We ask for polished leaders; God sends us messy people to disciple.

The vision of a movement of people coming to greater faith in the gospel increasingly is what draws most of us into church leadership. The image of disciples equipped and making disciples in their families, neighborhoods, and careers spurs us into action. Perhaps, like me, you hoped to be someone who cultivated a gospel ecosystem where the growth was spontaneous and spiritual as the Spirit of God worked deeply in the lives of others. Have you longed to see the Spirit send new churches, communities, and disciples to new areas of your cities and regions? Like me, did you believe God called you to invest deeply in the leaders who will guide those discipleship environments or those communities on mission across your city? If you’re a leader like that, welcome. We’re embarking on a series of posts written for us.

This series will challenge some of our deepest assumptions and idols. If you’re a leader beginning this journey and seeking “silver bullets” to make disciples, this was written for you, too. This series could stop you in your tracks and call you to reimagine all your dreams of grandeur. If you’re an equipper and coach of communities, I pray this series brings you deeper clarity on the target set before you to care for the leaders you lead.

Many pastors I speak with, train, and coach opine their lack of leaders. Their lacking is heard in their prayers: “God, just send us a leader.” Sometimes it’s seen in their next steps, regardless of the topic: “Get more leaders.” Often, after years of waiting, pastors move toward recruitment: “If only we could get some of their leaders to come here, then we could start making disciples!” We are hungry for leaders.

Yet, our churches don’t face a leadership crisis; what we’re actually facing is a discipleship catastrophe. We can’t recruit leaders because no one is cultivating disciples. All the while, we wait anxiously for God to deliver to us men and women who know the gospel, know how to lead, and who are committed to following Jesus in every area of life. I’ve encountered many church planters and pastors angry with God for not delivering leaders. Meanwhile, God answers our constant prayers for more leaders by sending us men and women to disciple! We ask for polished leaders, but God sends us messy people to disciple. Ironically, Jesus received a similar mess of people to disciple. Jesus didn’t get polished leaders. He was given erratic fisherman, isolated tax collectors, and zealots. Yet, Jesus thanked God for them and patiently gave three years of his life to these men He called friends.

Our discipleship crisis is born in our impatience. We’ve skipped the joy of spiritual formation that brings maturity and cynically waited for the mature to come to us. We do not have mature disciples who can shepherd and lead others because we did not shepherd and lead them. Our churches are not focused on being environments of spiritual growth because we’re focused on being centers of numerical growth. We haven’t taught people, we haven’t demonstrated discipleship for people, and we haven’t walked alongside people. Where are all the leaders? They’re in your church waiting to be discipled to maturity, hungry to know who they are and who their God is. When we disciple our people, we have leaders.

Our Common Struggle to Believe the Gospel

A thriving discipleship environment only exists because of the gospel. It requires boldness to speak the gospel and clarity to demonstrate the way of following Jesus. While we could spend volumes describing the mystery of discipleship (and many discipleship masterpieces have been written), our leadership famine doesn’t come from a lack of knowledge or skill. I believe we know what to do to form disciples—but we don’t do it. We aren’t making disciples, and we aren’t creating a discipleship culture because we are distracted, exhausted, and disillusioned.

The beginning of a disciple-making culture is you. But it isn’t about working harder, working smarter, and getting more skills. At least, that isn’t where you ought to start. Begin to cultivate a discipleship culture by looking into your own heart, the lies it believes, and the root beliefs that get exposed by our distraction, discouragement, and disillusionment. Our areas of deep exhaustion and discouragement are, many times, the areas of gospel need in our lives.

Make It Real: Questions for You and Your Teams

Q: Do you opine your lack of leaders?

Q: How would you describe your current state in making disciples? Are you distracted? Exhausted? Disillusioned?

Q: How does that affect your discipleship effectiveness?

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