I work as an executive coach. Working in this field has taught me the easiest way to help people grow is to ask questions and listen. Though I make my living in the business world, I give much of my time to the work of the church here at Soma in Tacoma, Washington.
I want to talk about two approaches to disciple making. First, The University Classroom Approach and the second, we will call The Listening Approach.
Before I began coaching executives, I had been working in vocational ministry and was very familiar with the University Classroom Approach. It worked like this: put lots of people through classes and they will learn things. One day, however, I realized the folks going through my own private university were not growing how I imagined. They had learned things, but for the most part, their lives seemed unchanged.
As I thought and prayed on this, I came to the conclusion that the University Classroom Approach to discipleship wasn’t working. This is because disciples aren’t made in tame environments like classrooms. Disciples are made by doing life together, in the wild.
This made a problem for me. Realizing most churches weren’t going to pay someone to just live life normal life with people, I had to start my own business. Coaching has allowed me to focus on my calling to serve people, both in my professional life, and on my own time. It’s a wonderful thing to see disciples made in the normal rhythms of life instead of pulling them out of life to attend an event.
My experience has taught me something simple. If you’ll ask people how they’d need to grow, generally, they already know the answer. I’ve seen this Listening Approach play out in our church community here in Tacoma.
Whenever I can, I join clusters of leaders from our missional communities who gather weekly to get care through coaching on the real issues they face as they open up their lives to their neighbors and friends.
A few weeks ago, I heard Jeff Vanderstelt share a simple tool he uses to help discern the needs of people within his missional community. Jeff says “If Jesus goal is for us to be disciples who make disciples, what would it take this year for you to be ready to do that?” Then he listens as the answers pour forth.
One person might say… “I’ve never read the bible.” Another, “my marriage has problems.” Someone else, “I don’t even believe in Jesus!” Then Jeff coaches them and gives them tools to grow in the particular area they’ve brought up. He then pairs them with each other and lets them work it through together in a DNA group (Discipleship, Nurture & Accountability).
I do something similar in the leadership world too. I ask the leader “What are 2-3 wishes you have for your professional life?” Then I follow it up with, “What commitments would you like to make to take you from where are at to where you want to be?”
Too often leaders think they have to have the answers. This puts enormous pressure on that person. Scripture says, however, God gave the Spirit to teach, convict and empower for mission. Do you know what this means? It means the pressure is off you to make things happen! The Spirit is already working, but many of us would never know because we’ve never slowed down to ask.
Are you experiencing a lack of forward movement within the group entrusted to your care? If you are working as a church planter or pastor, ask your people, “If Jesus goal for us is to be a disciple who makes disciples, what would it take this year for you to be ready to do that?” What you hear will show you how you can serve your people. Truthfully, people don’t need your class. They need someone who will pause long enough to make space for the Spirit to speak, convict and teach. With a little follow-up, this will go a long way.
If you are a leader outside a church context, the approach is similar. Ask your people, “If this is our vision, what do you need to better carry it out this year?” What they tell you will show you how you will serve them.
Jesus spoke about how the rulers of the Gentiles lorded authority over people. Then he added, “not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:42-45) Now that’s good leadership.
The university approach of getting people in classrooms to teach them things might inform people, but it won’t change lives. What changes everything is when people listen.