We Lead by Following
By Chris DeWelt
It took a while, and now it all seems so simple. But we as elders and staff finally came to the same conclusion.
What is our “prime directive” at College Heights Christian Church? Following Jesus! If you come through our doors—either the doors of our church or the doors of our homes—we desperately want you to follow Jesus. It is why we live and breathe.
For us, following Jesus means a balanced diet of truth, relationship, and service.
Truth means connection to God’s Word. This is visible in bold and powerful ways through what is preached when we all gather, and what is taught through the Christian education program. It can be witnessed through our musical worship. And, of course, it is received on an individual level when we open his Word and pursue his heart.
Relationship signifies connection to one another. We are all connected because we have the same Father. In most cultures, the implications of the statement “we are family” doesn’t have to be explained. In our independent and individualized culture, it requires a lot more effort. Whether it be small group gatherings in homes or restaurants, in mentoring relationships, or in prayer groups—intentional relationships are key to following Jesus.
Service is seen in our connection to need. Encountering the living God, and seeing people as the eternal treasure God created them to be will unavoidably lead us to say, “Lord, use me!” When Isaiah saw the Lord, he encountered truth, he recognized his relationship with his own people, and he voluntarily placed himself in service (see Isaiah 6).
What This Means, and What It Doesn’t Mean
So what does that mean in practical terms?
In the past it may have meant addressing the church this way: “Hey, church! We have a lot of good programs. You really ought to get involved—and a lot of you do and that’s great. We as elders will be vigilant with the budget and staffing.”
An elder sometimes also discovered a problem. He may have said: “Wow! There is a situation over here! Get this person to triage and let’s find some healing. It seems we are the only ones who know what to do!”
And those are very important things. Needed things.
One day we woke up and realized we had grown from being a very large small group into a church where no one knew everyone. The element that has been largely missing has been a clear answer to the question: How will the people that God brings to us become disciples (followers) of Jesus? We don’t want it to be by accident! We will fight against the spectator spirit.
As we follow the example of Christ, we see a Jesus who isn’t shy about challenging people to grow. He says, “Come and walk with me! Take up your cross and follow me through the fields of the lives of people and families and nations.”
We choose not to be passive! That means we will not simply react to problems. Nor will we simply hope people will participate in the many good programs. People will not merely stumble across our community of faith.
We will do our best to see that all people in our sphere of influence are growing as disciples of Jesus Christ through a balanced involvement in truth, relationship, and service. Our heart is that we all grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It means a lot of work—and increasing the size of the eldership from 18 to 50, or even 100, isn’t the answer—but there are hundreds of you who are gifted at encouraging one another and sharpening one another and challenging one another and truly loving one another; in fact, many of you are doing that now. We want to ensure that everyone is growing, and moving forward, and being prayed for. In order for this to happen, there must be hundreds of undershepherds
This means caring people will come alongside everyone and “speak the truth in love” about their participation in truth, relationship, and service. Yes, we could just say, “Let them figure it out on their own!” But we will not do that.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15, 16).
How? Not by merely reacting to problems—though we will continue to do that—but we want to move from simply reacting to leading. Or should I say following? I think Paul said it well: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Chris DeWelt serves as department director of international studies at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, and an elder at College Heights Christian Church.