My name is Marshall Benbow, and I am the discipleship pastor at Grace Community Church in Greensboro, NC. We are a church of about 500 in a Bible Belt city of about 250,000 people.
Over the years through the Verge Network I got exposed to the idea of missional discipleship, learning from folks like Jo Saxton, Alan Hirsch, Jeff Vanderstelt, and Neil Cole. The more I heard about the gospel being put into practice and about disciples who make disciples, the more I wanted to see that happen in my life and in my church. I caught the vision that discipleship was about so much more than “information transfer,” and wanted to lead our church in a new direction. But how could I lead them to embrace the gospel and live it out?
Reflecting the Vision
I discovered quickly that leading people in this way requires overcoming a number of barriers. Missional discipleship does not resonate quickly in our consumeristic culture, and the church isn’t much different. To think about living less for yourself and more on mission with God is a major shift in thinking. In some respects it would have been easier to simply start over, plant a church and build this into our DNA from the start rather than trying to change the minds of people who like church just fine the way that it is.
In the midst of these frustrations, I sometimes despaired that things would never change. Yet, I sensed God calling me to lead a culture change with my church rather than beginning a new work. I knew that I needed some practical tools for what I believed was a more missional discipleship model. The implications were huge, and we would have to change our structures to reflect this vision.
What if it Doesn’t ‘Work’
Having heard Jeff Vanderstelt teach at a couple of Verge conferences and having read Saturate and Gospel Fluency, I felt drawn to Saturate, and I wondered if coaching might be something that would help me and my church. I needed someone to help me think through the vision I was seeing, to discover how to put flesh to the ideas that were running around in my head, and so I decided to apply for a coaching cohort. Through this process, I’ve grown much.
Specifically, I have grown in understanding of how the gospel applies in my own life. One of my most powerful coaching times came during a conversation about vision for my particular context. As my coach asked me questions, I realized a core question and fear I had was, “What if we call people into gospel-centered mission, and Jesus doesn’t show up? What if it doesn’t ‘work’, and I’ve put all of my soul into this?” As that fear came out of me, I wept. I’d bottled up this unspoken question for so long, and ministered from a place of fear, and it was exhausting.
And then my cohort spoke the gospel to me.
They urged me to call people to Jesus, not to a ministry model, and reminded me that God welcomes me in the midst of my need. In fact, he loves me all the more because of my need. In order to grow in gospel saturation, I must be leading the way as a gospel-saturated leader, and coaching has moved me towards that.
A Kingdom Vision
My cohort has helped me in other ways too. As a leader in an established church, it is very easy to be busy with ministry maintenance, meeting needs, and pouring into people who are already in Christ who just want to know more about the Bible. I could be very successful maintaining our church, and get a lot of applause along the way. Though this might make me feel good in the short term, what I desperately want is to see a dead city come to life, families restored, and neighborhoods transformed by the gospel. My cohort has helped me be accountable toward this vision.
I’m convicted that a status quo church isn’t going to take us this direction. I joined this cohort because I needed to know how to equip my people to live out the gospel in their everyday contexts. I had no interest in helping people to just be better-looking cultural Christians. Intentionally engaging with other leaders in my cohort about the implications of the gospel and working through follow up work specific to my context has kept this goal in front of me.
Coaching has not been about getting simple answers or telling me what to do. It has been a process of unlocking the vision God has planted in me and then thinking prayerfully about next steps, and not losing focus in the weeds of a busy life and church. It’s given structure and intentionality to pursuing the Kingdom vision of making disciples in the power of the gospel.
I know that if you are reading this, it is likely that there is a vision in your heart for God’s Kingdom to impact your church, neighborhood, and city. But moving from vision to reality can be difficult, especially into areas where you don’t have experience. It’s easy to get stuck and the vision can seem more like wishful thinking. I encourage you to sign up for Saturate Coaching because it can help you get unstuck and begin getting traction on having vision become reality. And this is not because your coach has the answers but because they help you unlock the answers that God has already placed inside of you.
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