Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, to Timothy, a true son in the faith: 1 Tim 1:1–2. NKJV
In the past I’ve found myself asking this question: Why aren’t leaders intentionally discipling and raising up new leaders? If you are like me, your mind wanders to reasons that may not the the best. We sometimes assume the worst, which is not fair, nor gracious. As I thought more about it I began to think of several reasons that may actually keep a leader away from actively discipling others. While these are neither exhaustive nor valid for a lifetime of ministry, they are explanations why many are not intentional in this area for a time.
1. They are following the pattern of those who discipled them
Sometimes following a pattern is good. This winter my wife bought me a houseplant puzzle. Yup. A puzzle. A houseplant one. I love plants! If we didn’t have the picture on the front of the package, we’d still be putting that puzzle together! Other times following a pattern doesn’t turn out too well: i.e. every time I buy a new grill and use the instructions that are written in poorly translated English with a myriad of bolts that are only a fraction of an inch in difference. I always have to put it together at least two or three times to get it right! The same is true of our discipleship pattern, or how we’ve initially learned to disciple someone. The pattern wasn’t wrong, it just could have been better.
Sometimes a leader uses only one discipline or method of discipling and believes it to be complete. An example may be their preaching ministry. I’m not arguing against preaching, or that people can’t be taught through preaching. I believe in it, practice it, and share truth through it. If pressed about multiplying oneself in other leaders, and a leader says the only way they do it is through preaching, I wonder if they are effective or replicate themselves often. I’ve heard the same argument with evangelism. “I evangelize each Sunday from the pulpit. That’s the place that the Lord has called me to do it!” I believe this is not a reproducible method. Do we have a church full of preachers who are able to convince their friends, family, coworkers, and people they meet on the street to show up each Sunday they preach? Of course not!
Believers need to be careful to teach and encourage through many spiritual disciplines. We will never reproduce a healthy disciple who reproduces healthy disciples if we focus only on evangelism, or leadership principles, or preaching, or academia, or our brand of correct theology, or getting through a particular set of books. We must carefully read scripture, practice what we read, and model ourselves after our Master and those who followed Him as disciples. This includes a healthy diet of reading, prayer, practical training, watch me/go do, reading/listening/watching, and is coupled with an expectation of reproduction.
2. They are serving in a context where they feel there are no potential prospects
I’ve been here! I got some of the best advice/rebuke from a brother when I said, “There’s not a single person here who is interested in learning to reproduce themselves as a follower of His!” Really! Not a single person. First of all, I was honestly sharing what I thought was my reality and truly felt this way as I asked each faithful man, “Would you like to meet each week and read God’s Word and grow together?” The rebuke from this brother was, “Have you prayed about it? Have you asked God to send you someone?” NOPE! I thought the situation was too helpless even for God. How incredibly sinful of me! Not only had I not brought the situation to the Lord in prayer, I didn’t even think He would do something in my midst with those He’d already sent me to lead.
I began to pray and the Lord began to send. He sent people from outside the church and from within the church. He sent other leaders to encourage me and from whom I could both learn from and pour into. He showed me how nothing is impossible with Him. I truly believe that those who have a desire to pour into other leaders will be able to do so with the Lord’s help and direction.
3. They are trying to keep their head above water
Sometimes the situation is so bad, the last thing you want to worry about is why you aren’t reproducing yourself in other people.
Need another reason to feel guilty about your own leadership, here you go! Come up for air every now and then and just hope to keep going!
Leader/friend, you don’t need another reason to feel guilty. Simply keeping your head above water is not the place the Lord desires for you each week. There’s a reason leaders feel this way at times. If this is you, ask yourself: is my personal spiritual life healthy, is my family healthy, do I feel adequate to lead, what is hindering me from leading the way I need to, have I cried out to the Lord, have I sought godly counsel from others, am I open to listen to godly counsel, when I recall my responses to the advice of other leaders, do I find myself providing excuses or do I listen quietly and try to apply some of the biblical help and advice?
We are not going to reproduce ourselves when we are overwhelmed. (Or…if we are overwhelmed and are reproducing ourselves, we may inadvertently train others that it’s normal and expected to be overwhelmed all the time. The busier you are, the more spiritual you must be!)
4. They may be experiencing depression, feel dejected, or be experiencing symptoms of burn out
The above are signs that something is wrong. Leader, if these describe you and you have not reached out to a family member, friend, or another leader you trust, please connect with me. I’ve experienced times when I felt any one of these (and more than one time I’ve dealt with all at once). Most people feel depressed or have symptoms of burn out at times.
Leaders may feel depressed after a bad Sunday, when they re-live their sermon in their mind on Sunday night, or after an incredibly difficult meeting or family situation. Maybe it’s more than one Sunday, bad meeting, or family situation. You feel depressed often. Leader, this is the time to talk to someone. Focus on the Family has a pastoral care line that is available if you’d like to talk to someone anonymously (1-877-233-4455). Connect with me and I’d love to help you out as well.
Other signs that something is wrong is a feeling of burn-out. One of the best resources I’ve read on this topic is Wayne Cordeiro’s Leading on Empty. Ministry burn-out can happen to anyone; young, old, established church, church plant, bivo, covo, or fully supported. Regular Sabbath rest, vacations, and healthy boundaries are some ways to combat burn out.
Why aren’t leaders intentionally pouring into others at times? The above are pretty good reasons. If you are experiencing any of these, take some time to get healthy. One of the best things I did in my doctoral studies was to begin a monthly pastor’s cohort. We read a book together, encouraged one another, and watched for signs of depression and burn-out among one another. If there’s not one in your area, try starting one (connect with me and I’ll be glad to share some tips on getting started).
5. They don’t feel equipped or adequate to pour into another person
I hear this reason from time to time. When I do, I think of Ephesians 4:11–12 (NKJV): And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Leaders who don’t feel adequate/equipped may simply need encouragement from another leader, some hands-on training, or some extended time in prayer; asking the Holy Spirit to give them the confidence they need to disciple another believer. Our state has a particular pastor who devotes time each month to younger pastors. I’ve had several of these young men tell me how grateful they are for this mature brother encouraging them in their own leadership. Does this happen in your area already? Ask to join the group! If not, ask someone who is multiplying themselves to let you watch. Ask them questions. Model them as they model Christ. (Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 1 Cor 11:1 NKJV).
6. There may be unrepentant sins or some sin from the past that is causing guilt
Sin brings death and destruction. The entire earth suffered under the disobedience of the first man and woman. Why wouldn’t we think we would suffer when we are in unrepentant sin? Sin disrupts our relationship with God. When we are unrepentant, we are being prideful, disobedient, dishonoring, and are giving the devil a foothold for more damage. Due to our pride, sin tends to drive us away from the Lord. We know we are in sin, don’t want to confront it, and “hide” from God.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Gen 3:8 NKJV
Friends, this is unhealthy behavior: spiritually, physically, and mentally. When I sin, often the first discipline to go is evangelism. “Why would I tell someone about the love and forgiveness of Christ when I just sinned against my Lord?” Satan uses thoughts like these to keep you from seeking forgiveness and walking in the love of the Lord. An author I read said something like, “God can use a utensil that is straight, bent, or twisted; but not dirty!”
Unrepentant sin and guilt over past sins can spiritually cripple us to a point where we aren’t simply doing nothing for the Kingdom, but are actually hurting it.
7. They don’t know any better
We have all been here! I remember when I learned that the biblical disciplines of evangelism and disciplemaking went hand in hand. HOW DID I MISS THIS!! I’d heard it preached, I read it in the scriptures, and had people pour into me. Yet I still did not know what I was supposed to do! “Oh, but ignorance is bliss! When we aren’t aware, there’s no urgency. No need to have a cause for concern. We can simply live a blessed life as a believer with no care or worry that we have a biblical responsibility to share the hope we have in Christ with others, or help them to grow in the Lord. Ignorance is bliss!” Is it though? Here’s the poem from where we get this phrase:
To each his Suff’rings: all are Men,
Condemn’d alike to groan,
The Tender for another’s Pain;
Th’ Unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! Why should they know their Fate?
Since Sorrow never comes too late,
And Happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more; where Ignorance is Bliss,
’Tis Folly to be wise.
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) in An Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (London: printed for R. Dodsley and sold by M. Cooper, 1747)
Ignorance is not bliss in this case. When I learned of my responsibility to pour into others and begin training younger leaders, the bliss I found was in obedience to Christ and seeing the light turned on in the lives of those I was discipling. It is an absolute joy to spend time training, exhorting, encouraging, and building Kingdom partnerships with those who are or may become future leaders.
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 1 Thess. 1:6–7. NKJV
Do you recognize any of the above seven points? Like me, you’ve likely experienced one, two, or all of them at one time or another. Maybe you are experiencing one now. Take some time to pray that the Lord will give you an opportunity to have a “true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:1-2). I’d love to share more of my experience discipling others with you. Reach out to me we can chat by video or email.
P.S. Maybe you’ve wandered upon this post and have not experienced a new birth through forgiveness in Christ. Time some time to read this page entitled Good News for You.