What is the relationship of discipleship to leadership? Consider someone who desires to become a Christian leader. He may have solid theological knowledge and know how to communicate it in a compelling way. He may have good interpersonal skills and provide sound counsel to resolve conflicts between people. He may have strong leadership skills and know how to get people on board with his agenda and direction. He may be able to put the right people in the right places and grow the organization.
Those are all good things, and they’re essential skills for Christian leaders. Yet if those skills are built directly on the ground, without digging down and laying a solid foundation of personal discipleship and character, what will happen? Those fancy walls with all their craftsmanship and beauty will come crashing down when the ground shifts or the wind blows or the rain comes down. The work will have been a waste, and often the building will hurt people inside or nearby when it falls down. That’s what happens when churches collapse due to character and discipleship issues in their leaders.
On the other hand, let’s look at a different scenario. Say there’s another person who wants to become a Christian leader. In this case, she spends time laying that foundation of personal discipleship, living in community with others even when it’s hard, listening to the Holy Spirit, and acting in loving obedience to what she’s hearing. From the outside, others can’t see any real progress. Is she building something? They just see a lot of digging around in the dirt. But then one day they notice walls going up… again with fine craftsmanship and beauty. The electrical wiring is added and the roof goes on. The walls are covered with high quality paint. It looks just as good as the first house did, but this time it holds strong in the face of storms and wind and shifting ground. Her strong leadership skills were built on the solid foundation of discipleship.
That’s the relationship of discipleship to leadership. The two work together holistically, and we need both to be effective Christian leaders. Discipleship is the often less-visible but absolutely essential foundation upon which leadership must rest in order to be viable long-term. Without it, everything else collapses.
“As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” — Luke 6:47-49