Moving from Benefactor to Discipler – what it’s really like

In our previous post “The Real Role of a Leader“, Paul Maconochie encouraged us to think of our role as a leader being about making disciples rather than functioning as a benefactor. This post is written as a response to Paul’s post by Annwen Stone. We asked Annwen to write about what it’s like to transition from operating as a benefactor to a discipler in her local church context.

Annwen is married to Andy and together they lead The King’s Centre, part of  Network Church Shefffield (NCS). IMG_9186Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (10), Toby (8) and Elly (5) 


I have heard that leading a church is a bit like steering a ship. The bigger it is the longer it takes to turn. We currently lead a medium size church and are transitioning from an attractional model (mainly focused on the central gathered expression) to a missional church with both centre and edge expressions.  We are part of a big movement but also lead a parish church.  We see our congregation on an almost daily basis – at the school gates, in the gym, in the supermarket and at the park. To be honest most of the time I love that dynamic, but it can create an expectation of constant accessibility for pastoral time. Not only is it unrealistic for one person to do this, I also believe Jesus showed us to lead in a very different way.

Am I called to be pastoral? Yes

Am I called to relate to those in my congregation? Yes

Am I called to meet every pastoral need? No

Jesus talked about his different way of leading in Luke 22:25-26 when He 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. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”


One of the main mindset shifts I have had to embrace as a leader over the last 2 years as we have begun this transition has been laying down being a benefactor.

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”. – Paul Maconochie

Jesus taught that leadership was about serving people to become all that He intended for them. He empowered people rather than controlled them. He taught that God our Father is the provider.  I have had to learn and teach others that I am not the answer to their problem, instead my responsibility is to point them to Jesus who is the answer.  When people come to me with their latest issue, my response is now to pray with them there and then in the park, gym or playground as an act of faith, turning their eyes and hearts to Jesus and not to me.  I ask them the question “who else can you process this with?” and guide them in the direction of a missional community or small group.

I have learnt that when I am asked for solutions I need to allow myself time to respond as Jesus would.  I have found the most helpful tool for me in this process has been the Learning Circle.  At the moment of tension I have had to learn to take a step back and observe, reflect and discuss before asking for wisdom, instead of jumping straight in with my benefactor “I can fix it” approach. I am finding that the more I discipline myself to do this, the more I see others released and grow around me. Ultimately that’s what Jesus did – He served us to become fully who we are called to be.  He modelled everything to His disciples and then empowered and released them to do the same things. He saw that serving others wasn’t about saying ‘yes’ to them or doing it for them but by loving them into their full potential.  When He sent out the 72 in Luke 10, He chose to lay down His ability to be more effective than them, in order to equip them with a strategy that meant they could partner with God and see His Kingdom come. He enabled His disciples to ‘do the stuff’ which inevitably created leaders that could plant the first churches.

My role is not to pastor everyone myself but to help build structures and create a culture where people begin to take pastoral care of each other. My role is not to spoon-feed people once a week with great Bible teaching but to train and disciple so that people can feed themselves daily.  My role is to model the life that Jesus called with a core group of people so that they can then disciple others who disciple others. In serving my leaders and my congregation in this way I hope to see immeasurably more fruit than if I was functioning in the role of benefactor.  I have to lay down being “the leader” in order to take up my call to “raise leaders”. I have had to learn to say no to meeting people one-to-one and yes to creating huddles where we build a culture of shared learning and vulnerability. In doing this, we have discovered that we are empowering others to build communities where they hear God for themselves and respond to what He is saying.

I am called to lead both strategically and pastorally. At times this really feels a place of tension. My heart is still learning that truly loving the people I lead is to enable and equip them rather than do it for them.


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