Why Leadership and Effectiveness Are Not Benchmarks of Discipleship.

gearsI saw a tweet this morning that said “Leaders can’t be effective at making disciples if they aren’t discipled themselves.”

At first glance, it looked pretty good. Then I read it again. I asked myself why the words “leaders” & “effective” were injected into the phrase? It unsettled me. Why couldn’t it be simply, “disciples can’t be fruitful at making disciples if they aren’t discipled themselves? You may say, THAT’S JUST SEMANTICS!  It is! But words mean things. Church words are often wrapped in unbiblical preconceptions, dried, and made into palatable energy pellets to power our unsanctioned actions. To put it more simply, the way we define words, especially biblical words, will define how we act.

I think for the most part, that the church should stop trying to make leaders and make disciples instead. Leadership is a by-product of discipleship. It’s the spam of the ham. There can be a wide gap between what’s considered good leadership and good discipleship, leaders and disciples. Isn’t it odd that the default benchmarks for effectiveness are often on leaders or leadership ability rather than discipleship and the ability to be a disciple or follower of Jesus.  Church planting often seeks to put a leadership mechanism in place so that it can make disciples.  

The church chases after effectiveness which is man centered. When it comes to the making of disciples, effectiveness is not the measure of one’s disciple making obedience. It’s the production or bearing of fruit. And neither of those are man centered either. What do I mean? Let’s take a look at 3 concepts:

  • Producing Fruit
  • Bearing Fruit
  • Being Fruitful

Producing Fruit – Most of the church’s attention, I fear, is on the first. We want to be fruit producers. This drives most of modern-day discipleship and leadership. Great lengths will be taken to tweak, genetically engineer, and make hybrids, to increase fruit production. There’s a difference between hard work, tilling the land, preparing the soil, maximizing fruit production, and claiming that we’re the ones who have actually produced the fruit.

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  1 Corinthians 3:7-8

We are God’s fellow workers.  Christ said “All authority had been given to him, therefore Go and Make Disciples.”  Matthew 28:18,19,20  Jesus didn’t say that since he’s been given all authority, he’s handing it all over to us to do with as we please.  We go and make disciples “in the name of” or  “in the authority of” Jesus himself.  The production of fruit is never a confirmation of right action on our part.  It is always the sign of God working in us through Jesus.  Hebrews 13:21  By the way, this alleviates none of our responsibility to obey.

Bearing Fruit – “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”  Colossians 1:6  It is the Gospel which bears fruit.  Again fruit bearing is not the result of our own efforts.  We can be in a state of maximum fruit bearing, but that also is rooted in the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:28  Notice too, that bearing fruit is dependent on God’s grace and truth.  Yes, we are told to be fruit bearers (not producers), but this is wholly dependent on God as well.  “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  John 15:4

Being Fruitful – The state of being fruitful also originates in God.  “”I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.”  Leviticus 26:9  Yes, Adam and Eve, Noah after the flood, Jacob after the wrestling match, and we are told to be fruitful and multiply, but it is always God who makes us fruitful, increases our numbers, and makes us a community/assembly/church.  Genesis 48:4

So, It’s time to stop chasing the winds of effectiveness and leadership and start seeking the will of God in Disciple Making.

Beloved, don’t sell your Disciple Making Inheritance

for a bowl of leadership soup.


0 thoughts on “Why Leadership and Effectiveness Are Not Benchmarks of Discipleship.

  1. KatieD says:

    Great post Michael!!!

  2. This was an EXCELLENT POST. We will not have effective leaders if we don’t first and foremost have effective disciples.

  3. Art Mealer says:

    Thanks, Miguel. This was encouraging.

  4. Bill Ford says:

    I have greatly struggled with this in the past. In my seminary classes I was taught and modeled that leadership and discipleship were basically the same thing. I was taught that church planting and ministry was an enterprise and we were CEO’s leading the people to move from “Good to Great.” It wasn’t about making followers of Jesus Christ. It was about moving people to higher positions within the cogs of the seeker sensitive purpose driven machine.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for commenting Bill. Your description of what has been and what is still being taught regarding leadership makes me feel a little sick. I can remember a few years back when we put on our Discipleship Conference here in Ecuador. So many recommendations for materials came flooding in. They were all about developing leaders. In the end we developed our own materials.

  5. […] Another Good Blog by Miguel Labrador […]

  6. Bravo! I have been really questioning why the evangelical church has SUCH a fascination with leadership. Jesus calls disciples.

    • Miguel says:

      Lisa, thanks for commenting. As a current seminary student, do you think the climate in seminaries is changing regarding its views on leadership? By the way, great stuff over at your blog I particularly like this post: AVOIDING THEOLOGICAL GOSSIP over at Parchment and Pen.

  7. chosenrebel says:

    Keep developing this Miguel. This is a fruitful path (pun intended). Honestly, you have put your finger on the pulse of a real problem in the church. My fear is that much of the “fruitfulness” of the American church is an illusion. It is like an ornate structure made out of cardboard and painted to make it look real. I think of the Pope’s visit to the Philippines. To make the ghettoed hillside look better to the Pope’s motorcade, the government painted the side facing the road, but the opposite side was left alone. Pictures of the front and back were dramatically different. One side looked good, pristine, shiny in the noon sun. The other side like the barrio of poverty and dirt it really was.

    It is counter intuitive but leaders are not made by the normal processes of development; at least, spiritual leaders aren’t made that way. Spiritual leaders are found and proved in the soil of service and sacrifice. They prove faithful in little and are then entrusted with more. They are fruitful in small places, places that others see as small, but that God uses for the work of bringing his glory to the earth.

    My hope is that the Church will grow weary of “how to” conferences and “this model” or “that model” of initiating “growth” and will get down to the business of simply dwelling in the land and being faithful to God. Let’s make disciples and pray for God to raise up workers. Leaders will emerge. It will be obvious by their fruitfulness, biblically defined fruitfulness, not just numbers of people in a building.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for commenting Marty,

      I especially like your analogy about the Philippines. So much application there. You’re right, “Leaders will emerge.”

  8. David Lim says:

    Excellent! A related quote: “It’s our role to be servants, it’s God’s role to raise leaders.”

  9. Tim Day says:

    Miguel, right on. If I understand you, I would even say that if you are not leading by obeying, you are not a church leader. I want to know and follow those who are ahead of me in obedience, as they obey – in other words, I want to be discipled. I only want others to follow me as I obey Christ, in other words, I want to be a disciple maker.

    What if we just focused on obedience, and in our quest to obey we emulated those who were obedient?

    I just posted what I believe to be an example of this among the people with whom I fellowship. I added the link to the comment form – hope you don’t mind.

  10. Arr Powell says:

    Word!! So true.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Leadership is the most important cornerstone to any organization. Poor leadership leads to poor structure, which will ruin any organization.
    Now I’m not really sure what you mean by effectiveness. Do you mean efficiency in an organization? When it comes down to it, if your church or organization isn’t efficient, or effective, you’ll lose members, you’ll lose resources, and fail.
    It’s great to want discipleship, it’s what some people are called to do, but in my experience not many people who are called to be disciples of Christ can lead an organization, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in integral part of an organization.

    • Miguel says:

      Anonymous, thanks for commenting.

      I understand where you’re coming from. But, the church is not an organization and even if it was, we’re not supposed to lead in the same way that the world does.

      “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Matthew 20:25

      Where are hierachacal structures commanded in scripture? Other than Christ, the head of the church?

  12. gary broderick says:

    This is a spot-on statement, “Church words are often wrapped in unbiblical preconceptions, dried, and made into palatable energy pellets to power our unsanctioned actions. To put it more simply, the way we define words, especially biblical words, will define how we act.”

    Words like discipleship, church and worship have been blured to the point of obscurity. Thank God the Holy Spirit is stirring His Body to rediscover the importance of the spiritual richness of these words and in doing so, bringing revival to the hearts of discouraged followers of Christ,….like me.

    Regarding ◦Producing Fruit◦Bearing Fruit and Being Fruitful, as someone who had once bought into the idea of “professional ministry”, I understood the mindset of “effectiveness and leadership” as the two hinges that hold the door of the Gospel open for all to access. However, this mentality is completely false. EVERYTHING hinges on God. I’ll say it again. EVERYTHING hinges on God. SALVATION hinges on God. REPENTANCE hinges on God. FAITH hinges on God. SANCTIFICATION hinges on God. REVEALATION hinges on God. The only thing I would be persuaded to say hinges on the follower of Jesus is SURRENDER, but even our ability to surrender most of the time, I believe, hinges on God. Our DEPENDANCE is to be completely upon God. We are commanded by Jesuss to ABIDE and apart from this continuall ABIDING, we can do nothing.

    • Miguel says:

      Gary, thanks for commenting brother…

      The Word and His words are indeed wonderful things. The problem comes when we try to separate the two. Jesus said, “Abide in me, AND my words in you.” John 15:7 You’re right abiding is key. But abiding is never passive. We always are listening to and acting in accordance with the scriptures and the Spirit.

  13. Lance Ford says:

    Good post, Miguel. The “everything rises or falls on leadership” mantra has effectually captivated the hearts and minds of pastors and most all those called to be servants for Jesus. The theme from the gospels through the epistles is servantship (80x), not leadership–which is mentioned less than nine times in the NT. Jesus could not have been more clear (Matt 20:25-28) that he came to create a servantship culture and not a leadership culture. His disciples would be servants and out of that culture people would follow in that mode. This has not been good enough for us. Just like Israel, we want “Kings” and we fashion leadership in the modes of the Gentiles (world system) with domination, control and hierarchy. We are called to make servants of the KIngdom of God—this IS discipleship. Never do we find Jesus telling us to make leaders.

  14. I totally agree with the sentiment of both the post and what Lance has written here. Too many people aspire to be leaders,in the traditional sense of the term, thinking that’s the pinnacle of Christian success, but few aspire to be servants, laying down their lives for others.

    Making disciples is what Jesus did, and it’s what he asks us as his disciples to do too. Bearing fruit, according to John 4:36 includes bringing people “to eternal life.” If we concentrate on that, leadership issues will take care of themselves.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for commenting Sister…

      As hard as it is to grasp, leadership issues will take care of themselves. It’s because each of us, hopefully, are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Unfortunately, some are still being artificially reshaped. I long to see more of the former, in myself too.

      P.S. I enjoy reading your blog.

  15. Wendy McCaig says:

    “I think for the most part, that the church should stop trying to make leaders and make disciples instead. Leadership is a by-product of discipleship.” I agree with this statement to a degree. I don’t think you can have effective spiritual leaders if they are not first themselves disciples. I also agree that if we put our focus on “following Jesus” instead of “building leaders” we would likely have all the leadership we needed.

    However, I see Leadership and Discipleship as two different qualities. Not all disciples are effective leaders and not all leaders are good disciples. Most spiritual gifts inventories I have taken have listed leadership as a spiritual gift – a God thing.. A disciple in my mind is someone who seeks to follows Jesus. A spiritual leader is someone who helps others follow Jesus.

    I agree with you that churches focus should be on making disciples and God will raise up the leaders.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for commenting Wendy…

      I struggle with whether or not “Leadership” as spiritual gift is what we think it is. It’s surely not something that puts one person in charge over another. The nuance of the Greek is very trick there. To me at least. It seems to be more modeling by example and influence than the traditional sense in which it is understood. i.e. Romans 12:3

      I have to think about your statement, ” Leadership and Discipleship as two different qualities.” It poses an interesting question. Although, I’m almost certain that Leadership is birthed from Discipleship.

  16. Tim Day says:

    Like you, perhaps, I’m trying to figure out how to differentiate leadership and discipleship, or if I even should. I’m either confused or on to something. I know there are people who seem much better at obeying than I am, and if I follow them – as they obey – I seem to learn obedience.

  17. Lauren Higgins says:

    This is an excellent post. Every point is spot on, and there’s been a lot of truth shared in the comments. I’m not sure how things ever got so complicated within the church. Those who love and fear God will read their Bible, learn what it says, and live it faithfully with a servant’s heart. They’ll seek fellowship with others who do the same. Iron sharpens iron… discipling takes place. They will grow together in the faith, and natural leaders will emerge. Diligent seekers of God will join them along the way, and together they will work to spread the Gospel. It won’t be perfect, because we’re human. But, there will be fruit.

    AND, tares will grow up among them. No matter how much preaching they hear, how many small groups they participate in, if they have no love or fear of God, they will produce no fruit. Leadership and effectiveness programs aren’t going to “fix” the problem. It is what it is. We’re TOLD it will be this way. Could it be that churches are expending loads of effort trying to squeeze fruit from tares? If you seek Him, you will find Him. If you don’t seek Him? Even the most “effective” church program can’t help that.

    So, yes, if the body would focus on discipling, the faithful will join in and the fruit will emerge. THAT is effective. 🙂

  18. Moose says:

    Nice post. I think I agree with you. The gospel spread throughout the world by the 12 disciples, all it took was for them to know the gospel. Jesus. Love. A consuming fire in their hearts to see all men reconciled with the amazing Father. We don’t need more leaders, more meetings and organizational skills and speaking skills. More degrees and CEO’s and organizations.

    All we need is burning ones. People who, no matter their leadership skills, speaking skills, educational background, career or wallet size – have a burning passion for Jesus.

  19. Tom Schultz says:

    I agree about the significance of words and the way they are used to cover up underlying meanings. I recall a denomination that had a mix of conservative and liberal congregations putting out a year-long slogan, “Celebrate Life” which could for one group mean to celebrate the flowers coming up in the spring while to the other group it could mean to celebrate the new life they had experienced in Christ.

    In my long church journey I remember one church that said ALL contributions to missions should be directed through them to protect us from supporting charlatans and money-grubbers [we continued to support two faithful couples whose ministry we knew well, in spite of it], but it was eye-opening to realize that they vetted ministries by the number of new churches they planted [with a building that could feature in slide shows] and the number of…alleged…converts. Faithfulness in discipleship and work in hard fields didn’t enter their equation!

    So I get really nervous when ‘effective’ is tossed about, since it seems to be one of those terms that takes on sinister meanings under the surface! I would hope leadership can arise out of discipleship, but I have seen settings where CONTROL was the operative word and freedom was only a word!

  20. Wendy McCaig says:

    I would totally agree that spiritual leadership emerges out of discipleship and I used to think that every one was a leader. Perhaps that is what the Greek means – each of us is to live in a way that others would want to emulate.

    However, applying a more western definition of leader as one whom others follow, I think we are talking about two different qualities. I guess it comes down to your definition of the word leader.

  21. Excellent article!

    I particularly agree with your statement that words DO count. I think, in unpacking this, that there are two branches of authority in accomplishing things. There is the authority to make disciples and then there is the authority to ‘do ministry’, for instance the first ‘food ministry’ in Acts 6. A person could be lead a ‘food ministry’/administrative authority/ who was not able to make disciples/functional authority. In a situation of administrative authority, the term ‘success’ would be applied or not depending on what the measuring stick was. In the case of the food ministry, our typical ‘church mindset’ would declare ‘success’ if the ministry fulfilled its objective of feeding the most people, effectively and efficiently. Plus, if it was growing, it would usually be deemed ‘very successful’ and the service of the leader deemed very successful. However, I believe good biblical leadership is different. The measuring stick is administrative success: the effectiveness and efficiency (plus perhaps growth) of the ministry. PLUS it is functional success. This is that the leader is devoting himself/herself to practicing with the others in the ministry the KEY THINGS needed. In this case, the ‘non-disciple making leader would NOT be a success. So, IMO, the problem is with our ‘STANDARD’. We can sit in ‘church’ week after week and not DEVOTE ourselves to the KEY THINGS all believers in all generations in all nations should do. These are Love God, Love others, Make Disciples, the Apostle’s teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread & Prayer. It is important that we identify shared standards ~ esp. that leaders should be devoting themselves to both administrative and functional leadership.

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