What are Leaders?

Charles Kiser —  February 4, 2009 — 7 Comments

I attended Leadership Network’s Innovation3 Conference last week in Carrollton.

I had the opportunity to share a table with Neil Cole at a luncheon he was hosting to talk about his book Organic Church.

The basic premise of the book is that church is most the church when it is small and highly reproductive. Cole focuses on making disciples who make disciples and start new churches – even in the confines of people’s homes or in coffee shops.

Cole is a part of a resource network called Church Multiplication Associates (CMA) and calculates that CMA on average sees two new churches planted every day (that’s right, it adds up to 730/year).

We’ve been facing leadership development challenges in the Storyline Community — in a good way. More people are participating than we have leaders to lead.

So, wondering what might be ahead for us, I asked Mr. Cole: “How long does it take before a person becomes a disciple and is able to lead and care for a house church?”

Cole said, “Well, that’s easy: 3 years, 6 months, 29 days, 8 hours, 22 seconds.”

And he stared at me.

Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know I’m making fun of you, right?”

I said, “Yeah, I got that.”

He went on to say that there’s no formula or identical pattern for developing leaders.

Then he said something very profound that I’ve been chewing on this week.

“In the institutional paradigm, leadership development is about getting people to do something for you (e.g., lead a group, teach a class, preach a sermon, develop curriculum, etc.).

“In an organic paradigm, leadership development is discipleship. Leadership is about following Jesus so closely that other people want to follow you because they think by doing so they might also be able to follow Jesus more closely. Skills and logistics flow out of a disciple’s relationship with Jesus.”

Then he put in a plug for his new book, Organic Leadership.

He’s right. The easy part is teaching people the skills of event planning, conversation facilitation and connecting with people.

The hard part is seeing passion for God cultivated in people such that it’s contagious and other people follow because they want that passion.

It challenges me as a leader, too. Am I contagious? Are people following because they see a passion for God in me that they want? Am I a person of character?

Those are much deeper questions than “Can I run a leadership development group well?”

I thanked Neil Cole for being patient with me. I’m still deprogramming from institutional ways of envisioning leadership.

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

7 responses to What are Leaders?


    Looks like a diverse range of speakers and topics. All over the map, really. Were you able to see Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, or Tim Keller’s messages? If so, what struck you about them?

    I heard a version of Chandler’s message from another conference going on this week (Desiring God Conference for Pastors) and it was pretty good. Smacked me around a bit and hit some much needed points for what is really important in where the church is going – especially for the leader/pastor.

    Grace, mercy, and peace –


    Good thoughts on leadership. Cole is a good guy to be around.

    I’ve seen Neil Cole do this twice…he asks a group of people what the church is. They list all of these elements, capacities, functions, etc. Both times, no one mentioned Jesus.

    Both times he followed with a talk about buildings, budgets, and bigshots. Cole’s main point: we need to lower the standards for what we mean by church and raise the standards for what we mean by discipleship.

    I don’t know what definition or criteria Cole applies when he counts 730 churches a year for CMA, but knowing would help to give meaning to the number. A follow up question would be – how many total disciples are included in the 730 churches? What is the average longevity of these churches? would be another. Jesus calls it church when there are two or three gathered in his name. Good enough for me, but lets spell out our categories once we make numbers the issue.

    I take Cole’s point about the cultural trappings we may think of as ‘necessary’ for church, but I also think that the argument is problematic to the extent it opposes the two categories (disciple and church). Disciples don’t exist apart from churches, though, it is true, churches vary in their effectiveness at making disciples.

    Church, it seems to me, becomes a pretty thin category in Coles system. For example, I’ve never heard him place his work in any historical or ecumenical context.


    Jr –

    Yes, I heard Chandler, Driscoll and Keller. They were the most theologically oriented of the crew and therefore my favorites — though Driscoll is a bit too Reformed for my taste. 🙂

    All of them rocked my face off. I appreciated Chandler’s emphasis on the gospel rather than innovative methods, for sure.

    John –

    I think you’re dead on with your critique. Cole has a pretty low view of church even though it’s at the center of his methods.

    He’s often said, the church is only as good as the disciples (so you should just focus on the disciples).

    There’s something very individualistic about that. It neglects the way the church is the embodiment of the kingdom, and the way God calls a people, not just individuals.

    I would guess that Coles churches are 10-20 disciples strong on average. So that’s somewhere between 7300 and 14600 disciples per year.

    Cole is quick to admit that smaller churches that are unhealthy often roll up into other simple churches and the multiplication continues.

    I have often wondered whether Cole’s theology / approach is so simple as to be reductionistic.




    I have the same question regarding the simplicity of Cole’s theology and beliefs – particularly where leadership is concerned.

    I can certainly appreciate the sentiment that we need to be less transactional in our dealings with discipleship and leadership training. This concept, as we discussed it yesterday, of leadership development being about discipleship connects well with what Tod and Anthony (based on their reading from Redeemer Presbyterians church planting manual) have been saying regarding a focus on character over skills.

    With all that said, I’m not sure that we are wise to jettison talk of skill development or giftedness. A person of character who follows Jesus may or may not be someone who is gifted or called to lead a house church. I appreciate this call to not view leadership development merely from nuts and bolts, “what can you do” perspective.

    But does that mean leadership is a disembodied concept? Something which does not have a specific context? That sounds a lot like churches who have “deacons” because they’re supposed to…even though the deacons have no area in which they deek!

    This is obviously not what Cole is calling for (at least not from what I can tell) but it does raise some red flags in regards to how far we run with this distinction between the institutional and organic paradigms for leadership.


    CK: Your question to Neil about how long before a person can lead a house church (and other related issues) is dealt with in a series of panel discussions lead by Kent Smith and Jared Looney at ACU’s 09 Summit. You can get a free download of these at ACU’s website. I was surprised to hear some panelist’s answer to the question. Check it out…


    Just wondering CK and others if you have tried out LTGs and if so how well they functioned for disciple-making and/or mission. I’ve heard a lot of churches have tried and have been unsuccessful. In Cole’s book Search and Rescue I think he relates the failure to a lack of commitment, especially in the Bible reading. We are giving it a shot and so would appreciate any feedback.


    Charles said: “though Driscoll is a bit too Reformed for my taste. :)”

    No! I don’t believe it! 🙂 ha Though, I imagine I am as well – but hey, we still talk.

    You also said: “I appreciated Chandler’s emphasis on the gospel rather than innovative methods, for sure.”

    This is key to me in the entire idea of missions and leadership. Does the leader know the Gospel? (when I say Gospel, I mean exactly what Chandler meant in his talk).

    In regards to Paul Mc and the LTGs and Cole’s view that lack of Bible reading was the reason for their unsuccess; that is almost as basic as you can get and a part of problem I see with these efforts. Folks are so gung-ho and dedicated to the pursuit of missions that they put the cart before the horse. How can anyone lead if they don’t know the Gospel – and don’t do the basic things as read the Bible?

    Another thought is authoritative and knowledgeable teaching, both for those young in the faith as well as those who are doing the leading. We all need teaching – no matter our level of faith (milk and meat). Is the leader being fed or is he just feeding? A continuously unfed leader is a dying leader. Not good for mission.

    In the NT, there was always authoritative/knowledgeable preaching going on; and when Paul (for example) would leave a place, he made sure of people in place who would lead with the teachings of the apostles. This is paramount, in my view.

    Sometimes that takes time. Paul, as far as we know, was trained for 3 years before he started; and those around Paul were trained before they were leaders (Timothy the most paramount). We are so eager to get the mission-thing going that we put the cart before the horse. It starts with the knowledge of the Gospel, and authoritative teaching/preaching moving forward.

    Community, love for Christ, living for Christ, Christian justice, and on and on all flows from that.

    Grace, mercy, peace –

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