We all know that churches grow when they create a flow of experience that draws seekers into a process that shapes disciples. The language to describe this is something like, “Welcome, Grow, Send”. I refer to the fives steps of “Change, Gift, Call, Equip, and Send”. The graphic you see on any given website is usually a diamond, a circle, or a pentagon, with arrows moving from one to the other.

The disciple-making process is a never-ending flow of experience in the church. It is a “dance” in which people move from one partnership to another as they interpret God’s impact that changes their lives, as they discover and receive spiritual gifts, listen for a personal call, get equipped for mission, do the mission, feel the impact of God in the midst of the mission field, and then start the process all over again. Discipleship is like a dance, in which we are moving in and out of various partnerships, learning new dance steps, and reaching out to draw new people into the rhythm of the vision.

The problem is that this flow of experience continually breaks down. Churches lose momentum. They get stuck. The church starts out like a rave, with everybody dancing and the beat thumping, but after awhile you look out to see a nearly empty dance floor. The people are all huddled at tables with their friendship circles; newcomers are leaning against a wall hoping somebody will invite them to dance; the chaperones are drinking punch; and the band keeps playing the same tunes, oblivious to the room. The few people who are dancing applaud wildly, self-consciously wondering if all the watchers are criticizing their technique. What happened?

Most disciple-making processes break down because the staff, board, and core volunteers focus more on programs than on people. They are thinking more about getting tasks done than on growing people up. They are thinking more about mission results than missionary processes. They assume that the flow of experience in which people change dancing partners, learn new dance steps, and throw themselves onto the dance floor will happen automatically (or that the Holy Spirit will just do it). They miss the “mentoring moments”.

The “mentoring moment” is that unpredictable point in time when people are “ready” to hear good advice and act upon it. Sometimes you can anticipate it. Every time a small group reaches the end of its covenanted timetable, and there is a decision to “re-up” for another term or “move-on” to another group, there is a “mentoring moment”. Most often these moments happen unpredictably. If you observe people closely, you might see the “mentoring moment” coming. You may see the restlessness of spirit, the dis-ease with a relationship, the boredom with a job, or the growing frustration with a task … if you look! But that is just the problem. Church leaders don’t look. They don’t spend enough time watching people grow, observing the tell-tale signs of stagnation, monitoring their progress in Christ.  The “mentoring moment” comes and they fail to see it, or observe it too late, and then the moment passes. It is too late.

When church leaders fail to observe and seize the “mentoring moment”, bad things happen both for the individuals involved and for God’s mission. The individuals retreat into their comfort zones. They relax with their friends. They drift into unwise relationships, or activities that are unaligned to the mission of the church, or they do work that is unsuited to their spiritual gifts and personal calling. Once there, it is very hard to break them out of the new bad habits they are forming.

The “mentoring moment” requires attention, and also courage. Intervention at the right time is often spontaneous. You don’t have much time to think about it and, therefore, your intervention could very easily be wrong! Yet it is better to risk and be wrong, than never to risk at all. You can be diplomatic. You can be sensitive. But you must be clear, decisive, and urgent. Courage is essential because the best mentoring is almost always unwelcome. People don’t like to hear the truth. They prefer to hear a myth. Yet the best mentoring is almost always painful … or, at best, slightly irritating. All too many leaders see a mentoring opportunity, but hold back for fear of making a mistake or offending a friend.

As a church moves from track 2 to track 3 (i.e. from “Program Church” to “Adaptive Church” to “Apostolic Church”), the primary role of staff shifts dramatically from task management, to equipping skills, and on to mentoring moments. Staff and board will spend less and less time managing and equipping, and more and more time mentoring people into the next stage of their growth or the next level of their mission. Growing Christians will learn how to manage their own work. They will even learn how to equip themselves. What they cannot do alone is discern God’s will for their lives. That requires wise, spiritually credible, relationships. They need you to say: “You know, I’ve been watching you, and I think …”

If we think of the metaphor of the dance floor, we realize that what keeps any dance vibrant and alive is the vigilance of a handful of chaperones who watch, wait, and choose just the right moment to intervene. They may do it gently or firmly, diplomatically or aggressively. The circumstances dictate different approaches. The one thing you can say, however, is that they have excellent timing. They seem to know the “right time” to cut in, or make a new introduction, or initiate a conversation. This is not mere coincidence. Mentors train themselves to be observant and to be good listeners. While church leaders in all the other tracks are heavily involved in time management, apostolic leaders are concerned about “good timing”.