When I was starting out as a church planter, one of my mentors passed along some advice: “Build slow so that you can go fast.” The gist of it is that if you want a healthy, thriving church or ministry, you have to take lots time to build the long-lasting Jesus-like traits into the beginnings of the church plant. This idea really helped me to slow down and focus on the right things during those first years of church planting.
This is a little bit like planting a garden. You plant a garden because you want to reap a harvest. You work really hard to plan it and prepare the soil and plant the seeds and then you have to wait. For what seems like a really long time. You can’t get fruit before it’s ready. For a while you just have to do maintenance—weeding, watering, fertilizing. Eventually, the plants grow and mature. Before you know it you have more tomatoes and zucchini than you know what to do with.
When you are planting a church, you work really hard to gather people and get it started. But after that, you often have this relatively quiet growing period before you see things take off and really begin to multiply. This is the time to build well—to pour your life into helping people grow as authentic disciples of Jesus as they learn to embrace and live out the reality of life in his kingdom. This kind of growth doesn’t just happen overnight. It can often feel like three steps forward and two steps back.
Real discipleship happens face-to-face and life-on-life as we learn to trust God.
Real discipleship happens face-to-face and life-on-life as we learn to trust God, learn to live in his deep love and as we develop meaningful connections with one another. A leader’s job is to help keep people pointed in the right direction, to join with them in uncovering the gifts God has given them. To teach them. To pray with them. To equip them. And to love them.
This means you as a leader need to take time on your own discipleship. Devote yourself to prayer. Press into healing. Take advantage of training and personal development opportunities like classes and conferences. Meet with a coach. Because if you are hoping to foster healthy, growing disciples in your church, you first have to become one yourself.
While you and your people are growing more like Jesus, you will also need to grow as a community. If you are teaching people to be more like Christ, they have to learn to love each other like Jesus does. Teach them how. Let your people start to develop a sense of connection and ownership of the community. Create many opportunities for people to worship, pray, socialize, and serve together. Spend time doing life together, and you’ll develop a community that trusts you as a leader and supports each other.
If you take the time to build that kind of community, and if you invest in discipling people, you’ll find that you will develop a church of leaders. Instead of just a few staff people doing all the work, you will have a community full of people eady to serve and love the larger community. People with energy and gifts and ideas who know how to turn around and reproduce themselves as leaders and disciples. A church like that will be able to take your original vision and run with it much farther and wider and faster than you ever could have on your own.
Building that kind of church will require patience. It will require us to continually center on Jesus. He didn’t hurry or push, and he only did what he saw his Father doing. He built slowly so that his kingdom could spread all over the globe. Let’s do the same. Let’s take our time. Let’s focus on what is important, what our Father is doing.
Michael Gatlin co-pastors the Vineyard church of Duluth, with his wonderful wife Brenda. The Duluth Vineyard is an amazingly creative and diverse community of disciples who are learning to live out the reality of the presence and power of Christ in northern Minnesota. Michael is also the national coordinator for Multiply Vineyard: a team of men and women located throughout America that encourages, trains, and empowers local churches as they multiply disciples, leaders and churches.