discipleship leadership

Where Jesus Wants Us To Go

Recently, I had a seminary assignment to write out a personal philosophy of leadership.  The process of clarifying and writing my thoughts was very helpful for me, and I thought I would share it as a series here on the blog.


Where Jesus Wants Us To Go

For the purposes of clarity, the second half of the definition of leadership will be analyzed first, as it provides the foundation for the first portion of the definition.  Theologically, leadership cannot be understood apart from the revealed Word of God and the perfect life, atoning death and resurrection of Christ.  To lead biblically, a person must first submit to the Word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Often, discussion begins on philosophical and value-based grounds, but biblical leadership must primarily be rooted in a worldview grounded in the Scriptures.

Leadership in Light of the Story of Redemption

Biblical leadership, therefore, looks first to the story of redemption in the Scriptures for a beginning and endpoint. The metanarrative of Scripture puts leadership squarely in the purpose of God to exalt Himself.  God the Father has accomplished the exaltation of Himself through the person and work of Christ, and leadership therefore is ultimately Christocentric.  Finally, the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in effectually carrying out this work of the exaltation of Jesus in the world through applying God’s word into the hearts and minds of believers.  This redemptive activity of God to exalt Himself in the person and work of Christ by the power of the Spirit is the fundamental reality of the Christian life, and therefore any activity within the Christian life, like leadership, must fit within this overarching story and purpose.

The Great Commission as the Fundamental Command of Leadership

Having a firm grasp on the story of redemption, the next step in defining biblical leadership is to answer the question “what is the primary task of the leader?”  Surveying the Scriptures, it appears that the primary way in which Jesus desires his followers to lead is expressed in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The primary command of a leader grounded in the redemptive plan of God is to make disciples through the means of baptism and teaching obedience.  This is the basic command for biblical leadership because it is the foundational commission for all followers of Jesus. To define leadership without the great commission is to build a house without a proper foundation.  Biblical leadership therefore is founded on helping individuals publicly identify themselves with Christ through the means of baptism, and submit the entirety of their lives to obedience to Jesus the King through obedience to His word.

Jesus is the Model of Biblical Leadership

If obedience-based discipleship is the foundation for leadership, it seems wise to search the Scripture to see a tangible demonstration of this model.  Fortunately, we have the perfect example of this kind of leadership in Jesus and his investment in the first disciples.  From selection to commission, the life of Jesus presents us with a compelling illustration for biblical leadership.  Jesus met his disciples in the context of their everyday life (Matthew 4:18), called them to radical obedience (Matthew 4:19), demonstrated the power of God (Matthew 4:23-24), revealed to them the authority of His word (Matthew 7:28-29), shepherded them through their sin and disobedience (Matthew 18:1-5), provided them a vision for their lives (John 21:18-19), and commissioned them to do the same in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

The Method of Jesus Provides the Pattern of Biblical Leadership

If Jesus perfectly obeyed God the Father in His time here on earth, then He presents a faithful representation of how God desires for leadership to be done.  Through the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, God has provided the church a tangible model for faithful leadership that makes disciples for the glory of God.  Robert Coleman, in his classic work “The Master Plan of Evangelism”, outlines the process and methodology of Jesus with simplicity and detail.  

In short, Coleman’s work details discipleship as eight overlapping principles; selection, association, consecration, impartation, demonstration, delegation, supervision, and reproduction. From a process standpoint, I do not think there is much to improve upon, and this book has served as a foundational resource in my own leadership. 

discipleship leadership

What is Biblical Leadership?

Recently, I had a seminary assignment to write out a personal philosophy of leadership.  The process of clarifying and writing my thoughts was very helpful for me, and I thought I would share it as a series here on the blog.


What is Biblical Leadership?

Leadership is a simple concept, and yet simultaneously incredibly complex.  As I have processed through my own leadership philosophy, I have arrived at this definition of biblical leadership:

Biblical leadership is meeting someone where they are, and taking them where Jesus wants them to go.

This definition has served for me as a fundamental axiom in discipleship, in leadership development, and in organizational leadership.  The two essential components that are at the core of my philosophy are the understanding of the individual, and the biblical vision for a life lived under the lordship of Christ.  Biblical leadership is therefore intensely personal and at the same time intensely biblical.

This definition provides a basic foundation for leadership, but as with any definition, it requires us to expand the meaning.

Biblical Leadership

First, the term “biblical” can be put in front of just about anything and be supported by a few texts.  By no means do I think the definition above comprehensively encapsulates all that the Scriptures teach about leadership.  For me, however, it captures the essence of what leadership consistently looks like throughout the Scriptures.

Whether you look at Moses leading the Israelites of out Egypt, David reigning over the kingdom of Israel, Peter leading the New Testament church, or Jesus, the perfect leader, making disciples here on this earth, there are three irreducible components:

  1. The Leader
  2. The Follower(s)
  3. The Interaction between Leader and Follower(s)

The definition I have written is from the perspective of a leader understanding the follower and providing a framework for interaction.  In the following posts, I’ll unpack what I mean by the phrases “meeting someone where they are” and “taking them where Jesus wants them to go”.

How would you define Biblical leadership?

discipleship evangelism missional community

Parenting, Education and Mission

Recently, I was chatting with a member of our church who has been intentionally living on mission for several years amongst unreached people groups in Austin.  He has children that are similar in age to mine, so we struck up a conversation about school.  In that conversation, I was incredibly challenged by his faithfulness to consider the schooling choices of their children in light of the mission, and I asked him to write his thoughts for me.

We have deliberately kept his identity anonymous because of the sensitive context of his ministry, but I pray that his story encourages and challenges you to live all of life in light of the gospel!


Parenting and Missional Communities

Am I a good parent?

When we began to consider where to put our son into school, we were sobered by the many options and opportunities.  What would a good parent do?

Our life in Austin had placed us among a diverse group of friends and we saw many positive routes to go whether it was public or private schooling or homeschooling.  We saw great parents in all those options.

So the question came, “what does God want for us – for our son?”

Initially in preschool, we used some Christian schooling options.  These were positive experiences and quite honestly, there was a number of non-believing families that chose to place their kids there.

I had heard some sermons on the internet by a pastor I had great respect for.  He teaches his congregation that parents must choose a specific schooling option in order to faithfully steward their children.  But do we place this same expectation on “goers”?  Do you expect the missionary to keep his children out of the culture he is seeking to reach?

As we approached the decision about entering Kindergarten, we began to ask many other folks to pray with us about this decision.  We desired to make a decision that was not based on the advice of others, or the desires of our heart – but rather the priority of The Gospel.  God has demonstrated so much  kindness and forgiveness to us.  We believe that the worship of His name among all peoples should take priority before any other.  He is worth that.

I have experience with many believers serving overseas and have seen many of them rely on either ex-patriot private schools or homeschooling.  However, I also met some who were sending their children to secular school.  They believed that this would better prepare their children to be witnesses for Christ, both learning culture and language.

In the end, we decided to send our son to a school that is run by people with an entirely different worldview than our own so our entire family can continue to live and minister amongst those whom God has called us to. Practically speaking, it’s been hard!  We have to invest more time in discipling our son, and also are having some conversations that are difficult for a first-grader to grasp.  But we know we’ve been obedient.

Our heart really wrestled and prayed over the decision we made.  Honestly even as my son approached his first grade year, we continue to ask ourselves if we’re doing the right thing.  But the answer always brings us back to The Gospel.  We could make a decision based on what is in our children’s best academic interest alone.  We could not make a decision that gives us the most comfort.  The Gospel called for us to follow Jesus no matter where He led.

Choose Against Comfort 

Jesus gave up His royal status in heaven – a place of privilege and everything due Him.  But he chose against comfort.  He chose to love those who were different from him – sinners.  He chose to love people outside his own culture.

In our experience with the Gospel, we have found that we must bring every decision to the light of the Gospel.  Decisions on how to discipline.  Decisions on how to instill character and cultural manners.  And yes, even decisions on how to educate academically .

Should our son be protected and kept apart from the secular world?  Should he not learn discipleship and evangelism from a young age?

And as a parent, do I compartmentalize the decisions for my children?  Those decisions which are only for me and not for them? We asked ourselves, “Can we separate our lives and decisions from the truth of Revelation 5:9-10 and God’s plan for Jesus’ return contingent on the preaching of His Gospel to every people group on earth?”

Recently we planned for my son’s birthday party.  We realized many of my son’s friends have lots of vowels in their names and they look nothing like him.  He shared with us recently about one of his best friends who doesn’t like it when he talks about Jesus, but he shared a Bible story and his friend really liked it.

So are we good parents?

The Gospel reminds us that we are not good people or parents.  In fact we are sinful parents who desperately need the Gospel to guide us in all matters.  So our hope is not in making the most shrewd academic or social decision for our son – our hope is that he will be a part of God’s worship party when every tribe and tongue are present.   That he will be used in greater ways than we can imagine to bring God more worship.

discipleship leadership missional community

Discipleship and Leadership Development

In this series of posts, I am going to unpack the strategy and structure of leadership development we have implemented at The Austin Stone for missional communities.  I’ll be looking at:

  • Introduction
  • Discipleship and Leadership Development
  • Identifying Leaders – Two Different Methods
  • Questions to Ask When Considering a Leader
  • The Basic Qualifications for Leadership
  • Basic Training for Leaders
  • Ongoing Training for Leaders
  • Caring for Leaders


Discipleship and Leadership Development

The Austin Stone is a large growing church. It would be impossible for us to have a leadership development system that relied entirely on a few individual’s capacity to find and train them. At the same time, we have a fundamental conviction that the primary means by which leaders are developed is through intentional, missional community-centered, life-on-life discipleship.

So what’s a guy to do when what is best can’t accomplish what is needed? What do you do if you have 500 people wanting to jump into missional community yesterday, 50 who want to lead, and one person to train them?

For me, I had to grasp that what is ideal isn’t always the most fitting. The simple reality is that we can’t disciple everyone that comes into our ministry scope. Should that prohibit us from sending people out, even if we can’t be fully confident of their character and competence?

I’m guessing Jesus faced some similar issues in his ministry.  He preached to thousands while investing his best into twelve men. Even still, he sends out the 72 in Luke 10 to go proclaim the kingdom of God.

I wrote some of my thoughts on this topic in the post “The Difficult of Balancing Ministry and Discipleship” – the idea that it’s a struggle to maintain focus on discipleship and we often favor ministry.

For The Austin Stone, we’ve actually built into our job descriptions the expectation of discipleship. For my staff team, I actually assess more often their investment in a few than I do their overall coaching of their region. They should be investing the best of their time in a few, then the remaining available time on coaching and leadership in other areas.

Discipleship is the foundation for leadership development, but there is also an element of leadership development that is more “ministry”.

Any time I talk about leadership development, I’m predominantly considering two different lenses:

  • Primarily, leaders are made through intentional discipleship.
  • Secondarily, leaders are made through the systems and structures that help you accomplish ministry.

People make disciples, systems and structures predominantly aid you in accomplishing ministry. We must remain faithful to the foundation of discipleship, but leadership development systems can help a lot!

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The Difficulty of Balancing Ministry and Discipleship

I’ve found that it can be extremely difficult to continually cultivate the centrality of discipleship, or the process of selectively investing a small number of individuals in order to teach obedience to what Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20).

I tend to think of Ministry and Discipleship in two different grids:

Ministry Discipleship
Reactive Proactive
Low relational investment, relative degree of anonymity High degree of vulnerability, involves a long term commitment
Meets immediate, felt needs Transformational and replicating
Often leads to immediate results and draws crowds, results in addition Often painstakingly slow with a few, but results in multiplication

The question to ask, I think, is why is balancing them so difficult?  Why is it so tough to remain faithful to the model of discipleship which Jesus demonstrates?  Here are a couple reasons that distract me:

  1. Ministry often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds (for examples from Luke, see Jesus casting out demonsJesus healing people, and Jesus’ miracles).
  2. Discipleship often is painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christthen immediately denies him, and the disciples making mistakes).
  3. Ministry tends to involve a much lower level of relational investment, and for both parties there is a relative degree of anonymity (crowds don’t know who Jesus is).
  4. Discipleship requires a high degree of vulnerability for both parties (Jesus weeps in front of his disciples).

Both types of investment in people are important (see Pauls discussion about he and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3), but the two are designed for the purpose creating multiplying disciples who participate in the Great Commission.  To do one to the exclusion of the other is to be patently unbiblical in our approach to either.

Ministry, however, needs to have an end in discipleship (the public ministry of Jesus reaches its pinnacle in Luke with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ), and discipleship should utilize ministry for teaching (Jesus had his disciples observing most of his public ministry) and as an entry point into relational investment for discipleship (Jesus teaches and performs miracles before calling his disciples).

I find in myself, however, that the design of what I am calling ministry often is easiest to default because it offers quick successes and I can remain fairly distant from those to whom I am ministering.

The process of discipleship is exhausting, inconvenient, and difficult, which make it so much easier to simply enjoy the fruits of ministry (just like the seventy-two after returning from Jesus assigned task) rather than labor with love toward replication.

I am thankful that Jesus did not simply minister to the crowds, but instead remained faithful to the twelve. The movement of the Gospel hinged so much on their faithfulness to replicating disciples.  You don’t hear much throughout the rest of the New Testament about the crowds or those whom Jesus did something miraculous, but the disciples were at the epicenter of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Let us remain faithful to a few, while ministering to many, in hopes that God would redeem and renew all things!