Leadership and Followership | John Wimber

By John Wimber
(Taken from Equipping the Saints- 1995)

Some pastors and church leaders mistakenly think ministry is about people keeping. “We got to keep these people coming every Sunday. We got to keep these people giving. We got to keep these people listening to our messages. And most of all, we got to keep these people from going anywhere else.” As leaders, we’re not in the people keeping business. We’re in the people processing business.

Some are like raw lumber still out in the forest when we first meet them, or they may be in the mill or on their way to the factory. Wherever we find them and in whatever state they’re in, our job is to bring them in, and with God’s help, make them thoroughly Christian. We need to find out where these people are in this process of maturing and help them along.

As church leaders, we have little control over who shows up in our churches. It would be nice if we could form a “dream team” of capable, happy, well-adjusted, disciples who are willing to do anything necessary to conform their lives to the teachings of Christ and to His church- and give ten percent of their income. Sorry, it’s not like that…unless you want to have about three people in your church. Consider the apostles. They had walked with Jesus for three years. They saw him crucified. They stood inside the empty tomb. And yet, when Jesus appeared to them after his ascension, these same men had to be commanded by Jesus to “Touch me and see.” Why? Because …”they still did not believe.” Yet Jesus gave the church to these men!

Pastors and leaders don’t have a draft like the NFL. Just because First Baptist had a lousy season last year, doesn’t mean they get the first round draft choice of available converts. When all is said and done, the Lord of the harvest adds to our numbers those who are being saved…. those whom he chooses.

SPIRITUAL CHILDREN

Spiritual children are like natural children. Each one is a surprise. When they come into relationship with Christ, it’s like being handed a newborn. You rejoice in the new life, but before long you realize someone has to change the diapers and feed the baby. Someone has to protect the baby. Having babies is hard…but rearing children is where the real work begins. Likewise, winning people to Christ is exciting, but nurturing and loving them to a state of mature Christian adulthood is hard work. Yet, that’s what leaders do.

Unfortunately, everyone who comes to Christ, also come with all kinds of emotional and spiritual baggage. In some cases that baggage will make the job of spiritual formation extremely difficult. They come angry, confused, and bruised. Some of them have been chewed up and spit out by life’s difficulties. Many people come from very nominal church background. They may mistrust the church. They may be individualistic, cocky, and arrogant when they walk in the door.

That’s the raw material we deal with. Furthermore, as leaders we have what seems like an impossible goal. In describing his labor for the church, the apostle Paul writes: “We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28, emphasis added). Paul wasn’t interested in presenting everyone reasonably OK in Christ. His goal wasn’t to present everyone sort of together in Christ. I’ve been tempted at times, to write off some people, but Paul aimed to present everyone he had any degree of influence over perfect in Christ.

Paul said to that end he labored and struggled. But Paul’s strength was not his own will, but “his [Jesus’] energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29). As he told the Philippians, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” When you start working with some of the people the Lord brings to you, you’ll need His strength.

MEASURING DISCIPLES

How will we measure disciples? First, they demonstrate commitment through service; they’re willing to do things. We help followers understand that we’ve been called to lay our lives down as an act of worship (Rom. 12:1-2).

These are men and women in the Vineyard who have gone half way around the world a dozen times, using their own money to serve the purposes of God. They learned how to serve at home long before they got on a jet. Back in 1978, Todd Hunter, a Vineyard pastor, came and told me that he wanted to go to Wheeling, West Virginia to plant a Vineyard church. He didn’t have a clue what Wheeling was like, but I could see the fire in his eyes. His wife, Debbie was also committed to doing this thing, and I could see energy and leadership on them. So I first made it as hard as I could by giving him tough assignments. “Go down to the hospital and pray for the sick.” Do you think the nurses welcomed a twenty-two year old kid who wanted to lay hands on patients? But he got in and over time people got touched and blessed. Eventually people started showing up at the church. Some of them even got healed in the process. Then I said, “How about starting a small group?” Next thing I know, he’s got a flourishing small group, and people are getting saved. He passed every test I gave.

Finally, the Holy Spirit said it was time for him to go. I knew I could send him, not because of what he knew, but because he had demonstrated his commitment through practical service.

LOVING THE CHURCH

The second measurement of disciples is whether the Church life is at the center of their life. Loving Christ is only part of the picture. We also need to love what He loves, which is the church. Disciples love the church because God loves the church. He doesn’t look down from heaven and see divisions of churches, he sees a bride preparing herself for marriage to His Son. The church is the only thing Jesus is coming back for.

If the people who come to our churches only get connected with Christ, they may or may not stay. But if they get connected with Christ and with other brothers and sisters in Christ- they’ll probably stay- unless the Lord moves them out. They’re looking for relationship and identity. They’re looking for reality and something that will get them through life.

Many years ago, C. Peter Wagner and I traveled to different churches to consult with the Fuller Evangelistic Association. I must have heard Pete say a hundred times, “If I lived in this city, I would come to this church.” Every time he said it, he meant it. He loves the church in all its many-faceted expressions. Pete would sit and cry in the various worship services we attended. I thought he was crying from embarrassment, but I soon realized that it was joy.

MATURE CHRISTIANS’ THINKING

Third, we measure disciples by the way they think. Following Jesus should affect our thought patterns. Are the people you’re training thinking in disciplese? The fundamentals of the gospel become more important to a committed disciple’s spiritual life as the heart and lungs are to this physical body. The following chart sketches the differences in those who have an immature faith, and those who have a mature Christian faith.

IMMATURE FAITH MATURE ADULT FAITH

IMMATURE FAITH MATURE ADULT FAITH
Good Christians don’t have pain or disappointment God uses our pain and disappointment to make us better Christians
God helps those who help themselves God helps those who admit their own helplessness
God wants to make us happy God wants to make us into the image of Jesus
Faith will help us always explain what God is doing Faith helps us stand under God’s sovereignty even when we have no idea what God is doing
The closer we get to God, the more perfect we become The closer we get to God, the more we become aware of our own sinfulness
Mature Christians have answers Mature Christians can wrestle honestly with tough questions because we trust that God has the answers
Good Christians are always strong Our strength is admitting our weakness
We go to church because our friends are there, we have great leaders, and we get something out of it We go to church because we belong to the body of Christ

We want to engender a deep spirituality in our disciples that rejects a facile triumphalism. Disciples realize there will be hard times ahead. The journey we’re on is fraught with pain, difficulties, and the onslaughts of the enemy. Mature Christian’s also learn we can benefit from trials. From my reading of the Bible (and church history), Christianity doesn’t guarantee heaven here on earth. We’re going to Heaven- But we may go through hell here on this earth!
Maturity doesn’t not automatically come with the passage of years; some of the people we work with may be spiritually much younger than their chronological age. A prayer I pray often is: “Lord, let me grow up, before I grow old.”