After the gift of the Holy Spirit, the primary resource that God has provided for the development of the church are the women and men who make up the people of God. Each believer is a unique individual who has been called and gifted by God. The challenge is to help each person discover how God has “wired them up” to serve.
The writer of First Timothy provides this challenge:
"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:14-15, NIV)
The role of ordained and lay leaders is to call out, encourage, and empower all believers to be part of the mission Dei (the mission of God). This is disciple development and it can be done in many ways. The church has used various processes for growing disciples through its long history, but I suggest three that are particularly important today: mentoring, coaching, and developing learning communities.
First, experienced leaders can mentor promising protégés. They can model ministry and support believers as they try out new skills and enter into new relationships.
Second, trained coaches can encourage the personal, spiritual and leadership development of others in the congregation. With proper coaching, individuals can discover and pursue their vision of ministry and service, becoming aware of their own gifts and skills, and using them in challenging ways.
Third, leaders can encourage and support one another in learning communities and draw lay leaders into similar communities. Support groups, planning teams, and “think tanks” are all forms of learning communities that can expand the ministry of individuals and the church.
Both clergy and laity can learn to use the practices of mentoring, coaching, and learning community formation for personal, spiritual, professional, and leadership development in various ministry contexts. In doing so, we are helping to fulfill God’s mission in the world.