Paradox: Followers Who Are Leaders

There’s a paradox in discipleship. A paradox is something that seems contradictory at first glance, but is actually true. Here’s a discipling paradox: If we are to follow Christ, we have to lead. It actually makes sense in a biblical framework. All disciples, according to Jesus in Matthew, Luke and John are to follow him. And Jesus also said, in his final declaration to all of us as disciples, go lead people in becoming disciples. Follow or lead? It is both/and. We are bondservants, true followers of Christ throughout our lives. And as bondservants, we are trainers and developers of others just beginning to evaluate Christ, just starting to follow and surrender to Christ. In other words, we lead too.

If you lead in a Christian community you owe your people more than just budgets, activities, sermons and management of assets. Here is the core of Christ’s discipling: Jesus told us to make disciples, and from that work, he would take care of building his church. We lead in ways to raise up disciples, Jesus is in charge of the church growth. So another paradox emerges: If you want to grow a church, stop growing it and start discipling it.

What does it mean exactly, to “start discipling it”? The “it” after all, is a community, not a person. Leaders must create what is to be followed. In other words, people do not so much follow what they’re told to do – they imitate and practice do what their leaders actions demonstrate. Individuals develop by observing what is going on around them, seeing what is true and good and right and doing that.

Leaders owe their community lives that offer answers in the face of today’s current events. For example, what should we expect of a disciple as we hear from people about the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify Federal control of abortion? What ought disciples think and say in light of the roller coaster ride of the markets – the stocks, bonds, currencies? What should disciples say, think and do about the murderous grind of a Russian kleptocrat inflicting war, starvation and nuclear bribery on the globe?

The traditional answer is to offer platitudes. Leaders chanting phrases like “Go to church, read your Bible and pray.” These are good and noble things of course, even if the mountains, as the Psalmist says, “are melting into the sea”. But the traditional way, the chants, do not develop disciples who can function on the street, interact at the office and engage in the academies. Here’s where the societies we live in are talking, discussing and ranting:

  • From The New York Times: Abortion – Life with Roe – Life after Roe
  • The Wall Street Journal: Market Whipsaws
  • The LA Times: Russia’s Ukrainian Pogroms
  • From Barna Research: Burnout Among Pastors

Have leaders in your Christian community prepared disciples to operate in these times? Not as in canned answers and outrage – but as followers of Christ. Are your people developed in a community that builds muscle memory against the traditional and societal chants? Ask yourself what Christ expects of his disciples, out there, engaged with the “harassed and helpless” people as issues like these surge around them? What are we teaching disciples? How are bondservants of Christ to behave in such times? Are we teaching disciples that their first reaction to the Court’s ruling on abortion should be glee and comeuppance? Are we teaching disciples to fear and fret and hoard as the markets shake and rattle? Are we coaching disciples to build hatred and nationalistic pride against the evils of Putin? And are we cultivating disciples who make toxic the consumeristic environments that their pastors and staffs have to try to survive in?

What are we hoping to convey and instill into followers of Christ? Some leaders aren’t convinced they’re supposed to convey anything other than attend a few meetings and maybe teach a class, or deliver a sermon. The culture of modern Western Christianity is more like that – just go to church and figure out being a disciple for yourself. The leaders will take care of the budgets, and the people are there to attend and give – keeping the outside world from screwing up the way we look at things inside our church walls. That’s traditional. But it is not biblical.

We are not all evangelists, but every single believer in Christ is required to be a bondservant, unconditionally surrendered to Jesus of Nazareth. And the biblical not-so-fine print that comes with that? People who can reason, with gentleness and respect in their social circles, salt and light in a dark and weary land. That takes a discipling culture in your Christian community. How to move from the traditional to the biblical? Welcome to The Disciple Dilemma.

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