Leadership and Doing New Things

you are enoughOne thing I have been reflecting on is the challenges we find helping everyday Christians start and lead new expressions of church.

The challenge is on two levels.

The first level relates to the person thinking about starting something new. There is a general fear among us as we begin of doing it “wrong,” “not knowing enough”, and of course: failing.  I think a lot of this is just human nature, but I think paired with our consumer culture and the professionalization of clergy, we have cultivated a failure of nerve.

The second level relates to people who should know better. Who are these people? Clergy.

Recently, I was sharing about how house churches are run (mostly) by laity. It was like I had insulted the guy’s mother, he immediately became defensive asking me why I would do such a thing? Laity? Really? The questions were the usual: “How do they know enough to do this?”  “What if they “get it wrong”” “What if they don’t follow through and things fall apart?”

While I can understand the first level– for certainly, we all struggle to believe God would use us—the second level just mystifies me.  I say this as a United Methodist who remembers (a bit) of our Wesleyan history.

John Wesley regularly supported and used laity in leadership—even though it was controversial and brought him lots of grief.

In the classic “John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life” by Charles Yrigoyen, we hear of Wesley’s controversial use of lay preachers as the center of his movement.  In a time of professional clergy, the pushback wasn’t too different from today, for how dare we make use of everyday Christians to proclaim the gospel?  Yet Wesley himself grew into this understanding.

It is a classic Wesley story: Wesley showed up late to preach to find that a lay person named Thomas Maxfield had “stepped to the pulpit and began to preach. Wesley was furious and intended to rebuke him; however a letter from his mother advised him to reconsider. Susanna’s warning was: ‘Take care what you do in respect to that young man for he is as surely called by God to preach as you are.  Examine what have been the fruits of his preaching and hear him yourself.’ Wesley obvious took her advice and from that point on began to train and utilized lay preachers.” (Quoted from “Empowering the Laity for the Work of Ministry” by Barry G Lawson, 2004)

Augustus Toplady who wrote the hymn “Rock of Ages,” accused Wesley of “prostituting the ministerial function to the lowest and most illiterate mechanics, persons of almost any class, but especially common soldiers who pretended to be pregnant with ‘a message from the Lord.”( Quoted in E. Douglas Bebb, Wesley: A Man with a Concern) Passionate feelings! Using laity as leaders in ministry was an issue for Wesley and for us today.

I think the issue is ultimately about what I will crassly call “quality control” – that is, we are concerned about the value, the soundness of what we will be putting out there.  I think that is an understandable concern.  So how do we deal with that?

But even more than this imporant issue, I think a bigger issue for us all is how do grow leaders grounded in the amazing story of Jesus so that his ministry moves forward in its work of redemption?

That is an important question to ask.

Mike Breen and the folks at 3DM have given us a clear and sublimely usable model.  It is drawn on the shape of a square to give it both simplicity as well as power to be easily remembered and drawn upon in daily life.

Let’s look at each of the sides of the square, starting with D1 (disciple) and L1 (leader).  As you read through this think about where YOU are in the square as a disciple and as a leader.  Also, think about where your top 2-3 leaders are in the square.


D1/L1: We start with the top of the square – here the disciple is just starting out. As disciples, we may have no sense of how difficult the task ahead of us is and in our ignorance we feel confident in our success.  We may be very eager and excited. Or, we may be aware of our lack of knowledge, realizing that our need of experience would manifest itself in our incompetence. Probably most disciples will find themselves as a combination of all these qualities, or as the book “Building a Discipling Culture” (BDC) refers to this first stage, we will find ourselves “Confident Incompetent”  (D1).

The Leader at this first stage (L1), like Jesus at the start of his ministry with his disciples, will be directive, giving examples and not spending much time on building consensus or explaining why. The leader “announces a clear direction and walks confidently.” (Page 1574 in BDC, Kindle). This takes someone with God-given vision and a life lived in communion with Christ.

D2/L2:  Here reality starts setting in! As disciples we recognize that we don’t know what we are doing and out of that grows tension, chaos, & uncertainty. As disciples, we are no longer having a great time, high on our thoughts of what we will do! The D2 disciple feels unenthusiastic.  And, as with Moses/Israelites and Jesus/Disciples, there is a desire to return to the old ways and past securities.  But God calls us forward into despair (yes, forward into despair) so that we can learn God is able even though we are not.

This is a watershed stage for the disciple who needs coaching to move forward.  If there is no leader to help, the disciple may choose to return to the earlier stage to “try something else,” because feeling “confidently incompetence” is a much better way to feel than where a D2 disciple finds herself.

The Leader (L2) faces reality with the disciple.  It is important not to try to pump up the failing disciple’s enthusiasm but to instead acknowledge that expectations are not fulfilled, and that things have not gone swimmingly. The despair is real and it has something to teach.

Gerald May puts it well when he writes: “In the early years of life, giving up usually takes the form of faith, a leaping forward into the belief that one is loved, accepted, forgiven and redeemed just as one is, with nothing special needing to be done. In later years, giving up more often comes from despair, from the wisdom that no amount of continuing effort, no amount of fixing, will enable one to ‘get it all together.’ Despair then is forever a doorway into life.”

That is a different way to think, but without our embracing reality, we will slide between enthusiasm and despair over and over again, as I think is evidenced in many local churches and in the larger UMC.

For the leader, this stage tests him or her to make time and space for the disciple because there will be lots of handholding, lots of angst. Grace and encouragement are the tools that lead forward in D2. The leader gives lots of direction, is very accessible to spend major time in discussion & gives examples of what can be.

Side note: I so related to this stage myself.  In the summer of 2011, as I committed to give 3-5 years of my life to explore setting up house churches in Southern California for the UMC, I hit this stage as a disciple/learner about a year in.  I felt discouraged and uncertain and thought maybe I was crazy to walk way from the local church.  But as I learned about this stage, I realized I was right on schedule!  That enabled me to move forward.

What is needed here is renewed connection with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit brings us God’s grace which gives us the energy and direction we need to move forward.

This is not a time to pull yourself up by your own power (bootstrap mentality), but to pray.  Our own striving won’t do it—even–and this is hard to embrace–if it has done it in the past.

D2/L2 was hard, but it was a deeply moving lesson for me to learn.  I have had to remember the vision God had given me and begin to learn how to lean more fully into God (and what God was doing). There would be lots of days where I would be anxious but prayer and letting God work through me instead of over functioning would get me through.

D3/L3  For the Disciple (D3) in stage 3 things have now turned dramatically to our ability to do alongside the Leader (L3) helping. God is in charge and moving through us– attachment to “things working perfectly” and “according to plan” are no longer at the top of the to-do list.  The disciple feels increased enthusiasm, growing experience, intermittent confidence and growing competence (Page 1690 from BCD, Kindle edition).

The L3 Leader can now offer friendship (remember the movement in Jesus’ ministry when he began to call the disciples “friends”?). The leader will be getting ready to move on, which will cause some disciples to journey back to D2’s chaos.  Other leaders will try and start the process here in D3/L3, seeking to have a democratic style of growth from the start, but this is rightly stage 3, after the initial blush of excitement and the very real despair of operating under one’s own power have cycled through.

D4/L4 – As Jesus moved on with his mission and left the disciples, this transitional stage is moves the disciple into a strong phase of ministry. Disciples in stage 4 experience strong enthusiasm for their ministry, feel confident in what God can do & have experience which has birthed competence.  “Their confidence is in God, not themselves. They no longer rely on themselves; they trust God to complete what he starts. At this point, Jesus says, ‘Go and do what I have done—make disciples like I have.’” (Page 1734 BDC, Kindle edition)

Leaders in L4 offer less direction but still offer conversation and friendship. They have given their job away and like a parent of an adult child, they rejoice in how much better their child can do it!

Questions: So where do you find yourself and your leaders?  I know I suffer the temptation to go between stages 1 and 2 myself, but in past six months (as I have learned about this more fully) I have seen my way forward (most days).  Where do you see yourself?  Where are your leaders?

Summary: I think this model gives us insight and hand-on tools for the way forward to grow lay leaders.  For those of us who are already in leadership (lay and clergy), it will take a reworking of how we lead, moving from the paperwork to people (sorry Table 1, 2, 3 “due Feb 15, no exceptions”). For those of us who are disciples, we will need to embrace the process whereby God moves us forward as his Kingdom participant and be willing to enter into despair so we might come out recognizing God’s power as the source of ministry.

Use the square this week in your leadership training and reflection – I believe it will help you see your growing edge…

Grace and Peace—