From Discipleship to Leadership

From Discipleship to Leadership

There are countless books out there about leadership.  Some are good. Some…well…are not.  I am not posting this to rehash the leadership conversation from a how-to perspective.  I am also not trying to create a whole new set of three-word acronyms restating the obvious in order to create a new income stream for myself.  I already have a full-time job.  Once again, the word “expert” when applied to “leadership” is a highly suspect idea to me.  I am no expert on anything.  We are all learning, and we are all learning from each other.

Something has happened in our community over and over again that bears examination and a wide range of feedback to help us to discern its significance and meaning.  It is an individual phenomenon, but it has a community and Kingdom impact.  I have no idea how it happens, so I have no idea how to make it happen intentionally.  In our experience, it has been a “God Thing”.  We refer to it as the “Movement from Discipleship to Leadership”.  It isn’t the acquisition of a new skill set.  In fact, if we try to load people for whom this hasn’t yet happened with a big pile of Leadership books to read and classes on Organizational Leadership, we keep running into a situation where our newly-christened “leaders” end up leading us away from why we are here and towards a task-based neurosis that too often misses the Gospel entirely.  While I do believe that leadership is both inspired and taught, we have come to observe that it is also “born”.  I am not saying that leaders are born.  I am saying that leadership is born in people, in particular, spiritual leadership is “born anew from above”.

Our mission is in dire need of hundreds of people who have become the “subject” of the Kingdom of God, actively involved in the mission of Jesus Christ.  We need hundreds of people who get up in the morning and ask God, “How can I be more effective at accomplishing the mission or task that you have set before me today?”  It is incredible to see the Holy Spirit inspiring excellence in people who serve in the mission.  Every day I have the incredible blessing of watching people go way beyond expectations in carrying out the tasks of serving the poor, the sick, the stranger, the addict, and those in prison.  And in some of those people who serve with such diligence and passion, we see something change.  I don’t know if it happens in a moment or if it is a gradual change.  But I do know that it is a paradigm shift.  They no longer simply ask, “How can I do an excellent job of carrying out this mission, task, or ministry?”  They begin to ask (or suddenly start asking), “How can I use this mission, task, or ministry to help people to experience the Kingdom of God personally or to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus?”  It seems simple.  It might even seem obvious.  But that shift is huge.  It isn’t made to happen by us.  It’s “born from above”.

Leaders in our community and in our mission are people for whom this paradigm shift has taken place.  The point to our feeding ministries, for example, is not simply to feed people food. Jesus said, “Humanity does not live on bread alone.”  So while we need hundreds of people willingly giving themselves away to provide food for people in need, God is also giving us some people who have been “born again” to see that there is more at stake in that mission than simply being really good at providing food.  I am not talking about a salvific rebirth.  What has been “born anew” in them is that they have begun to use the giving and receiving or food as a gateway through which people can enter and participate in the Kingdom of God.  And the Kingdom of God is the real point – The Good News, not simply handing out bags of groceries.  When we see this change happen in people, we do everything in our power to provide them with the skills that they feel they need to be as effective as possible in leading not only the tangible ministry of feeding, but also the transcendent mission of opening people’s eyes to the present Kingdom of God at work in the world.

We have found it to be destructive to the mission and to the fabric of community to put people into “leadership” positions who may have acquired real leadership skills, but who have not experienced this specific spiritual transformation.  And we have seen the Kingdom blossom and multiply exponentially when we are intentional about watching for this paradigm shift and then building mission around the people in whom has been born what we have observed to be the spiritual gift of Christ-inspired leadership.  Again, this is not an absolute.  Only God is absolute.  And I have no interest in putting God’s activity in a box.  But I am interested in your feedback.  What have you observed in your faith communities and missions?  Where am I off base?


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