Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

The Discipleship Spectrum

April 29, 2015 8 comments

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of discipleship methods. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got the hyper-casual, and on the other the hyper-formal. Those who are hyper-casual tend to advocate for the organic, unplanned moments when God shows up in everyday life. People who are hyper-formal often emphasize the intentional, planned meetings that focus primarily on spiritual development.

I’ve been in ministry for almost ten years now. I’ve seen both of these methods used. Both have their proper place in every discipleship relationship. As with most things, though, people often drift toward one end of the spectrum or the other. This is fine, but we must learn to manage the tension between the two. If we don’t, our discipleship gets one sided and we can fall short of really teaching someone to believe in and follow Jesus.

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Considering the Options

Like most things, both types of discipleship have their benefits and drawbacks. The benefit of casual discipleship is that it’s usually pretty natural, it’s easy to be authentic and you get to help people believe in and experience Jesus in real time as the Holy Spirit is working. The drawbacks of this type of discipleship is that it can be easy to miss opportunities to speak into people’s lives and if you’re not intentional you won’t get anywhere.

The benefit of formal discipleship is that people know exactly what to expect, it can be incredibly focused and you can teach people a lot at one time. The drawbacks are that it can become cold and rigid, faith can become something you talk about rather than something you live and if you’re not careful discipleship becomes a task rather than a lifestyle.

The key is to operate out of your strength, while being intentional in your weakness. If casual discipleship is more natural for you, then do that most of the time. If formal discipleship is more natural to you, then do that most of the time. Be careful, however, not to neglect the area of discipleship that doesn’t come as easily. If you do, your discipleship will become one sided and the people you’re discipling will miss out on some valuable experience.

Find the Right Fit

In my experience, casual discipleship seems to be most effective among non-believers. Formal discipleship seems to be more effective among leaders. Non-believers usually aren’t going to be as eager to talk exclusively about spiritual topics for 90 minutes at a time. They benefit more from the intentional relationships through which your faith rubs off on them because you live differently and answer honestly.

Leaders, on the other hand, are often busy making disciples themselves. They don’t usually have as much time to casually hang out. When they need input they often want as much as they can get in as little time as necessary. Focused meetings allow them to ask a lot of questions, get a lot of answers and discuss a wide range of topics much more efficiently than just waiting for those topics to pop up in everyday life.

Strive for Balance

Personally, I advocate for formal discipleship in the context of casual discipleship. Discipleship is about teaching people to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationship over time. A formal meeting isn’t going to do much good if there isn’t any genuine relationship. You need some casual, relaxed time with a person to gain that. At the same time, you can speed up the process of discipleship by including a few focused and formal meetings (such as a weekly Bible study lunch to discuss a specific topic of interest) from time to time.

This spectrum gets even wider when we also consider the individual and group dynamics. On one end of the spectrum we have discipling an individual in or toward Jesus and on the other we have discipleship in groups. Here I advocate for individual discipleship in the context of a group.

The benefit of groups is that each person gets a broad experience and understanding of the person and work of Christ. You simply have more people contributing to each person’s spiritual growth. The drawback, on the other hand, is that it can be shallow and easy for people to hide.

The benefit of individual discipleship is that each person gets a depth that can sometimes be difficult to get in groups. Conversation can also be customized to the specific topics that will be most helpful for the person you’re discipling. The drawback is that the person can end up becoming more like you than Jesus if you’re not careful.

Jesus seemed to disciple people all over the spectrum. At times he was casual with a group of his disciples. At other times he was intentional with an individual. He was also intentional with groups and, at times, casual with individuals. We’d all be more effective leaders if we discipled people using a variety of approaches, rather than just one method.


Why a Mentor is More Helpful than You Think

When Jesus called his first disciples he began his invitation with two words, “follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Years later, when the Apostle Paul wanted to move his readers further along their discipleship journey he would say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Stated another way, Paul is telling his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example.

You would expect such a strong statement from Jesus.  After all, he was the Son of God. But from Paul this, at first glance, sounds very arrogant.  Who is Paul that we should follow him? He’s not Jesus!

When we consider Paul’s words further, however, we see that he’s not being prideful, he’s being practical. You see, non-believers and new believers can’t follow the Lord’s example, because he’s not here to follow.  At least not in a physical sense.

Paul on the other hand is a physical, flesh-and-blood human being.  His readers had seen him, heard him and could even touch and experience his physical presence.  He was tangible to them, while Jesus was not. Paul rightly understood that people learn best from example, the things they can observe and experience first hand.

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A Frame of Reference

In the summer of 2013, my father-in-law helped me build a wooden front porch to update our house. When I mentioned that we were thinking about such a project he proceeded to explain to me what type of wood, tools and equipment I needed.  He even described the process to me in detail, but I didn’t get it.

I attempted to purchase some of the items that we needed, but all of the options looked the same. I tried to imagine the framework he had described, but I got confused.  It wasn’t that he did a poor job of describing the materials and process to me, it was that I had no frame of reference for what he was talking about because I had no prior experience. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and ready to hire a professional.

Before I could, however, my father-in-law offered his help.  He went with my wife and I to purchase the supplies and showed us the difference between the options.  He then demonstrated how to build the framework and had me do exactly as he did, explaining what he was doing (or having me do) and why every step of the way.

I now know how to build a front porch.  Had I tried to do it just based on what my father-in-law described, however, it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.  It was my father-in-law’s example that helped me understand and experience the work for myself. He didn’t just tell me what to do, he showed me.

A Pattern for Life

The same is true of discipleship. People hear about Jesus through our words, but they experience Jesus through our actions. It is our example to people that brings Jesus to life for people. This is why life-on-life relationships are critical to spiritual maturity, because people have a real life example to pattern their lives after.

Books, seminars and conferences are great supplements to discipleship, but they are terrible replacements. If we want to see real results in our discipleship efforts, we must be willing to get out front and lead by example. We must understand that even the best explanations cannot replace hands on experience.

How to Establish a Culture that is Consistent with Your Vision

December 1, 2014 12 comments

For as long as I can remember vision has been the primary topic of many leadership discussions.  It has long understood said that it’s the leader’s responsibility to get his people from “here” to “there.” Vision is the leaders ability to show people where to go, while inspiring them to get there.

In recent years, however, culture has become the new buzzword in leadership, and for good reason. Leaders from various arenas are realizing that culture will eat vision alive.  Or as Leonce Crump, Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta says, “culture is what most of the people do most of the time.”

It does not matter how compelling your vision statement.  If the people in your church aren’t carrying that vision through the actions of their daily lives, then you will never see that vision realized. For a vision to have an effect it must be accompanied by a culture that is consistent with that vision. Your vision must be something that most of the people in your church are working toward most of the time.

At Living Hope our vision is simply to glorify God by making disciples and planting churches. In other words, we want to see God made famous in the lives of people who are learning to believe in and obey Jesus through intentional relationships. This vision, as simple and straightforward as it is, does us no good if our members are not actively making it a reality. Our vision must become our culture.

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The Five Building Blocks of Culture

The following five principles have helped us take great strides in developing a discipleship culture in our church.  We’re not doing these things perfectly, but as we consistently practice them we are, by God’s grace, seeing some decent progress.

1. Establish Clarity. Culture begins with clarity. If you want everyone in your church or ministry on the same page, heading in the same direction, then they need to know exactly where you’re taking them and why.  Paint a crystal clear picture of your end goal.  What specifically are you going for? For us, this means clearly defining what it means to be a disciple and identifying a clear process of making disciples.

2. Create Alignment. One of the quickest ways to sabotage your culture is to give people who are not aligned with your values and processes the opportunity to lead. If you want a culture that is consistent with your clearly defined objectives, then you must be intentional to guard the gate of leadership.

Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone into a place of leadership who does not clearly embody the goals and strategies you’ve established. At Living Hope, we create alignment through an apprentice development process that filters out anyone who is not aligned with who we are and where we’re going.

3. Communicate Consistently. Clarity and alignment are not enough to get your entire church, ministry or organization on board. Your people must constantly hear about your vision, values, strategy and processes until they can recite them in their sleep. Put simply, what gets repeated gets done.

At Living Hope, we accomplish this by dripping the big ideas of the gospel and discipleship through every means of communication we can.  We talk about them in sermons, in small groups, in emails, in one-to-one discipleship, in announcements and in leadership team meetings.  We do everything we can to keep sound doctrine, clear objectives and simple processes on the forefront of people’s minds.

4. Give People Experience. One of the reasons that culture doesn’t get established is because the leaders are too quick to do the work and not quick enough to give church members the experience of doing the work. It’s not enough for people to hear about your objectives and processes, they must experience them for themselves.

For us, this means practicing the buddy system.  If a current leader has a meeting to attend, a person to meet up with or a task to accomplish he is encouraged to bring an inexperienced leader with him.  This allows the current leader to get the potential leader experience, to coach him up and to thoroughly explain what we do and why.

5. Reinforce Right Behavior. There’s something powerful about celebrating your beliefs, values and processes that catalyzes culture development. On a large scale, the things that get celebrated get repeated.  Publicly celebrate the people, events and opportunities that embody the culture you’re wanting to build. This is because, as Erwin McManus, Pastor of MOSAIC in L. A. says, “whoever tells the best story shapes the culture.” Make sure the things you celebrate tell the best story of who you want your people to become.

Discipleship is one of our biggest values at Living Hope.  It typically takes place in small groups.  We reinforce our culture by publicly celebrating when someone steps into the apprentice development process, when new small groups start up and when people are added to the church through a discipleship relationship with one of our members.  This let’s everyone know that it’s important to us.

The best way to realize your vision is to make it become your culture.  These five concepts will help you take strides in establishing a healthy culture in your church or organization today. Give it a try.

Exponential Leadership: The Difference Between Ministering to People and Ministering Through People

November 17, 2014 1 comment

One of the fundamental differences between a worker and a leader is that a worker knows how to get stuff done, while a leader not only knows how to get stuff done, but also how to train other people to get stuff done. As one leadership proverb summarizes, “a leader is not someone who can do the work of 10, it is someone who can train 10 to do the work.”

This might sound antithetical, but the truth is that most would be leaders sideline themselves by getting in their own way.  Upcoming leaders are people who know how to get work done well. The only reason they are potential candidates for leadership in the first place is because they know what it takes to get results.

Catalyst or Bottleneck?

The problem is that the more work a person gets done, the more work there is to do. Good results typically yield more opportunities, which in turn leads to more work.  As this pattern continues a potential leader ends up finding himself with more work to accomplish than he can do alone. If he doesn’t train up more leaders he will eventually hinder his own progress.

I learned this first hand as a volunteer chaplain on my college football team. As a freshman I was one of only three Christians on a team of more than one hundred.  Bothered by this, the two other Christians and I decided that we, by God’s grace, were going to change that. We started preaching the gospel to our teammates before games and after practices and we made it a point to spend as much time discipling our teammates as we could.

Within three years God used our efforts to bring thirty teammates into the ministry.  About eight of them became authentic followers of Jesus. We now had a problem.  There were more people to disciple than the three of us had time for. We had a choice.  We could either bottleneck everything by trying to disciple everyone or we could multiply our efforts by training the new converts to disciple their teammates as we discipled them.

We chose the latter and it made all the difference.  Five years after we started God had used the ministry to gather at times sixty of our teammates.  Another half dozen or more were won to faith in Christ and a third generation of leaders were developed.

From Ministering To, To Ministering Through

This kind of impact would simply not have been possible if the three of us had tried to disciple everyone on our own. It was simply the result of equipping the next generation and then empowering them to do the work with us.  In fact, the results we saw came mainly from the second and third generation of leaders.  The original three had little to no direct involvement in the remaining 50.  We simply invested in the first 10 or so.

The apostle Paul says something similar in 2 Timothy 2:1-2.  He tells an upcoming leader named Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and to entrust the teaching he received from Paul to reliable men who would be able to teach others also. Here we see four generations of leaders: Paul, Timothy, reliable men and others.  Paul exponentially multiplied his disciple-making efforts by ministering through Timothy to others, rather than ministering to others himself. 

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In order to become more effective leaders, we must intentionally transition from ministering to people to ministering through people. A good leader adds, a great leader multiplies. This means instead of trying to disciple everyone we must intentionally disciple a few that we can equip and empower to disciple others. Ministering to people will add more people to your ministry.  Ministering through people will exponentially multiply your disciple-making efforts. 

Spirit Empowered Ministry

October 20, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to leadership a lot of attention is given to strategies and principles. There are literally hundreds of books written about how to lead more strategically.  You’d be hard pressed, however, to find many good books about Spirit-empowered leadership and ministry.

Such a neglect of the Spirit in ministry would have been entirely foreign to first century believers. I don’t think they would have disagreed with the importance of strategies and planning, but they would have always subjected their strategies and plans to the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. The first Christians understood that no strategy would ever be enough to turn someone’s heart toward Jesus or to overcome a person’s resistance to God. They knew that only the Holy Spirit could do that.

The Spirit Trumps Strategy

The Lord’s final instructions before ascending into the heavens was for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received power from on high. (Acts 1:8) At this point Jesus has already been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  He’s given his followers their disciple-making strategy, their leadership lessons and the essential truths they would need to teach new converts.  Even with all of this good teaching Jesus knew that his disciples lacked one thing, power.

The disciples weren’t short on strategies and principles, they were short on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. These would-be world-changers had learned all the best disciple-making techniques from the best disciple-maker that ever lived and they still needed something more. Certainly leadership strategies, disciple-making methods and ministry techniques are important (Jesus had them), but that doesn’t mean they’re enough to actually get the job done. We need the Holy Spirit for that.

Power From On High

Shortly after Christ’s ascension, the disciples did what they were told.  While prayerfully waiting for what Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, rested upon each of the disciples and then empowered them to preach the gospel with great effectiveness.  Their preaching was so powerful that 3,000 people became disciples that day. (Acts 2)

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Throughout the rest of Acts, the Holy Spirit works in and with the early Christians to make converts, establish churches and fulfill the Great Commission. Their ministry had both strategy and power.  The results were nothing short of world-changing. (Acts 17:6)

Imagine a military vehicle rigged with all of the latest technologies.  It’s got the most comprehensive GPS system, a top-of-the-line radio, the best off-road tires a person can buy and plenty of artillery.  This vehicle might have all the potential in the world, but if its tank isn’t filled with gas it will be significantly limited in its effectiveness.

In the same way, we can have all the right doctrine, the best apologetics, world class leadership techniques and the most simplified disciple-making strategy, but if we aren’t filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit we won’t be accomplishing much. We need power for ministry, not just equipment for ministry.

Extraordinary Power for Ordinary People

The difference between a Spirit-empowered leader and one who is not is the both the effectiveness of his ministry and the orientation of his heart, the latter leading to the former. With his death and resurrection Jesus not only gave believers access to the Father, he also gave them access to the Spirit.  Christ followers not only have power to know God through Jesus, we also have power to make him known through the Holy Spirit.

If we want to have truly effective ministry, then we must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Like a military vehicle, it’s not enough to have all the right equipment, we also need to be filled with gas. Practically speaking, this means that the effective minister plans, prepares and strategizes to position himself to be used by the Holy Spirit, but that in his heart he completely relies on the Holy Spirit to do work in peoples lives. Don’t hinder your disciple-making efforts with self-reliance.  Daily ask the Holy Spirit to empower you for effective ministry.

For more on the Holy Spirit check out this series of videos from the Living Hope Church- Maryville Campus. 

The One Thing That Will Make You a More Effective Leader

In 2009 I took my first full-time paid ministry position as a staff member for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  My official title was Area Representative and my primary responsibility was to equip and empower coaches and athletes to leverage their influence for Christ. I was responsible for all FCA ministry within a six county area.

At the time, the area I covered had no clear strategy for disciple-making, ministry efforts were scattered and disconnected and there were few athletes or coaches on board.  To say that it was hard to figure out what to do would be an understatement. I was simply overwhelmed.

A Timeless Principle That Makes a Timely Difference

In need of both clarity and encouragement, I sought out a respected leader in our city.  He was the CFO for a well respected bank.  He’d led the organization in that capacity for more than a decade and had substantial influence.  He was also a leader at a local church and was committed to making disciples.

I didn’t know him very well at the time (we’d only been introduced once), but in my mind he was the perfect person to get some insight from, so I asked for a meeting. To my surprise he agreed. What he had to say literally changed both my life and my leadership.

I shared with him my situation and asked for his input.  After an extended silence, he looked me in the eye and said, “consistency over time leads to influence and results in impact.” That was it? It seemed so simple.  I was honestly hoping for something more profound.

As I sat there dumbfounded he went on to explain that results take time.  There are no overnight successes.  In most cases, impacting people isn’t something that can happen in a day, a week or even a year.  It’s something that takes years of consistent effort in the same direction.

Most leaders, he said, don’t gain substantial influence because they’re too focused on immediate results.  They have sky high idealism and unrealistic expectations. As a result, they get heartbroken when those expectations are not met within just a few short weeks or months.  They change strategies, goals and direction so often that none of their efforts have time to gain traction.

It’s the leaders who keep the big picture in mind while striving for consistency that make the biggest impact.  Onward they march one day at a time, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year until their efforts build up momentum and eventually see breakthrough.

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Consistency = Results

This principle was a game changer for me.  For the rest of my ministry I consistently focused my efforts on one big idea, equipping and empowering coaches and athletes to impact their teams for Jesus Christ through team specific ministry.

I started traveling to all the schools in my area to talk about team specific ministry every semester.  I traught student-athletes to start team specific ministries through leadership training at the local college every week. My supervisor and I even started an annual leadership camp to help coaches and their invited student athlete leaders start team specific ministries.  On top of all that, I made it a priority to meet with various athletes, sponsors or coaches every week for discipleship the entire time I was with FCA.

In other words, I made sure that I consistently aligned everything I did with the purpose of making disciples through team specific ministry.  If an opportunity didn’t directly align with this objective, then I simply didn’t do it. The results of this consistency speak for themselves.

By the end of five years we saw dozens of leaders raised up, roughly 20 team specific ministries started and hundreds of unchurched coaches and athletes influenced toward faith in Jesus, many of them even becoming Christians.

One Thing

Consistency is the one thing that will make or break you as a leader.  If you are inconsistent in your convictions, character, vision, strategy, goals, communication, relationships, approach or a number of other factors don’t expect anything less than inconsistent results.  Jim Collins, author of several leadership books, is right when he says in his book Great by Choice that “the sign of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.You simply cannot expect great results with an inconsistent approach.

If you want to be a leader who leverages opportunities for extraordinary impact, then make it your ambition to master the art of consistency.  Learn to be consistent in your faith, character, approach, relationships and life.  Identify the one thing God is calling you to do and then consistently do only that which is in line with that calling. Keep at it and over time you’ll eventually see breakthrough.

Discipleship in the Margins

September 29, 2014 3 comments

This past summer I had the privilege of directing an FCA leadership camp called EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO.  The camp was geared toward coaches and their invited team leaders, but my focus as director was to get the right staff and volunteers involved.

A great camp is only possible when you have great people making it happen.  It was also evident, however, that my primary responsibility was not to develop the coaches and athletes that were attending the camp. It was to train, develop, equip and empower our staff and volunteers to do that.

With this in mind, I intentionally scheduled two half days of training for our camp staff and volunteers.  I poured every possible leadership principle into them that I could during that small window of opportunity.  I also created a few training checkpoints throughout camp so that I could further develop our camp leaders along the way.  We even ended camp with a one hour follow up so that our leaders would be better prepared for their next camp as well.

A Surprising Discovery

After camp was over, I asked my assistant director what he thought the best part was.  Without hesitation he said, “discipleship in the margins.” When asked to elaborate he explained that the scheduled training sessions were helpful because they gave him tools for his leadership tool box and put him in the right frame of mind for camp, but that it was the one-to-one time that he and I spent together in between scheduled activities that made the biggest difference.

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His response caught me off guard. I thought for sure he would have said a segment from our pre or post-camp training.  Looking back on it, though, his answer makes sense.  When the assistant director and I were able to connect walking between activities, during a meal or on break we were able to discuss what we were learning as it was happening in real time.

I asked him questions.  He asked me questions.  I gave him leadership pointers and we were able to identify together what the Lord was doing in his life right then and there. It was personalized leadership development that was tailored to what he was experiencing as he was experiencing it. 

Intentional Relationships Not Just Scheduled Meetings

In John 3:22, the Scripture says that Jesus went to the Judean countryside and “remained their with” his disciples.  The Greek word used in the verse is “diatribo.” It literally means “to rub against” or to “rub off.” In other words, Jesus was doing discipleship in the margins.  This time wasn’t scheduled training, it was just Jesus “rubbing off” on the disciples by spending intentional time with them in between scheduled ministry activities.

In the same way, our most impactful discipleship will come not from scheduled meetings, but from intentional relationships.  Scheduled meetings are important (and we should utilize them), but they are only half the equation.  We must always work the truth of Jesus Christ into the lives of the people we’re discipling by being intentional in our relationships outside of those scheduled meetings.

You and I can exponentially increase our disciple-making effectiveness simply by being more intentional in our relationships.  This kind of discipleship is never convenient, but it’s always worth it.  It will happen with your children late at night when they should be in bed, but are instead struggling with theological questions.  It will happen when a co-worker shows spiritual curiosity while you’re trying to finish that email so you can get out of the office and go home.  It will happen after church when that person you’ve been ministering to finally asks to hear more about Jesus, intruding on your football watching.

This kind of discipleship cannot be planned, but it must be prioritized. Always be prepared to coach people up, to ask heart level questions and to point people to Jesus. If you’re willing to be intentional, it’s the time int he margins that will make the biggest difference.

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