Posted by: richard | 14 October, 2009

LifeShapes – the Square

Defining the Priorities of Life

Last night we covered the square, pentagon and hexagon.  The lessons of the square have been growing on me as I have mused over it of late, so I encourage you to do the same.  It sheds a lot of light on how to lead others, and how to grow as others lead us.

“Servant leadership” is a bit of a buzzword but when we look at how Jesus modelled servant leadership it might raise some eyebrows.  He was willing to wash his disciples’ feet, and also to step into line of fire to protect his followers. He was also prepared to be directive (“do what I say”); to lead with vision, clarity and courage; to rebuke even his closest disciples strongly (“get behind me Satan”); and to make himself a whip and overturn the traders in the temple courtyard.  Jesus took some pretty raw material – a rag-tag bunch of fisherman and so forth – and through his leading (and the power of the Holy Spirit), turned them into the group that would turn the world upside down after His death and resurrection.

Here is the square.  Four phases of discipleship (D1/D2/D3/D4) and four corresponding styles of leadership (L1/L2/L3/L4).  Remember that disciple means learner, and this applies to Christian discipleship but also in any learning/leading situation.

The Square of Discipleship & Leadership

The Square of Discipleship & Leadership

The phases in more detail:

D1 – enthusiastic/incompetent
L1 – directive (high direction, example; low consensus, explanation)

Like a child with first bike, the disciple is very excited but incompetent.  The leader needs to provide strong vision and guidance (you wouldn’t ask the kid how they think they should right the bike, but instead tell them what to do).   Jesus calls his disciples with a stark “follow me” (Mark 1:17).

D2 – unenthusiastic/incompetent
L2 – visionary/coach (high direction, discussion, example, accessibility)

Disciples get some initial experience of ministry but start to encounter resistance, persecution, difficulty, failure.  Doubt and discouragement appear: why am I doing this? The kid has fallen off the bike and is thinking that the tricycle wasn’t so bad after all!  The risk is that the disciple doesn’t go through this phase to its conclusion but gets stuck oscillating between D1 (enthusiasm) and D2 (despair).  The leader needs to clear their diaries, get down in the pit with the team, provide grace and vision.   “Do not be afraid, little flock…” (Luke 12:32-34).  The leader has to help the disciple realise that God is in charge (grace) and that the difficulties are only to be expected but are worth battling through (vision).  Engaging their reality rather than engaging their enthusiasm!

D3 – growing confidence (conscious competence)
L3 – pastoral/consensus (lower direction, higher consensus, high discussion, accessibility)

This is when the kid starts to ride the bike cautiously but actually reasonably well!  In this stage the disciple starts to implement the lessons learned in D2 and start to grow in confidence and enthusiasm, built on experience.  The leadership style is a consensus-orientated, pastoral and based on friendship. “I no longer call you servants but friends, because servants do not know their master’s business… go and bear fruit” (Jn15:12-17).

Many of us are trained to start in this democratic-style leadership mode, which is fatal (not enough vision shared to create a shared goal, and disciples have not enough experience to meaningfully contribute).  Also, this phase (D3/L3) can be comfortable and the danger is we stay there and lose vitality.  But Jesus pushes the disciples fairly quickly towards D4 but explaining that soon he will be leaving them.

D4 – the end is in sight (unconscious competence)
L4 – delegation (low direction, example, high consensus, explanation)

At this stage the disciples are high experience, high enthusiasm, high confidence, high competence.   Confidence is in God not themselves: no longer self-reliant but trusting in God.  The kid hardly knows he riding the bike – it comes almost without thinking now! This is where the leader begins to disengage to allow the disciple to become a leader.  Jesus is with them (in his resurrection body) but only intermittantly. At this point Jesus says “Go and make disciples… I am with you always” (Matt 28:18-20) and leaves them.

L4 is about delegating responsibility.  But delegation (D4) only comes after the preparation of D1/D2/D3.  Often we try to delegate too early, before the learner has enough experience and wisdom.

A “Kairos moment” (for either the disciple or the leader) may well signify the transition from one phase to another.

The leadership stages can perhaps be summarised as:

  • L1: Directive (I do, you watch)
  • L2: Coaching (I do, you help)
  • L3: Pastoral (You do, I help)
  • L4: Delegating (You do, I watch)

The square is important because we need to go through this whenever we tackle a new thing, or whenever we are in a position of leadership with someone (an employee, a child, a team, a new Christian, a small group, a seeker, …)  If a learner does not go around all sides of the square they will stagnate.  The square reminds us to serve them by offering the appropriate leadership style at each time.

If you found this post helpful, I strongly suggest you purchase Building A Discipling Culture by Mike Breen (buy from Amazon here).  The book goes through Life Shapes in detail and explains how best to introduce them to a Christian community.

— Continue the discipleship and mission conversation ! —

Thanks for visiting! We have found Life Shapes really helpful in creating a culture of discipleship and mission as our home group has made the transition to an outward-focused missional community.  Why not follow our new adventures on (or via Twitter or Facebook)


  1. I like this one the best on Tuesday as I find it will be very useful in Christian leadership of course, but also on a day to day basis with my two bouts de choux… I am not very good at L4!

  2. I find this one really practical as well. As soon as Richard started presenting it, I was filling in names and situations. The square could define the path of a student goes through a Ph.D. thesis and it made me realize that I might not be giving them enough support in L1. I’m definitely best in L3, but not so bad at L4 either – I’m really pleased when a former student becomes a professor. It gave me a burden of prayer for two colleagues at work – our present Head of Department will be handing over at the end of the year to someone who was (twenty years ago) his student and it won’t be easy for either of them.
    It also made me think of the progression of children through the Scout Group, from Beavers who are definitely enthusiastic but need a lot of leader input to Explorers who are supposed to organize themselves. D2 is when you’re at camp, it’s raining and the fire won’t light….

  3. It struck me at the time that this supposes that the leader is more “skilled” in the domain than those who are disciples – when you’re building a house, you suppose that the person telling you where to put the windows has got a clue! On the surface of it, stages 3 and 4 are more egalitarian in that regard, so I wonder if that isn’t another reason why churches often end up at this end: if I stand up and tell you to be live your Christian life like me, you’d tell me where to go, right? I often feel like telling the apostle Paul where to go when he starts getting all Philippians 3:17 !! Maybe I’m just too humble to be a stage 1 leader 😉

  4. PS Gill, you need waterproof matches! And probably some waterproof tinderwood as well …

  5. Robbie – interesting comment about “live like me, imitate me”. But that is exactly what Paul says, you’re right. We should discuss this sometime as a group – I think it actually means we DO teach out of what we know and how we live – so we DO need to invest in others and say “I’m not perfect, but see Christ at work in me in this way…” Scary! But I have certainly learned from other, more mature Christians, who have modelled the Christian life. We should discuss sometime, ’cause I think there are some gems to be found in that particular debate.

  6. I related best to L2/D2. I am familiar with frustration, but know the rewards of working through the tough stuff. I’m probably stuck here…

  7. I’ve just been tagged “long-term D2” for cooking …

  8. Thank you Robbie. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

  9. Made me think that Charlotte is now definitly on D4 for toilet training (and me on L4) as she is now locking the door to do her business alone … but I still need to check afterwards if her culotte is clean !
    … sorry it’s a bit trivial but I need practical examples !

  10. […] doing – so why would anyone want to read about us?  In the language of the 3DM Lifeshape Square, I was probably in the “D2″ phase of disillusionment and discouragement.  With a bit […]

  11. […] put the skill into practice by starting a small business for the person, gradually working the leadership square. An apprentice or employee at first, the eventual goal is to turn the business over when the person […]

  12. […] A short time later, I was in a coaching meeting looking at the topic of discipleship and leadership. We each were asked where we were most comfortable leading. For me, that was easy. I am an L4 leader…I love to find people who are passionate about something at set them free to do it. (In case you want a bit more on what an L4 leader is, this post is well done.) […]

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