A Better Way to Make Disciples

Jim Putman, the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries, discusses what it takes to plant a church that develops leaders from day one.

What changes did your church make to get to that place?

It took us about two years to get to 850. Then we went to 1,600 and then to 2,300 in about three more months after we got our first building. Our organizational structure couldn’t support our values. The values were good, but we weren’t living them out. So I said to our staff, “We have to change our values or start living out what we say. Which one do you want to do?” And they said, “We’ve got to live it out!” I said, “The way we’re doing it doesn’t work. We’ve got to throw it all out and re-create the system.” We started on a much larger scale because the way you do it before 800 isn’t going to work for 1,600 or 2,300. You have to change your leadership style. You don’t change your vision because it’s not yours to change (what matters is Jesus’ vision for the church); you change how you’re structured so that you can support His vision.

Most churches are so busy just feeding the machine every week for another service. It’s where 90 percent of their energy goes. They don’t ever get a chance to step back and ask, “What exactly are we producing, what are our measurements, and how are we doing?”

What did re-creating the system look like for Real Life?

We restructured the whole church. We had one community pastor over all of our small groups and then all of these different pastors over sections like men’s, women’s, etc., which wasn’t working. So I said to them, “From now on, all your jobs are changing. You are all community pastors.” Then we went to our people and said, “We’ve got to have small group leaders.” I had everybody who had been a Christian for more than five years stand up, and I said, “You all are small group leaders now.” And so we started training them to actually do it.

Before, we had one pastor who went to the hospital. He’d be there all day long every day taking care of needs and not raising up people who could take care of people. We had to restructure so that we were developing leaders who could make disciples and pastoring rather than just taking care of the immediate needs of everybody else.

We want people to say, “It’s my mission to make disciples,” rather than, “Our church’s mission is … .“ This idea of ‘This is who I am, it’s what I believe in.” And that happens through relationship. You can’t give someone else what you haven’t owned.

Interview by Lindy Lowry, editor and director of communications for Exponential

A version of this article originally appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Outreach magazine.


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