We Need Better Disciples, Not More Leaders

Monday, October 14, 2019

As a discipleship pastor, I'm always inundated with lots of church resources - some of which I've subscribed to, some of which make me wonder who's on the internet selling out my information to the highest bidder.

Over and over again, I see words like "influence," "reach," and "development" thrown around like confetti. I can't tell you how many articles, podcasts, and book titles I read that sound something like this:

"7 Traits of Effective Church Leaders"
"How to Become Influencers in a Digital Age"
"5 Steps for Developing a Larger Reach"
"The Do's and Don't's of Recruiting Leaders"
"Ways to Lead a Successful Team Without Providing Snacks"

(I've tried that last one and it's impossible, by the way)

By and large, here's what I've been noticing: Christian leadership is trying to replace Christian discipleship.

Now, don't get me wrong; leadership is an important skill to develop. God only knows how much mine needs strengthening! However, in the American church today, leadership has become unconsciously competitive with discipleship. In some circles, I would even argue that it's being presented as discipleship, or at least as a better, more efficient form of discipleship.

The end result is that we in the American church are constantly looking for ministry professionals and those with "leadership promise." We're identifying, training, and empowering leaders instead of making and growing disciples. Instead of being captivated by Jesus' call to faithful sacrifice, we're being captivated by America's metrics for success.

You see, a "disciple" by definition is not a leader - it's a "follower." A disciple is someone who is so deeply in love with his Master that he's willing to follow Jesus everywhere and pattern his life after his.

There are people in our churches who are not gifted at leading teams or serving on committees, yet they faithfully follow Jesus privately and publicly every single day. There are people who serve quietly in their churches and communities and are never in the spotlight, yet they become more and more like Jesus. These are disciples: not people who lead teams or people who have thousands of Instagram followers, but people whose love for Jesus flows into their daily practices and relationships.

Not every Christian is called to become a leader, but every Christian is called to be a follower.

You can be a really great leader without being a disciple. Unfortunately, I fear that this is what many of our pastors and lay leaders have become. 

Jesus' invitation to us is to "come and follow me." If we who are leaders in the local church are not actively following Jesus, then we can't invite others to follow our example. If we can't say as Paul said, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ," then we really have nothing to offer (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Church, the world needs better disciples, not more leaders. Thanks to our 21st-Century technology, we can find Christian leaders just about everywhere from the convenience of our phones. Disciples, though - the die-hard followers who resiliently lay down their lives and model Christ's love when the camera isn't rolling and the "likes" aren't accumulating - are much harder to find.

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