December 16, 2014

By Phil Maynard

Leaders Who Model and Reinforce Spiritual Practices

(Part 3 of Top 5 Things People Need From a Church to Grow as Disciples)

It is often said that where the leaders go, the people will follow. I think this is especially true in the Church.

I worked with an Administrative Council some years back around the theme of stewardship and generosity. The congregation had been struggling for some time to make ends meet financially. In the course of our discussion, the Council Chairperson said, “I don’t think Christians should be expected to tithe anymore. The government takes so much in taxes to take care of everybody that we shouldn’t have to give so much.” I was stunned for a moment and then replied, “I just want to share one thought with you—actually a scripture—and it goes, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’”

There was no question in my mind as to why that particular congregation was struggling. Where the leaders go, the congregation inevitably follows. Leaders are generally leaders because they are men and women of influence: popular within their congregational family, comfortable expressing their opinions, sharp and articulate. The vision (or lack thereof) of ministry leaders drives the vision of the church, and strong disciples breed strong disciples. If you have a Council Chair or other key leader who feels ambivalent about biblical principles of stewardship (or any other spiritual practice), that attitude will find its way into every aspect of planning and living out ministry. Biblical principles are paramount.

We could take a strong lesson from John Wesley who chose the leaders for the Methodist Movement only from the most mature disciples (and stressed the sacred work of the Godly leadership they would be providing). Wesley’s carefully selected leaders were not just expected to delegate things for followers to do, they were called, first and foremost, to themselves be living examples of spiritual integrity, hard work, and humility. Only then could they successfully lead others.

The Willow Creek survey respondents were clear. Disciples who are growing toward maturity need leaders who model and reinforce spiritual practices.


The first step is to establish clear guidelines for those who will be selected to be leaders in a congregation. They should adhere to biblical principles, and beyond that they should be tailored to the particular personality of a given congregation. These guidelines are the goal-defined expectations of all members of a congregation, but leaders are expected to be doing exactly that—leading the way.

For example, a person being considered for leadership must be:

  • Regular in worship
  • Participating in an accountable discipleship relationship
  • Tithing
  • Serving in the community at least monthly
  • Building relationships with at least 3 people beyond the church to be Jesus in their lives and inviting at least 3 persons to church annually

Notice that the last of these goals is specific in a way that opens the path to accountability. These leadership guidelines will work best if given a specific metric by which each can be measured. ‘Regular Attendance’ can be defined any number of ways, but the point is for it to be defined, with all parties agreeing to the definition.

No goals are of value without accountability. That is another hallmark of real discipleship.

The complaints to this approach of recruiting leaders will be obvious: what if we can’t find enough leaders who model and reinforce these spiritual practices who are also willing to serve? First, perhaps this process just means we have to recruit more deeply and thoughtfully, and secondly, perhaps it means we have too many leadership pigeonholes to fill to begin with.

What do you think? Share your own experience in the comment section.