Don’t tell me, show me! – the process of discipleship

Ken Blanchard, who spent years developing his famous Situational Leadership Model[1] and devoted his life to advising secular leaders on how to lead and grow healthy organisations. The leadership model he developed draws focusses on the required leadership style and approach based on the maturity of the followers.

Ken Blanchard came to Christ late in his life and found it remarkable to see how church leaders fail at this, especially since his model of leadership agrees so much with Jesus’ model for discipleship. [2]

say-send

He notes that church leaders tend to instruct (“say”) their members on how to live and what must be done, and then commission them to do it (“send”).  But – as we see everywhere – the cognitive download in itself rarely leads to fruitful life transformation of these members, not even mentioning a lack of societal reform.  This class-room approach rarely ever works.  He explains that church leaders frequently make the mistake to assume that after instruction, a disciple has both the ability and confidence to execute what has been instructed.

Ken Blanchard illustrates how Jesus’ model of discipleship – which mirrors his own model – equips the disciple with the necessary knowledge, skill and experience to ensure that both the disciple and his leader are confident in the capacity and confident to do what is required.

Therefore, after instruction, a disciple needs to observe (“see”) in practice what he has been taught, then have the freedom to try what is being taught in a safe coaching (“support”) environment, before being commissioned (“send”) to live it out, as illustrated in the adapted model below.

say-show-support-send

Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveal how Jesus discipled his followers along this model: a period of primarily instruction as in Luke 5-8 (“say”), where after His disciples were “with Him” (Mark 3:14) to see his life example and ministry (“show”).  After this Jesus sent out his disciples on short term mission outreaches, with coaching and feedback as in Luke 9-10 (“support”), and eventually he commissioning them in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-20 (“send”). The Great Commission only happened after the disciples had proper instruction, a period of observation, and ample time to gain confidence in participation under the guidance and coaching of Jesus.

This Great Commission of Christ also implies this model of discipleship when He said “make disciples” through conversion (“baptizing”), instruction (“teaching”) and training, as the command states (“teaching them [how] to obey my commands”); the focus is on training and coaching more than instruction. Leaders should not merely relay the commands of Christ, but rather teach them how to obey Jesus’ commands.

This model is extremely important. Whether you instruct a disciple in devotional disciplines (such as Bible study, prayer and fasting, witnessing and discipling), skills (such as teamwork, teaching and preaching, healing and deliverance, conflict resolution), or character (such as integrity, compassion, kindness, humility, self-control), the process of discipleship is the same.

To enable a disciple to fully grow in the imitation of Christ, the teacher needs to say what must be done, be shown what that looks like in practice, be supported in participation, and only then be sent to do it in confidence.

cycle_4

[1] Blanchard K., (Ed) Segil L., Goldsmith M., and Belasco J.A., Partnering: The New Face of Leadership, (New York: AMACOM, 2003), p59-71.

[2] Lecture relayed by Randy Pope during a “Discovery Bible School” of Perimeter Church, 2010 found online.

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So what are we busy with? – the aim of discipleship

The Spaghetti-Marshmallow lesson

Sadly, lessons are better learnt though personal mistakes, so there is a certain group activity that I love to start with which teaches a very memorable lesson.  I’d hand each small group a big pack of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti, give them 15 minutes and instruct them to build the highest, freestanding tower they can, and to add some pressure I throw in a prize for the winning team.

A recent group doing quite well with their spaghetti-marshmallow towers.
A recent group doing quite well with their spaghetti-marshmallow towers.

Without fail the teams jump in and start building by sticking marshmallows to the ends of spaghetti sticks.  The towers usually look very crooked and rarely stand by themselves.  What is the lesson they learn? Without a clearly communicated goal even our enthusiastic efforts fail – passion is not enough.

eiffel-tower

This is spaghetti tower lesson is quite a generic life principle, but I often use it to help us reconsider our thoughts and efforts regarding discipleship.  What are we busy with now, and why are we doing this?  This is exactly Bill Hull’s point when he writes believers “engage in the process with no regard or the product” – we are often busy with “discipleship activities” without considering what we ought to achieve through it.

The aim of discipleship

So what is the aim or goal of discipleship?  Jesus made it quite clear when he said “A disciple is not above his teacher, but when he is fully trained will be like his teacher(Mark 6:40).  The aim of discipleship is for the disciple to become like his master through teaching and training.

It is interesting to note that the word “disciple” occurs only in the four gospels and a few times in the book of acts – nowhere else is this word in the New Testament.  It is indeed interesting, since Jesus’ core message was that of discipleship in the Kingdom of God.  The apostles used the word “imitation” through instruction and copying of modelled behavior as in his letter to the Ephesians: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians5:2).  [See also 1 Corinthians 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1Thessalonians 1:6-7; Philippians 4:9].

Both the concepts of discipleship and imitation therefore require deliberate effort to imitate someone’ life.  Thus the success of the disciple or imitator’s efforts rest on the clarity of the image or life they ought to copy.  The better you know the person you ought to imitate, the more likely you will resemble the master.

If discipleship is a life devoted to imitate Jesus, then the success of your discipleship activities rests on the clarity of your image of Jesus.

sandaled-feet3

Walk as Jesus Walked

The Apostles teach us that our conformity to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord is our past purpose (Romans 8:29), present process (2 Corinthians 3:18) and future promise (1 John 3:2).  This requires deliberate intent, as the apostle John writes “Whoever says he abides in [Jesus] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6).

But what is the image of Jesus we ought to imitate?  What does the New Testament reveal of the character of Jesus?  The authors of the New Testament explicitly instruct disciples to imitate Jesus’ humility and obedience (Philippians 2:5-7) and meekness or gentle self-control (Matthew 11:29), servitude (John 13:14-15), selfless love (Ephesians 5:1-2; John 13:34), patience or longsuffering (1 Peter 2:21),  kindness and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32), as well as His missional intent (John 20:21) and ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).  In less explicit imitation language the apostles instructed disciples of Jesus to grow godly characters that are compassionate (Colossians 3:12), confident (2 Timothy 1:6-7), hopeful and peaceful (Romans 15:13).

But the Gospel writes records that Jesus also deliberately taught the disciples skills, including teaching, preaching, healing and deliverance (Matthew 10:8), discipling others (Matthew 28:19; see also 2 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 2:3), pastoral care (Matthew 25:36), teamwork and cross-cultural ministry (Luke 10:1).  The New Testament writers also dictate that disciples need grow in witnessing to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15) and skills ministry skills such as facilitating and use of spiritual gifts in a meeting.

The disciples are to shape their lives by the disciplines modelled in Jesus’ life, including a devotion to prayer and studying and memorizing Scripture, a life of thanks, praise and worship, a commitment to fellowship, selfless serving and giving (see especially Matthew 20:28), and witnessing.  Jesus also modelled the need for times of fasting, solitude, silence and rest (or sabbath).  [I don’t see a need to “proof-text” these habits visible in Jesus’ life].

In the New Testament the apostles also highlighted the need for the disciplines of accountability and confession (James 5:16 and 1 John 1:7-9).

Lastly, in pursuit as imitators of Jesus (and also in our efforts to make disciples) we need to ask what are the most essential truths and beliefs a disciple of Jesus must hold onto?  Obviously this question has been asked through the ages, even within the first century.  From that question the Apostle’s Creed was formed, which new converts had to confess as their “oath of allegiance to Jesus their Lord” (from where we get the word sacrament) at their baptism.  This creed is a mere 110 words, containing the most essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The central part (about 70 words) centers on our belief of the person and work of Christ.  Although the doctrines contained in the creed is global in scale, I suggest that there are four doctrines I find necessary to teach in discipling contemporary Christians: Church and mission, Stewardship, Identity in Christ and Biblical sexuality.  Depending on your immediate context these four doctrines might be adjusted, although I suspect these issues are universally challenged by our contemporary culture today.

Profile of a Mature Disciple of Jesus

This leaves us with the following summary of a Profile of a Mature Disciple – a clear goal of what a disciple of Jesus ought to know and believe (head), live like (habits), skills he/she must master (hands) and what his/her character should grow to (heart).

A PROFILE OF A MATURE DISCIPLE
HEAD HABITS HANDS HEART
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
one holy Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Church and mission | Stewardship | Identity in Christ | Biblical sexuality
Prayer Use Bible in ministry Compassion
Fasting Witnessing Kindness, mercy
Fellowship Healing, deliverance Humility, Selflessness
Bible study, mediation Use spiritual gifts Meekness, gentleness
Thanks, praise, worship Discern God’s voice Patience, faithfulness
Accountability, confession Teamwork, Delegation Confidence
Serving, giving Cross cultural ministry Joyfulness
Witnessing Pastoring others Hopefulness
Solitude, silence Discipling others Obedience
Sabbath (rest) Facilitation Peace

I find this profile very useful in my own pursuit of Christ-likeness, as well as the relationships with fellow believers with whom I walk a close road.  It helps me to “consider how we can stir one-another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we meet to pursue Christ together.

On target
Discipleship requires a clear goal.

Deliberate effort and clear goal

Paul said that the culmination of his life efforts was to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29).  This maturity thus comes with deliberate effort towards a clear goal.  Not as though we can earn our salvation!  We simply respond to the graceful promptings of God’s Spirit as he writes elsewhere “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So, how have you grown into the image of God?  And where will you respond to His promptings to continue to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? (2 Peter 3:18)

On the nature of leadership

Who’s the boss?

A search for available resources at amazon.com yields a staggering 191’959 titles for “leadership” and 31’966 for ‘Christian leadership’.[i]  I think Crawford Loritts is stating it mildly when he writes “We’ve made too much of leadership”[ii] – I’d prefer to say “this generation idolizes leadership.” It is therefore hard to imagine that nearly fifty years ago Oswald Sanders opened his book on Spiritual Leadership with this statement: “Most Christians have reservations about aspiring to leadership; they are unsure about whether it is truly right for a person to want to be a leader.” [iii]  I think it’s safe to say we’ve moved on from that hesitation.

At the core of our leadership craze is the rebellion that certain individuals have the right to decide what everyone else must to do.  It’s not just democracy where each person has the right to make their opinion heard – rather, each person wants be their own little leader. This off course is not new: everyone who ever raised a toddler or a teenager has come face-to-face with the fight for self-governance.  In fact one whole book in the Bible was dedicated to show the destructive nature of a generation without wholesome leadership: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  (Judges 17:16).  History is a good teacher: nations do well when there is healthy governance, but simple observation of your immediate environment reveals the same conclusion when one considers good fathers and the health of the family, good headmasters and the health of the pupils and good bosses and the prosperity of the staff and company. Maxwell is right when he says “everything rises and falls on leadership.” [iv]

What makes someone a leader?

Leadership has been defined very widely, from “influencing others to most effectively achieve a defined mission together,”[v] “an invitation to greatness that we extend to others,”[vi] to “moving God’s people on to God’s agenda”[vii] and many more.  In spite of all these writings, not listing leadership schools and seminars, there seems to be confusion as to what makes for a successful leader[viii] and subsequently that the church is failing to produce much-needed leaders.[ix],[x],[xi]

Having so many opinions and definitions on the nature of leadership one has to ask “what is this author’s view of a leader?”

A few years ago I did a study one the nature of leadership, specifically focussing on Christian authors.  I will summarise those findings here and give my own brief conclusion at the end.

Four Approaches to Leadership

A study of leadership literature revealed four basic approaches to the topic of leadership: in pursuit of leadership one has to either do something, become someone, receive something or respond to something.

The first approach could be referred to as the skills approach.  This has been dominant in leadership literature (both secular and Christian) and essentially states that to be good at leadership you have to do the following… It primarily argues that people who were successful at leading had a common set of traits or skills which made them effective leaders.

A second common approach to leadership speaks to the character or identity of the person, arguing that skills alone does not make the leader. Leadership has to do with the core of your being – some characteristics and values that you embrace that set you apart and make you attractive and thus influential as a person.  This will be referred to as the character approach.

A third approach is that leadership is a spiritual gift supernaturally deposited to a select few individuals, entrusted to manage the Church on behalf of Jesus. This is often referred to as spiritual leadership.

A fourth distinguishable approach to leadership is the responsive approach, what some call battlefield leadership – a much more recent approach in literature.  This approach argues that although one can (and should) grow in both skills and character, no amount of training or maturing will make one a leader – responding to an instruction or stepping up in a situation sets the leader apart.  It is in taking the lead that you become the leader.

leadership_skills

The skills approach

This approach towards leadership is the most common approach of older, main-stream leadership literature, of which John C. Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership[xii] is a pointing example.  In his book Maxwell calls these leadership laws “abilities” or skills which, he insists, anyone could acquire.

These well-known laws include seeking a genuine connection with followers to obtain more effective influence, while building a diverse team but ensuring unity in vision. It emphasises planning and timing, selfless serving and giving, earning and showing respect, adding value to your constituency and ensuring succession.  Although the crux of these laws is situated in skills and abilities, Maxwell does acknowledge that some leaders are more gifted than others and that leadership requires the character qualities of courage and loyalty.

In the research for his book 9 Things a Leader Must Do, Henry Cloud also found that great leaders (whom he calls déjá vu leaders) were successful not because of who they are, but because of what they do.[xiii]  They shared similar behavioural patterns that could be learned.[xiv]  These traits are self-discovery, departing from all negative stimuli, evaluating decisions in the light of it’s long-term effects, a mindset of continuous improvement, a step-by-step approach to realizing big dreams, developing the ability to hate the right things well, giving back more than you have received, projecting yourself in truth and to not make decisions based on other people’s perceptions or feelings.

Concerning these traits, Bill Hybels writes that “laws of leadership are really just descriptions of hard-learned lessons that, for hundreds of years, leaders have come to view as valuable guides towards mission achievement.”However, he warns that these principles we inherited from previous leaders are not divine or inerrant and should therefore only be used as guidelines towards effective leading.

Andy Stanley follows this approach to leadership when he writes on strategic leadership in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry,[xvi] and says that that persisting in these strategic leadership practices will ensure effective church ministry.  These practices include defining clear goals, planning incremental steps, focussing on those you intend to reach rather than those you intend to keep and succession planning.  However, he writes that his approach is “not so much about what to do as it is about what to ask.[xvii]  Still, he argues that it is a skill you require and a practice you apply to be a successful leader.

In reflecting on the teachings of Jesus for his disciples, David Bennett cautions against a skills-based leadership training program, stating that Jesus, in his purposeful training of the first Church leaders, never used the words ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’ (as recorded in the gospels) and taught very little about their impending roles as leaders.[xviii]  He therefore argues that leadership depends more on correct attitudes than skills, and relationships than on instruction or overseeing.  This brings us the next approach to leadership.

leadership_character

The character approach

Bruce Winston agrees with Bennett’s argument.  He writes that leadership does not originate in actions or skills, but rather that the “leader’s foundational values yield beliefs… beliefs yield intentions to behave… from intentions spring actual behaviour.”

Mark Sanborn also puts character before competence, stating that trustworthiness and humility must precede skills: people are drawn to you because of who you are, and then follow you because of your competence.[xx]

In Lorrits’ study of leaders in the Scriptures he found that “Biblical leaders have no common credentials” – God uses anyone. [xxi]  The only commonalities he could trace in these leaders were character traits that were developed through sacrifice and suffering.  To him, “the essence of leadership”[xxii] is brokenness (dependence on God because of a sense of inadequacy and fallibility), uncommon communion (a deep connection as the leader draws on God for resources, comfort and direction), servanthood and radical, immediate obedience to God.  These develop and shape the leader as he fulfils the task God entrusts to him.

In a recent book Maxwell acknowledges that character qualities distinguish successful leaders form unsuccessful leaders because “leadership truly develops from the inside out.”[xxiii]  Some character qualities he mentions include charisma, courage, generosity, passion, security, self-discipline and servanthood.

In Steve Miller’s biographical review of Dwight Moody’s leadership, he notes that Moody lacked skill, training and qualifications and was barely literate when he started ministering.[xxiv]  Yet he excelled in global evangelical ministry and even set up training schools because “he had the inner qualities that are absolutely essential in every Christian leader’s life.”[xxv]  Miller concludes that God uses the “right kind of person … not the right program, right methods or right techniques.”[xxvi]

leadership_gift

The gift approach

The leadership gift theory is the oldest one, and with good reason. Some people have the natural inclination to assume or receive the office of leadership.  We see this even the playgrounds of pre-primary children, where small kids with no developed skills or character run and reign as little leaders – even of the children older than themselves!

There are various opinions to the nature of the gift of leadership, but in Christian literature all agree that God is the source of the gift and relationship with Him is the key to the flourishing of this spiritual gift.  God’s pattern throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures strongly supports this view of leaders who were called, appointed and anointed with God’s empowerment to lead.

Hybels’ search for common denominators that make churches flourish pointed to only one thing – leaders with the supernatural gift of leadership.[xxvii]  He believes that “people with the gift of leadership are uniquely equipped to come up with strategies and structures that provide opportunities for others to use their gifts most effectively.”[xxviii] These leadership gifts are entrusted to individuals for a purpose, and it must be developed and submitted in service to God.

Sanders identified three qualifiers for spiritual leadership, viz. sovereign appointing, suffering and empowering.  He recognizes that people have natural abilities commonly associated with leadership roles, but that those [xxix]abilities do not define the leader.  He states that “spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed or created by synods or church assemblies.  God alone makes them.”[xxx]

Henry and Richard Blackaby write that Jesus’ model for Christian leaders is not found in methodology but rather in his relationship with and obedience to his Father’s will.[xxxi]  Although leaders in both secular and spiritual spheres use similar methods (many of which are Scriptural principles), Blackaby and Blackaby state that “there are dimensions to spiritual leadership not present in secular leadership”[xxxii], implying that the dimension that Spiritual leaders have is the help that comes through relationship with God.

Other authors such as Bruce Winston use the phrase “leadership gift” differently, stating that not every ability is a spiritual gift – they may simply be “motivational gifts” or “functional gifts” as used in Romans 12:6-8.[xxxiii]  Therefore he defines ‘the gift of leadership’ as a motivational tendency to want to take charge; it does not imply a heightened ability such as charisma or wisdom.

 leadership_responsive

The responsive approach

A fourth approach to leadership is best illustrated in Leonard Sweet’s book Summoned to Lead.  He strongly disagrees with the common held notions that leaders are either born or trained up, or even that “anything that involves a goal (i.e. ‘vision’) requires a leader.” [xxxiv]  Says Sweet:

“To put it bluntly: the whole leadership thing is a demented concept.  Leaders are neither born nor made.  They are summoned.  They are called into existence by circumstances.  Those that rise to the occasion are leaders.” [xxxv]

This approach to leadership I therefore call the responsive approach to leadership, or battlefield leadership where in a crisis situation not rank nor status nor skills determines leadership – but the one who responds with decisive action.

Another fresh voice on this leadership approach is found in Mark Sanborn.  He puts it plainly,

“You don’t need a title to be a leader in life.  And the simple fact of having a title won’t make you a leader … everyone has the opportunity to lead, every day… anyone at any level can learn to be a leaders and help shape or influence the world around them.”[xxxvi]

He therefore defines leadership as neither mysterious nor elitist but sees it in the “daily response” of common people who choose to act for the betterment of others. [xxxvii]  George Barna agrees with this view of leadership, saying that it is the duty of each and every believer, “whether positioned as a leader or not”, to bring about Godly revolution in their own communities. [xxxviii]  This battlefield leadership style requires bold responses in every situation, based upon sheer conviction and obedience to God’s Spirit.  Every believer is a leader lead in this world as they are a follower of the Lord.

Comments and conclusion

Henry and Richard Blackaby believes that every organisation has the potential to be successful – “the key is effective leadership”.[xxxix]  That’s why Sanders calls church leadership “the most important work in the world” [xl] and Bill Hybels says “the hope of the world” hinges on effective church leadership.[xli]

The question is how to become effective in leadership, to which four approaches have been identified in this study, each focussing one truth of leadership success.  Firstly, the skills approach recognises that leaders through the ages had certain commonalities in practice – both public and private. Therefore, it assumes, to become a leader or improve leadership effectiveness, one has to do certain things.  The second approach, the character approach, discerns certain key characteristics of great leaders, and that to be a good leader one has to become like these leaders by embracing similar core values and characteristics.  The third approach to leadership, the gift approach, acknowledges the sovereignty and divine enabling of God and concludes that spiritual leaders are divinely ordained and empowered, and their union with God makes them effective in leading.   Lastly, in the responsive or battlefield approach, authors note that no skill, character or gift makes someone a leader; the leader is the one who responds to a call or rises within a situation and takes charge.  It is through taking initiative and responsibility that one becomes a leader.

Both the skills and character approaches assumes that anyone can become a leader by either practicing the right skills or embracing the right core values.  Authors that prefer the gift approach are not in agreement though.  Some believe that God has already assigned gifts in His wisdom and sovereignty.  Others suggest that devotion to God and supplication would increase leadership success, while some are of opinion that the leadership “gift” is merely an individual’s natural inclination in a situation (i.e. motivational gift).  The responsive approach to leadership states you can never make a leader – the leader sets himself or herself apart by deliberate acts, but a person can better position or prepare himself or herself for the act of leadership.

Although not every author believe anyone can become a leader, all agree that every person in leadership could and should develop in character and leadership skills. After each of these books and articles were written with the intent to increase a leaders’ impact, longevity or legacy; in other words the basic assumption prevails that anyone can increase their leadership impact by adjusting mindsets, actions, relationships, character or responsiveness.

 

Bibliography

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[i] An amazon.com search on ‘Leadership’ yielded 191’959 titles; ‘Christian Leadership’ yielded 31’966. [Last accessed 21 July 2015].

[ii] C.W. Loritts, Leadership as an Identity (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2009), p. 22-23.

[iii] J.S. Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 1967), p. 11.

[iv] JC Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998)

[v] H.L. Reeder, Leadership Dynamics (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 43.

[vi] M. Sanborn, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader (Calorado Springs, Calorado: Waterbook Press, 2006), p. 15.

[vii] H. Blackaby, R. Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership (Nashville: Broadman & Holmann, 2001), p. 20.

[viii] Blackaby and Blackaby, p. x.

[ix] Ibid, p. 9.

[x] T. Stanford, The Third Coming of George Barna, Christianity Today, August 5 2002, Vol 46 No 9.

[xi] A. Malphurs, W. Mancini, Building Leaders (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), p. 10.

[xii] J.C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

[xiii] H. Cloud, 9 Things a Leader Must Do (Franklin, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2006), p. 9.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 10.

[xv] B. Hybels, When Leadership and Discipleship Collide (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007), p. 45.

[xvi] A. Stanley, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2004).

[xvii] Stanley, p. ix.

[xviii] D.W. Bennett, Metaphors of Ministry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1993), p.11.

[xix] B.E. Winston, Be a Leader for God’s Sake (Cape Town, SA: G-Force Publishing, 2002), p. iv.

[xx] Sanborn, pp. 56-58.

[xxi] Loritts, pp. 11-12.

[xxii] Ibid, p. 9.

[xxiii] Maxwell, 21 Indispensable Qualities, p .ix.

[xxiv] S. Miller, D.L. Moody on Spiritual Leadership (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2004), p. 11.

[xxv] Miller, p. 13.

[xxvi] Ibid, p. 13.

[xxvii] Hybels, Courageous Leadership, p. 26.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxx] J.S. Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers,1967), pp. 18-19.

[xxxi] Blackaby and Blackaby, pp. 24, 28.

[xxxii] Ibid, p. x.

[xxxiii] Winston, pp.167-169.

[xxxiv] Sweet, p. 12.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Sanborn, p. xii.

[xxxvii] Ibid, p. 104.

[xxxviii] Barna, p. 83.

[xxxix] Blackaby and Blackaby, p. ix.

[xl] Sanders, p. 12.

[xli] Hybels, p.12.

Lessons learned from church planting 5 – the blessing of a planting church

I remember a specific Sunday in the first few months when we planted Shofar Pretoria.   The group was still very small, and on top of that it was holiday season, so on that particular Sunday morning we had only seven members in our small, dark theatre-church.  However, as always we were prepared for a big service – ready for when the masses of visitors would come to church.    It was a comical scene: Richard Wade and two others were leading worship on the small stage, Jaco Wagenaar was behind the sound desk, and I think Magriet was handling the flimsies on the rear view projector (old school style!), leaving two in the “congregation” to worship.  After that one would get up to lead and motivate us in giving an offering, two would take up the offering leaving four in the congregation… Then I would get up to preach while Magriet would work the projector, with Jaco still manning the sound desk, leaving four members in the congregation… There were always more people facilitating the service than those actually being served!  Looking back I think we were really silly doing small church like that, but that’s the way we did church, because that was the only way we knew how,

An example to follow after

Although copying the “big church” model was obviously unnecessary and impersonal within such a small congregation, it brought such a sense of security and stability since the young congregation and this inexperienced pastor had a model to follow – a model in which they were brought up and a model which brought them life back in their student days. In a strange way it made us feel at home and safe.

But it was not only in our services did we copy the planting church’s model – we copied the model of ministry from Shofar Stellenbosch in all our church activities. In our Sunday services, intercession meetings, mid-week small groups gatherings, discipleship courses, Bible School and even evangelistic outreaches we modeled everything we did on the content and manner of ministry of Shofar in Stellenbosch.  In the beginning I even copied the sermons of Pss Fred and Lucille May and Sias le Roux (with their knowledge off course) until I had confidence in pulpit ministry.  With no surprise we experienced the same life in our meetings and effectiveness in our discipleship of new members as we ourselves experienced while being members in Stellenbosch.

The benefits of having an example to follow after incorporates more than the security and comfort of “going in the right direction” – it actually sets the young ministry team on the right direction that has proven productive and good.  Although we did not initially understand the motive for all these church activities we reaped the benefits of a healthy, growing church because we copied the design of a healthy church model.

The blessing of a covenant relationship. The leadership team of Shofar Stellenbosch always saw Shofar Pretoria (as well as the other young congregations which were planted in the same time) as an extension of itself, which meant that they were as committed to the welfare of this church plant, its leaders and its members as they were of their own congregation (if not more).  Their devotion to me and the congregation were sincere and commendable, as you might see in the rest of the post.

Support, protect and care.  Being inexperienced in planting, leading and pastoring a church, the newly planted Shofar Pretoria benefited immensely from the frequent visits, phone calls and emails, visiting mission teams and regular prayer cover of the apostolic leadership team.  During those early days I had frequent and long phone calls with Pss Fred May and Sias le Roux as I bounced my thoughts and ideas with them, and as they checked in to see how I was coping with my work and ministry load.  Especially the frequent weekend ministry visits by the mature apostolic team members strengthened and comforted the young church.

But the support and care was always first to me, the pastor (and Magriet once we married), then to the church.  Although it might sound selfish and even ignoble at first, this wisdom ensured that the pastor never “lead on empty”.  I recall a particular Tuesday three and a half years into the church plant.  I was recently married, bought a house, just resigned from the Air Force.  The church grew well and the ministry program was very busy.  My wife Magriet was in her fourth year of medical studies and busy with clinical work.  I remember coming into the office that day feeling very empty and emotional; I closed the door to the office as started crying for no apparent reason, and hid in my office from sheer embarrassment.  At first I thought it was a deep spiritual thing that happened to me and started praying, but that just felt fake and made everything worse, so I called Ps Fred, the principle pastor. He walked out of a meeting, listened to me and said I must get on the first flight down so they could spend time ministering to me. (I negotiated to wait until the next morning since I reasoned that it’s good to first inform and consult with my wife – she was working a 24hr shift in the hospital and I have not seen her since the previous day). I flew down and was so blown away by the fact that Ps Fred and Lucille May as well as Ps Sias le Roux had cleared their schedules to spend the day with me – talking, listening, counselling, praying – a day devoted in support and care of me. (Apparently my emotional outburst as the result of burn-out because I never stopped to rest and refresh… Simple diagnoses with simple solution – a good lesson to learn early-on in life and ministry!)

Always held before the Lord.  During that time I had the sense that we, the young church, was always brought before the Lord in prayer.  I recall that almost on a weekly basis I received messages or phone calls with words of encouragement, often very accurate as to the current challenges I or we faced.  We knew that the church in Stellenbosch prayed for us, and it was tangible in the grace we experienced as we met and ministered.  We were so encouraged by the love we felt and the help we received!

Direction and structure. Shofar Christian Church is known for its well planned and documented administration and ministry support system; since we are a church planting movement, the apostolic team always thinks ahead, making sure everything is easily to duplicate and imitate at a church-plant level.  Even in those early days when we planted Shofar Pretoria we benefited from the “Church in a Box” concept – a compilation of administrative, ministerial and training templates with additional resources designed to free the hands of the church-planter, allowing all the possible help to focus on relationships and personal actual ministry – to build into the people.

Wisdom and support in handling difficult situations graciously.  A notable situation early in the church plant had the potential to snuff the passion and scatter the congregation when an assistant pastor with an extraordinary ministry gift fell into secret moral sin.  While being away on holiday in Namibia I was warned through disturbing dreams that there was “an outbreak” of sexual perversion in the church.  Upon returning home I was troubled at the news that things were as I dreamed, and our local leadership team started praying.  I first suspected that something impure was imparted when a mission team came to visit just before I left, but after enquiry with the team leader and prayer I felt at ease about them.  But then Ps Sias le Roux from Stellenbosch phoned with a word of knowledge regarding a particular sinful habit in the assistant pastor’s life, and after gentle confrontation he confessed everything to me.  This lead to the suspension and support towards restoration of the pastor and his marriage, but sadly his persistence in this destructive habit and the resulting shame lead to his estrangement from his wife, the church and his ministry.

During this difficult season for the young, intimate congregation, the confident and compassionate leadership of apostolic team in Stellenbosch proved very comforting and encouraging.  Rather than being a demoralizing experience, this episode proved to be a great teaching moment of the destructiveness of sin and graceful restoration of Christ in and through the church, leading to the fear of God and intimate accountability of one another.  Furthermore the church as a whole (and myself as pastor) felt really safe and cared for, knowing that the leadership of this young church was not left to themselves.

The blessing of inheritance.  As children inherit houses they did not build, money they have not earned, identity they have not established and traditions they have not started, so Shofar Pretoria received a big kick start in life simply by being planted by Shofar Pretoria.

One of the most cherished blessings we have inherited was the “DNA” of the Shofar Christian Church.  The initial planting group were all discipled and mentored in Stellenbosch through the apostolic leaders, as we attended and participated in all the ministry opportunities.  Through those relationships, the passions and values that lived in their leadership team’s hearts also lived in our hearts.  These passions and values include: a passion for the lost and unreached people; a sincere love for people leading to selfless service of people; a life devoted to worship Christ in everything we do; being sensitive to the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit; as well as living deliberately in pursuit of purpose God has for each one, with a willingness to be prepared for that life.

Because of the many personal ministry visits of the apostolic leaders as well as the visiting mission teams from Stellenbosch, these values and passions were transferred to the new members in a relatively short space of time.  And once these values were installed in our hearts, our culture and training courses merely needed to strengthen it so that it lived in every member and directed our thought, dreams and efforts of our congregation.

Discipleship courses and structures we did not build. Being part of Shofar Christian Church means that – as in other church groups – every member has the privileged of going through a well-structured discipleship course to lay foundations in your spiritual and relational life through carefully facilitated encounters with the Lord and His Truth – all in community.  Often in those early days I smiled at how blessed we are, the initial planting group, firstly because we have gone through these discipleship courses which set us on a true and proven path of life, and secondly because we had the experience and material and training to disciple others through this foundational course.  Every new member were invited and ministered to in relationship along a sure path.  We saw many, many new members burst with joy and freedom as they received healing and deliverance, or hear the voice of God for the first time.  And yet we never labored for these discipleship courses – we simply used it and the church grew healthy and steadily.

Moreover, very early on in the church plant we could start teaching and hosting a Shofar Bible School, both 1st and 2nd year.  We went through these rich courses ourselves while being students in Stellenbosch and it blessed us greatly.  Now we grow leaders in our church by presenting these courses because we had all the material an training tools given to us by Shofar in Stellenbosch, with some ministry experience gained in campus ministry and missions Now and had ample opportunity in facilitating and teaching and preaching in campus ministry and missions.

Other training material and guidelines inherited from the Shofar in Stellenbosch included the facilitation of small groups, church services and worship ministry.  These guidelines and policies also prevented some serious potential disasters within this young, vulnerable church as many schemers and false apostles and false prophets sought opportunity to minister or even take leadership in the church.  Good guidelines and policies really preserved the purity and directed the passion towards productive growth in the congregation.

Even the governance structures and policies – such as Eldership, Governance Board, Finance Board and Advisory Board and Human Resource policies were naturally inherited from Shofar Stellenbosch, allowing to follow established best practices and leaving us to focus on ministry.
In conclusion, I am convinced more than ever that one of the primary reasons why Shofar Pretoria survived and thrived in those early days was because of the living relationship with its planting church, the generous provision of its resources and ministry practices, with the unselfish devotion to care and support of Shofar Christian Church’s apostolic leaders in serving and protecting this young pastor and congregation.

I say to these men and women what the Lord said to me one, early in the church plant while I was praying or the church: The LORD will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.”” (Psalm 87:6) and you will receive your reward.

Lessons learned from church planting 4 – the blessing of relational influence

The blessing of influence

In the early years of Shofar Pretoria the church grew almost exclusively through salvation of new believers.  The first adult who salvation in church was Danie Ferreira – a heart-broken young man who were referred by a mutual friend to visit us.  That day Danie met Jesus his Saviour and his life was radically transformed.  He became a pillar in the church, was ordained and today Danie and Jacomin Ferreira pastor Shofar Christian Church in Secunda.

Evangelical outreach

Because we had a burning passion for the lost to meet Jesus, we did many outreaches in the city.  At times we did attractional style outreaches with dances and music in the parks; we would do do two-by-two outreaches, or make hot dogs and give free hand-outs to start conversations and witness to everyone who would listen. In addition, Shofar in Stellenbosch would send outreach teams every six months to come help edify the church, also doing outreaches in the city.  Although many people prayed the sinner’s prayer during those three years of frequent outreaches, only three of those converts became members of our congregation (in spite of very deliberate follow-up and invitations).

Relational growth

So how did the church grow in Pretoria intially?  The church primarily grew through relational influence as each member impacted the environment in which he or she lived.  It was very visible through the groups of people that made up the early church, for instance there was a big component of Air Force engineers, because I was an Air Force engineer, and my friends brought some more.   Magriet, who later became my wife, was a medical student, and therefore from the very start we had several medical students in the church – which is still the case today.

My brother Conrad came because I invited him, and he brought a big group of Military Medical students.  I was with him when he invited the first students one Friday afternoon very early on in the church plant.  We were having coffee in his cafeteria at work when a few young nursing students were giggling in the corner. My brother, their superior, got up and sternly rebuked them for their immaturity, then promptly told them they must be ready at 8:30 on Sunday – he will pick them up for church. That Sunday they reported for church on time, but he sent them up again to dress more appropriately.  They obeyed their lieutenant, and that Sunday they became part of the church plant.  And because these initial military students were young girls, we soon had young military men who came to church for the girls, met Jesus and stayed on for other more noble motives.

Ester Venter was part of the church plant right from the offset and brought friends whom she stayed with and some who studied with at the dancing academy.  Some of the graduated engineers like Braam Visser, Thinus van As, Jaco Wagenaar and Jaco Kirstein invited their friends and collogues.  Thinus Olivier connected with the church via family friends in Shofar Stellenbosch and recommitted his life to the Lord.  He worked at Mugg & Bean in Centurion, and invited all his colleagues; a group of them stayed on.

Charné Bloem started with a student ministry, deliberately connecting with students on the Pretoria University campus.  When Phillip Boshoff joined the church as youth pastor the campus ministry took off and brought great momentum to our church – but mainly because the students brought their friends to small group and church.

Later, when Annerie Logan (formally Strohfeldt) joined the church via her sister in Shofar Cape Town, a big part of her Performing Arts class at the Tswane University of Technology joined because of her influence.  Today she is part of the staff and ministry team at Shofar Cape Town.

The church also grew through members from Shofar Stellenbosch who relocated to Gauteng after their studies and subsequently invited their friends, families and colleagues to church.

The names mentioned above are just a few to give an example of how each member in our church plant had the power to bring a whole sector in their community into church where they would meet Jesus and grow in godliness.

Pale hearts

It is interesting to note that, in spite of the location of the church and in spite of all the outreaches the church did in the inner city of Pretoria, that the congregation consisted of primarily white, higher educated people.  This, in spite of the services that were deliberately conducted in English, and the many, many black people who prayed the sinners’ prayer and accepted Christ as Lord.  Our conclusion was simple: we had no black friends, and therefore our church had no black members (apart from Robert Ramwisa mentioned in an earlier post).  Only later, when our members (and notably the students on campus first) had friends across cultural and racial boundaries, did it reflect in our congregation.  As our hearts grew wider to welcome different people in our lives and homes, so the church grew bigger and more diverse.  Hospitality flows from generous hearts.

So Shofar Pretoria grew via relational influence, in sincerity and love.  The church grew as members witnessed to and invited their friends where they were.  As our friendships grew more diverse so did our congregation.  The people who felt comfortable and stayed on in our church were the people we felt comfortable with and invited to our homes.  After all – church lives in our relationships, and church is family.

In the next two posts we will consider the blessing of an anointed and humble worship leader in a church plant, and the blessing of having a mother church supporting a church plant.

Lessons learned from Church Planting 3 – the blessing of friendship-partnership

This is the third post in a series reflecting on the lessons learned while planting church.  The previous two were on the blessings of confident humility and the blessing of being clueless.

The benefits of a working pastor

I will always cherish the first 3½ years of planting and pastoring Shofar Pretoria – the time when I was still working as engineer in the Air Force.  It was a busy time for me – I worked during the day, studied post-graduate engineering part time, and also pursued relationship with Magriet whom I later married.  So my ministry in the church was really “part-time”:  leading prayer meetings on Monday evening, teaching in Bible School on Tuesdays, attending small group meetings on Wednesday evenings, regular outreaches or discipleship courses on Saturdays, ending with Sunday services.  The reason why I cherished this memory is for two reasons: firstly I did not get paid to do for a long time; I did it because I loved God and his church.  And secondly this “part-time” ministry inspired everyone in church to value and participate in our times together.  Since I did not “work for the church” everyone “worked in the church” – we all pulled together and shared responsibility.  There was such a joyful, selfless spirit of serving in the church!

Also, the pastor who worked – as everyone else – meant there was no elitism, no class difference between the “spiritual” and the “secular” people.  It made not just “volunteering” and “activities” in church normative – it made every type of ministry in church normative.

So the fact that the pastor worked inspired unreserved partnership in and ownership of the congregation – each pulled their weight joyfully. And this high degree of involvement and service set the tone for a growing, learning church.  There were no passive, stagnant church members – every member was minister.

A warm environment

One of the key characteristics in Shofar Pretoria right from the offset was the warm and authentic relationships.  It usually takes a while to cultivate such an accepting, loving relational environment, but this was true form the offset in the church.

Very early in the church plant I boldly approached six of my very close Air Force engineering friends (who served God and studied with me in Stellenbosch) to help us in the church plant.  One by one they agreed and came in to help with the church plant.

A photo taken during our studies.  here you can see some of the legendary Air Force friends who had such a big influence on teh church plant.  In this photo: myself, Hendrik Redelinghuys, Henno Kriel, Wim van der Merwe, and Corne Smith.   Johan Appelgrein is not on this photo. SG Ferreira, Barry Drotche, Christo Versteeg also joined later.
A photo taken during our studies. here you can see some of the legendary Air Force friends who had such a big influence on teh church plant. In this photo: myself, Hendrik Redelinghuys, Henno Kriel, Wim van der Merwe, and Corne Smith. Johan Appelgrein is not on this photo. SG Ferreira, Barry Drotche, Christo Versteeg also joined later.

Our friendship was cultivated over a period of six years by that time, having gone through Basic Military Training, Officers Course and engineering studies together.  Our friendship was robust and sincere, having been forged in good times and hard times.  By then we really knew each other well and loved each other sincerely.  That meant there was no pretense among us; we were well aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses and we had the habit of watching out for one another.

So when these young men joined the church they did so exclusively to help build the church – they “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).  When I asked them they were already attending other congregations, but they came over to help build a church in which a friend – whom they knew well, fully aware of all his flaws and mistakes – was pastoring. Their loyalty and devotion to a friend caused them one by one to prayerfully join the church to help build the church.

Another man is worth mentioning here: my brother Conrad van Niekerk.  When we started with services in Pretoria Conrad served as Lieutenant in the Military Medical School in Pretoria.  He was frustrated with his work, not really seeing a future career there, and not in a good space.  He was on the point of leaving for greener fields in the UK when he made a vow to God to put his career and life on hold to serve and help me, his younger brother, to build the church.

I must mention that most of the initial church planting team also knew each other really well from our days in Shofar in Stellenbosch from years together in campus ministry and medium term outreaches.  But when these men joined with their tight working relationships and the sole motive to help build, it added much momentum.

The coming of this “band of brothers” early in the church plant set the tone for the culture in the church: a warm relational culture of loyalty, service, transparency and accountability was formed. From the offset these Christian values were visible and normative in the relationships of the young congregation.  And because they were a relatively large in the beginning the new members who joined the church were disciple in this warm, honest and selfless culture.

In the next post “the blessings of influence” I will reflect on my insights gained as I reflected on how the church grew, and it might challenge some people’s view of church-growth a little.

Lessons learned from church planting 2 – the blessing of being clueless

This is the second post in a series on “lessons learned from church planting” – the previous one was on the blessing of confident humility.

A street view of the Moonbox Theater, annexed to the bigger Breytenbach Theater in Sunnyside, Pretoria
A street view of the Moonbox Theater, annexed to the bigger Breytenbach Theater in Sunnyside, Pretoria

Our first meeting place was a dark little boutique theatre in the heart of Sunnyside called the Moonbox Theatre.  At times this quaint little theatre caused for some amusing and very embarrassing moments as the décor of the current production had to be left untouched.   For instance, during Halloween there would be spider webs in the corners, witches on brooms hanging from the ceiling and smiling lit pumpkins all around; during Easter bunnies and bright eggs decorated the dark theatre; during valentine the lights would be red, hearts and balloons on the walls and a bright mouth-shaped couch filled the preaching place…  Yet this never seemed to bother the early members of Shofar Pretoria who confessed they came back into this unsafe part of the city to a small, dark hall for times of intimate fellowship with God and one another.

Dependence on God

When we came together there was so much joy, excitement and hunger for God.  Yet we were clueless – none of us had any idea how to do this thing called church planting.  I had no experience in church-planting, pastoring or administering a church, but I had no need to fake it, since everyone else aslo knew I was clueless – but so were they!  There was no pretense, no false confidence – we all knew that we needed God’s grace and leading.  During this period I truly learned that “God gives grace to the humble” (James 4:5), and what grace did we walk in!

That sense of dependence lead us to pray a lot; since we had no education or experience in church-planting we needed hear everything from God.  Even with sermon preparation: I remember praying every Saturday for hours on end to hear the Word of the Lord for the church meeting on Sunday, recording everything the Lord was saying to the church. (During the initial 3.5 years of the church plant I was employed in the Air Force).  But it was not just me praying – the church prayed continually: before our services members would pray that everyone who entered would have a life-changing encounter with God – which they did.  The whole church rocked up for our midweek prayer meetings and we also had regular weekends dedicated to prayer and fasting. We prayed so much because we were clueless and knew that “unless the Lord builds the house” our efforts would be in vain (Psalm 127:1).

A house of prayer for all nations

In the first year of the church-plant we noticed that we were a very white, educated group of people meeting in the inner city of Pretoria – not at all representing or reaching the community we worshipped in.  In times of prayer we strongly felt God lead us to become “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).  So I ministered on that one Sunday and we prayed sincerely throughout the week that God would add people from the inner city to our congregation.  The very next Sunday, as I ministered, I noticed a tall, handsome black man walk into the small theatre where we met.  He was clearly moved in the service but tried to slip away during the closing prayer.  But Hendrik Redelinghuys quickly jumped up and greeted him and offered him coffee. He then told us that in the week he was alone in his room, frustrated with his life and betrayed by the people around him, praying with a rosary to God for help.  Frustrated at his lifeless religion he grabbed the rosary, threw it in the corner, and when lightning did not strike him down he cried out to God to lead him to people who knew Him and could teach him. So this particular Sunday morning Robert Ramwisa, a student from Rwanda walked out of his flat and (miraculously) heard our singing as we worshipped from within our little theatre-church.  He asked the guard at the gate to allow him inside, and although the man warned him “this is a white church”, Robert felt drawn inside.  That day Bob was overwhelmed by the presence of God and felt His love in the congregation, and the next Sunday Robert met Jesus his Savior and became part of the family. With that we started to grow into God’s “house of prayer for all nations.”  He was a pillar in the church-plant, later became a small group leader, and today he is back in Rwanda heading up a small group and church plant.

A recent photo of Robert Ramwisa in Kigali, Rwanda with a few mission team members from Shofar Johannesburg visiting him.
A recent photo of Robert Ramwisa in Kigali, Rwanda with a few mission team members from Shofar Johannesburg visiting him.

Power to transform

One of the major benefits of this dependent, prayer-driven congregation was the resulting prophetic ministry within the church – not by some “elect prophets” but by everyone.  I do not recall one service that passed without someone sharing a word of knowledge to an individual, or a word of prophesy from the Lord to either the church or an individual.  Because we waited on the Lord in prayer and worship God spoke faithfully, clearly, personally.  Our gatherings were characterized by a liberating freedom and holiness in respectful fear in the presence of God.  Each time we met, the Lord “sent forth his word and healed” (Psalm 107:20) and lives were forever transformed by the Lord.

One such an example is how Handré Verreyne became a member of our young congregation.  That day he was not looking for spirituality or God, and he was not at all interested in attending church, even though he was brought up as a “Christian”.  But Handré loved beautiful young women, and we had beautiful young women in our small congregation.  So Handre came to church on that Sunday wanting to win the heart of Meson Osborn, but God had a meeting planned with him.  That day God spoke into Handré’s heart and he became a member of the church.  As an added extra Handré did win Meson over, got married, and today Handre is serving as assistant pastor in Shofar Pretoria.

Avoiding bloodshed in church

Living in prayerful dependence on God saved us from various disasters in those days – some more literal and some more spiritual.  For instance, one evening as we prayed before the church service I heard the Lord instruct us to lock the doors.  So I asked Danie Ferreira to lock the doors when the service started.  Early in the sermon, I looked up and saw two men stand at the security gates trying to open the gate.  I asked Danie to open the gate for them, supposing they were visitors who did not know what time services started. But as they entered my spirit felt very uneasy.  The two “visitors” went to sit on the opposite sides of the hall, and immediately four or five of the men in church got up and went to pray in the foyer at the back – you could hear the deep rumbling as they prayed ardently. Several others bowed their heads and prayed softly in their chairs.  Something was not right!

At some point the uneasiness was so great that I stopped preaching and asked the congregation to pray together. We continued the ministry, but as we closed the service in prayer and everyone stood up, the men who prayed at the back gently removed the two “visitors” form the congregation and confronted them in the foyer as to their motives for coming here. Their story was fickle and their demeanor evasive, but we discovered they had guns and asked them to leave.  We suspected their motive was to rob the church during offering time (as was reported regularly in Pretoria Central during that time).  The next day we heard that two other congregations up the street were robbed on that Sunday by two gunmen who “visited” the churches.  Our prayerful dependence and sensitivity to God’s leading protected the church that day.

Birthing the purposes of God

In the months leading up to the church plant about 10 of us prayed fervently until we were convinced that God mandated a church plant in Pretoria.  Moreover, as we prayed we understood that the church were to be characterized by a few things: the healing of sexually broken people, a “well of salvation” (Isaiah 45:8), to restore “peace in the city” (Zechariah 8:4-5), “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7) and influence in government.

As I got underway in the pastoring and administration of the church I had forgotten to focus on these things the Lord had said about the church.  So as time went on and the church grew with new people being added there was much ministry in the area of sexual brokenness, and the prevalence thereof really concerned me, until I recalled the mandate given to the church.  From that moment on I cherished and celebrated the redemptive work the Lord was doing, to bring the sexually broken to the church for healing and restoration.

Today as I look at the photos of the people from those early days of Shofar Pretoria and I see their flourishing friendships, marriages and families, I cherish the fact that the Lord had birthed in Shofar Pretoria a well of salvation, a place where the broken can find Jesus their Healer.

Safety in the counsel of many

The last benefit I wish to mention regarding the blessing of being cluelessness was our experience of “safety in the counsel of many” (Proverbs 11:14).  Since no one had experience in planting, pastoring or administrating a church – but all had some experience and ample passion for ministry – there was a great degree of praying and planning together.  We were all learning, we were all praying, we were all working together. Although I was the leader and made the final call God spoke to us all and though us all.  Looking back, I find this extremely necessary since I was much younger, much more gullible and much more emotionally lead.  This was indeed safer for both the church and myself!

But there were other benefits: because everyone participated in the planning and discussions, people felt that their opinions were valued and therefore they were valuable, that their contributions mattered.  It truly stirred the faith and passion of the young group who saw that they were part in building God a house, and that the Lord was working through them.  This lead to tremendous buy-in and ownership of the church plant, resulting in a strong unity, crazy creativity, a freedom to minister and a willingness to serve, because God worked through us.

In the next post we will consider the benefits to the church when the pastor was still working.

Lessons learned from church planting 1 – the blessings of confident humility

“Accidental” Church Planters

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them… who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:19-21

This account by Luke is so simple and challenging at the same time: Christians fled Jerusalem due to persecution and suffering after Stephen the first martyr died at the hands of the Jews.  As they fled, they gladly shared their new-found faith with the Jews in every city and town they went through.  But in Antioch these Christians for the first time shared the gospel of Jesus with Greeks, “pagans”, and many believed.  And thus the most influential church in the first century was birthed – the church in which Paul grew into the apostle we know, and the church from where he and Barnabas was sent as missionaries to the gentiles.

So fearful, fleeing, young Christians “accidentally” planted the most influential church in the first century.

This could have been me and you.  Better still – it can be me and you.

When I think about the first church-plant I was involved in, this Scripture comes to mind, because on all accounts we were as clueless as the young Christians mentioned above.  We were young, passionate, inexperienced and without formal theologically education. But like them, we knew Jesus and his Gospel.

The birth of Shofar Pretoria

In 2002 a hand-full of young working Christians who used to be part of Shofar Christian Church in Stellenbosch found themselves in Johannesburg and Pretoria, longing for the vibrant worship, tight-knit fellowship with honest accountability in which the Holy Spirit freely ministered.  After a few months of prayer and a purposeful visits from the leaders in Stellenbosch there was agreement that the Holy Spirit mandated a church plant in Pretoria.

Today, more than thirteen years after the first service in the small, dark Moonbox Theatre in Sunny Side, Shofar Pretoria is a vibrant, multi-generation, missional church that has been key to the salvation, healing and discipleship of hundreds of individuals, as well as the planting of several other congregations in the North of South Africa.

I intend to tell the story in another blogpost, but in the next six posts I wish to share the lessons learned as we planted Shofar Christian Church in Pretoria.

  1. The blessing of confident humility

Nothing will happen without someone taking initiative, without someone person taking the risk.  If a church is going to be planted, somebody, or some group of people, needs to do it.  This requires leadership, and leadership requires belief not just in the necessity and feasibility of the cause, but also in his/ her own ability to facilitate and coordinate the activities required for a life-giving church wherein people will forever be transformed through the powerful working of the Spirit and Word of God.  You need to believe that your mortal activities will lead to the eternal, salvivic consequences of yourself and others.  The proverb is true: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7).

For me that shift to what I call “confident humility” happened when I was a student.  I was studying for another re-write of some notoriously difficult engineering subject.  On a coffee break, walking back to the study hall contemplated the quote there is a God, and I am not him!” [see the inbedded clip below].  In that moment this truth settled in my heart and gave me such a freedom from the pressure of “making something happen” and delivered me from of the fear of failure!  God exists – so not everything depends on my effort.  Yet at the same time, this God lives in me and works through me.

In that moment a song was planted in my heart:

“I know who am I, and who I am not…

I know my Redeemer – the Almighty God

His Spirit will guide me in all of my days

Lord Jesus – it’s you that I praise!”

Confidence grounded in God – his omnipotent power, faithful and benevolent character.  Humility founded in my limited abilities, dependability on God’s providence, always with a sober awareness of my fallibility.  So liberating!

“I said you are the leader”

During my student years in Shofar Stellenbosch we had plenty of opportunities to grow into responsibility, allowing for character and skills development though ministry opportunities such as campus outreaches, small group leading, personal ministry facilitation such as emotional healing and deliverance, leading prayer meetings, and short term mission outreaches.  All with oversight and coaching – each opportunity allowing for discipleship growth in a safe environment.  In preparation of one of those summer mission trips myself and a friend Antoinette Woods (nee Bosch) were assigned to lead the 6-week GO!SA evangelism and ministry tour around the borders of South Africa.  Upon hearing the news I was struck with the paralyzing feeling of utter incompetence, much like Gideon of old (Judges 6:14-15).  While spilling my feelings to God in my room I remember the Lord clearly saying “Read Genesis 1”.  As I read aloud I came to verse three and heard the Lord say to me “I said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. Now I say to you “You are the leader!” and that you are!”  God assigns and creates capacity and provides grace with the appointment.  That day something shifted in my heart – eradicating fear and insecurity pertaining to leadership and ministry.  I was young and inexperienced, but I knew that when God sets one aside for leadership or another assignment, he provides grace to complete the task.  You are never left to you yourself – His grace is sufficient for all he calls you to.

angry-bear-standing

“The Lion and the Bear”

So when the principle pastor of Shofar Christian Church, Fred May, asked me in 2002 if I would lead the church plant in Pretoria I felt like David who said to King Saul before facing Goliath Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them” (1 Samuel 17:36).  I had a reference for God’s grace at work in spite of my human inadequacies.  I have gained confidence in seeing what I have accomplished, and grown in humility as I have come to know “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Confidence in the face of opposition

After the commissioning in Cape Town I returned to the prayer group in Pretoria and announced that I have been commissioned to lead the church plant.  The news was met with mixed feelings, and some of the older members of the group resisted and outright rejected the decision, saying “you are too young” or “you have not been in the church long enough”.  Some left the church plant initiative during that time.  Amazingly, those conflicting moments and combative statements did not shake my heart the least, although I knew that the statements were true – I was young, I had limited experience in ministry, I studied engineering and not theology.

Yet, I knew what God had said to me previously.  I knew I was not perfect, I was not God – but I knew God, and I knew he is for me and with me.  I knew I was called to plant the church, and I knew that it did not all depend on me – I knew the “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Today, after more than thirteen years the church in Pretoria is still flourishing and growing at the hands of Phillip Boshoff and the team.  Truly I can witness that God gives grace to the humble, and that those who know their God will accomplish great things. So let your faith be in God, not your expertise, experience or effort. After all,

“Unless the Lord does not build the House, those who labor, labor in vain.”  (Psalm 127:1)

In the next post we will consider the second lesson I learned – The blessing of being clueless.