Leaders, Tasks and the Mission of Making Disciples

The Bible is nowhere near as interested in the abstractions of leadership theory as contemporary organizational theorists, but there may be some value in looking at the church through that lens.

I spent more more than a quarter century in an organization where mission accomplishment was central to all that we did. To plan operations, we learned to receive the mission, analyze the mission, restate the mission, develop and evaluate courses of action to accomplish the mission. Units of the organization trained repeatedly on their “mission-essential task list” (METL). Leaders led the organization using the principles of “mission command”.

Leaders lead organizations to accomplish their missions. Insofar as the church in the world shares the characteristics of all organizations, church leaders lead the church to accomplish its mission. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The UMC mission statement is a Wesleyan riff on Jesus’ “Great Commission” that closes the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus came to [the eleven disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

The church needs its leaders to direct their energies and talents to accomplish that mission.

Having said that, I also need to frame the mission of the church within the mission of God. Before disciple-making is human work, it is God’s work. “I will build my church,” Jesus declared. All authority in heaven and earth belong to him, and he will be present with his church until he comes in glory at the end of the age. The Book of Acts portrays the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel of John reminds us that the wind of God blows where it wills.

As a Wesleyan Christian, I also see this  work of God through the lens of the Wesleyan order of grace:

  • Prevenient Grace: God’s work to prepare his way in the human heart and open the way to repentance and faith.
  • Convincing Grace: God’s work to convince people of sin and lead them to repentance.
  • Justifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from guilt and restore a right relationship with God.
  • Sanctifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from the power of sin, restore the image of God and perfect believers in love

Within the Wesleyan framework, discipleship is always communal or social. Making, baptizing and teaching disciples is the work of the whole church, takes place within the church and unites people to the church. Discipleship is not a solitary endeavor or experience.

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Loyalty from the Top Down

Manassas National Battlefield, Near Brawner Farm
Manassas National Battlefield, Near Brawner Farm

Last Sunday I walked the battlefield near Manassas, Virginia where Union and Confederate troops fought for the second time, August 28-30, 1862. Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run) was another major defeat for the Union Army of Virginia, then under the command of Major General John Pope. The Union suffered nearly 14,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured over over the three days of the battle and its army was driven from the field in a hasty retreat.

The turning point in the battle came on August 30 when five divisions under Confederate Major General James Longstreet counterattacked into flank of the Union V Corps then assaulting right flank of Stonewall Jackson’s line.

Immediately after the defeat, Pope deflected blame onto the V Corps commander, Major General Fitz John Porter, even though 1) Porter had warned Pope of a large Confederate force on his left, and 2) Pope had ordered the fatal attack against Porter’s advice, and 3) Porter’s corps executed the attack on Jackson’s line bravely, while suffering huge losses. Still, Pope insisted, it was Porter’s fault.

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A Change of Command Prayer

Almighty God, I pray this morning for the men and women of [this organization]. Unite them as one in a spirit of service and camaraderie. Sustain them in their good work. Encourage them, and grant them safety in every peril. Give them strength for their labors and wisdom equal to every task.

As we pass the colors in this historic ceremony, I especially lift up the two commanders, one outgoing and one incoming.

Go with [the outgoing commander] as he and his family move to a new assignment. Let their new place of service be a blessing to them in every way.

And be with [the incoming commander] as he assumes command of this great organization. Endow him with every grace of leadership that he will need. Watch over him and his loved ones through all the times of trial. Grant him and his people success in every good endeavor, so that their many missions might be accomplished and every member of the team might find satisfaction in the important work they are doing on behalf of their nation and their neighbors.


A generic version of a prayer offered for change of command in a military organization with a largely civilian mission. 

Chaplaincy and Spiritual Leadership

One part of the “something else” which chaplains offer the Army family is sometimes described as “spiritual leadership,” to distinguish it from what chaplains do for their religious constituencies. Over the last two decades, the Army has talked about “spiritual fitness” or “spiritual readiness.” The word “spiritual” is both helpful and problematic.

For many people, “spiritual” is a broader and more inclusive word than religion. The use of the word “spiritual,” however, has proved to be offensive to both the non-religious – who would never use the word – and to some who are deeply religious – who understand the word “spiritual” to be filled with specific theological content. To many, “spiritual” and “religious” are synonyms. There is, in fact, no religious understanding of spirituality that is common across ecclesiastical boundaries. I’m not sure there is a way for the government to talk about spirituality in a way that some won’t find intolerant and others won’t find idolatrous.

Perhaps we need another word entirely.

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Do Officers Resign over Policy Disputes?

In Reviving the Generals Revolt, Jed Babbin dismisses the criticism of several retired general officers because they did not resign. That’s not Mr. Babbin’s only argument, but it’s the only one that I want to discuss. Mr. Babbin says:

There was a time not long ago when a general would resign rather than follow an order he could not, in good conscience, obey. …. How many of the generals now [criticizing aspects of the war] resigned rather than obey orders that conflicted with their conscience? None. That is the best measure of the credibility of these men and the writers who rely on them.

I have no comment about the generals’ criticisms or the administration’s prosecution of the war. I do object, however, to this particular line of argument in Mr. Babbin’s essay.

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