One-on-One with Daniel Im on Discipleship from a Systems Perspective
I recently talked with my friend Daniel Im about his new book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry. We wrote the second edition of Planting Missional Churches together and we co-lead a ministry for church planters and multipliers called NewChurches.com. Daniel also serves as a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville, TN, and he is a regular contributor to The Exchange.
Ed: How can pastors utilize your new book to grow in their leadership?
Daniel: How do you get from here to there? From where your church is today to the vision that God has called you to? That’s the stuff of strategy.
Since the starting point for every church’s vision should be the Great Commission and Commandment, it makes sense to view your discipleship pathway as the strategy that’ll get you to the vision. After all, a discipleship pathway is the intentional route that you have set up in your church to develop and form missionary disciples for Kingdom impact.
Now, while your discipleship pathway will definitely move your church toward your vision, it’s really only half of the equation. The other half is your leadership pipeline, which is the process and structure you have put in place to equip leaders. The two go hand in hand—together, they are the framework for your church’s strategy. Let me explain.
Your discipleship pathway will form your church into missionary disciples, while your leadership pipeline will equip your church to live as missionary disciples. Your discipleship pathway will shape your people’s character, while your leadership pipeline will develop their competencies. Your discipleship pathway will transform hearts, while your leadership pipeline will train transforming agents. Your discipleship pathway will develop, while your leadership pipeline will deploy.
My book will help your church develop a discipleship pathway (or refine it) by looking at discipleship from a systems perspective.
Ed: In your book, you talk about five micro-shifts that lead to macro-change. How have you seen these micro-shifts work in your own church and ministry?
Daniel: Let me share two of them.
Have you ever imported a model from another church, only to do it again a few months later, since the first one didn’t go as planned? There’s always collateral damage, and a loss of trust and credibility. This is just one of the scenarios that the first micro-shift, from destination to direction, addresses.
Or what about thinking that an epic sermon series was going to double your church attendance? If I told you that I’ve never thought this, I’d be a big fat liar. And that’s why in the second micro-shift, from output to input, I share never before published research on a new metric for discipleship.
The fact is, there are no silver bullets—one-decision solutions that will solve all your woes and unleash your church into a new season of fruitfulness. The only way lasting change happens is through a series of small decisions that are put into action and completed one at a time.
Ed: In your book you mention the difference between a “guide on the side” and a “sage on the stage.” Why is this shift essential for pastors and leaders as they equip volunteers and leaders?
Daniel: Long gone are the days when you could expect 100% of your volunteers and leaders to show up at a Saturday morning training seminar. In order to reverse the trend, I want to encourage you to move from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side. Let me explain.
One of the easiest and safest things to do as a pastor, leader, or teacher is to prepare your lesson, teach it as a monologue, and then go home. This way, you are the sage on the stage and in complete control.
If you were the guide on the side, you would see yourself as the master facilitator instead. You would help your volunteers self-discover concepts, share examples, and teach one another.
Being a guide on the side is about moving beyond your lectern and crafting a learning experience for everyone in the room. This means that your preparation time will be spent less on what you are going to say, and more on creating learning activities for your leaders to move from discovery to application.
Ed: What are input goals and output goals and how can pastors use them?
Daniel: Input goals are the behaviors or habits you adopt when trying to make a change. In weight loss, input goals would be things like counting calories or exercising.
Output goals are the result of input goals. So in weight loss, output goals would be feeling better physically or losing a certain number of pounds.
Churches often measure success in ministry and whether someone is a mature disciple by using output goals, such as attendance, giving, and serving. But we need to think about input goals as well.
A few years back, LifeWay Research embarked on an in-depth study to examine the state of discipleship in the church today—the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). The TDA revealed eight attributes (or output goals) that consistently show up in the lives of maturing disciples: Bible engagement, obeying God and denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, seeking God, building relationships, and being unashamed (transparency).
While these eight attributes are great output goals, in writing No Silver Bullets, the question I posed the LifeWay Research team was whether or not certain input goals led to, or predicted, particular output goals. In other words, if a disciple did an input goal, like confess their sins on a regular basis, what effect would that have on any of the eight output goals?
The connection between input and output goals was fascinating! Let’s tease that example out.
When individuals confess their sins on a regular basis, as expected, they become more transparent with others, are more willing to deny themselves, and are more interested in seeking a deeper relationship with God. Nothing new here.
However, do you know what the team discovered when they looked deeper into the research? Into the connection between input and output goals? Individuals who did the input goal of confessing their sins on a regular basis were actually more likely to share Christ with others! Isn’t that amazing?
That’s the power of regression analysis and just one of the many input/output connections I have the privilege of unpacking in my book.
If you would like to learn more about the book, head over to danielim.com/NoSilver Bullets.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.