How Redefining “Discipleship” to “Leadership Development” Changed Everything at Next Level Church.
When I think of discipleship, I think of Leadership Development. Although not a phrase directly used in the New Testament, it is definitely a phrase that epitomized the ministry of Jesus. Around Next Level Church, it’s a phrase we use quite frequently. For us, discipleship is all about leadership development.
We believe every person has leadership potential and our desire is to see that potential mined out and developed into all God wants for them to become. How we do that at Next Level Church isn’t complicated, but it is extremely intentional. For us, it means 4 things.
First, we are big believers in people. We can’t develop people we don’t believe in. John Maxwell said, “The average person has no one in their life that they truly believe believes in them.” At NLC, we have made it our mission to “Be believers in people.” People are attracted to people who believe in them. So why not be that kind of person?
We go out of our way to make sure people feel believed in. We want them to know in no uncertain terms that we can see the potential inside them. What we’re discovering is that this is magnetic for the young generation. Not surprisingly, they have very few people in their world who they believe believes in them.
At Next Level Church, the driving force behind everything we do is to see the potential in a young leader, believe in them and then give them a chance to grow.
Second, we see Leadership Development as THE thing we’re doing. Around NLC, we don’t think of leadership development, or discipleship, as one of the things we do, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING we do. We are not an organization that exists to use people to build services and programs. We use programs and services to build people. Developing people is the #1 thing we’re doing. That means our staff, small group leaders and ministry team volunteers are constantly looking out for whom they can pour themselves into.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that one of the driving differentiators of our culture compared to other organizations like ours is that we are extremely proactive about seeking out leaders. We use the phrase “Picking Up Ducks” to encapsulate that process. When I was a boy, I remember playing the duck game at our local fair each fall. For $1 you got to pick up 3 ducks out of the “duck pond.” If you found one with a red dot, you won $5. It didn’t matter if the first two ducks weren’t winners; as long as you got a red-dot-duck on the third try, it was all worth it!
That’s how we view leadership development. Sure, not every duck is a winner, but if you keep picking them up long enough, eventually, you’ll find some red-dot-ducks. When you do, they change the game in your organization forever!
We believe the future of our organization rests solely on the quality and quantity of leaders we can develop in the next five years. We want to be that kind of church. We will only reach our full redemptive potential when we help the young leaders in our midst reach their full leadership potential.
Third, we dare to let people in. Leadership development is risky because it requires letting people in beyond the shiny exterior coating that exists in our lives. Quoting John Maxwell again, “We can impress people from a distance, but we can only impact people up close.” That requires letting people in.
In practical terms, we don’t just ask people to do their jobs, we’re constantly looking for opportunities to allow young leaders to have access to meetings, thoughts and conversations they wouldn’t normally have access to otherwise. In other words, we dare to let them see behind the curtain of how a healthy, life-giving organization like ours runs. Hiccups and all.
Additionally, we work overtime to not just communicate the “How” and “What” of our organization, but to explain the “Why behind the What.” After all, the why behind the what is what shapes the culture of an organization long term. Jesus did this all the time. He would teach a parable in public, and then pull his guys aside privately afterward and say, “Here’s what I meant and why I said that.”
Finally, we stretch our leaders. For us, discipleship means stretching. If someone isn’t stretching, they’re not growing. One of the great temptations of leadership is to want to rescue people when they’re being stretched, especially when they’re a volunteer! In order for people to become everything God wants them to become, we have to allow them to be stretched. This is a learned art, and of course, I’m not talking about burning people out or abusing people. That’s not discipleship, that’s dictatorship.
I’m talking about putting leaders in situations that are bigger than they are. Jesus did that with the disciples time and time again. Remember the feeding of the 5,000 miracle? He called them together and said, “You give the people something to eat.” That was a stretching moment. They were faced with a situation that was bigger than their capability to meet it. They all became more like Jesus that way! That’s what it means to stretch our teams.
At Next Level Church, we are firmly convinced that developing leaders is how we disciple people to become more like Jesus. We believe developing leaders is the way to change the world and we’re willing to bet the farm on it… or at least the ducks on our farm.
So far, so good.
Matt Keller is the founder and lead pastor of Next Level Church in Fort Myers, Florida. God has used him to lead the church from 30 people at their grand opening in 2002 to now over 2,400 each weekend. Next Level Church was named by Outreach Magazine the 9th fastest growing church in the country in 2012. Matt is passionate about investing in other churches as well, having helped hundreds of pastors and church planters around the country take their leadership and churches to the next level. Matt travels and speaks often and is passionate about coaching pastors nationwide through online video coaching networks (www.MyNextLevel.me).
An encourager, Matt has a God-given ability to look past what is to see what could be. One of his favorite sayings is, “We’re church planters. We figure it out. We don’t take no for an answer. That’s what we do.” Matt is the author of The Up the Middle Church and God of the Underdogs.
High school sweethearts, he and his wife Sarah enjoy baseball and are huge Rays fans! Keeping Matt and Sarah in line are their two sons, Will and Drew.
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