Taking A Play From Jesus' Playbook

In his three years of ministry, Jesus only raised up a dozen leaders!  (Actually, 11 when you take away Judas.)  If it wasn’t for the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight and the evidence of over 2 billion believers throughout the world, we might be tempted to question Jesus’ decision to focus on such a small group of leaders.  But Jesus was a master teacher and it is obvious now that he knew what he was doing as he built his church and raised up leaders.  As apprentices of Jesus ourselves, we should learn two main lessons from his example.  First, developing leaders is extremely important. And second, investing deeply in a small number of people over a long period of time can make a seismic impact.

Jesus only did three main things: he died on the cross and rose from the dead, he proclaimed and demonstrated the good news of the kingdom of God and he mentored leaders.  And that was pretty much it.  That is all he did.  The amount of time during his three years of ministry that he spent developing leaders underscores the gravity of the task. Leadership development was a high priority to Jesus so much so that in his final charge to his apprentices, Jesus commanded them, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mathew 28:19-20). Jesus’ entire plan for sharing the good news of the kingdom of God with the whole world was to make disciples who went and made disciples. There was no plan B. That is why developing people the way Jesus did is so critical for us too.

Not only does Jesus’ example teach us how important leadership development is but he gives us a model for how to do it.  The way Jesus grew leaders was to invest in a small number of people very deeply over a long period of time.  Jesus did, of course, interact with others beyond the twelve; he healed individuals and taught multitudes, but he invested most of his time and energy into a small group. Those twelve became his apprentices in how to live in a relationship with God.  They had front row seats to everything he did, and then he sent them out to preach and heal and cast out demons.  In the process, they didn’t just learn leadership skills, they developed relationships with him and with each other.  They absorbed Jesus’ values along with his teaching and their lives began to embody his message.  Jesus did more than download content to his disciples; he immersed them in a culture that shaped them and which they carried with them.  It turns out that culture was contagious and it changed the world.

At Northgate, this fall we are taking a play from Jesus’ playbook as we launch a new pilot program to develop leaders.  We are calling this program the Leadership Development Course and we are piloting it in partnership with Robert Walter.  Robert is a member of the leadership team of the Alliance of Renewal Churches, and a Senior Trainer and Consultant for LeaderSource SGA. Through LeaderSource, Robert has helped local churches around the world plant similar leadership courses based on the ConneXions model of discipleship and leader development.  This program will invite a small group of emerging leaders from Northgate into a high commitment learning community for two years, which Robert will help us design.  The training will emphasize the cultivation of relationships, spiritual disciplines and the life and ministry experiences of the participants in addition to tapping into the best instruction we can provide.  The aim will not only be building skills for ministry but will be helping the participants grow in Christ-like character, understand their gifts and callings while helping them develop an intimate relationship with Christ and cultivating Christian community.  In that respect, it is a holistic model of discipleship

Even though the number of participants in this program will be small, this program will be a major focus of my ministry at Northgate for the next two years and I am writing this blog to ask for your support.  There are three reasons why I think this Leadership Development Course is so good for Northgate right now.

1.    The Leadership Development Course is consistent with the mission, vision and values of our church.  Our mission is helping people become who God purposed them to be.  The aim of the leadership development course is not only to help the participants become who God purposed them to be, but ultimately to help us build a culture that drives our mission and makes that a reality for everyone. The Leadership Development Course will be a strategy tohelp us become as our vision statement says, "A leader developing, Jesus following, people sending church.  Not an audience but an army."  The Northgate 9 is the way we articulate how we do things and the Leadership Development Course will be reinforcing values like, "We hang together" since we are intentionally building a culture that creates community, "We rely on God" because the participants will be learning about nurturing a dependent relationship with God, and "We are weird because normal isn't working," for we are aiming at life transformation.

2.    Even though not everyone is going to take this course, this course is going to bless the whole church.  By intentionally developing and discipling leaders, we will be able to create a disciple making culture within our church, because leaders reproduce culture.  Developing leaders will also help us as a church build the framework we need to grow.  Strong leaders, with character and deep relationships with Christ are what we need to launch groups and ministries that will enable us to build more relationships and become a more caring church, strengthen our capacity to reach out with love and serve our neighbors.  Developing leaders within our church will multiply our missional effectiveness and eventually position us to be a blessing to the larger church beyond Northgate, since leaders who are following Jesus will influence the world around them.

3.    It's going to work.  Here is why we think so. The Leadership Development Course is based on Jesus’ example of disciple making, so it deals with whole persons including their character and their relationship with God, not just their leadership skills.  This model has been tested throughout the world in multiple cultures. In fact, we have tested some of the features of the program in the Leadership Track we ran for two years here.  Leaders from that program have begun ministries like Connect Care Prayer and the Marriage Course in addition to leading small groups and Gateways and Impact groups.  That program was successful, but it wasn't sustainable because it depended on too many people being committed to the program at once. We are retooling and with the support and expertise of Robert Walter we think this second iteration will be even better.  One example of the insights Robert has shared with us has been how to better involve the wisdom and support of the whole church by matching the participants with mentors and prayer warriors to serve as intercessors, and also giving the participants opportunities to lead small groups and mentor others. So Northgate will be providing the support for the program and the context for ministry.

Because of the nature of the program, not everyone will be able to participate, but there are a number of things that everyone can do to support the program.

1.    Pray. Pray for the emerging leaders, and for the culture that this program creates.

2.    Volunteer. The participants will need mentors and prayer warriors to intercede for them. We will also need occasional mentors who meet with a participant just once or twice. For example if you have a servant heart or you are a person of humility you will have wisdom that the participants can glean. Also if you love to cook, you could bless this program by occasionally preparing a meal for a retreat.

3.    Encourage.   One of the best things you can do is to follow these leaders with love and patience.  Join one of their small groups. Become a protégé.  Then give them lots of encouragement and loving constructive feedback.

4.    Give.  Your gifts make ministry like this possible. The participants will be paying a significant portion of the costs, but you gifts can ensure that cost is not an obstacle that keeps someone from participating.