31 Jan LEADiscipleship | Becoming a fuller fisher, friend and follower of Jesus
This year, The HuD Group turns 20 years old. Hallelujah! We began two decades ago with a strong urge to inspire and empower young people to discover their God-given purpose and reach their full potential. While we showed signs of wanting to impact the wider society beyond ourselves, the emphasis was holistic personal development. By the second decade, emphasis had shifted more to making a difference in other people and on the planet a.k.a. Leadership. We even forged a formal relationship with John Maxwell’s EQUIP organization and consistently trained and certified people through EQUIP’s Million Leaders Mandate and our own Another Million Leaders Mandate. Towards the end of our second decade we came to the realization that the goal of Christian leadership is missional community[i]. God Himself is community and no single leader will get very far without working with and through a group of people on mission with and for God, whether as small as Daniel’s trio in Babylon (Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego) or as optimal as Jesus’ dozen in Galilee (the twelve apostles).
Right about the dusk of the second decade of The HuD Group we had a rude awakening to the fact that only deeply transformed people could deeply transform society. Peter and Gerri Scazzero brought to our attention the need to slow down for loving union with Jesus and to be deeply transformed in our emotional health. Convinced by the Scazzeros that “it is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature,” we have imbibed and leveraged a variety of their resources (from books tools) and practices.
For the last couple of years we have focused on going deep with emotionally healthy discipleship, emotionally healthy spirituality, emotionally healthy relationships, emotionally healthy leadership etc. Through our partnership with New Life Fellowship in New York City, USA, The HuD Group Global purchased the license from Zondervan to publish the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality reader and workbook plus the Day by Day devotional. This year we shall also publish Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Several cohorts have been trained in the emotionally healthy paradigms, mainly online, mainly in Africa.
As we stand at the threshold of our third decade, we have the important task of learning to do the delicate dance between being transformatively guided by Jesus on a personal level (what is largely described as discipleship) and transformatively guiding the world to Jesus (what is broadly termed leadership). No HuD Group person has the luxury of choosing one or the other. We all have an obligation, under God, to learn to straddle the two worlds, two purposes, and two tasks in what we have creatively termed LEADiscipleship. This will be a decade-long, nay, life-long dance until Jesus calls us home or returns.
In the beginning…
I came up with this combined word—LEADisciple/LEADiscipleship—because my top mentors were getting me Schizophrenic! John Maxwell, who I encountered much earlier had taught me that, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Our own Prof. Stephen Adei likes to put it another way, “Leadership is cause; everything else is effect.” But my other mentor, Peter Scazzero, also said to me point blank, “Everything rises and falls on discipleship.” And that’s true too. Look at the church and the world today.
My integration of both then has become: “Everything rises and falls on leadership’s discipleship!” Everything does rise and fall depending on the extent to which leaders are discipled. Hence the word LEADisciple/LEADiscipleship. Leadership and discipleship really are two sides of the same coin!
Necessary but Unnecessary Dichotomy
Unfortunately, this generation has grown to think of discipleship and leadership as two separate things. While it is helpful, sometimes, to distinguish them in order that both sides of the same coin are given adequate attention and action, oftentimes this distinction does more harm than good.
Here’s the way one Pastor Mac Lake[ii] distinguishes discipleship from leadership (I’ve taken the liberty to tabulate the differences), after he first says, “Fundamentally, the process is the same, but the focus is different.”
|I learn to live like Jesus||I learn to lead like Jesus|
|Primarily about character||Primarily about competencies|
|About leading self||About leading others|
|About cultivating intimacy with God||About cultivating influence with people.|
Reese and Loane, whose Deep Mentoring book was our annual focus a couple of years ago, articulate my heart on this matter so well: “Discipleship and Christian leadership development are inextricably linked and together make a slow and deep work. Those who promise impressive growth through simple and easy steps are simply selling an illusion… Apprenticing people toward Jesus’ way eventually establishes what it means for them to influence others toward God’s purposes.”
Is there really a difference?
A leader is a person who serves and influences people and planet to achieve a shared, noble purpose.[iii] As stated elsewhere, “if we had done discipleship the way Jesus did it we wouldn’t have to distinguish between discipleship and leadership.”[iv] With the theme LEADiscipleship therefore, what we seek to do is to merge the two words and worlds. Really, a complete disciple will have the component of being intimate with Jesus and imitating him alright (what is typically termed ‘discipleship’) but also serving and influencing others for Jesus (what is largely known as ‘leadership’). Here’s my latest definition of a disciple of Jesus Christ:
A disciple is a person (or entity) who through the Holy Spirit is continually pursuing intimacy with the Father, imitating Jesus Christ and influencing others to do likewise, all in response to the loving call of God.
Consequently, ‘LEADiscipleship’ becomes tautological because the heart of leadership really is character (which most Christians, like Pastor Mac Lake above, will call discipleship, imitating Jesus). Yet on the other hand if we expect a disciple to be influencing the world for Jesus, is that not also then what most people will call ‘leadership’? LEADiscipleship is tautological but a necessary emphasis.
As a subtitle for our ‘LEADischipleship’ theme for our 20th anniversary year, we have the following: becoming a fuller fisher, friend and follower of Jesus Christ. Let me illustrate with the following diagram and provide some explanation, which was initially inspired in 2020 by the Markan text which says: “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”[v]
Disciple as Friend
A disciple of Jesus is first and foremost a friend of Jesus, and oh “what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!”[vi] A disciple loves Jesus, reciprocating his first love for us. It’s a two-way street. A disciple is a friend of God[vii] pursuing intimacy with Him.
If you haven’t yet surrendered your life to Jesus in love, that is the beginning, my friend. Don’t jump the gun. Have you given your life to Jesus? He first gave his life for you. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”[viii] “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[ix]
Disciple as Follower
A disciple of Jesus is next a follower of Jesus. A disciple looks like Jesus, imitating the way Jesus thinks, feels and acts. This is a return to Genesis, before the fall, when we were created in the image and likeness of God. The whole essence of discipleship is formation. As Rev. Francis Boamah put it (and I’ve tweaked it), God first formed us in His image and likeness then Satan and sin deformed us. The world also seeks to conform us. Christ came to reform us and everyday as His word informs us, by His Spirit God transforms us to conform us back to that original image He first formed.[x]
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”[xi] In his earlier epistle to the same congregation Apostle Paul had said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”[xii] Indeed, “ Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”[xiii]
Disciple as Fisher
A disciple of Jesus is finally a fisher for Jesus. A disciple leads others to Jesus, serving and influencing them in a way that strongly draws them to also seek to be a friend and follower of Jesus, ultimately fishing for Jesus too. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”[xiv]
So invariably, the discipleship job description, process and purpose isn’t over with merely fellowshipping with and following Jesus until it results in fishing for others to do the same. Then the cycle repeats. Just like Paul exhorted his mentee Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”[xv] We ought to influence others towards all of God’s purposes: friendship, followership, fishing.
First, the three persons of the Godhead. A lot of Christians are Unitarian in thinking and practice. It’s all about either God the Father OR Jesus the Son OR the Holy Spirit. We lack full throttle in our Christian lives without having a Trinitarian worldview and lifestyle. It’s like having a lot of a particular food group, vitamin or mineral and missing all the others. You will still have significant deficiencies, severe malnutrition. Another metaphor is having a 4×4 vehicle (four-wheel drive) that you try to only run on the power of two wheels (front wheels or back wheels) in tough terrain.
Consequently, in the spirit of not being Trinitarian-deficient, the above ‘Complete Disciple’ diagram has been modified from the ‘all/only Jesus’ rendition to a more Trinitarian one below.
Secondly, the three persons we ought to be. Hardly does anyone do all three well, hence our 2023 theme to become fuller disciples. Most disciples are mainly friends OR followers OR fishers or at best a strong combination of any two of these.
The Friend+Follower who is intimate with God and imitates Christ well in character/lifestyle but isn’t bringing others on board to be and do the same is not being fruitful; their discipleship has become futile. What’s the point when God the Father wants a large family that no one can count, from every nation, tribe and tongue.[xvi] How selfish of such a one when their savior and master wants everyone on earth to reflect His image and likeness and everywhere emanate His glory as the waters cover the sea![xvii] Don’t be a futile person, be a fertile disciple!
Then there is the Friend+Fisher who is intimate with God and by the Spirit is influencing others but is described as flawed because their character/lifestyle isn’t in line with the One they claim to be in love with and want others to fall in love with. There are many who even weep in worship and passionately call on others to join them in loving and serving Jesus but their lives are not attractive; in fact, they can be even distracting and destructive! The Chinese have a saying that speaks to this well: “Your life is speaking so loudly I cannot hear what you’re saying.” Let your life reflect that one you love and want to lead others to love too.
Finally, comes the Follower+Fisher, a tough taskmaster. With a made up mind and strong will they do, do, do. With discipline they are imitating nearly all of Jesus’ ways and are busy about the Father’s business of winning people to Himself but it’s all a grind, often a joyless, loveless chore. They read the Bible as just instructions to obey and not a love letter from a dear Father. They pray, yes, but only as a spiritual discipline and to get results not also as a love language between them and the sweet Spirit. When there is no intimacy with God one becomes just a foreperson–whether a foreman or a forewoman–just a busy bee for Jesus, not really the son/daughter of the King or friend of God, oozing out a love relationship. Scaringly, the apostle Paul says no matter how much we do, without love it is all nothing–and we are nothing too.[xviii]
In the end…
It worked with the original Twelve! In the end, Jesus said about intimacy with them: ”I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”[xix]
Regarding imitation, only a few years after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven, the religious leaders “…saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”[xx] Jesus had so rubbed off these guys! They behaved like Him!
How about influence? “And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”[xxi] Did these Twelve, and the disciples they made who also made more disciples, influence the world or what?!
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
Early in His ministry Jesus intentionally called and chose the Twelve out of the crowd that they might first be with Him–in friendship (intimacy) and followership (imitation) as He rubbed off them. Then having appointed and anointed them ,He might send them out to fish (influence) others for Him.
The Matthean variation also emphasizes the fact that He called them to come follow him first, and then He will make them fishers.[xxii] We do not choose Jesus; He does. He calls and appoints and anoints us.[xxiii] And we do not make ourselves; He does. No Christian LEADisciple is a so-called ‘self-made’ person. He calls and chooses, appoints and anoints us, so that as we abide in Him (intimacy), we might bear fruit–of the Spirit (imitation) and of souls (influence). And that our fruit will last, forever!
If we became a more complete, fuller, disciple of Jesus–Friend, Follower, Fisher–we would’ve successfully combined discipleship and leadership as the two have come to be understood separately in our dispensation and we will be true LEADisciples, whichever way one looks at it. May the Lord prosper us in seeking to do all His will in LEADiscipleship, becoming a fuller fisher by the Spirit, a fuller follower of Jesus and a fuller friend of the Father.
Not just in this 20th anniversary year where we’re bringing everything we’ve ever been and done, known and taught, together, so that we might accentuate and accelerate them, but even for the promising decades to come, all of our lives. And surely Jesus has promised to be with us as we do this, day after day after day, even till the end[xxiv] of the age or till the end of our earthly lives, whichever comes first.
This is all He’s called us to be and do; this is the essence of not just the Christian life but all of life. Here’s our God-given purpose on this terrestrial ball: Friending, Following, Fishing…forever. O to “be led more by Jesus [intimacy], lead more like Jesus [imitation], and lead more to Jesus [influence].”[xxv] So, twende! Let’s go!
Download and share the PDF booklet of this article HERE.
[i] “Missional Community is a committed group of Jesus followers, the size of an extended family, empowered by the Spirit, to participate in God’s mission of redemption in a particular neighborhood and/or network.” (Missional Church Network)
[iii] This is a 2022 Yaw Perbi definition after sampling many of the over 300 definitions of leadership.
[iv] Yaw Perbi, 2015. Thinking Outside the Window. Maitland, Florida: Xulon.
[v] Mark 3:14, NIV
[vi] First line of Joseph Scriven’s poem which became the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” (1819–1886).
[vii] Even in the Old Testament Abraham was known as the “friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7) and David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22).
[viii] 1 John 4:10, NIV
[ix] John 15:13, NIV
[x] This is my rendition of a statement originally heard from my senior pastor at the Legon Interdenominational Church in Accra. He himself does not recall whether he read the original somewhere or if he came up with it by inspiration.
[xi] 2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV
[xii] 1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV
[xiii] 1 John 2:6, NIV
[xiv] Matthew 4:19, NIV
[xv] 2 Timothy 2:2, NIV
[xvi] Revelation 7:9
[xvii] Habbakuk 2:14
[xviii] 1 Corinthians 13:1-2
[xix] John 15:15, NIV
[xx] Acts 4:13, NIV
[xxi] Acts 17:6, ESV
[xxii] Matthew 4:19
[xxiii] John 15:16
[xxiv] Matthew 28:18-20, MSG
[xxv] These are the words of Leighton Ford (Billy Graham’s brother-in-law,) and the tagline of Arrow Leadership, a ministry Leighton founded.
Global CEO of The HuD Group.