‘It’s all about leadership’. So began a stirring talk I heard a number of years ago from a prominent church leader. It was a great talk. It charted the decline of many local churches to weak or ineffective leadership. It cited research showing that good leadership is central to the growth of the local church and the expansion of God’s kingdom. It was biblical. Passionate. Persuasive.
Now, some fifteen years later I’m reflecting again on those words. What’s it all about? As a church leader who wants to see the kingdom of God come here on earth as in heaven, what should I be focussing on? Is it all about investing in leadership? And the more I ponder this question, I think it is. The work of transformation always requires leadership. It’s all about leadership.
But not just leadership. It’s also all about discipleship. If we only invest in leaders and fail to focus on the basic work of making and nurturing disciples, then we’re going to get into trouble. Those who’ve begun to follow Jesus need to grow as disciples and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to influence families, streets, workplaces and communities. Strong foundations need to be built for a lifetime of following Jesus. Through worship and prayer, encouragement and teaching, testimony and role-modelling, this work of discipleship is crucial. Basic. Essential. Which means it’s not just all about leadership. It’s all about discipleship and leadership.
I’m more and more convinced of this. That’s why I’ve tried (and am still trying) to make discipleship and leadership the two central things I focus on. That’s why for a few years now I’ve written two blogs – one on discipleship and one on leadership. Those are the two areas I seek to concentrate on in my church and the two areas I encourage other churches in the North to focus on. Those are the two areas I read on more than anything else. Those are the two areas I’m increasingly asked to speak on. Discipleship and leadership.
At The Belfrey in York – where I’m Vicar – discipleship and leadership are central to our strategic emphases (of which we have four):
– evangelism – discipleship – leadership – planting –
But strip it back to basics and you could end up just with discipleship and leadership. Because evangelism is really the first part of discipleship – it’s helping people start the life of discipleship. And planting is about leadership. It involves a church exercising leadership and starting a new venture. It involves leadership from their denomination to envision, guide and support this. And very practically it involves a leader taking a team of disciples to start or revitalise a church. It’s all about discipleship and leadership.
I was recently reading Acts 14 which describes the work of Paul and Barnabas, travelling around evangelizing and planting. Luke, the writer of Acts is clear that what they were doing is essentially discipleship and leadership. So we have no doubt about this he places these two things right next to each other, describing discipleship in verses 21-22 (‘preaching the gospel … strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith’) and leadership in verse 23 (‘appointing elders in each church’ they planted). For those first apostles it really was all about discipleship and leadership.
I don’t claim to be an expert in either discipleship or leadership. But I know it’s what I’m called to. And I think I’m growing and learning in these areas, despite failings and mistakes. Such is the journey of faith!
I reckon that discipleship and leadership are, in the end, what it’s all about. Which is why until my dying day, that’s what I want to invest my time, my prayers and my energy into. Because it’s all about discipleship and leadership.