Note: This article is excerpted from Community Is Messy.
The best discipleship occurs within the context of real life. I coach a handful of leaders at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and most of my coaching meetings happen over a great breakfast at my favorite restaurant on Barracks Row—Ted's Bulletin. (If you're in D.C., check it out. And be sure to trade in the toast for a made-from-scratch brown sugar pop tart.)
In a moment of insanity, I once let one of my young leaders convince me that the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles was a great place for a coaching meeting. At 7:00 a.m., when we were about 45 minutes into the wait in the freezing cold, I realized this wasn't really about coaching but about being moral support for running the arduous and intimidating gauntlet of obtaining the elusive and coveted D.C. driver's license. We covered a lot of ground that day, talking about her desire to write, to find margin for more creativity, and to figure out a new approach to Bible study. She emerged from the DMV with some spiritual goals and new driver's license.
The Big Three
When I'm investing in others, I try to be intentional about three things: conversations, experiences, and celebrations.
I try to focus my side of the conversation more on questions than answers. The longer I try to be intentional about discipling, the more I realize that the best spiritual leaders are not those who give the most right answers but those who ask the most powerful questions. Jesus asked approximately 307 questions in Scripture. I've discovered you can go to deeper places when you ask questions. Questions can be memorable, stretching, and penetrating. The right question at the right time can make someone unzip her or his heart and crave encouragement and correction. I always keep a handful in my back pocket:
- Where do you see God most at work in your life?
- What is the biggest challenge you're facing right now?
- What fruit of the Spirit is most abundant in your life? The least?
- If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt?
Good disciple makers have become skilled at the craft of constructing powerful questions and have cultivated the art of listening.
I also strive to capitalize on shared experience. For instance, I rarely travel alone. I know some people value the alone time they get on the road, in the plane, and in the hotel. Maybe I will want that someday, too. But for now, travelling with another person is almost a non-negotiable for me because it's an opportunity for that person to see who I am when I'm "on" and when I'm "off."
If you're going to the hospital to visit a group member, take someone along. If you're going to the bookstore to check out curriculum, take someone along. If you're going to meet with someone who mentors you, take someone along once in a while.
Mike Matthews, a pastor who served as the quarterback for kids' pickup games in my neighborhood, was skilled at setting me up for a touchdown on the football field. He let me experience small wins that built confidence in my abilities and trust in his leadership. Good leaders do that. They set people up to experience victories and celebrate them when they happen.
I celebrate everything. When our aspiring writers blog consistently, I notice. When our artists confidently go to auditions, I applaud. When our young preachers deliver good sermons, I cheer. Celebrations could be dinners, a note, or just a quick post on their Facebook wall. In most cases, consistency is more important than the dollar value.
Let's make this practical. Who are the one, two, or three people you could make more intentional investments in? And don't tell me there's no one with potential. That's just weak leadership. Remember, we have to make disciples, not find them. Got their names in mind? Write them down. Now, think about a conversation you could have with each of them that would help them take the next step forward in growth. Think of a shared experience that could turn into a teachable moment. And think of a way to set them up to experience a win and celebrate it.
—Taken from Community Is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry by Heather Zempel. Copyright 2012 by Heather Zempel. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.