As a young minister, I attended many leadership seminars with my pastor. These seminars were taught by well-known megachurch pastors and leading church-growth experts and gave us notebooks filled with detailed instructions about how to do church more effectively. After each seminar, my pastor and I discussed what wholesale changes we needed to make in light of what we had just learned.
Over time, though, we learned an even greater lesson from these seminars, albeit unintended: What worked for them will not necessarily work for you. Don’t get me wrong, these pastors and experts were on to something, but that something was not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to what ailed our church. Rather than importing someone else’s system into our congregational culture, we needed to do the hard work of figuring out how to apply biblical teaching about the church and its ministries in our own context.
I kept that lesson in mind as I read Daniel Im’s insightful new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Im is director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com and LifeWay Christian Resources, as well as a teaching pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. He is coauthor, with Ed Stetzer, of Planting Missional Churches (2nd edition).
When you focus on developing missionary disciples,
you will always get mature disciples.
Rather than silver bullets — “one-decision solutions that will solve all your woes and unleash your church into a new season of faithfulness” — Im suggests “micro-shifts” in how you’re currently doing ministry. Christian ministry boils down to discipleship. Make disciples is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It’s the Church’s unique and fundamental task, its reason for being. So, the micro-shifts Im suggests are oriented around what we understand discipleship to be and how we do it. They involve moving
- from destination to direction,
- from output to input,
- from sage to guide,
- from form to function, and
- from maturity to missionary.
The first shift deals with how we understand discipleship. A destination approach thinks of discipleship in terms of “how much [disciples] have achieved, what they know, their observable behaviors, and whether they have completed certain classes.” A direction approach, by contrast, views “maturity as an ongoing process without an endpoint this side of eternity.” This entails that we are always being discipled, and requires that we always are discipling others.
The second shift pertains to what an individual needs to do to move in the direction of Christlikeness. Churches want disciples to demonstrate biblical literacy, the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, etc. These are output goals or results. Input goals are those practices that make output goals achievable. Based on Lifeway Research, Im argues that reading the Bible, attending Sunday worship, and participating in smaller groups are three inputs that especially influence outputs.
The third shift addresses the role of the leader in this process. Pastors often feel that they need to be the “sage on the stage,” the person with answers to all discipleship questions. Drawing on adult learning studies, Im counsels pastors and other church leaders to adopt an approach that might be characterized as the “guide on the side.” In this approach, the teacher puts the learner in the driving seat, helping them when they get stuck. Obviously, there is still room for the Sunday morning sermon, but the guide-on-the-side approach works especially well in smaller, less formal settings
In the fourth shift, Im talks about moving from form to function. This is an especially good chapter for churches that are still debating whether Sunday school or small groups is the better discipleship methodology. Im argues that the function of discipling is more important than the form in which it takes places. Having said that, he counsels paying attention to mid-size communities in the church as a particularly fruitful venue for discipleship. These are neither as anonymous as Sunday morning worship services nor as intimate as a small group.
Finally, Im focuses on the purpose of discipleship. Most churches understand discipleship in terms of spiritual maturity, but Im thinks they ought to understand it in terms of being a missionary. He writes: “when you focus on developing mature disciples, you do not necessarily find yourself with an army of missionaries. However, when you focus on developing missionary disciples, you will always get mature disciples.”
Throughout No Silver Bullets, Daniel Im brings biblical theology, personal experience, and social science research to bear on the urgent question of how churches can better make disciples. Even if you don’t agree with everything he suggests, his angle of vision on the question of discipleship will help you sharpen your own focus in ministry.
Daniel Im, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2017).
P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.
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