An Avoidable Leadership Crisis

I’ll soon be in Turkiye with 270 disciple-making leaders from approximately 120 nations for Concentric’s Global Disciple-Making Leadership Summit. Eight years ago in Israel, while at Concentric’s last Global Summit in 2015, Sonlife’s disciple-making leadership pathway was born. It was then that our leadership team wrestled through a simple, clear paradigm shift. Our pathway with leaders would be:


BE a Disciple-Maker

BUILD a Disciple-Making Ministry

BEGIN a Disciple-Making Movement

Up to that point, our training and coaching focus had primarily been on helping leaders build disciple-making ministries. We looked at what Jesus did throughout various phases of His ministry as a leader, and how we could replicate His model as leaders in our own ministries. What we found though was that many leaders wanted to have a ministry that made disciples without personally making disciples themselves. Our Mission, Equipping leaders in relational disciple-making according to the Son’s life, certainly implied that leaders needed to be making disciples themselves. Our training, though, skipped right over that, assuming that anyone who wanted a ministry that made disciples would be committed to making disciples themselves.

BE a Disciple-Maker

At that point, we committed to developing our 4 Chair Discipling training, which focuses upon being a personal disciple-maker. We strongly believe that until the primary leader of a ministry is committed to personal disciple-making (BE), they will never be able to BUILD a disciple-making ministry. They themselves must first model what they are asking others to do. Before we as a Team train and coach others to BE a Disciple-Maker, we too must first be modeling disciple-making in our own personal lives.

If a pastor or youth pastor only reaches and disciples those who show up at the church’s doorstep, then that is not a helpful model for the people they are leading. People need to see us reaching and discipling our neighbors, friends, family members, and people we encounter in the marketplace. We need to be reaching and discipling people in the same contexts where the people we are leading will be asked to reach and disciple others.

How committed are we to disciple-making? We have to do more than talk about disciple-making. We have to do more than pray and strategize for greater disciple-making engagement in our ministries. We have to lead the way.

7% of the next generation globally identify themselves as Christ-followers.

This Barna Group statistic was the focal point of a three day conversation in January among leaders gathered in Orlando from various youth ministry organizations. That statistic is alarming. It should cause us to ask, “Are we losing this generation?” If we don’t lead the way, we will lose them.

A few weeks ago, I began to unpack SEVEN REASONS why I believe we’re failing as the church, and what we must do about it. Over seven weeks, I’ll attempt to tackle these reasons one at a time.

If you missed the first four weeks of this blog series, you can find them here:






We choose Leaders who aren’t Disciple-Makers.

There can be an array of reasons for why we choose someone for a leadership role. Few of them are Biblical. 

  • We might choose someone for a leadership role because they have the personality for it. They are a natural born leader. People want to follow them. Like EF Hutton, when they talk, people listen.
  • We might choose someone for a leadership role because they’ve been around a long time. We know them and trust them. They are a seasoned, mature Christian.
  • We might choose someone for a leadership role because they lead effectively in other areas of their life. Perhaps they are a business owner, or a manager at their company. That leadership experience is invaluable, we believe, and translates over to leadership in the church.
  • We might choose someone for a leadership role because of their wealth. They are an influential, generous person in the church. And after all, if they are giving as much as they do, shouldn’t they have a say in how those funds are spent?
  • We might choose someone for a leadership role because they’re the best we’ve got. We’ve got roles and holes to fill. We need someone, and they seem to be our best option.

Now, maybe we’re more spiritual than that. We use a passage like 1 Timothy 3 to carefully evaluate the characteristics and Biblical standards for Elder and Deacon. Perhaps we have a vetting process for those we bring into leadership, making sure that their character and commitment matches the qualifications the Apostle Paul outlines.

In youth ministry, perhaps we use something like 1 Timothy 4:12 to outline what we’re looking for in a student leader. We expect them to be Christ-like in their speech, conduct, love, faith and purity before they are put in leadership positions.

 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

Is it possible to set an example for others in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, and not actually be making disciples? I think it is. I think it’s entirely possible for someone to be a “good Christian,” as most churches would define it, and not actually be a spiritual reproducer. Our churches are full of “good Christians” who never tell non-believers about their faith in Christ. If we put people in positions of leadership for any of the above reasons, we have inadvertently, unintentionally created a wholly avoidable leadership crisis. We must ask this question.

If our leaders aren’t disciple-makers, where are they leading us?

Think for a moment about a leadership team, staff, or board of elders who aren’t disciple-makers. If disciple-making isn’t the grid through which they weigh every decision, then what is? What values will they prioritize? What programs or projects will they advance? How will a non disciple-making leader evaluate where it’s best to spend the budget? Do we have leaders who view the bottom line as attendance or giving and not disciple-making?

If you’re a youth pastor who is committed to reaching spiritually lost teenagers, have you ever had leaders in your church complain about bringing those kids into the church? Have you ever heard the comment that those kids were going to be a negative influence on our kids? Are these leaders looking at ministry through the lens of disciple-making and assessing the ministry’s impact and effectiveness based upon the mission Jesus has given us?

Let me ask it again. If our leaders aren’t disciple-makers, where are they leading us?

Someone who’s been naturally gifted by God as a leader, or who has the spiritual gift of leadership, or who has valuable marketplace leadership experience is not to be discounted. All those can be factored into our selection process as we’re choosing leaders. And certainly we should look for evidence of the kind of godly character that Paul describes as necessary for elders and deacons. But our FIRST requirement should be this. Are they a disciple-maker?

Appointing Apostles

Let’s consider the grid the Apostles used for the leadership selection process in selecting Judas’ replacement.

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Acts 1:21-22

From among the 120 believers who were in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension, the Eleven considered two disciples to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias. What qualified these two men to be considered for this leadership role? They had to have been with Jesus and the Eleven from the time of Jesus’ baptism up through His ascension. In other words, they were taught by Jesus. They had been discipled. And I have no doubt that Joseph and Matthias were among the seventy-two that Jesus sent out two by two.

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:1-3

This is the same charge that Jesus gave the Twelve when He sent them out two by two (Matthew 9:37-10:8). It only makes sense that the Eleven would have viewed as qualified those who had already been trained and sent by Jesus just as they were.

The Apostles chose from among their fellow disciple-makers two worthy candidates to be considered as Judas’ replacement.

Appointing Deacons

Let’s consider the grid the Apostles used for the leadership selection process in choosing deacons for the early church.

“Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom… They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism… So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith… Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.”

Acts 6:3-8

What was the Apostle’s grid for leadership selection? These were to be men full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and full of power. Let’s not make the mistake either of thinking that these deacons were only responsible for distributing food to widows. That was among their ministry responsibilities, but we know that Stephen “performed great wonders and signs” and preached the gospel. We know that Philip was an evangelist and did missionary work. 

What we read of Stephen’s and Philip’s stories, the Apostles clearly chose disciple-makers to be deacons. The result of the Apostles selection of these seven leaders was disciple-making fruit. The Word of God spread. The number of disciples increased rapidly!

Appointing Disciple-Making Leaders

We need leaders who are passionate about making disciples. We need leaders who care about spiritually lost people. We need leaders who possess gospel fluency and gospel urgency. We need leaders who will model disciple-making for those they lead. We need leaders who are spiritual reproducers. We need leaders who will process every leadership conversation they have and decision they make through the filter of the disciple-making priorities of Jesus. We need leaders who live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead like Jesus.

Let’s revisit Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling training, where we outline the process for becoming a disciple who makes disciples.

In Chair 1, the Spiritually Lost person is invited to “come and see” so they can believe in and receive Christ as their Savior. Our focus is on Winning the Lost.

In Chair 2, the Believer is invited to “follow me” and they begin to be established in their newfound faith as a Christ-follower. Our focus is on Building the Believer.

In Chair 3, the Worker is invited to “fish for people” as they join Jesus in His mission to reach those who are in Chair 1 and disciple those who are in Chair 2. Our focus is on Equipping the Worker.

In Chair 4, the Disciple-Maker is invited to “bear much fruit”  as their disciples then begin to make disciples of their own. Our focus is on Multiplying Disciple-Makers.

Our churches are filled with Chair 2 leaders. We put them there. We have no one to blame but ourselves. When we settle for less on the leader level, we get less on the ministry level. We get a non disciple-making ministry. We get a ministry that talks about making disciples… but doesn’t actually produce any disciple-makers.

Only when someone is firmly in Chair 3 should we consider them as a possible apprentice leader. Then, only when they are consistently living in Chair 4 should we consider them for a leadership role in our ministry.

Our Leaders must BE Disciple-Makers.

Let me say that again. Our leaders MUST BE disciple-makers. Period! End of story!

And here’s the really great news. Disciple-making churches never lack for leaders. They disciple and develop their own. They create their own leadership pipeline.

What next?

  1. First, look in the mirror. Are you a disciple-making leader? Have you reproduced spiritually? Who are your disciples who are making disciples?
  2. Identify your Three. Jesus had Peter, James and John. Who will you spend extra time with? Who will you pour your life into? Ask God to give you three Apprentice Leaders you can disciple and develop.
  3. Carefully evaluate your leadership selection process. What values are you currently prioritizing? How can you begin to prayerfully shift toward disciple-making as the highest value in your leadership selection criteria?
  4. Set the standard with your existing leaders. Let them know that if you’re going to be a disciple-making ministry, then your leaders need to be disciple-makers. Expose them to Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling training. Have them identify which chair they are in. Then develop a game plan to help each leader move toward Chair 4.

You can’t lead someone to a place you haven’t yet gone yourself.There’s a generation desperate to be led. Who will lead them? Where will they be led? We need disciple-makers to lead the way!