Need a leader? Disciple one.

In my last post, I wrote about the critical investment of mentoring potential leaders. Since then, I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany:”discipling” is a more fitting term than “mentoring.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but there is an energy in the term discipling that I don’t experience when speaking of mentoring. Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted advisor who trains and counsels. That sounds somewhat pedantic to me,  like a sage on the stage kind of role, one-sided rather than an exchange between two people.

The dictionaries I use don’t recognize the word “discipling,” so I can’t quote a definition to compare alongsidedisciples-follow “mentoring.” But discipling brings to my mind Jesus going from town to town with the disciples following Him, observing His behavior as well as listening to His teaching. He would put them to work, too, challenging them to step beyond their comfort zones by telling them to feed 5000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, or sending them to villages to heal the sick and cast out demons.

Leaders come from discipling–intentional prolonged investment in someone’s spiritual formation. Not a quick Bible study on leadership. Not a workshop designed to develop the leader within you. I am not implying that these things are bad or useless–they can be quite helpful when used effectively. But on their own, they won’t create the leaders we need. No, this is a personal, one-on-one process that takes time, energy, intentionality. The reward, however, is well worth the investment.

To develop a leader requires letting them get close enough to see you when you are not at your best, when you are dealing with the difficulties of life. They are likely quite capable of consulting the scriptures to see what God has to say about feeding the hungry, but it’s quite another thing for you to suggest that you go together to a homeless shelter to serve a meal, debriefing the experience afterwards and sharing honestly how you found it difficult to tolerate the odor of alcohol, stale cigarettes, and unwashed bodies. The disciples witnessed Jesus when He was tired, frustrated, sad, and mad as well as when he was gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving.

While you are discipling someone, both you and they learn about their spiritual gifts. Gifting without discipleship is anemic; gifting under the tutelage of an equipping leader can be much more effective. When you disciple another, the opportunity to explore, encourage, and empower is built into the process. You can avert the train wreck that results from an unnoticed mismatched ministry opportunity, and celebrate the joy of successful, fulfilling service. You get to see up close and personal an emerging leadership style as it matures and bears fruit!

Leadership development is all about discipling. It’s tempting to think there’s a shortcut. There isn’t–I’ve tried. It’s tempting to think you can’t afford to invest the time and energy. Don’t be deceived. In reality, you can’t afford to do anything less. No one is going to do this for you. (Believe me, I speak from experience.) If you are a leader, you need to be discipling someone to become a leader, too.

So…what are you waiting for? Find someone who is FAT–faithful, available, and teachable. Let them get close to you, invest in a one-on-one relationship, pour yourself into them, then watch for a leader to emerge.

*Two resources I have found helpful are Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement and Changing the World, by Steve Addison.

P.S. It should go without saying, but…if you aren’t leading, find someone to disciple you!

An exercise in frustration

frustrationIf you are leading a small church and have designed even the most excellent equipping structure, rolling it out to a congregation that’s not big enough to support it and expecting great results is an exercise in frustration.

I have heard this time and again from pastors and ministry leaders in smaller congregations. They have preached and taught about serving, they have developed ministry descriptions for all their serving opportunities, they have a put a system in place to guide people through discovery and placement…yet they are still struggling to have enough volunteer ministers who are sure of their calling to lead ministry.

The values and principles are the same, so why doesn’t it work in a smaller church? What is missing???

Frankly, I was puzzled, too. But a recent conversation led me to a seemingly important insight. In a nutshell, it’s the institutional approach vs. organic approach.  I know those over-played words may trigger a fight or flight response in you, but resist it! Hear me out…

I spent 10 years in a large, well-established church. I learned and applied equipping principles and practices in that context. For the most part, they worked. Then I moved to a very small parish. Applying those same tried and true equipping principles and practices in this smaller context has been far less successful. On my bad days, dismal failure expressed my feelings perfectly!

For example: In the larger church, I could offer a gifts discovery class and have at least 20-25 folks sign up. I’ve offered the same class in my small parish (more than once) and had not one person express interest. See what I mean about dismal failure? Within the equipping process, gifts discovery is an integral first step. How do I move people through the process if they are unwilling to take the first step?

In a large church–say 1000 regular attenders–there may be 10-20% who have been discipled and are ready and willing to serve. Taking 100 to 200 people through the process makes it worth all the effort that went into that carefully designed equipping structure! And the odds of discovering a few folks in that crowd who are gifted and ready to lead are certainly in your favor.

In a small church of 100 regular attenders, that same 10-20% would amount to 10 to 20 volunteer ministers. Guiding only 10 people through a detailed equipping process can look like overkill! The structure overwhelms the number of participants (picture two people living alone in a mansion!). And you may not find one ready leader among those ten.

It seems to me that the institutional approach is to carefully design the equipping structure and processes first, then guide the potential volunteer ministers through them. It’s more likely to be effective for larger congregations.

However, it’s overwhelming for the small church. A more organic approach is to work with a few people at a time, discipling them personally. Discipling is more than Bible study. True discipling includes calling and gifts discovery, leadership development, and serving in a ministry. A lot is learned through your conversations that will enable you to skip some of the steps in the institutional approach (e.g., matching someone to a serving opportunity is much easier when you know them well, resulting in less trial and error). And while you are engaged in discipling, you are at the same time modeling leadership so that “leadership development” isn’t another step in the process.

Tired of the frustration? Investing in this personal discipling will help you design your equipping structure in a way that is congruent with your church. As your people grow, your processes will develop to fit the number of folks participating in them. Your structure will, in effect, be “under construction” as you are growing people into fully mature and devoted followers of Jesus Christ, willing to serve and lead as Christ served and led.