I recently joined with a group of uniquely gifted and creative pastors who are either planting a church or supervising other church planters. They are intent on reaching people with the gospel, as well as embodying the gospel within their communities. And from all accounts, they all are experiencing both the joy of that call, and the challenges surrounding that call. Some are bi-vocational, while most are vocational planters/missionaries in our North American culture.
The conversation was around the idea of how their communities of faith might move into the realm of multiplying themselves into new communities of faith–in other words, planting again. As the discussion unfolded, the issues they were facing centered around the idea of discipleship and leadership development. It was obvious that in order to multiply a community, there needed to be a culture of multiplication and spiritual development within the context of their own communities. The central question became, ‘How can we more effectively disciple and develop our people into spiritually empowered and kingdom minded people’?
There were several themes that emerged in our conversation.
1. The need to define a disciple.
Before we can answer some of our more practical questions of how, we may need to ponder the biblical notion of discipleship. What does it look like? What are we really trying to do when we are following Christ’s command to ‘go, make disciples’? Too often we may just be discipling people into a church or congregational centric idea of discipleship–to go to services, be in a small group, give, find time to serve at the local shelter, and make sure you invite others to church. While those things aren’t bad, is that the biblical measuring stick for a disciple? Is that the necessary prerequisite to spiritual leadership and the essence of kingdom ministry?
I have often heard Randy Reese say that leadership is more defined by our followership, biblically speaking. We cannot lead spiritually if we are not being led first. To be a disciple is first and foremost a submissive posture where I am allowing myself to be led by Jesus who is my Leader and Lord. In that context, my discipleship should be moving me to be more and more like Jesus, experiencing intimacy with the Father, caring more and more about the things of God and the people of God, while going as an ambassador or God’s representative in my everyday life. There may be a need to biblically refine our understanding of discipleship and not allow our culture, nor our 21st century church culture to define discipleship.
2. Development requires a process.
What seemed to be a common issue of frustration was process. No one has a magic formula, but the key to helping people grow is to create a context and process of self-discovery and a growing knowledge of God. What I think the group was uncovering was the need for some context in which people who are being discipled were free to become all that God intended them to be, not clones of ours, or our churches. We are not doing a service to our people if we are simply trying to reproduce ourselves. We are seeking to reproduce Jesus in them, and for God’s Spirit to empower them. We need a process or a context in which God nurtures and develops them, and for us to allow God to work in their own unique lives, towards their own unique callings, or as we say at VP3, an Ephesians 2:10 way of life.
3. Development requires relationship
Our growth and development as people and disciples of Jesus will never flourish in isolation. We need guides who embody Christ and who will seek to love people as Christ loved people. These ‘guides’, or mentors, are not to use people to get better performance out of them, but to allow them to be all that God intended them to be. We need spiritual Jonathans who will walk alongside others cheering them on and empowering them in their own unique calling and giftedness.
4. Leadership and spiritual development is often more ‘caught’ than ‘taught’
In other words, the disciple needs to be shown a good model of ministry and leadership while given a safe environment to ‘try’ and to experience new things. Like Jesus who would often send his disciples off two by two and then draw them back for reflection and learning, there needs to be a context where people are allowed to try and fail; where people can have firsthand encounters with God and not secondary; where people initiate ministry and have the assurance someone will encourage them and lift them up when they take the risk of leading and venturing into kingdom work. They need lots of permission and freedom; they need a personal connection to one who is both a model and giver of grace.
5. Disciple making and spiritual leadership development is hard work
Some of the planters shared how they have prayed, “just one, Lord!” ”Bring me one healthy, mature, understanding leader, who shares my vision of ministry!” We who are ministry leaders can probably relate!
There are a number of cultural barriers to the work of discipleship, which are beyond this blog entry! But suffice it to say, people development is often slower and more challenging than we think when we set out. I sensed a disappointment or frustration for not having more time or the appropriate ‘structures’ to support more disciple making efforts. Churches and mentors need a sort of ‘roadmap’ to know if we are moving people in the right direction. VP3 believes that the best kind of spiritual development is ‘slow and deep’, so patience and care must abound in any discipling endeavor.
To my church planting friends and ministry colleagues, I believe that the resources and processes of VP3 begin to address each of these themes and provide answers for the questions they raise. Our passion as an organization is to deepen and empower adult believers towards a faithful and fruitful way of life; a way of life that will lead to a culture of disciple-making and multiplication for the sake of the kingdom.
Over the next several blog postings, I will try to address each of these themes a bit more in order to showcase some of the things we are doing here at VP3 that can help to address these issues and give you the tools to implement a life-affirming approach to discipleship and leadership development in your ministry context. I hope you will join in the conversation as together we seek to create a culture of disciple-making and kingdom empowerment in our churches.
Blessings on the journey…