heard from me, commit to other faithful men - or say women as well, in that situation - who are able to teach others also. So you have literally four generations of discipleship in that one verse. And those are people that Paul, it's the last letter he's ever probably gonna write. Like he's about to be martyred. He's never going to meet the people that Timothy's disciples discipled. He's never going to meet them. He has no idea about their language, their proficiency. He has no idea if they can read in the ancient world.
Karl Vaters: And they likely couldn’t.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, very likely. But somehow he knows that what he gave to Timothy can be taught to another generation of disciple, whether they are as educated as Paul is or not, and whether they have the gifts that Paul has or not. And so I think that creating pathway, an entryway and a pathway for pastors that is crystal clear is what it’s going to take to multiply. Otherwise, we'll never be able to multiply. We're winging it every time, trusting in our gifts.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, absolutely. I love it. Again, there'll be more in the show notes and we'll be partnering with you as it goes forward. We're really looking forward to people getting some real benefit out of the resources that you've created, and hopefully even just out of the podcast today, some better understanding. I know you've helped me in some clarification of what discipleship really looks like in the body of Christ. But we're not going to finish there because we have the lightning round that we have to go through first of all, before I'm allowed to dismiss you.
Lightning round question number one. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years, and how have you adapted to it?
Darrell Stetler: Oh wow. Okay. So I think first of all - I’m probably going to have two, two different things come to mind. First of all, I think that the smartphone era in social media, that would be thing number one, is just this always on, always connected. It's changing the culture in a major, major way, and it's having tremendous impact. How many, a billion TikTok users now or something like that, and billions of people on Facebook and things. It's changing us. Not always for the better, but it definitely is a huge, huge sea change in the way that we have to navigate, figure out how to navigate that. So personally, I've just decided that I'm going to go along with it and use it as best I can. There's three ways that churches can respond to things that in the culture. They can either reject it, receive it, or redeem it. And I think that if we reject some things just completely out of hand, we wind up isolating the gospel and walling it off from what's going on in the culture. If we receive it, we run the risk of just complete syncretism where we value the same things that everybody else values. I think we’ve got to redeem it. So how much glory and truth to Christ can we pack into 240 characters or whatever it is on Twitter? And how much beauty of Jesus can we lift up? How much truth from the word can we put into the things that we say? And it has been a struggle for me. I've had to adapt some things and stop saying political stuff. And by the way, Karl tweets every day. I don't know everyone is following Karl on Twitter, but every day he tweets the verse from Timothy about, Don't involve yourself in stupid arguments. What are you up to, like 1,300 days or something now?
Karl Vaters: Yeah, it's in the 1,300’s now.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah. It's true. Like it's still true today. And since the first day that he tweeted that... Do you physically put those in every single day?
Karl Vaters: No, I take one day, one time a month, and I put them out in advance.
Darrell Stetler: You schedule it, okay.
Karl Vaters: It's 2nd Timothy 2:22, “Have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels.”
Darrell Stetler: Well, that's a good way to adapt to the…
Karl Vaters: And what's interesting is people will come back, go, What about this argument? Well, if it's not foolish and stupid, you're allowed to engage in it. That's what the scripture says. Just don't engage in the foolish and stupid ones.
Darrell Stetler: So true.
Karl Vaters: And how do I know if it's foolish or stupid? Well, if it's only gonna end up in a quarrel, then it's a foolish and stupid.
Darrell Stetler: There we go.
Karl Vaters: The verse works the same forwards and backwards.
Darrell Stetler: Absolutely, yeah. So I think that's valuable. The other thing that I think has changed a lot in the last few years -at least, maybe this is just my perception - but political pressures of all kinds have just ratcheted up, tribalism, and combined what I feel like is a profound disappointment that I've had in politics over that time. And maybe this is just me and my own mourning and repenting and being okay with an idol that's been torn down in my life. But the deep discontent and disappointment that I've had over that course of time in politics has raised up for me - and you ask how I've adapted to it - it has raised up for me a deep longing and appreciation for the kingdom of God. I think the kingdom, the idea of the kingdom has never been more real to me than it has in the past few years. And it's been more joy-giving to me than it ever has been before. Like, Oh, there's this kingdom where the rulers are not like this and where it won't stumble and it won't fall and it will not fail. It cannot fail. An unshakeable kingdom. And so that to me has been the way I've adapted to that. And honestly, it's given me great joy to proclaim that, to stand up before my people and say, I am not here coming to you today to proclaim any earthly kingdom or to tell you to put your trust in any earthly prince, but to proclaim to you an unshakeable kingdom that will not fail, and a king that's fundamentally different than the rulers of this world.
Karl Vaters: Beautiful. Beautifully done. I love it. Question number two, What free resource, like an app or a website, has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?
Darrell Stetler: Wow. So there's an app called Smart Receipts. This is like nitty gritty where the rubber meets the road. I use a receipt app because I'm horrible at paper. Like, I don't do paper very well at all and I have a church debit card that I have to use because I'm a small church pastor, and you’ve got to do purchasing and you’ve got to buy stuff, and so I love Smart Receipts. That's worked well for me. There's a pro version you can pay for, but there is a free version as well.
Then, man, the other thing, I don’t know if your guys use Evernote, but Evernote is a really cool tool. I actually wind up paying for the pro version of that as well. But there is a browser extension in Evernote that will let you clip just the text of something into a file, into an Evernote file. And over the last few years, I have filed 700 illustrations, preaching illustrations. Like I'll find a great study or a news article that's particularly captivating or a funny joke, and I'll click the little button and I'll clip that into, and I'll add a few topic words at the bottom. So temptation, Jesus, incarnation, whatever. I'll add a few topic words that I might search for when I'm preparing a sermon, then I'll just click that and file it into my preaching notebook. And so I've got like 700 illustrations now that I've filed, and I use it. It's time to go back. I don't have to remember that, it's always there.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Evernote is really, even the free version, is very robust. And what usually happens, and what happens for me, is I use it for just one or two things, and whatever you discover that works for you, it will do those one or two things really well and very quickly. Like you say, especially with the browser extension on the laptop, the Chrome extension, it just sits there and you do it, you click on Evernote. And for me, it brings up - because I only do that one or two thing, it brings up basically those two things every time, and I just click on it and in two seconds of time I've got this thing saved and now it's searchable in Evernote for me whenever i want to find it.
Darrell Stetler: Absolutely. Absolutely love it.
Karl Vaters: I love the free stuff like that. Great. Number three, What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?
Darrell Stetler: Oh, man. There's so many things that flooded my mind at that moment that have really been transformative to me. But one of them is never let the work of the Lord make you so busy that you're too busy for the Lord of the work. And I think that's valuable because I fight that one all the time. I have to say ouch with that one, because it's a powerful piece of advice. I got to watch my dad, who is also a pastor, by the way. I got to watch my dad love his family really well, and I did not regret that my dad was a pastor, and I talked to other pastors’ kids who did, and I didn't. He was not too busy for the Lord and he also wasn't too busy for his family, and I aspire to be that kind of man. I heard Andy Stanley give a talk a few years ago about leadership. I'm sneaking in two things that are pieces of ministry advice. But he said, you're going to cheat somewhere, you're either gonna cheat - he put two verses together. He said, I want to bring two verses together that are not related. He said, One of them is love your wife as Christ loved the church, and the other one is where Jesus said, I will build my church. And he said, I want to bring those two together and tell you that you can either cheat the wife that the Lord told you to love, or the church Jesus promised to build. And I was like, Oh my goodness. It really was, it's been a foundational thing for me because I can run really fast and I can be very happy working. I love what I do, and I can be very happy working for 10, 12, 14 hours a day, no problem. And to decide that there comes a moment where I have to decide to cheat the church that Jesus promised He would build so I can go love the wife that Jesus told me to love, is some of the most profound, I think, ministry advice I've ever seen.
Karl Vaters: That's great. I love it. And going back just a touch, as a fellow preacher's kid myself, I’ve got to give props to my dad for doing exactly what your dad did. He was always available for us, we never felt at a moment that I felt bad that I was the preacher's kid. And that was a gift he gave to us that we will never, ever be able to repay him for. So yeah, absolutely. From that to the last one, What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?
Darrell Stetler: Oh, goodness.
Karl Vaters: As a preacher's kid, you should have a wealth of these.
Darrell Stetler: I really should. I really should. I have not... Some of it I hesitate to share.
Karl Vaters: Yes, this question has produced a lot of hesitation to my guests.
Darrell Stetler: Yeah, absolutely. I paused there on purpose. I'm gonna share two. I was in a church service at a chapel service at a Bible college, which shall remain nameless, and the guy who was leading the service said there was an optometrist coming to campus to give free exams. And he said, We've got something really special, there's a gynecologist coming to campus today to give free exams. And we all started chuckling, like, what is going on right now? And the next line was the best. He said, I'm gonna have him set up down in the classroom downstairs here, because he said he needed 20 feet of space in a dark room. And so by this time, the college students are on the floor, and we're all having to scrape ourselves up off the floor. And he said probably the wise recovery. He said, I realize I have said something funny, I have no idea what it was, I'm gonna keep right on going, and he kept talking. So if you can't use that one, here's another one.
So I think every small church pastor has that one person that comes to church and has done those experiences. I had a guy pull into my church parking lot one time and we were all standing around in the parking lot after church and he pulled up and he was obviously high. It's where I live, in the south part of Oklahoma City. He was obviously high and he said, he pulled up and he looked at me, he said, I'm Jesus Christ. And I said, I don't think you probably are, honestly. We debated back and forth. He peeled his tires and drove out of the church parking lot, and he circled around the block. I called the cops because I was like, this guy's gonna hurt somebody. I called the police and was on the phone with them, trying, and he spun back in and he circled the block and came back in. He looked at me, he drove up and said, I'm the devil. And I said, You're getting closer, but…
So anyway, you have no control over the kind of things that happen. So many funny, funny stories and things that happen over the years. It's just a joy and an honor to be to be in ministry, and I wouldn't trade it. I wouldn't trade what I do for anything in the whole wide world. And I hope that every small church pastor who is out there and deals with weird, frustrating things, I hope they feel like a real sense of the awareness that all the goofy stuff that goes on is still worthwhile in the eyes of the Lord. That they look down upon themselves. There are 1500 approximately, whatever, megachurches in the United States, and if every one of those megachurches added another thousand Christians, it would be 1.5 million new people. However, if every small church added 10 Christians, we'd have 3.8 million new ones.
Darrell Stetler: And that's the scale that God has at work, the work that he's doing in small churches. I love Zechariah 4:10 where, Don’t despise the day of small beginnings, right? The Lord rejoices to see the plum line in the hand of Zerubbabel. The wall isn't even done yet, but God is glad to see not the finished wall, He's glad to see the tools in somebody's hands. So don't despise those small days, those days of small beginnings. It's worthwhile to see the tools in your hands, and God looks at those small church pastors and He sees the tools in their hand and He rejoices, and I'm glad for that.
Karl Vaters: Absolutely. What a beautiful way to finish it up. Thank you so much Darrell for that. If anybody does want to follow up with you on any of this, how can they find you?
Darrell Stetler: Sure. If they want an overview of what I do, they can go to get.newstartdiscipleship.com. So that will take them directly to a place where they can do it, or just click the link down in the show notes. We'll put that link in the show notes as well. Get.newstartdiscipleship.com gives an overview of all the different stuff that I do with Newstart Discipleship, and super excited to share that with people. And if there's somebody who's listening who's dad and they wanna know how to disciple their kids, they can go take a look at discipleshipinthehome.com, I do that too.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, that's all part of the process, and I think you may know a little bit about that with seven kids.
Darrell Stetler: I've heard a ridiculous amount of experience.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. There we go. Hey, thanks so much, Darrell. I appreciate you being with us today.
Darrell Stetler: It’s an honor to be with you. Thanks, Karl.
Karl Vaters: One of the healthiest trends happening in the church today is this renewed appreciation for the importance of discipleship. So I love how Darrell brings a robust but accessible approach to this central aspect of the Christian life. So what are some takeaways. Well, here are a couple takeaways for me. First of all, the importance of helping people to create discipleship habits, not just filling their heads with information. This is essential, this is so important. A lot of the times we're not discipling people, we're just getting them done with the classes, but discipleship includes the creation of habits, and I love how this is an essential aspect of what Darrell does. Second takeaway for me was for us, how important it is to make sure that we see discipleship as a whole and not just broken down into individualized pieces. It's not discipleship here, and then we have something else on the discipleship there. It has to be integrated into everything we do in the life of the church. And then my third big takeaway was the essential role that mentoring relationships play in disciple. Especially in the early days of someone's walk with Christ, it is so important for them to connect with a mature disciple and to not just be taught by them in a classroom setting, but to enter into a relationship with them. His description of seeing new believers as infants in Christ is something that I will be thinking through and praying over and acting on in my own ministry, going forward.
So can this work in a small church? Well, yeah, the whole thing is designed for that. Very, very much so. Not only does discipleship work in churches of every size, but I think Darrell's approach has a handful of ways that is especially applicable to the hands-on kind of relationship that we as that we as small church pastors have with our congregational members. I really encourage you to check out Darrell's materials. The links to all of that will be in the show notes. We as a ministry plan to partner with Darrell even more thoroughly and deeply in the future, and to bring his resources to as many people, to as many churches, and to as many pastors as possible. I hope that you will avail yourself of it. Reach out to Darrell, use it in your congregation, but whatever material you use, whatever the source of your resources is, make sure that we are putting discipleship front and center.
If you'd like to support this ministry with a one-time gift or monthly donation and help put these resources into the hands of ministries that need them the most, check out our support link in the show notes. Would you like a transcript of this episode? It will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/karlvaters. You can find the link in the show notes.
This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver, edited by Phil Vaters. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of jackwilkinsmusic.com. And me, I'm Karl Vaters, and I'm a small church pastor.