Interview with Alan Briggs, author of

Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church

Phil ~ In the book's foreword, Pastor Dave Ferguson writes: "Guardrails would have helped us" (when I was planting our church because)... "it offers a simple understanding of movement thinking." How important is "movement thinking" to your foundational premise and principles? 

Alan ~ Hugely important. Multiplication runs on a different operating system from addition. I often experience this as a pastor. At times I am tempted to just “do church” or to do things myself instead of raising up the people God has put in front of me. Movement thinking sets the table for movement living. It is more about the who than the what

Phil ~ You write, "God seems to be reawakening the collective heart of the church back to discipleship" but we "will continue to miss how to effectively pursue it." What "unlearning and relearning" is essential?

Alan ~ We need to unlearn a good bit around discipleship, but I will start with two. 

  1. Complexity. Somewhere in the process we’ve bought the lie that discipleship, growing in the way of Jesus, is complex. We’ve mucked it up, clouded it, so others don’t even want to attempt it.  
  1. Expert-centricity. We’ve believed and made others believe the more knowledge you have the more transformed you are by God. We simply must unlearn our notion that experts are the most well-positioned to lead people. 

We need to learn how to disciple people, real humans. We have great ideas in our heads, but they rarely work in the practice of discipleship. Discipleship isn’t learned in a manual; it’s learned in the context of life. Most leaders in the church have never been discipled. I encourage every leader to be discipled and start discipling another leader. 

Phil ~ Agree/Disagree (and why)? ... Most congregations have discipleship programs but they do not produce disciple-making Jesus-followers.

Alan ~ Agree. There are bright spots, but on the whole we’ve believed a wrong equation that goes something like this:

-----------More programs + More people = More growth

Programs aren’t evil, but they are incomplete. They can be a catalyst, never “the thing”. By nature, programs start from the outside edge and try to move inward. I have observed the effects of over-programming in many churches: exhaustion, frustration, discontent. 

Phil ~ What does it take to transition to a disciple-making culture? Talk about...

Alan ~ It requires at least two things…

Urgency. Without urgency people and cultures don’t change. This urgency will often drive churches to re-approach their church ready for change. There is a point of pain somewhere (ineffectiveness, fatigue, lack of fruit, etc), but once a group is urgent they are ready to go through the pain of shifting from the comfortable to the different. 

A commitment to the often unseen work of discipleship. To press into truly making disciples requires us to resist other things; activities, metrics and patterns, that we are used to. They are easy to measure, and they make us feel like we are succeeding. We move from the easily quantifiable to the practices that are largely “hidden in Christ”. Mustard seeds don’t garner much attention or influence these days. 

Phil ~ Please comment: "Groups that are designed for discipleship but never get around to praying and reading Scripture are eventually just hang-outs."

Alan ~ I have watched this happen many times. It’s an interesting phenomenon. 

It’s all about expectations. Most Christians in the West come to Christian silently groups loaded with expectations. I am a fan of open format groups. I even attend one where men show up with cigars ready to talk about what God is doing in their lives. I am also a fan of groups where prayer and the Word are central. It comes down to expectations of what the group is about and how they are going to pursue God together. Unmentioned and unmet expectations are killing discipleship groups. Talk about it. Decide on a format. See who wants to commit and be part of it. 

Phil ~ What are the implications of:

Alan ~ 

• "A life of prayer doesn't happen accidentally." ~ Prayer is one of the things about the Christian life where we experience a gap; most would say it’s deeply important, but most would say they rarely practice it. The power of prayer comes out in practice, not good intentions. Prayer is the greatest need that we rarely feed.  

 "One of the major roles of every spiritual leader is telling what God is doing in our lives and the lives of others. This kind of storytelling is deeply powerful." ~ We are forgetful people. God’s call to Israel was to remember. God’s mighty hand saved them, guided them, led them, protected them, and promised hope to them, but they forgot the past. Their forgetfulness led to ingratitude. Their festivals were experiential ways to make a practice of celebrating God’s faithfulness. We need to essentially form our own festivals to celebrate what God has done in and around us. If you are a spiritual leader of any shape or size one of your central tasks is to cause others to remember the goodness of God in the past. This cuts a hopeful path to the future.    

• "You will need to resist the role to simply teach." ~ From a young age we understand the classroom in the West. We understand the posture of passive listening to an expert or authority. We are high on didactic learning in the Western church and low on experiencing God’s power. When we move from facilitation to teaching it might be good information, but walls go up and participation goes down. Leaders, especially those of us who preach from pulpits, need to learn a different posture in spaces of discipleship and formation. 

• "Resist the urge to cover too much scripture." ~ When there is “a lot to cover” we flip into a mode of accomplishing instead of listening to the Spirit. When we fill in the margin with busyness we subtly push the Holy Spirit out of our circle. This is part of my unlearning process; coming ready to experience God’s presence among a group instead of pushing through a certain number of verses. 

Phil ~ One more thing you'd like to say...

Alan ~ I am hopeful. I see a reawakening happening. Don’t believe all the negative press that no one wants to be part of the church or live for Jesus anymore. I see a collective of people resisting their impulses and cultural impulses and dying to life in Christ. It’s time for the Church to learn in, to get down from any position of power and to serve, to listen and press in. 

Phil ~ Alan, please write a prayer disciple-makers can pray with you toward the revisioning and revising of their personal/congregational ministry

Alan ~ 

Almighty God, make us people of prayer again. 

-------Make us courageous enough obey you. 

-------Make us curious enough to search for where you are already at work.

-------Make us bold enough to realize we are not at the center of your work. 

You have given us spiritual authority, now help us to exercise that spiritual authority to pray with power, live in obedience and pass on your robust ways to a flimsy world. 


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