Jim Putman: 4 Main Roles of a Disciple-Making Leader

How do you plant and lead a church that carries out Jesus’ Commission to all who follow Him? 

June 25, 2014


Real Life Ministries founder and leader and DiscipleShift author Jim Putman identifies four specific roles of a pastor who leads a church of disciple makers. 

1. An Authentic Disciple

There’s an old saying: “Who you are thunders so loud that it drowns out your words.” To be a disciple-making pastor, you must learn to walk with God daily. This is why church leaders are people of prayer, Bible study and the inner life of the Spirit. Walking authentically with God gives legitimacy to our teaching and leadership.

Living out the life of an authentic disciple with our families is especially important. Too many church leaders neglect the most important mission field of all–their own homes. When we walk with God together with our families, this becomes the daily testing ground that authenticates the teaching and leading we do in the church.

2. A Discipleship-System Builder

A church leader, especially one involved in church planting or pastoring, is not just a disciple or even just a disciple maker. A disciple is a person who follows Jesus, is transformed by Jesus and joins Jesus on His mission. That’s the job of every believer. A disciple maker makes disciples. Every Christian has that job. A pastor is more than that. They have the task of leading a church in which they are to create a system in which people are taught how to be disciples. In other words, they and their team are called to lead in the development of a church-wide system that will make disciples who make disciples. Leadership (administration, as it is called in Scripture) is a responsibility that is broader than just discipling others or leading a small group.

Church planters, follow Timothy and Titus and build churches that serve as the “household of God” and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:14-16 ESV). Included in Paul’s instructions to Timothy was the call to develop disciple-making leaders and systems. Paul writes about this in 2 Tim. 2:2: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

As a church leader, your job is to create the community-wide system in which people can be involved in relational environments for the purpose of discipleship. You are an overseer of a disciple-making community.

That’s why God builds teams of leaders who work together to fill in the gaps. We work together and are responsible for developing the program in which the team is trained, inspired, encouraged, challenged and fully developed. Here are some examples:

Ineffective: Since I’m trained in the Bible and theology, I’m the primary one at my church who should teach the Bible.

Effective: Since I’m trained in the Bible and theology, I can create support systems in my church that teach others how to teach the Bible in relational contexts.

Ineffective: The church pays me to take care of the congregation. That means if anyone in my congregation gets sick, I need to go visit that person.

Effective: God calls me to take care of the congregation. That means I create small groups and raise up leaders in my congregation who can go visit people when they get sick.

3. A Developer of Leaders

The third main role of a church planter in a disciple-making church is a developer of leaders. Everyone is a disciple and should grow into an effective disciple maker, but not everyone is gifted as a leader. Identify emerging, gifted leaders and help them grow. How do you find leaders? I believe that for the most part, leaders are already there in your body; they are just underdeveloped or overlooked. God promises that He will supply all we need in terms of gifted people to complete the mission He gave us (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 12:4-8).

So we really face three problems:

  • Most leaders are too busy trying to do the work in the church themselves, and they don’t have time to see and develop the leaders God has sent them. The machine needs feeding, and you have to feed it–preaching every week, planning everything, doing weddings and funerals. Is feeding the machine keeping you from noticing the undeveloped people God has sent you?
  • Church leaders are looking for already-developed leaders. They don’t see the potential in their midst because it’s not yet visible.
  • Pastors tend to look for a person who can do everything–an all-star player–rather than someone who can play a specific position on a great team. No one can do it all. That’s why we need the whole body of Christ.

Not everyone can lead thousands of people, but most can lead a group of three or 10. In a good church system, you need  leaders with different leadership capabilities. We know that God gives specific gifts to people in the church to help the church work together effectively.

When developing apprentices, we follow something like the formula Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson write about in their book, Exponential:

I do. You watch. We talk.

I do. You help. We talk.

You do. I help. We talk.

You do. I watch. We talk.

You do. Someone else watches.

Jesus modeled something similar when He worked with the disciples, and a careful review of Paul’s writings shows that he did something like this with Timothy and Titus. As a disciple-making leader, you need a simple but effective model like this to successfully develop leaders.

4. A Vision Caster

You must also be able to cast the vision that creates the disciple-making culture of the church. You not only make it clear that everyone is to be involved in making disciples, you also constantly point people to the method–relational environments–for doing this. That means sharing the vision from the pulpit and at every opportunity you have with the other leaders and they people in your church. Continually tell them, “This is our vision, this is where we’re going, this is what we’re about.” Every sermon is both a teaching opportunity and a vision-casing opportunity, a way of showing people what God has called the church to be and to do.

What is the vision?

The vision is that the church’s primary mission is to create disciples who create other disciples, just as Jesus intended us to do. The church is a community that is developing people who follow Jesus, are changed by Jesus, and then join Him on His mission. State that vision, then state it again and again and again. And just when you think people are getting tired of hearing the vision, repeat it some more. People forget. People drift in their thinking. They get new ideas and want to explore different directions in a church.

Continual vision casting is particularly necessary when you meet with other leaders in the church. Discipling others can be hard work. Leaders get tired, discouraged and beat up. Continually remind and encourage your leaders to stay the course–keep making disciples who make other disciples.


This article is excerpted and adapted from the 2013 book DiscipleShift (Zondervan/Exponential) by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman. To read the full chapter, click here to order DiscipleShift. Jim Putman and Robert Coleman will be speaking at the upcoming National Discipleship Forum at Exponential West in Los Angeles, Oct. 6-9. 


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