At the most basic level, leadership is influence. All of us are leading… someone. You might be the CEO of a company, the CEO of your family, the CEO of your neighborhood or Home Owners Association or simply the CEO of your one and only life. The real question becomes, “how am I leading?” Am I living a life that is worth following? Am I providing a positive influence for those around me? Am I honoring Christ by the example that I set?
Paul the Apostle expressed this kind of leadership/influence when he said, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV) — “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul understood the importance of being someone who was worthy of imitation, he didn’t say, “do as I say, not as I do.” In essence, Paul’s message is, “as I seek to become more like Jesus, follow my lead so that both both of us are becoming more like the one we love.” Nobody wants to follow a hypocrite, so the first step of influencing others, is being an example worthy of following. We are not talking about perfection, but authenticity, saying, “I come up short and I’m not yet who Jesus wants me to be, but I’m on the path, becoming more like Him every day.” That is what Jesus asked of the disciples when he invited them to “come follow me.” As the disciples spent time “with” Jesus, they were influenced to begin to change, becoming men of character, men who could one day lead the church when Jesus returned to heaven.
Following Jesus means that I am willing to surrender to Him as Lord, the one who is ultimately in charge, the one who sets the agenda for what is most important in my life. When Jesus makes a command, I must be willing to surrender my will to His will. Jesus commanded his followers, not just to be disciples (learners), but to “make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
But making disciples/leaders is messy. Even Jesus, after three and a half years of investment in the Twelve, had one who failed the loyalty test (Luke 22:48) and others who were failing the leadership test (Luke 22:24).
Many years ago, LeRoy Eims marked my life through his book, The Lost Art of Disciplemaking and it continues to be a corkscrew of conviction as I seek to lead people, influencing them to disciple people in obedience to Jesus’ command.
LeRoy writes, “It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention. It takes hours of prayer for them. It takes patience and understanding to teach them how to get into the Word of God for themselves, how to feed and nourish their souls, and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the word to their lives. And it takes being an example to them of all of the above. (Eims, LeRoy (2009-07-13). The Lost Art of Disciple Making (pp. 45-46). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Making disciples is not easy or convenient, but it is what Jesus commanded us to do. It is not optional, but essential for every Christ follower who desires to lead and influence others. Discipleship is messy because people’s lives are messy, and Mark Howell reminds us of this in Top 10 Things I Need to Know about Discipleship. When we hesitate to disciple another because of the cost, Ben Reed challenges us to consider The “Why” before the “What”, of obeying Jesus’ universal call to make disciples to the ends of the earth.
So it becomes a strategic question for every church, “what does it mean to create a disciple-making culture?
- It is a culture that surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus, obeying Him no matter the cost.
It is a culture with a fundamental belief in the “priesthood of the believer” (1 Peter 2:9). Discipleship is not just for the paid professionals (we evangelicals operate more like the Catholics here than we would ever admit.) Discipleship is an “all skate” activity where every believer is commanded and invited to participate.
It is a culture of alignment, where everyone surrenders independently to cooperate with the will of our Heavenly Father. Alignment means that everyone is moving in the same direction. Like a river that is powerful when it is narrow and deep, alignment of a disciple-making culture leads to a powerful church movement that changes the world.
Properly aligned churches provide opportunities to grow spiritually at every level of spiritual maturity. The vast majority of professional baseball players start with T-ball, then proceed up the various levels, finally reaching the glory of the Major Leagues. A culture of discipleship provides a “spiritual farm system” culture where everyone is given the opportunity to become more like Jesus at every level of maturity.
When a disciple-making culture is in place, and everyone is aligned around the common cause of making disciples, it will force the church to plant new churches to reach new people. Jesus didn’t command us to plant churches, he commanded us to make disciples who make disciples. When we multiply disciples, ultimately we would have to quench the moving of the Spirit of God to prevent the natural result of becoming a church multiplying movement. Statistics reveal that 96% of churches never plant another church. Could that be because these churches never committed themselves to obeying Jesus’ universal call to make disciples?