I’m constantly asked, “What’s the best curriculum for leadership development or discipleship?” as if either one is something that can be taught and learned in a course. My response is always the same – “You are the curriculum.”

The Word "Disciple" Has Too Much Baggage

I often get a blank stare because in the West we think of everything as if it were a program that is taught rather than a way of life that is caught.  Discipleship is not a program to be taught; it is a trade to be learned by practice.

When Jesus used the word “disciple,” he was referring to a person who was learning a trade from someone he considered a master at the trade. Disciples were apprentices. There was no curriculum or course to take. Jesus just hung out with them. They learned from him by being with him and watching how he did things.  They were learning a trade – the trade of following Jesus and being like Jesus.

Jesus + Apprentice = a new trade: following Jesus.

So a better word for disciple today is apprentice  no baggage here. We all know what an apprentice is. It also helps if leadership development is understood as a relationship of respect and trust between a seasoned leader and an apprentice.

This means that discipleship takes place in the midst of ministry, not in a classroom.  It takes place as an apprentice watches how the seasoned leader goes about the trade the apprentices wished to do.  The leader does; the apprentice watches; and they talk about it.  Then the leader does; the apprentice helps; and they talk about it.  Then the apprentice does; the leader helps; and they talk about it; Then the apprentice does; the leader watches; and they talk about it.  Then the apprentice becomes a leader and begins the process all over again with a new apprentice.

Coach, Scout, and Player

In order to think through the process, one has to think in terms of “coach,” “scout,” and “player.”  The mistake that most pastors make is they enjoy playing the game so much that they never coach and pass the ministry off to another person. They don’t see their role as that of a coach and scout. They’re a player who does ministry which makes them too busy to either coach or scout. So twenty years later, they are still doing the same ministry and not making any advances in the Kingdom. However, if they lived as a coach and scout, they would always have an apprentice learning the trade of following Jesus from them and someday scouting and coaching for their own apprentices.

Reproduction and Exponential Growth of People and Church Are the Goal

If you want exponential church growth, leadership development, and spiritual growth, work toward every leader having four or five apprentices.  These means the leader can’t be burdened with going to lots of meetings and overseeing multiple ministries.  They key role of a leader is to coach and scout.

Leadership Path

Leadership development has two aspects. On the one hand, it is learning how to follow Jesus – that is to be and live more like him. This is the spiritual side of discipleship. On the other hand, it is learning how to lead others. This is the practical side of discipleship.

On the practical side, a farm system is necessary for apprentices to grow in ministry and reach their potential. The following list shows one example of moving up a leadership path.

  • Visitors – do not overlook the fact that fewer people will be joining organizations in the future and that one of the best ways to disciple a person is to involve them in a ministry. New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu is one of the best at this.
  • Apprentices in training – this includes potentially everyone in the congregation.
  • Leaders of committees – almost anyone can lead a committee. All you have to do is call it to order, keep your mouth shut, and close it.
  • Leaders of short-term ministries (like Sunday school or vacation Bible school) – at this point, people need to become scouts, looking for potential new leaders, but they are seldom coaches.
  • Leaders of major, ongoing ministries (like a small group system) – it is not uncommon from here on for leaders to become scouts and coaches.
  • Leaders of systems (such as lay mobilization)
  • Leaders of leaders – usually staff.
  • Leader of leaders – the lead pastor.

One of the most effective apprentice models is Wayne Cordeiro’s Fractal model in which every leader has four apprentices and their spouses and is responsible for their growth as well as their total spiritual well-being.  You can search our website for “fractal” to see it in more detail, you can find it described in my book Unfreezing Moves or in Cordeiro’s book Doing Ministry as a Team.

A Relationship of Mutual Respect and Trust

In mainline churches, the practice of nominating people on an annual basis to some committee or task actually gets in the way of leadership development, apprenticeship, and discipleship. The primary reason is that nominations are not based on trust between individuals as much as they are on who the church can talk into taking the job. Often the person agreeing to do the job can’t wait until the job is over.

Instead, the apprentice model rests on two people forming a bond of mutual respect and trust and together working out the details of that relationship. Instead of “dialing for people” and twisting arms, which happens so often in the nomination process, the apprenticeship and discipleship model revolves around a Jesus-like approach of inviting people into a relationship of trust. In that relationship, people learn by watching, doing, and debriefing. Because of the respect and trust between the apprentice and the coach, the apprentice is willing to open up and be vulnerable to the mentor.

If you are stuck with a nomination process, then avoid nominating your best people except for a couple of critical positions – finance and personnel. Keep the best for coaching, scouting, mentoring, and apprenticeship.

Committees Are Deadly

Committees hamper apprenticeship. No one is ever mentored or grown in a committee. In fact, just the opposite occurs – people are bored to tears and mostly do it out of duty. So do the following:

  • Drop as many committees as you possibly can. You’d be surprised at how little most of the people in your church care about committees.
  • Don’t prop up any failing committees or those in which no one wants to lead

Teams Are Better than Committees

Committees are always put together by a leader and are never nominated. The leader may be nominated, but not the team. The individuals on the team join the team because they like the leader and the project. They know before committing what they are getting into.

Take a look at the differences between teams and committees.

Committees                                        Teams

Committee Elected                                 Individually Called

Committee Nominated                          Leader Invites

Standing Group                                       Has An Ending

Maybe a Mission                                     Clear Mission

Someone Controls                                   Autonomous

Need Permission                                     Act On Their Own

Not Responsible For Action                  Responsible for Action

Not Connected                                         Connected

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference.

A Pipeline is Constantly Being Filled

Because every leader is scouting for potential leaders, there is a constant stream of apprentices in the pipeline to leadership.  The coach of a major ball team doesn’t wait until the star player breaks his leg. Instead, the coach always has scouts out looking for potential players.  No matter how good the players on his team are, there are always people waiting in the wings just in case.

Another way to look at leadership development and discipleship is to think about the different farm systems in sports. Every major pro sports team has a “not-so-pro” league from which they can select new talent for their team. In the same way, a reproducing church always has more people than it needs in the pipeline learning how to follow Jesus and to serve in some capacity.  (Those who follow Jesus always serve in some capacity if they are physically and mentally able).

Question: How do you ensure you have a “not-so-pro” league from which to find apprentices and your future leaders?

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