Recently, I attended the 28th Annual Discipleship Training Leadership Seminar at SaRang Community Church in Anaheim, CA. In this powerful seminar, I learned the late Pastor John Oak’s passion for discipleship and his philosophy and practice of discipleship training. This training became the backbone of the phenomenal healthy growth of SaRang Community Church in Seoul (http://english.sarang.org/index.asp). Throughout his ministry, Pastor John Oak focused on discipleship like a “madman.” According to Pastor Oak, 99% of a local church consists of laypeople. Thus, he saw the vision of developing the 99% as “small pastors” to work with the pastor of the church. His vision was accurately rooted in the New Testament model of ministry and his practice of this ideal was superb. His theory was accompanied by practice and resulted in unprecedented success and achievement. Practice without theory is weak, and theory without practice is empty.
As a student of leadership, however, I asked myself: “Will all projects succeed where theory and practice coexist?” Of course not. Even a business run by an economist can bankrupt (In fact, businesses run by Ph. Ds in Economics seem to be more prone to bankruptcy). Exceptional leadership is behind every great achievement. The model of training the laity, making them little shepherds, and then partnering with them for ministry is only possible when the pastor is an extraordinary leader. It takes leadership to train church members. It takes leadership to delegate ministry to these trained people. Furthermore, it takes extraordinary leadership to motivate people not only to undergo training for two years but also to encourage these leaders to stay the course of ministry when they feel like quitting.
In its booklet How to Become a More Effective Leader, Harvard Business School Online lists the leadership elements that a successful leader must have when dealing with team members: 1. Feedback, 2. Recognition, 3. Communication, 4. Delegation, 5. Respect, 6. Training. Of these six leadership qualities, I combine the homogeneous qualities and look at the following three: 1. Communication, 2. Delegation (Humans must be recognized and respected in order to delegate tasks), and 3. Training. These are precisely the leadership qualities that Pastor John Oak possessed.
1. Communication: Pastor John Oak consistently communicated through sermons and writings that his vision for the discipleship training ministry was based on Christ’s example of pouring his energy into a small group of disciples for their ministry. Pastor Oak constantly practiced this model. While we are in awe of the brilliant pastoral achievements of Pastor John Oak through discipleship training, can you imagine what he lost in order to live out this commitment to discipleship? He lost many members accustomed to the traditional church model. In order to focus on disciple training, the church had to prioritize discipleship and say no to other potential ministries. The church likely lost many members who strongly believed in these other ministries. If he had deviated from this calling to please others, this would have contradicted his message because his words and his actions would have been inconsistent.
Communication is everything in leadership. Discipleship training ministry is impossible for pastors who do not have the inner strength to stand firm while communicating the clear biblical basis for discipleship training ministry while church members opposed to this priority leave the church.
2. Delegation: A Gallup study found that CEOs who effectively delegate increase their organization’s productivity by 33%. CEOs who delegated some of their tasks to team members bought time. They used the time earned on more important tasks. Furthermore, team members who were entrusted with tasks that matched their strengths focused more progressively on their own tasks. The result was an increase in productivity and the simultaneous development of new leaders.
In Exodus 18, Moses was reborn as a true leader when he learned to delegate according to the wise advice of his father-in-law. A pastor who has to control every small detail within the church can’t delegate and can’t effectively lead. Pastors may find it easier to work alone so that they can control the implementation of the vision. For a leader to work with a team, the team’s decisions will deviate little by little from the leader’s original plan. This is an inevitable process of gaining buy-in from the team members. The effective team leader must effectively communicate the vision and the goal and be willing to allow the team some flexibility in how this is implemented.
3. Training: Ephesians 4:11-12 makes it clear that the most fundamental aspect of pastoral ministry is to train the saints to do ministry, and through this to establish the church. New church members don’t expect to have to go through Boot Camp. In order to bring them into the field of training, pastors must be passionate, charismatic, and motivating. Often we say, “You can lead the sheep to the water but you can’t make them drink.” In reality, a true shepherd leader will cultivate thirsty sheep by feeding them salty food before they reach the water. The sheep who have become thirsty will soon drink water. Without this type of motivational leadership, you are naive to think that your church people will receive discipleship training because it is biblically correct.
Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Discipleship training is no exception. To become an outstanding disciple trainer like Pastor John Oak, it is not enough to learn and practice his ministry methodology. Thankfully, the discipleship training leadership seminar I attended emphasized Pastor Ok’s passion for and biblical understanding of discipleship as well as his methodology. There was a great balance of theory and methodology in the seminar. From a leadership point of view, however, I would like to add that if a pastor does not first develop leadership like that of Pastor Oak, he or she should not expect to bear the same fruits as Pastor Oak. Just adding or focusing on discipleship ministry in a church will not result in healthy church growth. “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”