Seperating Discipleship and Leadership Development

In recent years, many churches have begun implementing leadership development programs to increase the leadership acumen of their pastors, staff, volunteers and congregants. Maybe for the sake of simplicity, or due to an uncertainty between the two, these leadership development programs have become intermingled with discipleship processes, often resulting in an overshadowing of one or the other. Juggling the differences between discipleship and leadership development can prove to be a daunting challenge.

First and foremost, it is important to concede that discipleship and leadership development are intertwined. Discipleship is the process an individual goes through to be morally transformed to reflect Christ through relationship, and leadership development is a process of self-development (Kouzes and Posner, 2012). A deepening relationship with Christ that results in moral transformation is going to impact an individual’s leadership development because they are both a renewal of one’s mind (Gyertson 2006; Northouse, 2013). Discipleship renews the mind to see the world Jesus sees the world, and leadership development renews the mind to see people as more valuable than one’s self. These overlaps can lead many churches to combine the two processes.

The key to Jesus’ leadership was his relationship with the Father (Blackaby and Blackaby, 2013), which is where the division of the two primarily resides. Leadership programs need to focus primarily on the development of the skills, attitudes, and mindsets that focus on influencing others, while discipleship programs need to focus on developing a personal lifestyle that honors and reflects Christ. In order to grow spiritual leaders to advance the Kingdom of God, it must begin with discipleship and going deeper with Christ (Blackaby and Blackaby, 2013). Once an individual has established such a relationship with Christ, they are prepared to develop their leadership in order to serve others the way Christ does.


Blackaby, H. T., & Blackaby, R. (2011). Spiritual Leadership: moving people on to God’s agenda (Rev. & expanded). Nashville, Tenn: B & H Pub. Group.

Gyertson, D. J. (2006). Heads First, Hearts Fast and Hands Outstretched: A Personal Theological Journey into Whole Person Discipleship. A Journal of the International Christian Community for Teacher Education, vol. 2(iss. 1), pp. 1–9.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: how to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

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