Many pastors I speak with and coach opine their lack of leaders. Their lacking is heard in their prayers: “God just send us a leader.” Or, seen in their next steps, regardless of the topic: “Get more leaders.” Often, after years of waiting, pastors move toward recruitment: “If only we could get some of those leaders to come here!”

However, our churches don’t face a leadership crisis, we face a discipleship catastrophe. We can’t recruit leaders because no one is cultivating disciples. God answers our prayers for more leaders by sending us men and women to disciple!

Neglecting the Formation of Followers

Our crisis is created from our impatience. We skipped the joy of spiritual formation that brings maturity and simply waited for the mature. We do not have mature disciples who cane shepherd and lead others because we have not shepherded and led. Our churches are not focused on being environments of spiritual growth. We haven’t taught people, we haven’t modeled for people, and we haven’t walked alongside people. Where are all the leaders? They’re in your church waiting to be discipled to maturity, hungry to know who they are and who their God is. When we disciple our people, we will have disciples to equip as leaders.

A culture of discipleship requires boldness to speak the gospel. It requires clarity to demonstrate the way of following Jesus. While we could spend volumes describing the mystery of discipleship, many discipleship masterpieces have already been written. Our leadership famine doesn’t come from a lack of knowledge or skill. I believe we know what to do to form disciples. However, we don’t. We aren’t making disciples and we aren’t creating a discipleship culture because we are distracted, exhausted, and disillusioned.

The beginning of a disciple making culture is you. But it isn’t about working harder, working smarter, and getting more skills. At least, that isn’t where we ought to start. You begin to cultivate a discipleship culture by looking into your own heart, the lies it believes, and the root beliefs that get exposed by our distraction, discouragement, and disillusionment. Our areas of deep exhaustion and discouragement are, many times, the areas of gospel need in our lives.

We Don’t Cultivate A Discipleship Culture Because We Are Distracted

A distraction is something that prevents us from giving full attention to the essential thing. Our problem isn’t that we are giving our full attention to something less, but that we are dividing our attention among many things. We definitely give time to discipling others, but we’ve lost it as our diving focus.

We Are Distracted by The Latest Things

We don’t want to be left behind with new strategies, models, and language. Each year brings new shiny and magical approaches to solve our problems. It comes with a package of made-up words. Our minds wander through this maze of paradigm shifts and structural milieu. We spend less time meeting with people and more time talking about people. When we meet with people it’s to tell them the new scheme. We don’t listen to their lives and help them hear God’s voice; we paste our new structure over their lives to show them our strategy. We substitute modeling a complete reliance on the Spirit of God for modeling a partial reliance on the latest methods.

We Are Distracted By The Outside

Others are distracted by by causes, issues, and arguments. We invest energy, emotion, and thoughts on frivolous theological arguments and political dramas. We find ourselves following the events of prominent pastors far away instead of nurturing the lives of the people God has brought close to us. We give attention to the activities of denominations and networks. Instead of giving our attention to the people we disciple and their environment, we focus on the outside controversies and issues.

We are distracted by our egos and empires

Filled with ambition and visions of grandeur, we daydream of becoming famous and extending our spiritual empires. Instead of building into the lives of people in our churches, we spend it networking with influencers and building our brand. While pastors have a lot to offer and are called to share it with others around the world, too often this is a simple escape from our primary vocation of making disciples and equipping leaders. In many cases, it is so much easier to influence people outside your church than those inside it. Essentially, it’s more fun to be a spiritual uncle, popping in every now and then to give treats, than to be a spiritual father, present through the pain and discipline.

Choosing Distraction

We are not victims of distraction. We invite it. Instead of depending and seeking the kingdom of God in our people, we welcome the new distractions of models, causes, and platform building. It’s our defense against difficulty. We choose distraction when things are too difficult, when we are stuck, when we don’t want to face reality. We fail to create discipleship environment in our churches because we choose to be distracted over facing our deficiencies, struggles, and the hard work of simply loving the people God has given us.

The Parable of Focus

Jesus tells us the story of the man who discovers treasure in a field. The man makes a quick calculation that the treasure is worth more than everything he has and therefore sells all that he has to purchase the field and have the treasure. He sold the treasure, not because he liked it more, but because it was more valuable than everything he had combined. The antidote to distraction is to sell all we have because the kingdom is more valuable. Furthermore, it’s to give all that we have and follow Jesus. The competition of earthly kingdoms for our attention needs to be over. Jesus’ kingdom is either worthy of our full attention, or it’s not worthy of any of it.

Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.