JR: You speak around the country about the need to grow and disciple leaders within local churches. Briefly, how do you understand biblical leadership?
MH: Paul speaks in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 1 about working with people for their progress and joy in God, so that they grow firm in their faith and have abundant joy in Christ. That’s a great, simple definition of spiritual leadership. You don’t have to think very hard to see why a church that is standing firm in their faith and full of godly joy is going to be a beacon for the gospel.
JR: That is quite a different understanding to running meetings or managing the organisation of the church.
MH: It’s possible for churches to drift into a wrong understanding of why they exist. What started off as a group that wanted to impact its area with the gospel can, after a period, mutate into one that merely meets for believers to get their own spiritual needs met. The kind of leaders the church looks for depends on their understanding of their DNA. The first will look for leaders who equip and release all the disciples to be a community of witnesses; the second will look for someone who serves the organisation and ministers to the perceived needs of the Christians.
JR: So a major priority for leaders in local churches is to be equippers and facilitators?
MH: I find it hard to read Ephesians 4 any other way. I recently asked a group of leaders to read this chapter of the Bible and complete the following sentence: ‘According to Ephesians 4 the goal of biblical leadership is…’ Someone instantly replied: ‘To equip and release disciples who make disciples’. That’s it in a nutshell. The work of leaders is not to do all the gospel work while everyone else supports and pays for them. It’s to enable the gospel ministry of every Christian and help the church grow a sense of being a team of disciples working together.
JR: That will be a significant mindset shift for some churches. Can you recommend any books to help a church think about it?
MH: There is some really good material being written at the moment to help churches think about this critical shift in their thinking. Neil Hudson from LICC (Imagine Church — Releasing Whole Life Disciples, IVP) has written helpfully on how the contract (actual or implicit) between congregation and leaders needs to shift from one of ‘pastoral care’ to ‘pastoral equipping’. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the same idea powerfully in their book, The Trellis and the Vine (The Good Book Company). You could do much worse than take one of these as your church book of the term.
JR: I’ve heard that Fruitful Leaders by Marcus Honeysett isn’t bad either! Why is it important, in your view, for leaders to train disciples to disciple others?
MH: I recently read somewhere that there are three fads that tend to come and go in churches: discipleship, mission and leadership training. I believe that we should combine all three and understand that we need to train leaders to make disciples who are actively participating in mission: disciples who know how to disciple other people. I agree with Steve Timmis when he says that, if we aren’t involved in some way in making disciples, then we aren’t disciples ourselves, because disciples make disciples.
That is the fundamental principle behind 2 Timothy 2.2, in which Paul tells Timothy to take what he has learned from him and pass it on to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. That’s four generations’ worth of believers and a vision for multiplication all in one verse!
JR: Don’t all church leaders train their churches to be involved in disciple-making?
MH: You would hope so. In reality, I think the number of churches which actually train every member to be involved in disciple-making is vanishingly small. The same is true for many leader-development programmes, which train people in theology and ministry skills but often don’t do much on how to make and multiply disciples.
And yet the fundamental call of God on every church is to go into the world and make disciples of Jesus: active followers, actively participating in Jesus’s mission, responding to his call to join his great cause. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people in local churches who haven’t grasped this core principle.
JR: How should the principle of making disciples shape the development of new leaders?
MH: It needs to shape leader-training programmes at all levels in churches and Bible colleges. Every element of training should aim to fulfil this goal. We need to train leaders to handle the Bible well, not just as an end in itself, but to make disciples who take the gospel to their neighbourhood and to the nations. We need to train people to pastor well, not as an end in itself, but so that those we pastor in turn counsel and nurture others. We need to train leaders who are certain that the local church is not just a chaplaincy for meeting the needs of Christians, but a mission team for impacting the world with the gospel. And we need to train leaders of churches, which haven’t got the disciple-making vision yet, to effect the difficult changes in church culture that will be needed and to handle the resistance they will encounter along the way.
JR: One new initiative you are involved in is the School of Missional Disciple-Making. Tell us a bit about it.
MH: The School is a joint initiative between Living Leadership and Above Bar Church in Southampton. Students and trainers come from a wide range of churches across Southampton and teaching input comes from people from several local churches, as well as the Navigators and Damaris. The curriculum is fully centred on the need to grow disciple-making leaders. It combines four tracks: (1) Bible handling, (2) spiritual formation of leaders, (3) principles of mission-focussed church and biblical leadership, and (4) how to disciple others and equip them, in turn, to disciple others. The School is both strongly biblical and deeply practical, encouraging the students to engage with non-Christians, one-to-one discipling and small group huddles with junior leaders, as well as identifying mission-focussed needs and opportunities in the city. It is great to see Above Bar and other churches establishing disciple-making as the core DNA of new leaders.
JR: So who is it for and is it really just a cheaper alternative to Bible College?
MH: No. Our focus is not on training a small number of people to be pastors (although for some we hope this may be a first step in that direction), but on training a large number of people at all levels to be disciple-making disciples!
JR: So how many students are involved and what are your plans for the future?
MH: During this pilot year we have 14 students. We are currently starting to recruit for next year’s intake, which we hope will be larger and draw people from a wider range of churches. Our vision for the coming years is to work with local churches to help develop training initiatives with the same ethos and content in other locations across the country.
John Risbridger is pastor of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Marcus Honeysettis director of the organisation Living Leadership. If you would like to know more about the School of Missional Disciple-Making or Living Leadership, seehttp://www.missionaldisciplemaking.org.uk and http://www.livingleadership.org