A Leadership Shift for 2014

How would our leadership change if making disciples was our primary job description?

Leadership, disciplemaking

(Photo by mzacha on sxc.hu)

I’ve been pondering this question the last few days. Yesterday I returned from Mission Net, a gathering of about 2,800 young people from across Europe. I partnered with Jim Brown, of Exodus, to lead a series of seminars on disciple-making. In our first session, we looked at a biblical picture of leadership. Jim led us into the shepherd imagery of Ezekiel 34 (a great study!), and then we looked together at Christ’s model as the Great Shepherd. Which leads us back to our question: How would our leadership change if making disciples was our primary job description?

Making disciples isn’t easy work. It takes time, wisdom, intentionality, time, discernment, and, (did I already mention it?) time. For Jesus, it meant three-and-a-half years of working with the same group, and they still didn’t get it–they all abandoned Him at the cross. Along the way, they argued with him, fought for place in the kingdom, rejected and denied him, and asked the stupidest questions. It must have felt like frustrating, slow, inefficient work, especially to the Son of God.

And of course, Jesus had other options. He could have used His leadership skills to start a seminary, complete with theology courses from God, Himself. He could have focused His leadership talent on huge crowds. Can you imagine the people who would gather to watch Him perform miracles and pass out free food? (Jn 4-6) He could have spent His time healing the sick, or feeding the hungry, or writing a book.

In certain ways, He did do these things. He was a Rabbi, the Jewish equivalent of a university professor. He did attract huge crowds, on occasion. And He healed many sick people, fed many hungry people, and wrote a best seller. With all of that going on, you’d think He would have been too busy to mess with the small, unglamorous, inefficient job of making disciples.

At least, that’s often how we think. We like the idea of making disciples. We know Christ commanded all believers to be disciple-makers (in Matthew 28). But if we’re honest (and I use the ‘we’ literally here), we get busy with other things, and making disciples gets pushed to the end of the list.

Part of the problem is that we often see leadership and disciple-making as separate jobs. Leadership is about broad vision, high-speed, and big-scale impact. Disciple-making is about seeing a few clearly, slow speed, and the impact of seeing Christ born in a few. They seem like very separate jobs, and when the busyness of life hits, leadership often wins in our priorities.

But Christ didn’t make that distinction–and you and I are here today because of it. It’s because Christ made disciples that you and I can know Jesus today. And I’m convinced that Jesus didn’t see disciple-making and leadership as separate jobs. For Christ, leading people and making disciples go together. One can be a disciple-maker without being a leader. But you cannot be a Christian leader without being a disciple-maker. If Christ is our foremost model of leadership–as He should be–than making disciples must become a primary part of leadership job description. Jesus made different leadership decisions because He was committed to making disciples.

What does this mean? I think the implications are huge, so I’ll look forward to any further thoughts you have in the comments. For me, I see at least three shifts:

  • From prioritizing crowds to pursuing relationships. To be clear, Jesus loved the crowds, He had compassion on the crowds, and He taught the crowds. But when it became a matter of choosing between the crowds and making disciples, He chose to make disciples. He spoke His most important truths in small groups. This wasn’t just a philosophical choice; it had real impact on His schedule (see Mark 1:29-38, Luke 6:12-13, and many others). I wonder how this year would be different if we made the same choice?
  • From offering answers to asking questions. In the gospels, Jesus asks more than twice as many questions of others as are asked of Him. This is especially remarkable when we remember that, as God, He had all the answers! But this isn’t unique to Jesus’ time on earth. God shows up asking questions in Genesis 3, and He hasn’t stopped. We shouldn’t be anti-answers–God definitely isn’t. But if our leadership is going to make disciples, we must learn to lead in a way that maximizes their growth, not our knowledge. This includes more questions and fewer answers. (And, you have to decide if you’re the pregnant lady, or the midwife.  See Matthew 16:13-20 for a great example of this, and click here for a post about this.)
  • From keeping responsibility to sending people. I wonder how our leadership would change if we knew we only had three years before we would give the entirety of our ministry to someone else. That’s what Jesus faced. And so we see Him sending people into positions of real responsibility quickly and often. He sends the twelve (Luke 9:1,2,6). He sends the seventy (Luke 10:1). And He finds His greatest joy in watching them succeed (Luke 10:17,21-24). Leaders who make disciples find ways to give real ministry to real people as quickly as realistically possible. This feels risky–and it is–but Jesus recognized that making disciples is always less risky than the alternative–and so should we.

I’ve become convinced that Christian leadership must always involve making disciples, because that’s what Jesus did. Now it’s your turn: How would our leadership change if making disciples was our primary job description? Thoughts?

  • Johnny Stevens

    Thanks Rob. This is definitely a game-changing perspective shift. I often find that my default tendency when leading others is to delegate responsibilities in order to accomplish the task at hand, with a recognition that this responsibility will have the secondary result of developing them as a person. I like how you’ve said “Leaders who make disciples find ways to give real ministry to real people as quickly as realistically possible.” When disciple making becomes the focus, the responsibility or task then becomes a personalized tool which shapes and develops the individual within context of relationship, resulting in lasting fruit.

    • Johnny, this is so well said–thanks for offering it to the rest of us. Yes, that order of importance is so key–and so easy for me to get turned around. I’ll be thinking about that for the next few days–thanks.

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