Let’s MAWL one another

One of the consistent themes of these blog posts so far has been that of raising up other leaders. 

The measure of our leadership is not just in temporary and short-term “successes” but whether we have abided so intimately in Christ that we bear “fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  We often think of the “fruit’ of John 15 as conversions or personal holiness.  But, in the realm of Christian leadership, it also means that we leave a legacy of Christian leaders whom God has raised up into His Kingdom.

It’s a powerful image to grasp that God can take my feeble, fumbling efforts and use them to have generational impact for the Gospel.  But one of the most common questions I receive is, “I understand I should raise up leaders.  But, practically, how do I do it?”

My answer comes from Jeff Callow (OMF missionary to Thailand), “You must MAWL them!”  

To raise up other leaders, I must be prepared to MAWL them and MAWL them thoroughly!

MAWL stands for the following:

  • Model – I do it, they watch.
  • Assist – I do it, they assist me.
  • Watch – They do it, I watch and coach.
  • Launch – They do it all.

Can we really trust that this system works?  Well, Jeff & Belinda Callow have planted multiple Churches in Thailand following this method and those Church are healthy, growing and planting other Churches.  So, yes, I think we can say it’s a health model.

But, more than that, it’s a model we see Jesus use with His disciples:

  • First, Jesus modelled ministry to the disciples.  He didn’t ask them to heal the sick (Matthew 4:23-25) straight after He called them (Matthew 4:18-22).  He gave them the example.
  • In Matthew 8, Jesus brought the disciples in closer.  He still did the ministry, but he taught them about the cost of ministry and drew them in.
  • From Matthew 10 through to Gethsemane, Jesus sends out the disciples and watched from afar.  He then debriefed when they returned;
  • Finally, Jesus launched them into ministry with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).  He assured them of His ongoing care and love but this was done in spirit of launching them into the ministry that would start the Church.

Paul followed a similar model with Timothy, Moses did the same with Joshua and Elijah appears to have done something similar with Elisha.

I can identify 3 reasons why this system doesn’t work (you can probably identify more):

  • We jump too quickly from Model to Launch.  In the first phase, the learner doesn’t see all that is required.  They see an experienced person do something well – they think they can do the same.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  The leader can hand over the reigns too quickly and the learner is left floundering.
  • As we move into Watch, the leader is unwilling to let the learner mould things for themselves.  We expect little clones of ourselves. We must be willing to release people.
  • We never actually Launch.  Sometimes if the leader started the particular ministry, they can be too invested there and can’t let go so that the new person can be launched.

As we MAWL people, we multiply leaders. 

As we multiply leaders, we multiply capacity for the Kingdom.  As we make it an outflow of an intimated abiding in Christ, it becomes fruit that will last.

So, as FLBC leaders, how can we be good at MAWLing new leaders?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Pray.  For anything to have any eternal value, it must be bathed in prayer.  That’s part of abiding in Christ well.  So, as you identify that person to whom you are going to model leadership, pray for God to guide you.
  • Model well.  The first 2 phases of the acronym, “Model” & “Assist” are so critical because it is here that you impart culture.  As you draw some closer and share with them why you do what you do, you will show them the things that are truly important to you.  They will pick up on the unspoken prompts and keys.  So, how you model matters! 
  • Teach biblical reflection.  When you work through the different phases, talk with your learner about how the Bible informs what you do and encourage them to ask.  In many cases, we become such routine practitioners, that we neglect to reflect biblically on what we do.  Biblical reflection is an important step to pass on to others.
  • Don’t skip steps.  In the first accounting firm in which I worked, the induction process on my first day went like this:  I was taken on an office tour and introduced to everyone (100 people), shown my desk, shown the computer package to be used and then given a file.  When I asked, “how do I do this?”  I was told, “Have a go and we’ll show you what you do wrong.”  We missed M., A. & W. and went straight to L.  It was the “sink or swim” approach.  
  • Keep the vision in front of you.  The MAWL process is time-consuming and it can be frustrating as you hand over responsibility to someone who makes mistakes.  You may say to yourself, “I could do this better.”  And you’re right!  However, you need to have a bigger picture mentality.  You are investing in someone who is important to God.  And, if you do it well, they will take your lead and invest in other people who are important to God.  Keep your patience, keep your focus and see the potential.
  • Keep the vision in front of them.  Just as this process can be frustrating for you, it can be equally frustrating to your learner.  They don’t enjoy making mistakes or feeling like they’re letting you down.  So, keep encouraging them by showing them the vision.  Tell them what you see in them.  Tell them about how they can impact the Kingdom by God’s Spirit. 
  • Be preared to have hard conversations. If you’re going to raise up someone well, you need to be prepared to have the difficult conversation with them.  You need to be prepared to show them where they’re wrong – it may even be something they think they do well.  If you paper over it, you are setting them up for failure.  Conversely, the hard conversation may be where your learner points out a fault in the way you do things.  Can your ego handle that?  Your goal as a leader should be for your followers to “surpass” you.  Can you handle that? 
  • Show them the wider Church.   It’s too easy to have a silo mentality in ministry – to only see what we’re doing.  As we train someone up for leadership, it is critical that we teach them to look beyond this role to the wider ministry, the wider local Church and the wider global Church.  Teach them to be interested in others and be generous.  We are part of Christ’s body and when one part is going well, the other parts rejoice.
  • Be prudent with your time and energy.  MAWLing someone takes a lot of time, energy, transparency and work.  You cannot MAWL too many people at once.  You need to be selective under God’s wisdom.  It will mean you have to let other things (and potentially other people) go so that you can stick to the main thing.  Leaders are the ones who have to make tough choices and this is just about the hardest one you will make.  Make it with prayer and Godly counsel.

Many people have given me ministry advice but Jeff’s advice to MAWL people is one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve received because it is based on the way Jesus did it and it goes to the heart of abiding and discipleship.  When my leadership journey comes to a close, how will I judge the success of that journey?  By how well I’ve MAWLed people who have gone on to MAWL others.

“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)

God said to the Israelites, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)   God invites us to partner with Him in raising up more shepherds.  Lord, please raise up more shepherds by empowering me to MAWL others.  In the powerful Name of Jesus.  Amen.