That’s right, you read it correctly – Christ-centered pastors don’t make disciples, nor do they take care of people. Instead, they do what Jesus did: they equip others to make disciples and to care for people. These pastors would rather equip ten people to make disciples than to make disciples themselves. Disciple-making and caring for people are too important and the personal rewards too bountiful for either to be reserved primarily for just one person in a congregation.
Biblical and Historical Precedence
The biblical precedent for such leadership is Jesus himself. Jesus spent most of his entire ministry reproducing his DNA (genetic code) in his small but diverse group of future leaders. He then sent them out into the world to do what he had not done – “to make disciples of all nations.”
Jesus was more concerned with multiplying his DNA than with personally adding people to the Kingdom. Multiplication, not addition, was his aim. Jesus taught us that the role of church leaders is to provide an environment in which others can grow to be disciples who make disciples.
An historical precedent is seen in the contrast often drawn between the effectiveness of George Whitfield and John Wesley. Whitfield, a student of John Wesley, initiated and popularized mass evangelism both within and outside of the church setting. He was the first “field preacher,” even before Wesley, and preached to more people than anyone of his day.
However, the revival Whitfield started would later be known as the Wesleyan Revival. Why? Wesley didn’t just preach to the masses. Wesley followed the example of Jesus and focused on equipping people to disciple one another. Wesley developed a discipling process that he used for forty years. And even though he never drew as many people as Whitfield, when he died he left behind a movement.
Jesus and Wesley could do what they did because they were clear about their role on this earth. They did not set out to be whatever their flock wanted them to be or to care for all the needs of everyone in their flock like so many pastors do in dying congregations. Instead, they focused on embedding their DNA in a selected core of individuals whom they equipped to go and to equip others to do the same.
In my book Growing Spiritual Redwoods, I describe the DNA as the mission, vision, values, and beliefs of the church or person. Jesus and Wesley were clear about their mission, vision, values, and beliefs. They passed this DNA on to the leadership they gathered around them. They did not train them to be followers; they trained them to be leaders of others leaders: to go out into the world and to embed in others the same DNA that had been embedded in them.
Earlier I said that Jesus gathered a small but diverse group of future leaders. The fact that Jesus called such a diverse group of people shows his understanding of gift-based ministries and his desire to multiply his DNA without cloning himself. DNA is a randomization device that God designed to individualize everything in the world. A female X chromosome and a male Y chromosome go through a process called meiosis which mixes up the genes in each individual so that each individual is different and carries characteristics of each parent to the offspring.
A church’s DNA should produce individuals who are different in characteristics and gifts but similar in their passion to bring people to Jesus Christ. Our DNA defines who we are without making us all exactly the same. It allows each part of the body of Christ to be different while focusing on the same God-given mission. It provides the parameters in which we can empower each other to work without having to ask for permission, resulting in a common vision being realized through our diversity. We can focus on what we have in common without giving up our uniqueness.
The Key to Christ-Centered Leadership
Here then, is the key to Christ-centered leadership:
The greatness of leaders is not so much in their skills and what they do with those skills as it is in how they focus those skills on ensuring the reproduction of the DNA at every level of the church and in every cell.
I call this process of reproducing fractalling.
Fractalling is the art of reproducing the DNA at every level of the congregation and in every cell (person). Although fractals are recent development of mathematics, the best way I know to explain them is to ask you to examine any leaf on any tree. Notice the large vein running down the middle of the leaf and the smaller veins branching out from the large vein. If you magnify this leaf, you can see that each one of the smaller veins has even smaller veins branching out from them exactly like the main vein. Every part of the leaf bears resemblance to the leaf as a whole. No matter how much you magnify the leaf, the pattern is repeated over and over. That is fractalling. Christ-centered leaders live to reproduce Christ’s DNA in others so that they can go and do the same.
Christ-centered pastors spend 80% of their time managing this process. They manage by the DNA, not by policies, manuals, or principles. They manage everything around this question: “Will this action enhance the DNA?” If so, they equip someone to do it. In essence, they are the keeper of the DNA.
Question: How have you seen a church’s DNA multiplied well in the next generation of leaders? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.
good stuff. Unfortunately, in today’s church, even when the preacher doubles the size of the congregation by this method, those who need the attention of THE minister to hold their hand will raise a ruckus and have the preacher crucified. Well… so was Jesus, I guess.
What you’re describing almost always only happens in churches under 250 (or churches that haven’t broken the 200 barrier). Those that are larger have come to the biblically based understanding that the laity do ministry, the church leaders lead ministry (as modeled in Acts 6 and outlined in Eph 4:11-12). What you’ve said is precisely the reason few churches break 200 … the congregation believes the pastor is their personal chaplain, not their spiritual leader.
Can I push back a little, Bill? I do think you are right that most churches are not working from this model, but I wonder if size is the best way to tell whether a church is equipping laity well? For instance, the church I am currently a part of has a disastrous divide between clergy and laity, and is over 3,000 members (actually 8,000 on the membership roster). They just added more clergy (and “staff” to do admin work) as numbers grew. And what about the small but reproductive churches who have no desire to grow over 200, but instead plant new communities from their abundance of active laity?
Maybe we are saying the same thing in the end, but I just wanted to make sure…Your thoughts?
Pushback always welcome. Sara we are on the same page. Size isn’t a measure it authenticity
Sorry – I meant pushing back on Bill Tenny-Brittian’s comment. So many Bills 🙂
Size of a congregation is not relevant in looking at how well disciples are being formed. Patriotism, prosperity gospel and entertainment can be more effected means for increasing numbers and have little to nothing to do with formation of disciples. larger churches often times have just the opposite impact on societies by making the Gospel of Jesus Christ something it is not.
Why is it that pastors are so defensive about their ministry. This article wasn’t about anything Francis emphasizes. The article was about making disciples the biblical way and I don’t remember size of the church being a factor. Why does this happen so often?
Until the District Superintendents and the Bishop understand this and stop moving pastors because they wont be personal chaplains, it will continue to be the way we must work, otherwise we are all being shuffled every few years, no matter what God has accomplished in the faith community otherwise. It’s very frustrating and it has convinced me not to follow the biblical guidance in order to accomplish some good, before the SPRC takes the vote and recommends a new pastor.
There are UMC pastors all over the country who are doing what I wrote about. It takes courage to buck the system but that is the only way to change it
“It takes courage to buck the system ”
How are they bucking the system? And in what way, precisely?
most church systems require the pastor to spend most of the time caring for the flock. Not discipling them but taking care of them. visiting the shut ins, going to the hospital, doing weddings and funerals and just all around “pastor fetch” kind of things. When a pastor says No to such things and trains the laity to take their rightful place in the Priesthood of believers all Hell usually breaks out at first.
Slight overstatement. Jesus made disciples– the twelve; and he cared for people with his many healings, several resurrections, etc.
I think you miss the point. Jesus could have spent most of his time making disciples, but he choose to invest in a few people so that the world could be changed. Its the same way in a church. If the pastor spends all the time trying to shepherd everyone, no one gets the attention they need in order to grow in Christ
Bill, I love your insight and I think you are right on, but getting an entrenched church to understand that this is the pastor’s role is a long, hard and uphill road. Trying to empower leaders to ways of discipling new leaders has been the hardest part of my pastorate.
That’s one if the reasons we are consultants now instead of pastors. We want to help other pastors do what we did
I really believe that only GOD makes disciples.
Susan. You have to be kidding. That excuse is so old. You take that attitude and you’ll never be part of adding to the kingdom. God won’t be able to use you.