In our prior post, I argued that disciple-making is a form of leadership because disciple-making requires us to have influence and impact in people’s lives. While we focused on the overlap between leadership and disciple-making, you might have been thinking, “Yes, but there are some differences, too.” True indeed. Let’s explore the main difference between disciple-making and leadership, and then consider that this difference might not be as big as we think.

The easiest way to understand the relationship between what we call “leadership” and what we call “disciple-making” is that leadership is a general concept within which disciple-making is a sub-set. We could picture the relationship between these two concepts this way:

There are two errors we can make here that have practical bearing on what we view as success in leading and discipling others. First, we can fail to recognize that there are types of leadership that might have positive effects on balance sheets, organizational reputation, and the like, but may have very little to do with drawing people toward Christ. In fact, they may push people further from Him. Leadership styles and tactics that manipulate people would be examples of this. This naïvely assumes that if we are leading people at all, we are leading them in a God-honoring direction. We could depict this error as follows:

A second error, which is more prevalent in conservative evangelicalism, is the opposite of the first. This error views disciple-making narrowly and confines it to “spiritual” things like Bible study, worship services, evangelism, and the like. Such a model of disciple-making might suggest that the extent of the disciple-making relationship between two or three people is the time they sit across the table from one another discussing godly things. This reductionist approach compartmentalizes life into “secular” and “sacred” buckets and can lead sincere disciple-makers to view potential disciples as targets rather than human beings made in the image of God. It also reduces the scope of the impact the disciple-maker can have in the life of the disciple and makes the disciple-maker impatient.

Between these two extremes is what we might call the “love” understanding of disciple-making. In this paradigm, there is very little tension between leading people in so-called secular spheres of life and leading them in spiritual areas of life. The leader provides sacrificial love to those he or she leads, paying attention to the entire spectrum of needs that individuals and organizations manifest. The result is individuals and organizations who move closer and closer to Christ every day.

Under the love understanding of disciple-making, the corporate executive who is a disciple of Christ views his charge as a business leader and his charge as a spiritual leader under the same broad heading. As he provides humble leadership to others, he cares for whole people, seeking their flourishing in physical and non-physical ways. They see that he has deep concern for their spiritual and material wellbeing and pursues both seamlessly. The organizations he leads are better off, both now and in eternity, for his having led them.

How have you seen various understandings of disciple-making play out in life? Please leave us a comment below.

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