L-D Tension - Interplay, Distinction and Opportunity  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in , , , , , , , , , ,

I've discussed the distinction between "leadership" and "discipleship" before. They are two disciplines/functions that have so much interplay that they are often blended together, which can be hazardous at times.

In a recent discussion about cross-cultural leadership/discipleship issues within the context of global missions, Keith Anderson reiterated how much a healthy understanding of the relationship and distinctions between L&D is to the deployment of healthy practices - particularly with church planting.

Before referencing some outstanding scholarship that has been produced recently around cross-cultural leadership dynamics (GLOBE project), he highlighted how the sequencing and confusion of these 2 practices can play out in church planting contexts...

(1) You can focus on leadership principles alone. You must wrestle with effectively transmitting the principles in ways that are transferrable to that culture, of course. (something Enrique Fernandez succinctly captures in his teaching on Leadership Extrapolation) The hazard is that you can create dynamic organizational structures and learning systems that fail to draw people to Christ, transform the world or truly touch the Kingdom agenda of God. Certainly, followers will be created ("disciples"?), but not necessarily growing towards Christ and by Him.

(2) You can focus on discipleship. This is most commonly the practice in church-planting, and logically so. You send a team, proclaim the Gospel, teach people to read, pray and go share the story of Christ, rinse-lather-repeat. A by-product of this is certainly that "leaders" are generated as the recipient of the Gospel who turns and shares with others inherits leadership responsibilities and influence over them. This is the primary commissioning of Christ-followers and is the ground floor for reaching new people groups. However, the practices of initially seeding disciples are not effective at cultivating healthy leadership that is sustainable, replicable, and developmental in nature.

(3) You can disciple with a plan for intentional follow-up and leadership development. This is (as you've guessed) the recommended approach. In this you lead off fundamentally, but have the discipline and commitment to follow it up with continued learning, investment and equipping so that indigent leaders can be supported in their generational work of living out our shared Commission in their locale.

I've certainly seen these principles validated - in Haiti, Honduras, Argentina, Mexico, Ireland and the US. Myopic emphasis on just L or D creates an organizational anemia that hinders the Body and creates cyclical resource expenditure by congregations that fail to accumulate for net progression. There is incredible opportunity, however, when a healthy outlook is achieved that allows for seasons, stages and a metamorphosis-based approach.

The principles are not just a function of scale - it works down to the ministry team, small group and similar level. As a leader, are you differentiating between the functional purpose of development efforts - to disciple, to infuse with leadership to further the cause of Kingdom advancement, additional discipleship to provide the depth from which to lead spiritually even further, etc? Have you seen hazards from L&D being confused, or a lack of any intentional plan to develop along either tracks?

This entry was posted at Sunday, February 22, 2009 and is filed under , , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 thoughts and responses


It's funny but sad. Much of the discipling going on in today's church is the same story that was taught 50 years, ago. It is all good stuff the 1st or 2nd time around, but somewhere down the line you have to just get bored with it all.

Could it be, the continued feeding of child burgers be influencing the drift away from the church by the current generation. Could it be when it was BIG MAC time, they kept getting the baby burger?

Is there no depth to be communicated or is this all there is until we are heaven bound? Interestingly to me, I don't even know what a BIG MAC from God would look like?

February 22, 2009 at 2:57 PM

Stetzer addresses that very question quite well:


February 24, 2009 at 10:10 AM

Post a Comment