The following post is a rough draft of a section in Chapter 1  in our upcoming book, 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth.

Grow Spiritual Leaders to Grow Spiritual Members

Einstein: God ThoughtsToday’s spiritual seekers rarely turn to Christianity or to the church to find the answers they seek because of their past experiences or because of the church and cultural Christianity’s reputation. Too often, spiritual seekers have turned in desperation to the church only to discover the church embroiled in business as usual, leaving little room for the development of spiritual giants. Second, although the church’s leadership must oversee significant resources in a business-like fashion, the church was never intended to be operated as a business. Leaders in business are selected for their skills, experience, and abilities in their trade. The church, however, has a different biblical mandate for leadership selection. Church leaders are to be selected based on their spiritual maturity, their integrity, and their model as a spiritual mentor and leader (see Acts 6). Indeed, there was no other criterion used for the selection of church leaders in the New Testament. The apparent process for leadership selection was (1) discern a fully committed, faithful disciple of Jesus Christ; (2) select them as a leader; and (3) train them in whatever skill was needed. However, over the years, the church has defaulted to the business model of leadership selection. This has left the church spiritually wanting, and in too many cases spiritually bankrupt.

Build Strong Spiritual Leaders to Build a Strong Spiritual Congregation

There are many programs that have been developed to raise up spiritually grounded leaders; however, most of them depend on an intellectual model, that is, if you learn what you’re supposed to do, you’ll naturally do it. Although that has been one of the core Christian educational models for decades, the results have been less than stellar. Instead, the pedagogy that has repeatedly shown itself effective is based on the biblical model of encouragement. Although the word “encourage” has been used as a synonym for “praise,” as in giving someone an “atta boy” or “atta girl” when they’ve done something well, the biblical use is significantly different. Biblical encouragement is better understood as, “You can do it! Let’s take the next step in your faith journey!” It would include Paul’s admonition to spur one another on to do good works and to admonish one another.

Today, we would include the practice of accountability to complete the understanding of biblical encouragement. However, strong spiritual leaders and members are not developed by weekly worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, or even small group participation alone. Faithful, practicing disciples become strong spiritual leaders through personal practice of the spiritual habits, also known as the spiritual disciplines. These spiritual habits are just that – they’re the habits that are practiced in between church activities. These habits include scripture reading, listening prayer, encouraging others in the faith, doing conspicuous good works, and intentional faith sharing. Of course, there are many other spiritual disciplines, but we’ve found that when a church leader is intentional in practicing these five habits the leader’s spiritual maturity develops at an escalating rate. Therefore, beginning immediately, instill the expectation that all church leaders will be intentionally engaged in personal spiritual development. To facilitate this expectation, all staff meetings, administrative board meetings, executive board meetings, committee meetings, and ministry and administrative meetings should begin by every participant answering the keystone accountability question:

What have you read in Scripture this week that intrigued you? 

In the case of ministerial staff, Christian education leaders, and others who study the Bible as a part of their regular preparation, the question should be appended with outside of your preparation time.” Although reading and studying Scripture in worship, Sunday school, and small groups is a good thing, these readings should not count in terms of this question. The intent is to encourage one another to delve into the Bible on our own time and at our own pace. Whether we’re reading a paragraph, a chapter, or a whole epistle at each sitting is less important than the practice of engaging Scripture one-on-one with Jesus Christ. Notice that the question is not addressed to the whole group, but to each individual one by one. Yes, you may have to deal with a couple of people who will object to the practice for reasons such as “My spiritual practices are between me and God.” Of course, that objection (and most others) are not biblically supported. If someone doesn’t want to engage the process they are welcome to resign from leadership. No, that’s not nice, but it is kind. Helping your members become increasingly faithful and effective disciples of Jesus is the kindest thing the church can do. Since that is true, “nice” doesn’t even enter the picture. (We’ll deal with the fallacy of “nice” a little later on in this chapter.) As you routinize this practice, your leaders at each meeting will naturally open their time together by discussing what they’ve been reading and how it’s affecting their lives. When this has become the custom, only then should one of the other discipleship development questions be introduced, and these must never take the place of the keystone question, which must be asked at every meeting.[1]  The remaining Discipleship Development Questions include:

  1. What have you heard from God in your listening prayers, and what is God calling you to do?
  2. Whom have you encouraged in the faith this week?
  3. How have you served your neighbor in the name of Jesus this week?
  4. Who have you intentionally shared your faith with this week, and what was the result?

Typically, we recommend adding one question from the list and repeating it at every meeting until everyone is firmly entrenched in its practice. Only then should it be replaced by one of the other questions (again, only the keystone question remains fixed as the primary question).

Question: How can you incorporate Discipleship Development Questions into your leadership meetings? What are some other scenarios in which these questions might be helpful? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.

[1] Failure to do so will lead to a gradual falling off of spiritual practices – it shouldn’t be that way, we suppose, but it’s just the nature of a fallen world. Unless someone holds us accountable for our practices, our faithful practices begin to slip.