Turning Church Staff Into Disciple Developers

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Many of us in the Christian Movement yearn to be more invigorated, animated, and passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. We
believe embracing our identity as disciples is central to our calling as Christ-followers. Given this, one of the central purposes of Christian churches is to develop people into disciple of Jesus.

Yet, when we observe the role of church staff in most churches, we easily recognize their primary functions. Typically, staff people are tasked with three activities:
• Designing and managing programs
• Event planning and implementation
• Directly delivering ministry to members

Our hope is these programs and events contribute to the development of discipleship in all who participate. Our suspicion is these events are not so effective, given the observed fruit (or lack thereof) of these efforts.

Perhaps it’s time to update our expectations and job descriptions for church staff positions and people who serve in these roles. Perhaps we could align our expectations with the purpose of our church….to develop disciples. Perhaps we could train, equip, empower, and affirm our church staff as they grow into disciple developers. The following suggestions may help your staff and congregation move in that direction.

First, moving in this direction assumes your church has already done its discernment work, affirming it is called to develop disciples. If your church is still enamored with membership identity, with the rights and privileges thereof, then you have some work to do. Recognizing and embracing the call to develop disciples of Jesus Christ must happen before we can align our church staff positions with that purpose.

Second, evaluate how much energy, time, and staff resources are currently invested in disciple development. One way to do this is to consider your pastoral care, or member care, or disciple care ministry (whatever words you use to describe caring for each other when hurting). Many congregations enjoy strong disciple care ministries (like Stephen Ministry), yet are weak and anemic when it comes to cultivating people without care needs. Recognize that actually developing disciples requires priority shift.

Third, discern what you believe directly contributes to disciple development. Since our goal is to become more fully formed and engaged disciples of Jesus, what actions do we believe will help us do that? This is where you evaluate what you have been doing (programs and events), along with considering what new actions to pursue.

Fourth, recognize your church staff people will become more intimately involved with individuals in your congregation as they pursue this calling. Who cares enough about you to ask about your spiritual journey; about your walk with Jesus Christ? Disciple developers love others enough to move toward this question, engaging people with depth.

Fifth, de-clutter and align job descriptions. Before this shift, we evaluate church staff on how well they run programs and manage events, believing this forms disciples. After this shift, we evaluate church staff on their work toward develop disciples. Identify what this work might include. Specify this purpose as the goal of church staff positions, codifying the best you can in the job description, freeing church staff people to pursue this objective.

While reading these suggestions, readers may be thinking these actions would shake up the culture and expectations in your congregation. Some people in your church would be disappointed in church staff, since they don’t function the way they did before. Some of them may grow upset and cause difficulty for congregational leaders. There are two specific actions which prevent this problem. First, do the cultivation work necessary to get people in the church on board with this change. Cultivate, communicate, discern, and work together to form a new understanding of the role of church staff….disciple developers. Second, after you’ve done effective cultivation work, recognize some people are still living in membership culture. Decide if your goal as church is to be effective or to keep as many members as happy as long as possible. When your goal is the former, then membership culture complaints grow irrelevant.

Disciple developing churches yearn to live in the life-giving, robust Way of Jesus Christ. They aren’t content with the rights and privileges of membership. They have tasted of the Lord and found that the Lord is good.