Daniel Im’s basic argument in No Silver Bullets is that there is no one single “magical” thing that pastors or church leaders can do to transform their church’s ministry. Instead, he suggests making five shifts in how we think and perform ministry.
Daniel thinks as much like an engineer/project manager as he does like a pastor. That’s probably part of the reason I related so well to this book. He thinks in terms of systems, of how the pieces of the systems work, how they work together, and how they accomplish the ultimate goal. In a church, the goal is discipleship, and the “big system” is the discipleship pathway. (Aside: This book likely stands on its own but I’m grateful that I had read Simple Church first. It lays the groundwork for how a discipleship pathway – or process – works.)
Daniel Im’s shifts, then, primarily have to do with the discipleship pathway with the goal of helping people become mature (and missionary) disciples of Jesus.
#1: From Destination to Direction
This shift has to do with how we define discipleship. Daniel Im’s working definition of a disciple is someone who is moving towards Christ. For Im, discipleship is more about the direction than the destination. The destination matters, of course, because it sets the direction. But it’s the movement in that direction towards the destination – Christ – that is the essence of discipleship. From a church ministry perspective, then, discipleship is not something that we can complete, or check-off, or finish, but an ongoing “obedience in the same direction.”
#2: From Output to Input
Daniel Im distinguishes between two kinds of goals, input goals and output goals. If you want to get healthier, your output goal might be to lose 10 pounds. To reach that output you would set several input goals: reduce the number of calories you eat, exercise 5 times a week, etc.
In the church setting, Im suggests we use eight discipleship indicators developed by LifeWay. These measure relative maturity among disciples. Then Im points out several input goals – concrete activities that statistically lead to someone achieving the output goals. The three input goals that had the biggest impact were Bible reading, regularly attending a worship service, and participating in a small group.
The shift is to think not only about output goals, but about what inputs we need to put into the system to achieve those goals.
#3: Frame Sage to Guide
Im’s third shift primarily has to do with how adults learn. He emphasizes two principles of education. 1) We usually teach the same way we were taught. 2) Adults learn differently from children. If we put these two together we see a serious gap: Most of the teaching we received were as children, so we don’t teach in the best way for adults to learn.
To correct this, Im suggests we shift from being a “sage on the stage to a guide by the side.” Specifically, this involves overcoming some barriers that adult learners face, starting with experience and moving to the abstract (instead of starting with abstract and moving to experience), and “flipping the classroom.”
The idea of “flipping the classroom” combines some of the principles discussed earlier with newer technologies. One way to “flip the classroom” would be to provide the content or training in video form (5-10 minutes) to be consumed individually, then make the classroom time a time for discussion and application.
#4: From Form to Function
Daniel Im prioritizes function over form. We need to allow our form to follow our function, or adjust our forms in order to accomplish the goal of making disciples.
Another interesting concept of this chapter was the principle that we function socially differently in different sized groups. Im provides four group sizes, or “sapces”: public, social, personal, and intimate. Each of these “spaces” functions differently. He noted that churches often have public spaces (worship service), personal spaces (small groups), and intimate spaces (one-on-one discipleship) but often neglect social spaces.
That’s a potential problem, because social spaces work equally well for introverts and extroverts. In his ministry experience he found that he had a lot of trouble moving people from public spaces (worship service) to the personal spaces (small groups). It was hard for people to make the transition. Then he introduced the concept of mid-sized communities (MSCs) provided the social spaces for people to connect in a more comfortable environment – and then more naturally form small groups. He emphasizes that his implementation of MSCs isn’t a silver bullet. What matters is the function of helping newcomers connect to the church than the particular form that takes.
#5: From Maturity to Missionary
In his final shift, he notes that when we aim for maturity (particularly in terms of knowledge), those maturing disciples will sometimes also become missionary disciples. But, if we aim for making missionary disciples from the beginning, we’ll get maturing disciples as a natural result. I’m not totally sure I agree with him, but he makes some good points. To accomplish this shift Im recommends that churches provide both conviction and constructs. That is, we need to teach biblically on the topic, and we need to provide systems and ministries to empower people to act.
The last part of the book offers resources for how to implement these shifts within the discipleship process. There’s a lot there, but more than I can cover in this review.
This book offers pastors and church leaders a lot to chew on. It’s dense from a ministry perspective, but also very practical. I’m definitely going to have to reread a few sections and brainstorm with the leadership team at my church to see how this might apply to our church. I recommend it to any church leader. You won’t find a silver bullet, but it’s full of wisdom.