What’s the Real Role of a Leader?


Today we are sharing the second in a series of posts, written by Rev Canon Paul Maconochie, addressing key issues necessary for churches looking to create an effective culture of discipleship. You can read the first post by clicking here. Paul currently leads Network Church Sheffield (NCS), a network of three church bases in Sheffield including St Thomas Church, Philadelphia, of which Paul was previously the Senior Leader. Paul is married to Elly, and they have two daughters, Grace and Hannah.


When I trained to become a Baptist Minister, there were a number of assumptions that were made about what that ministry was going to look like.

The major focus of my training was theology, because of course it would be my job to make sure that my future congregation understood the Bible in the right way.

Other key components included pastoral care and a little on how to preach.

I had no training in leadership, no training in what it means to be a disciple or to disciple others (other than Bible study), no training in how to build or facilitate effective evangelism.

My training was equipping and shaping me to fulfill a certain role; one that most churches in the UK expect their leaders to perform and one that most church leaders go along with. The role I was being trained for was this:

  • To look after the people of the church and care for them
  • To teach the people and to feed them spiritually.
  • To help them to be comfortable and healthy as they try to live good lives in a difficult world.

The huge problem with this is that it’s a million miles away from the model of discipleship presented in the Bible. In fact, it could be argued that it’s the exact opposite. Jesus said:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25-26)

A benefactor is someone who provides for other people and in return is able to exercise some degree of control over their lives. The provision of a benefactor can be financial, intellectual, social or spiritual; sometimes it can be all of these.

Leaders in the church seem to have entered into a ‘benefactor agreement’ with their congregations, where they are expected to be the providers of what people need pastorally and spiritually.

We have ‘taken hold of that for which the Church has taken hold of us’ instead of taking hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us.

When we do this, we effectively become like a ‘shell’, insulating people from the life of discipleship that Jesus has called them into, instead of a skeleton supporting and helping people to disciple others.

The church becomes like a crab or a wood louse, with the staff surrounding the people with care and teaching, catering to their needs. But what we want to see is the church operating like a human body; arms, legs and torso supported by the skeleton and working together to achieve the commission that the head gives it.

Jesus’ commission is ‘Go and make disciples.’ Are we primarily doing that as leaders? Are we helping the people in our church to do that? If we are not, then are we really fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us?

In a city with rock-bottom levels of church attendance, we have seen folks coming to know Jesus on a regular basis. And we are not just producing consumer-Christians, but believers who get straight back out there, discipling others. Why is that? What have we done that is different?

I believe that it starts with us as leaders:

  • Rather than providing pastoral care, we should be building a culture and supporting structures so that our people care for each other.
  • Rather than providing spiritual food, we should be equipping our people to access God’s Word and receive food from Jesus directly.
  • Rather than making people into clients for what we provide, we should be making disciples who can in turn go and make disciples.
  • We can do this by ‘pruning’ out a lot of the management we do, and then start living the life.We form a core community, live life-on-life and reach out to others to bring them into the Kingdom. Like Jesus, we identify and call a group of disciples to go on the journey with us and ask them to do the same. We percolate this throughout the whole church.

We do our job of making disciples and let Jesus do His job of building the church.


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10 replies »

  1. Thanks for a good post. When I made these points to a friend, they replied: “didn’t Jesus tell Peter to feed his lambs and take care of his sheep? It’s not only about going out to make disciples of all nations.” How would you respond to this?

    I suppose they are asking whether you can avoid the pastoral care duty and just build structures to accomplish this instead.

  2. Thanks for this Richard, really interesting point and one which we hope to talk a bit more about later this week, when we share some of Annwen Stone’s (Base Leader within Network Church Sheffield) reflections on this issue.

    Our experience has been that the best and most effective pastoral care has come through training and discipling others to care for each other. This of course, like anything, needs to be modelled by us as leaders. It is essential that we show people what it means to pastor others well and so that they are able to imitate this. What Paul is certainly not talking about is abdicating responsibility for pastoral care as a leader, rather it is the way in which we model and create a culture for this to happen.

    Taking on the burden of pastoring everyone in the church is often one of the primary causes of burnout amongst senior leaders. What Jesus models to us is discipling a small community of people, part of which involved pastoring and caring for them. When, as leaders, we operate more like extended family with those we lead, this pastoring role becomes part of the relationship we have with others. As more and more leaders become confident in doing this, we are actually able to offer much greater levels of pastoral care within the church community.

    Multiplying out this model of pastoral care is vital, otherwise we will always reach a limit in how many people can actually be cared for. For us, this has meant that the first place for someone to gain support with pastoral issues is with small group leaders, who in turn can call on the support of the missional community leaders if this is needed. If the pastoral situation requires further wisdom or a more extended process e.g. prayer ministry, this can then be supported by more senior leaders walking alongside the MC and small group leaders, so that at each level there is a relational connection and people are constantly empowered to grow in their ability to pastor each other.

  3. I love this… but re-reading it just now, I’m wondering about how scriptural “Rather than providing spiritual food, we should be equipping our people to access God’s Word and receive food from Jesus directly.” is? It sounds great, but it could easily be read to be about individuals reading the scriptures on their own (not a bad thing, but not something the early church had the luxury of doing being before the advent of printing) I’d be really interested in rediscovering the good things there are about reading the scriptures in oikos/community (listening to them read and discussing) and how we as church leaders give people confidence and maturity to do that…

  4. Absolutely agree with your point about giving people confidence to read the scriptures in community together. In fact, this is something that we would say is one of the 5 marks of a Christian Oikos, as described in the fellowship of the believers in Acts 2. Ben Askew has also recently shared some great thoughts on this on our Missional Communities Blog (http://missionalcommunitiesblog.com/2012/06/21/sustaining-a-life-of-mission-bible-7/)
    What we are looking for in a discipleship culture is that studying and feeding from the scriptures happens at every level of church, from the 2’s-3’s to small groups, to missional communities and to public gatherings as well.
    As you say, the emphasis on this is that it doesn’t just become a purely individual exercise, rather we would say that to truly hear God’s word to us through the scriptures and respond to it requires us to process it with others (this is why the Learning Circle involves sharing with others)
    What Paul is addressing in this post is the over-dependence on a Sunday service to “feed” somebody (which can become very individual), rather than that person living a life of feeding from the scriptures themselves, which can only be fully expressed in community with others.
    A good point.

  5. Hi Paul. My friend linked to your article on FB. Thanks for writing it. My question is this: Isn’t disciple making defined in Matthew 28 as

    “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”?

    This is clearly HOW we make disciples. Baptism and teaching what Christ taught. It is interesting that you didn’t mention Baptism in your article once. And you used Luke 22, to argue that pastors in the church primarily should NOT be teaching the congregation what Christ taught clearly in Matthew 28. I as a Christian pastor myself, I am concerned with this theological tangent. Blessings,


  6. Thanks for your comment Erol.

    We fully agree that baptism and teaching others are how to make disciples. This “teaching” can happen in lots of different contexts, and different ways, in addition to the up-front teaching role of a leader who delivers a sermon. The commission in Matthew 28 is baptize and to teach them to observe (abide by, keep, follow) all that I have commanded you. There were many things that Jesus commanded his disciples to do (e.g. “remaining” in Jesus in John 15:4, exercising spiritual power in Matthew 10:8, washing one another’s feet in John 13, how to pray in Matthew 6 amongst many others) which we need to “live out” and demonstrate to those that we are discipling so that we’re not just passing on information but giving them something to imitate. The Apostle Paul talked several times about the need for others to imitate him as He imitated Christ and this was a call to imitate His whole life, not just his teaching.
    “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra. .”

    What Paul Maconochie addresses in this post is that many of us as leaders unfortunately never get to live life close enough to others so that people are able to see our teaching, conduct, aim in life faith, patience etc because we are so busy diligently trying to “provide” for our congregations, in a way that can sometimes create over-dependency on a pastor where in fact we can be discipling them in a way that creates dependency on Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we diminish our role as their leaders, it just means that we shift our approach to what leadership looks like and what it is for.

    If we think about the model of Jesus he had 12 “disciples” who then went on to disciple others, who went on to disciple others resulting in the explosion of the early church. Even in the early stages of following Jesus those disciples were given opportunities to pray for the sick, cast out demons, and were sent out to tell others the good news. They were able to do these things because they had learnt not only from the teachings of Jesus, but also from observing him as they lived life closely alongside him. Jesus poured the majority of his time, energy and effort into raising and empowering those few disciples to minister with him rather than trying to single-handedly manage the needs and expectations of the crowds, which is often the reverse order of how leaders function in their churches.

    Thanks for raising this question

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