Biblical Discipleship

Accelerating Leadership Growth

Typical church: discouraged staff, frazzled youth workers, tired deacons, and overcrowded nurseries. “Give us Spirit-filled workers!” is the cry. On the local church level, what that often means is: “Please, Lord, bring us a ‘soldout,’ Sunday-School teaching saint from Calvary Big Church in the next state.” However, few people join our churches with well-developed leadership qualities.

The leadership gap is even more profound overseas than in North America. Not only are there fewer dedicated church members, but there is also a dearth of pastors to shepherd them. Let me share statistics from three countries that are desperate for pastors. In Brazil thousands are being saved daily. But, it is estimated that there are over 10,000 missions and preaching points without a pastor or staff.

In Germany, there are more pastors retiring each year than the total number of men graduating from their seminaries in two years. Also, close to 200 missions and preaching points are pastorless already. In Portugal, just three men graduated from the Baptist seminary this year (1997).

This shortage of true “ministers” — be they lay or clergy — is an ageless dilemma. Jesus entered a world that had never seen a Bible, read a tract, or heard Christian radio. His statement is so radical that it sounds almost impossible: “Look on the fields, for they are white already unto harvest” (John 4:35). Fields ready to be harvested, without Christian literature, strategically-planted churches, or decades of Gospel seed-sowing? Yes! That's wonderful news. However, Jesus proclaimed a well-established problem: “‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few ’” (Matthew 9:37, NIV).

Where can we get church leaders and pastors who have the “right stuff” to equip “baby” believers and train them to reproduce? For many denominations, the standard answer is seminary. However, as I've indicated from the above examples, our seminaries and Bible schools graduate only a trickle of church leaders. On the other hand, the millions coming to Christ worldwide require a flood of leadership to guide them. This God-blessed channel of formal schooling is just not adequate. In addition, we cannot depend on a few gifted professors to do what we as teachers, mentors, deacons, and pastoral staff aren't willing to give our time to. God gives us the responsibility of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).

Pray for Fresh Workers

To produce thousands of “laborers for the harvest,” we must do exactly what Jesus says. First, we follow Christ's command: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers . . . .”(Matthew 9:38). the phrase “send forth” literally means to “thrust out.” That's exactly what God did with the Early Church! They were comfortable in Jerusalem Community Church, but the Lord used persecution to drive them to lands needing the Gospel. We must make a personal, daily commitment to pray specifically for workers — both for overseas missions and for our churches.

Embrace a New Category of “Ministers”

Second, as we pray, God will push many into leadership who haven't thought of vocational ministry. Some will go to seminary. But thousands will not. So, on mission fields and in local churches a new category and new procedure for building workers must be targeted. One category is the bi-vocational pastor. God has used ministers serving in this way for centuries, but our acceptance of them is way behind. Jesus was a carpenter, too. Paul was a tentmaker.

Not only can God use bi-vocational pastors, but also full-time ministers who haven't been to seminary. We sometimes call them “lay pastors” or “lay evangelists.” Unfortunately, in some countries they are not even allowed to pastor. When I came to Tampa to pastor in the '60's, I was surprised to discover that there were only two other seminary graduates in our group of 70 Baptist churches! But, I learned much from these pastors.

Copy Jesus' Procedure for Leadership Training

Third, to close the leadership gap we must copy Jesus' simple plan for raising up workers: mentoring in a ministry lifestyle. One definition of “mentoring” is “a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources” (Paul D. Stanley & J. Robert Clinton, Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, p.12).

Jesus mentor-discipled people as His primary channel to evangelize the world. His method was lifestyle — He lived with twelve men, 14-16 hours a day for three years. When He commanded “follow me” — His two-word summary of the New Testament — the disciples responded positively by getting up-close.

What elements were involved in Jesus' ministry lifestyle? Publicly, He modeled four things before His disciples:

  • preaching
  • teaching
  • healing
  • miracles

Jesus is our supreme model for any teacher or preacher. Therefore, to emphasize and model the public ministry of Jesus but not model and equip others in Jesus' private ministry is to miss the Great Commission. Jesus' private ministry was equally important and more reproducible. He modeled:

  • intercession
  • witnessing
  • nurturing
  • discipling

How did Paul equip Timothy to pastor First Church of Ephesus? Just before dying, Paul reminds Timothy how he was taught to minister. Note how many of the following qualities and experiences can be learned by a sermon or lecture, and how many can only be learned within ministry. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11).

A pastor's doctrine, his teaching, can be learned by listening to sermons. But, Timothy could not have learned the other eight areas (half of which are character qualities) except by seeing them lived out during ministry together. Timothy was there! Pastor or church leader, whom are you taking WITH you to witness, to visit the hospitals, and to your home? Who sees you endure sufferings?

Titus, mentored by Paul, went to help the Corinthians and became a pastor in Crete. Paul writes of him: “walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?” (2 Corinthians 12:18). Mentoring that models a ministry lifestyle produces like-hearted leadership.

Dr. Bill Phillips, a regional leader for over 300 missionaries, offered this advice about ways to produce new spiritual leadership: “You are 100 percent correct regarding the need for building leadership and the place that mentor/modeling has in the accomplishment of this task. Our seminaries and Bible Schools neither turn out the mass of needed leadership and often times they fail to turn out the muscle for ministry. Academics are not the answer to kingdom leadership, although academics are not the failure of kingdom leadership. The real failure, as you constantly teach, is in having no mentor or model from which to experience the truths of God's Word.” “As iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).

Core Curriculum

What would be an easily reproducible, core curriculum to teach and model, if you desired to develop spiritual leadership? Remember, if we can't give people the time frame of Jesus (14-16 hours a day for three years), having 12 people in a group doesn't cut it. So, shave the number, while intensifying the relationships and experiences together. Have you modeled, then taught these basics personally to another, or in a small group?

  1. How to have a daily devotional time: methods of Scripture memory, Bible study and prayer.
  2. Attitude development through believing and claiming the promises of God. – Colossians 3:23-24
  3. Reproducible, simple witnessing tools, including how to share your testimony. – Matthew 4:19
  4. The ministry of the Holy Spirit: how to be filled with the Spirit, and walk in victory over sin.
  5. Discerning the will of God and getting guidance.
  6. World vision.
  7. The ministry of nurture and discipling/mentoring. How to assimilate new Christians.

Who does the teaching? The pastor follows his supreme model, Jesus, and is a pacesetter to model these areas. He follows Christ in training a small accountability group of men in the above basics. Each person needs to have one-with-one time weekly and be “with him” in witnessing and ministry. God's Spirit will lead them to train others (Mark 3:14).

You don't have time, you say? The pressures on a church leader dramatically decrease as new generations of leaders are trained. Here's one time-saving approach: I met with one man early on Tuesday morning. That evening the two of us went out witnessing with another man. After witnessing, discussing the experience, and prayer together, the first man went home. Then, I took the other man out to eat and he and I went over the “four P's” I'd also done with the first man earlier that day. (For help I suggest my Building Disciples notebook, Living God's Word, or First Steps for entry level or family times. The Power Of A Mentor illustrates why and how to mentor well.) This produced reproducers who, in turn, touched dozens — who became church leaders or were called into the pastorate and mission fields. We will fill the ranks of the “called” if we offer an additional track of leadership training.

Take This With You

  1. Who's the person you are mentoring?
  2. Pray and believe God for one pastor and one missionary to be called out each year from your church. Through Southern Baptists alone, it could produce 39,000 new potential missionaries and 39,000 new pastor candidates!