Christian discipleship is, typically, a stated or implied goal of biblically-based churches. Therefore, it is naturally important to define that outcome and identify a process for achieving it. Translating that ideal into a working reality is not so easy. Unique flavours in the worship, style or emphasis of a local church will often prove more attractive to people than pursuing a disciplined pathway for personal growth. An experiential dimension to faith is important, though, where it seeks a transformative relationship with God and others. Our lives can become too easily overloaded with functional or digital relationships that rarely offer optimised communities of belonging. The challenge for churches is to capture hearts for a radical discipleship that is genuinely compelling to those with different spiritual journeys and life stages. To do this well, the ‘what’ of discipleship must be clear, but it is preceded by the ‘how’.
Even though there is no one simple solution, I would suggest a few thoughts for mapping a helpful pathway which are, in effect, what I have learned about leading change for discipleship effectiveness. At risk of sounding manipulative or of leaving little room for the sovereignty of God, this actually allows a sort of leadership that is hard-centred and soft-edged. In other words, it is intentionally-facilitated but non-imposed in a context of leading people to voluntary submission to the will of Christ for their lives. Here are the first few keys.
- Cause (The ‘need’ is a mission and the ‘result’ is vision). A compelling vision transcends a written statement. For the individual, this is about a revealed ‘word’ from God which typically comes through daily time with Him. For a church, it offers the brightly-burning guiding star that captures a cause people can believe in. This begins, too, with a leader capturing the heart of God in a way that resonates with others. A disciple-making mission (where a mission statement describes action) thrusts a church’s impetus to harness cause-hungry millennials and focuses them toward an optimised outcome (where a vision statement describes the goal).
- Conviction (The ‘need’ is motivation and the ‘result’ is a voice). To bring conviction that a cause is worth pursuing requires an emotional engagement that the ‘here’ of the present should be surrendered for the ‘there’ of a preferred future. Inspirational moments in personal relationships with God can inspire individuals, but urgency in churches requires motivation. Churches must be affective in order to be effective. Hearts must be engaged long before heads ever will. Motivation gives wider voice to a cause that is birthed by God and breathed to life by the Spirit.
- Core (The ‘need’ is magnification and the ‘result’ is vitality). Generating a group of key leaders – or ‘early adopters’ for change – needs convicted people to become vision amplifiers. Individuals may find an inside-out transformation through confirmation of their convictions, but organisational change rarely happens solely through relaying a Moses-on-the-mountaintop vision. When a committed core can lead the charge up the ramp of change toward a vision they believe in, they will energise others and vitalise the shared journey as an exciting and necessary transformation that is understood to be both godly and genuinely achievable. This stage needs frequent revisiting, since divergent visions that evolve will also have an amplifying effect that stifles progress.
- Culture (The ‘need’ is a maxim and the ‘result’ is value). Once a majority become engaged in change, leaders need to provide parameters and proverbs that gently guide pathways. A maxim (or proverb) can offer a helpful and repeatable slogan for shared ownership if not too kitsch or clichéd. Individuals might own change with memorable moments of encounter with God, but groups have such diversely nuanced engagement that warrants encapsulation of focus. Core values and mission statements are examples of parameters, but favourite sayings – such as “leadership is action, not position” or “bring solutions, not problems” – can all help clarify the culture within those parameters which people will quickly learn to value and protect.
Next week, I want to share several more of these stages of change that can help to shape a culture of effective discipleship. Again, the emphasis will not be on the mechanics, but the pathway, which importantly contextualises the content that will differ to some degree from church to church and leader to leader.