Nine Ways I’ve Seen Mark Dever Disciple Men and Raise Up Leaders

by Caleb Morell June 9, 2023

When Mark Dever applied for the pastorate of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, one quality stood out among others in his references: he made disciples everywhere he went. “If I had to emphasize one gift above others,” D.A. Carson wrote to the church, “it is his continuing ability to challenge others, in the context of genuine friendship.”

What does Mark Dever do to disciple men and raise up pastors in the context of the local church? Here are nine points that Mark has publicly shared are his practices, with some of my own reflections as someone who has benefitted Mark’s discipling and observed its effects on others.

1. Discern Qualifications.
The job of the pastor, in part, is to discern in others the qualities that the Bible says should characterize leaders. In Exodus 18:21, Jethro tells Moses to look out for men who are not in it for themselves, which sounds remarkably similar to the qualifications Paul lays out in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. These are not extraordinarily high standards; they’re a floor, not a ceiling for what pastors should look for in terms of character qualities. In discipling men Mark does value natural giftedness (the ability to influence others) but also seeks to discern godly character.

2. Look.
In order to discern qualifications, pastors need to look at who God is raising up around them. If elders are gifts of Christ to the church (Eph. 4:11) then our assumption should be that God is already at work. But this requires pastors to be present with their people, not just to preach and disappear. Instead, stick around. Give people the opportunity to talk with you. Create spaces where people can take initiative to spend time with you.

To do this, Mark makes it a habit of praying through a few pages of our church directory every morning, partly as his responsibility as a pastor, but also to notice people he may be overlooking. Furthermore, at any public service of the church (Sunday morning, evening, Wednesday night), Mark typically stands around by the door until most people have left, simply to make himself available to the church.

3. Trust.
Some pastors are unwilling to take risks on other people. They will not trust someone until they prove themselves. Mark takes a very different approach. He believes in advancing trust like credit: letting other people spend it and see how they do. In part, this means taking risks by giving others opportunities to teach and lead publicly who might not be super polished. It also means investing personal time in people that others may not think are worth spending time with, which leads into the next point…

4. Personal time.
There is no substitute for personal time. In Mark 3:13-14 Jesus called his disciples “so that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” This is how Jesus ministered and this is how pastors should minister: by being available to people.

For Mark this includes formal and informal time. More formal times would be pre-planned lunches throughout the week. Far more common, however, is spontaneous, informal time. Not everyone is an extrovert, and everyone needs a healthy dose of time alone. But the point isn’t the size of the ‘emotional wallet’ God has given you. The point is stewarding what he has given you.

5. Delegate.
As far as Senior Pastors go, Mark is extraordinarily willing to give young men leadership and teaching opportunities. This would include leading public services, leading in public prayer, teaching, and preaching. As I’ve heard Mark say, “Creating contexts for other people to teach God’s Word may be more important for strengthening your church and other congregations than your own Sunday morning sermons.” That means sharing the pulpit and delegating opportunities to others.

For Mark, delegating also means being willing to lose votes on the elder board. We don’t require unanimity in most elder votes at CHBC which fosters healthy disagreement. After all, a domineering pastor will never be a disciple-making pastor. That’s because if you feel threatened by other people’s strengths, you will drive away people with leadership abilities.

So delegate and don’t be afraid of disagreement.

6. Feedback.
Feedback goes hand in hand with delegating. When you give people the opportunity to lead, you also need to create spaces for giving encouragement and offering criticism. Mark creates a culture of encouragement and criticism by hosting a Sunday night service review meeting for the pastoral staff and those participating in the service to give and receive feedback. At that meeting, he models receiving encouragement and feedback by taking and accepting feedback on his own preaching, and he gives feedback to those testing out their gifts in the church. In offering feedback, Mark is critical, but he majors on encouragement. As he likes to say, “In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up and die; in an atmosphere of love they grow up and flourish.”

7. Authority.
Another aspect of leadership that Mark commends is his example of godly use of authority. The passage Mark always points to is David’s last words in 2 Sam. 23:1-4 where David teaches that leadership is a good gift, blessing everyone under it. Of course, authority can be abused, but that’s where points 5 (delegate) and 6 (feedback) are critical. Being willing to delegate, lose votes, and creating spaces for critical feedback are all ways Mark tries to model a godly use of authority.

8. Clarity.
Pastors need to be clear in understanding and being able to teach doctrine. They should be the kind of person who can give an explanation when asked “why.” You have to be clear in teaching. “What are you saying?”

Since our culture is rife with anti-authority sentiments, an elder or pastor needs to be comfortable teaching with clarity and authority in matters of biblical conviction, whether that means teaching 1 Timothy 2:12 without feeling skittish about complementarianism or Romans 1 without being shy about what the Bible says about homosexuality.

9. Humility.
To humble is to be free from envy and fear of man. Pastors should rejoice in the leadership of others rather than feeling threatened by it. This goes hand in hand with trust and delegating, but I love watching how much Mark delights in sitting under the preaching of other men at CHBC who—in his words—preach better sermons than him. That kind of humility and joy in others’ success can take a lifetime to cultivate but is a crucial component in discipling others.

Not everyone is going to be a Mark Dever when it comes to discipling. That’s not the point. But all of us can follow Mark’s example of giving thought to the people God has providentially placed around us and do what we can to help them follow Jesus.

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