Whenever someone joins the Gravity Leadership Community, we ask them what their biggest leadership challenge is right now. A few months ago, someone replied that their biggest challenge was the final “leave/launch” part of the discipleship process, where disciples make disciples.
He stated that he had personally discipled several people, but when they were launched to start their own discipleship groups, it just didn’t happen. His disciples didn’t make disciples. The whole thing was still dependent on him.
Maybe you can relate. I certainly can! My first try at intentional disciple-making was a bit of a disappointment (partly because of my unrealistically high expectations!). I had discipled a few and tried to “launch” them into discipling others, but they really struggled to get any momentum.
As we continued to walk with those folks and process what was going on, things got better, and I learned a lot about how disciple-making actually works.
Here are 3 big lessons I learned that I think apply for everyone who wants their disciples to actually be able to make more disciples:
1. Own it as your responsibility, not theirs
One of first things we noticed was that the people in our groups who weren’t able to multiply felt a lot of shame about it. They were embarrassed that they couldn’t do for others what I had done for them, and felt like there was something wrong with them.
So it was really important to my to own my responsibility in not preparing them well. This is just good leadership, by the way. You take responsibility for these kinds of problems in your church.
As I called them back together for more training, I named the reality (“We aren’t seeing 2nd-generation discipleship happening and I wonder if we can talk about it”), and I took responsibility for it (“This is my fault and I’m sorry I haven’t led you well”).
And here’s what I did with them after I “reset” the situation a bit:
2. People need training, not just teaching
I was talking with someone about my struggle to help my disciples make disciples, and he asked me, “How much practice have they gotten in your group?”
I realized in that moment that I had hardly given them any practice! I had explained and taught them about the process, gave them the information they needed, and told them, “Go for it!” But I hadn’t really given them time and space to try it in my group.
I had been teaching them how to make disciples, but not training them, because I hadn’t given them nearly enough opportunity to try it out in my group.
It’s important to do give people lots of time to practice in your group, because it’s a safe place for them to fail. I needed to spend a lot more time in my group giving them opportunities to lead, and then debriefing together on it.
This is what I mean by training and not just teaching. They need lots of time to practice with you in the room before they’ll have any confidence to practice it without you in the room.
3. People still need coaching after they launch
The second lesson is that launching is more of a gradual process than a sudden one. People need to be involved in some kind of regular “orbit” with you even after they launch.
Why? Because all kinds of new issues come up for people once they actually step out and start leading. Issues they never thought to ask you about during their training. They need availability from you as a coach even after they’ve stopped needing direction from you as a mentor.
Some kind of regular time of check-in is really important for leaders, because they just don’t know what problems they’re going to encounter until they encounter them. It’s that point they’ll need you to be there, not to tell them what to do, but to help them process how they’re responding to what’s happening.
The result: disciples who make disciples
After spending some time training them and establishing a regular coaching relationship orbit with them, they were actually able to begin investing in others and we saw 2nd generation discipleship take off.
It was still pretty messy, with lots of hiccups and setbacks along the way, but it was exciting to see it start happening!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments:
- What have you learned about multiplication in discipleship?
- What struggles do you still have about multiplication in discipleship?
Leave a comment below and join the discussion!
P.S. Did you know we do in-depth training in transformational leadership? Click here to check it out.
Chris Henderson says
The question of multiplication is exactly the concern that comes to mind each time you ask “where can we help you better?”. As I’ve wrestled with this problem, I’ve observed a few of things.
In one respect, multiplication could look like multi-Generation Huddles, where people I lead proceed to lead others in Huddle. Of the ~20 people that I have Huddled in the last 3 years, only one of them has gone on to lead a Huddle themselves. That venture did not continue beyond one group, and no new generations were spawned from it. This reality has been quite disappointing.
One of the frustrating things about our church culture is that people lead others by copying those that lead them. Somehow, this dynamic has devolved into sitting in a room observing some scripture or faith topic, reading through a list of pre-prepared questions, and facilitating “fair” conversation where no one person dominates. People lead Bible Studies this way. They lead Sunday Schools, retreats, leadership-development classes, men’s groups, etc., all following this basic pattern. At the heart of this culture is a disbelief on the part of the Leader that they are “qualified” to lead others. They can “facilitate”, but “lead” requires knowledge, performance, stature, maturity, skill that they don’t identify in themselves. We wrestle with these Identity issues in our Huddles, helping come to terms with who we are in Christ, and how witnessing who He is to us is enough. But our culture is so academically- and inspirationally-addicted that our image of good leaders tends toward the perfect, celebrity-academic that can inspire and change lives with a simple speech or lesson. (Sigh).
Your article above is convicting me, because I realize that the primary example I’ve given those I lead is another academic setting of information transfer. At the same time, the article drives the same performance/adequacy concerns of my leadership abilities that I note are a constraint in our community already. This CAN’T be just about my performance…
Then I start to recognize that my own expectations of what multiplication looks like is rooted in that same culture I describe above. I’m expecting to see multi-generational Huddles being led the way I lead.
In retrospect, I start to recognize that my expectations for multiplication have been too limited. I see other other forms of multiplication that are still “baby food”, but they are huge leaps for the people that are exhibiting them.
I see relationships and responding-to-the-Holy Spirit being the motivations behind people’s decisions.
I see people dying to themselves and submitting to Christ intentionally as the language of discipleship allows them to recognize their conditions.
I see individuals in whom I am investing transferring the Truth and the Way into the lives of others, like my wife who witnessed gently to homeless people in London and Glasgow recently, and shared with them a kindness and generosity that surprised us both.
I see courage in new ministry starts from a man in whom I am investing relationally – and he is trusting me with sins that burden him – allowing me to share the journey of redeeming those behaviors in Christ.
I see baby-steps in reaching out to individuals we serve to connect meaningfully, rather than just works-projects that come and go like a special-forces insertion team.
I see a congregation confident in the Provision of the Lord when a senior pastor is re-assigned elsewhere (which was a cause of major division and distress in recent years).
As with all things in Discipleship, it is my expectation of multiplication that disappoints. I’m looking for a different reality than the one that IS, and that always disappoints.
I pray that I can perceive the directions and skills that the Lord is growing in me, and that HE is pleased with what He sees.
Ben Sternke says
Chris, thanks for your thoughtful and lovely reflections! I’m wishing now that part of the article was the encouragement to look for where God’s grace IS at work even if you feel discouraged about a lack of “results” as we might define them. That’s what I see you doing. Watching for where fruitfulness is already taking place, despite the fact that multiplication didn’t look exactly like you expected. This is massively important!
Wanda Kay Critser says
Jesus did draw his disciples apart and teach them, but his greatest classroom was on the street, in the village or town, where he sat or walked and paused. I agree with the relational leader and Holy Spirit driven. Look at Philip as an example. He would not have gone to the Gaza strip if the Holy Spirit had not lead him there, let alone press him to approach the man sitting in the transport. Each disciple must have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ who speaks through His Spirit into their daily being, e.g. Peter. The leader should equip with the Word and the possible methods will flow out of the leader’s compassionate manner with the lost, even from the leader’s reaction when the listener/receiver walks away. Jesus’ example with the rich, young ruler.
Phillip Corbell says
Great article, I love #1 … and I would go further–if after being discipled, our disciples aren’t gleefully chomping at the bit to share what they’ve learned with someone else, it is likely because they are uncomfortable doing so. That sounds obvious, right? We can see and agree on the symptom–the question is, what is the cause?
I think it’s crucial to diagnose the cause, and I think this is where pride and impatience can cloud our judgement. If we approach Discipleship from the outset as a process of training a trainer, we’re missing the point. Our disciples become projects, or trainees, not people, and success is measured by their performance and their production. This is not the way of God. Discipleship must be the process by which an individual is healed and made ‘whole’ … you know you are done not by a calendar or chapter number, but when the disciple has received and acknowledged the gracious and healing hand of God on his or her life. When God has truely become known and precious to the disciple. When wounds have been healed (or are healing), when the disciple can lay all the credit for their joy and peace at the feet of Jesus, they will be racing to tell others the good news they have received themselves–once they are truely in love with Christ and thankful for what He offers, they will want to tell the world.
Sounds great in theory, I know–but how do you get your disciples to that point?
I believe God does it by loving them and healing them–with no strings attached. There’s no ‘catch’ in the Jesus contract. No stipulation that expires or invalidates the warrantee. This is the way of love, and the way of God, and when we read ‘we love, because He first loved us’, there’s no ‘should’ in there–we’re not being commanded to love, we’re being invited to … forced love never works. It has to be genuine, spontaneous, desire to love freely … and that only happens after you have felt that from God. Discipleship must focus on helping our disciples experience the love of God.
One disciple sharing what they have learned in response to God’s love is more powerful that 1000 doing it out of sense of duty or obligation.
What we’re in danger of doing with this movement is making God conditional. I.e., … “I will disciple you, as long as you agree to do the same to someone else when we’re done”. That’s conditional. It’s not God’s way–It’s the world’s way … and the priority is not on the person, the priority is our pride. Love doesn’t attempt to control people, but love will free people to do what God created them to do.
Ben Sternke says
Totally agree! Our training focuses squarely on love and non-coercive leadership. Mainly in view here are disciples who would love to invest in others but lack the “know-how” because of a gap in the training.