As church leaders, we are (or should be) continually focused on discipling the people God entrusts to our ministry. However, we often forget that the discipleship process should begin with us and how we lead our staff. We must disciple them well and teach them how to do the same before we earn the right to make disciples of others.
In the church world, the word ‘discipleship’ gets thrown around like everybody knows what it means. We talk about needing more of it and how we really need to focus on it more. Not growing up in the church, I was not well versed in church terminology. So, a few years ago, I did a bit of research on the word. I discovered the major theme of discipleship was ‘following in the ways of someone else’. I love the practical nature of this approach. It is not about reading more books or listening to more sermons or getting another degree. I love gaining more knowledge, but real life happens in, well, the real world. What, then, is a disciple — and how can this idea apply to your staff?
Here are four requirements of good discipleship, along with examples of how to apply them to how you lead and develop your staff:
- Discipleship requires safety.
The foundation of a learning environment is safety. Learners must feel safe enough and confident enough to admit mistakes — first to ourselves, then to our community (family, friends, coworkers, bosses, employees … you name it). This begins with the leader and sets a tone for all disciples. Exposing your own failures, fears, or questions is a sign not of weakness but of strength. This does not mean exposing every detail of your life to everyone; you must use judgement when being vulnerable.
We are all disciples together, sometimes in the role of teacher and sometimes in the role of learner, so we need to consider how we create the environment for others to learn. Find a learning partner that you can listen to, guide, and hold accountable, and who can put their trust in you.
- Discipleship requires us to embrace mistakes.
Too often, the concept of being a disciple of Christ is associated with having everything together. This is not how we think about a student. No one thinks a third grader can calculate the velocity of a moving object on the first day of school. Calling yourself a student begins with acknowledgment that you don’t have all the answers and are prone to mistakes.
As disciple makers, we need to see mistakes not as failures but as opportunities for growth. We must learn to look forward to mistakes as long as they aren’t fatal. After all, we all know that we learn more from our own mistakes than we do from our successes. Let those you lead be free to make mistakes as well.
- Discipleship requires us to reject shame.
Think back to the last time you realized you had made a mistake — the bigger the better. Without focusing on the error itself, revisit the experience of that realization. Is that a positive feeling? For most, this is an unpleasant feeling and leaves us running for the hills, thinking, “I will never do that again.”
If you've ever heard Brené Brown talk about how shame keeps us ‘emotionally snared’, you know how that emotion can limit your ability to think clearly or learn anything new. That mistake you made — can you think clearly about it or are you staying wrapped up in the shame?
- Discipleship requires that we talk less and act more.
Great, you analyzed your mistake. Unless you translate that into action, you are likely to find yourself in the same position again. Often, through introspection, the learning we gain from a mistake can be applied to numerous situations. Don’t just learn from the individual circumstance.
Look for the themes, causal factors, and unique things about your personality that made that situation difficult. Now experiment with new behaviors to see what works. Trying new things helps you know how best to engage with others and get a better result.
So here’s your challenge today: Take a risk and give someone you lead the freedom to make a mistake. Then, when it happens, take the opportunity to share one of your mistakes with them and tell them how it made you a better person. Tell them how you detected your error and changed your behavior. Let them see how being teachable makes us all better disciples and disciple makers.
Be honest: How would you score yourself on this version of discipleship?