What is the best way for our church to help people live and love like Jesus?
That’s the question keeping me up at night ever since I accepted a new leadership role at Messiah titled Director of Discipleship. Not only is role new for me, it’s an entirely new role within our organization. It also happens to be a quest that Christians have wrestled with since the days Jesus, Himself, walked among us on earth.
Starting out, I thought I could simplify discipleship into a simple formula or series of steps—there is no shortage of such programs available—but through my recent interactions in the Doctor of Leadership program, readings, and Oxford advance I find myself rubbing against threshold concepts that, instead of making the answer more clear, have opened my eyes to its complexity. Even more disturbing is this additional question I find myself pondering:
What if the church is actually making it more difficult for people to live and love like Jesus?
Such was the backdrop in my brain when I opened two leadership books written by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. These books, Rare Leadership and Rare Leadership in the Workplace not only expanded my understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership and leader development, but they also provided me with a new map for exploring ways in which the church can help individuals mature in their lives to look more like Jesus. Combining brain science, leadership expertise and Biblical wisdom, Warner and Wilder offer four strategies that separate the immature (or sandbox leader) from the mature (emotionally intelligent leader). I will explore each of these four strategies in context of how a church could use them to foster spiritual growth and maturity in the lives of its people.
At the heart of these books is the idea that the two sides of our brain (left and right) work in different ways. The right brain operates more quickly, so quickly that it appears to operate above consciousness. “The fast-track system controls how we regulate our emotions, how we remember who we are, who our people are, and how it is like us to act (that is, acting like the self God gave us). In other words, it is our identity center.” The left side of the brain is referred to as the “slow track” by Warner and
Wilder. They say “the slow track is optimized for management. Its primary job is to monitor results and provide explanations and solutions to the problems we face.” The authors posit that most leadership development is focused on slow track thinking and behaviors, but that slow track thinking actually follows fast track thinking. Additionally, it is the right brain’s ability to 1) remain relational, 2) act like yourself, 3) return to joy and 4) endure hardship well that separate a mature leader from an immature one. And as I’ll show below, I suggest that it is these four attributes of right-brain processing also separate an immature follower of Jesus from a mature one.
Leaders deal with people. That simple statement seems obvious, but so many leaders focus on metrics, tasks and ideas instead of investing time in developing their people. Warner and Wilder offer a simple formula to illustrate this that is powerful:
Identity + Belonging = Transformation 
Our job as leaders is to meet people where they are, but not leave them there. And this is exactly what we’re called to do as the church. What if helping people live and love more like Jesus (transformation) was more about helping them see their identity in Christ and feel secure in their belonging and less about being able to recite the correct creed or adhere to stance on communion? Any discipleship development must begin here, just like any leadership development.
Act Like Yourself
I love that Warner and Wilder use this phrase because it’s not what it initially seems. The second fast-track habit to nurture in both leaders and Jesus followers begins with recalling that our identity is in Christ, not in our sinful selves. So, when leading and living for Jesus, we are to respond to stimuli and people as children of God, not as children of the world. And this kind of development comes from having someone model such behavior to us. Leaders and Jesus Followers alike have the responsibly to not only nurture this behavior in ourselves, but in those around us.
Return to Joy
Joy isn’t a topic often found in leadership development, but Walker and Wilder make the case that it should because “in a sense, we all either run on the relational fuel of joy or on the non-relational fuel of fear.” If leaders want to operate out of right brain emotional intelligence, the fuel of joy is a necessity. Scripture also talks about joy being the fuel of a Jesus follower—particularly the joy of the Lord. Imagine how the world would look if followers of Jesus built the habit of unconsciously operating from a place of joy rather than a spirit of fear!
Endure Hardship Well
The final fast track strategy examined in the Rare Leadership books is that of learning how to walk through hardship in a healthy way. Again, the correlation between the necessity of this skill for leaders and disciples of Jesus is ample. Whether you are a leader or a disciple of Jesus, you WILL experience hardship and others will look at how you handle it to influence how they handle it. As a parent, one of my biggest frustrations is seeing how friends of my children have been sheltered from hardship by their parents. One can not learn how to be resilient and bounce back from stress unless one experiences stress and builds resilience muscle. The same is true for developing followers of Jesus. He promised us that we WOULD have trouble in this world, so instead of asking Him to take it away, we must learn how to ask Him to lead us through. In doing so, we show others that it is possible to face hard things with joy while maintaining healthy relationships with ourselves and others. That’s the way Jesus lived and He has called us to follow!
In closing, the Rare Leadership books have given me a new lens through which to explore discipleship at our church. I feel more confident than ever that our focus as mature followers of Jesus must be on helping others build these healthy fast-track emotional intelligence muscles even if it takes longer or doesn’t show immediate results in common discipleship metrics like worship attendance, giving and serving. If the true goal is transformation, discipleship will take time and look a lot more like healthy leadership than effective management. The book Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Pete Scazzero is a related resource that I’m considering as foundational work for my new role. Are there additional discipleship recourses that you would recommend to look at discipleship through a transformational lens? Please let me know in the comments.
 Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Chicago, UNITED STATES: Moody Publishers, 2016), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgefox/detail.action?docID=4904276.
 Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership in the Workplace: Four Habits That Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity (Chicago, UNITED STATES: Moody Publishers, 2021), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgefox/detail.action?docID=6565024.
 Warner, Rare Leadership, 21.
 Warner, Rare Leadership, 20.
 Warner, Rare Leadership, 37.
 Warner, Rare Leadership in the Workplace, 49.
 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2021).