He opened with a story about a philanthropist who addressed the unemployment problem in Ireland by launching a major road building initiative. At first people worked with great vigor, happy to have a job with purpose. Later they realized the roads were not needed and didn’t connect to anything, and they became listless in their work.
“Many churches have a bazillion programs, but they have lost their fire because they are building roads to nowhere,” Dotson said. “We often make the mistake of confusing getting more and more information about Jesus with being in relationship with Jesus.”
Dotson referred to Acts 2: 42 – 47, and it’s description of a church relentlessly focused on making disciples. He quoted Mike Breen, author of Building a Discipleship Culture, as saying “If you build a church, you will rarely get disciples, but if you make disciples you will always get the church.” He also referred to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model, in which someone’s “Why” is kept as the center of focus of everything they do (the what and the how).
“When you know your Why, your What has meaning,” Dotson said. “It moves from being a simple activity to something of significance.”
Dotson cautioned the church leaders that the longer a program exists at a church, the more the church is in danger of losing the memory of why it was started in the first place. He implored that part of their responsibility as leaders is to keep the why ever before their people. Dotson’s own personal Why is that he likes to see people who don’t know Jesus enter into a relationship with Christ, and see what happens with their lives. Through church he gets to see impassioned people who previously didn’t know each other, now connected as a team who are passionate for Jesus.
He encouraged season pastors who might be losing their excitement to spend intentional time with young clergy, listen to their stories and get reconnected with their why.
Dotson shared four adjectives encircling the discipleship process that he asked people to reflect upon.
#1: Intentional (Colossians 2: 6-7)Being a disciple of God should impact our thinking 24 hours a day. You are not a teacher, lawyer or nurse, you are a disciple of Jesus strategically located in a classroom, courtroom or hospital. Wherever you are, you are first and foremost a follower of Christ, and that should impact the people beyond you. Programs won’t bring about the transformation we need. We can’t program our way back to vitality. It will take a movement of believers to take the presence of Christ out to our communities.
#2: Be InnovativeIntroduce new idea, product or method to your system. Innovation is happening all across the denomination. Discipleship ministries has launched #seeallthepeople – not a program, but a movement. The website provides fresh content each week to inspire every local church to see the people near them.
#3: RelentlessDotson referred to the Good to Great book by Jim Collins, and the story about the hedgehog and the fox. The fox knows many things, and tries different strategies to get the hedgehog. The hedgehog knows one big thing, roll into a defensive sphere. Although the fox is cunning, the hedgehog always wins. Foxes try to do many different things at once.
Hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a simple, unifying idea. We have to be like hedgehogs. If the overarching theme is not making disciples, it’s not going to yield results.
#4: Hopeful“I believe the future is going to be paved with hopeful leaders who are future focused and mission driven.”
Dotson’s time concluded with a lot of applause. Bishop Farr joined him on stage and said to those gathered that applause is nice, but what is really rewarding is when people hear what you say, then they go and do something. Bishop Farr noted that he stole Doton’s term – relentless – to use for the Conference vision (see page 9). He reiterated one of Dotson’s points that Methodism started to decline when it stopped requiring class meetings.
“If our end product is disciples of Christ, maybe what we should be looking at as a Conference is how many people do we have in class meetings?” Bishop Farr said.