Four Factors for Leadership Development in Local Churches
Leaders are like vegetables, the homegrown variety are almost always better.
That may sound simplistic, and in a lot of ways it probably is. But this is a point where the Bible is clear. A large part of the church’s mission in fulfilling the Great Commission is raising up leaders in ministry and mission. The Christian mission is multiplicative; it has to be in order to make disciples of every nation. A major part of doing this is raising up teachers, disciplers, and ministers of the gospel.
To be sure, “leader” does not necessarily mean “paid staff member.” Local church leadership comes in a lot of varieties. Some of these are vocational ministers, but most are not. Churches must raise up members to be teachers of classes, mentors to students, leaders in evangelism and mission, counselors of the hurting, and on and on. And for their mission to be multiplicative, they must produce and send leaders to plant more churches and to go overseas and reach the unreached.
Healthy churches have a culture of leadership development.
As soon as churches cease producing leaders, they move toward decline in health and effectiveness. When churches fail to fulfill this primary task of taking members and turning them into ministers, they lose their way. These churches will always need outside help to stay on course.
A number of churches, when presented with a ministry need or missions opportunity, simply want to hire someone or recruit a volunteer to serve as an intern. For these churches, it never crosses the mind that the human resources necessary for the local church’s mission are found in their membership. Now I am not saying it is wrong to hire a pastor, or even to have a search committee, but if the church’s default mode is to look outwardly for its leadership, then it is in trouble.
This mindset produces a two-fold danger. First, the church and its mission becomes a spectator sport. The local body outsources their responsibilities to others and seeks to hire people to lead in ministry. This, of course, means that the majority are not directly involved in the mission themselves. They are merely recipients of ministry. Second, the church that does not produce leaders cannot be a sending church. It has no one to send. Any church that cannot produce and send must sit on the sidelines of the mission.
Many churches are tempted to think that leadership development is the role of seminaries. While we are all about equipping students at my seminary, the primary responsibility in developing leaders still rests on the back of local churches. After all, God gave the Great Commission to the local church not the seminary, and it is the church’s responsibility to see that the mission is carried through. The role of seminary is merely to further sharpen some of the leaders that local churches have developed.
If leadership development is that instrumental to church health and mission, then every church needs to be proactively attempting to develop members into leaders. Leadership development does not happen by accident. Does your church have a process in place?
Here are four questions to assess whether or not your church has a process for leadership development.
What does your church do to…
Cast vision for leadership development?
The fruit of leadership development does not grow out of unprepared soil. Current church leadership needs to articulate the importance of leadership development and cast a vision to the members that calls on some of them to be leaders. Practically, this means that sermons should make leadership development a regular application point, as the text of Scripture allows. Small groups and Sunday School classes should talk about its importance. Opportunities to lead out in ministry and mission should be made known. Finally, the message must be shared that the church has everything it needs to do the mission it has been given sitting right there in the pews. Accomplishing the church’s mission is about more than finding people to fill roles, it is about developing the members into ministers.
Identify potential leaders?
Does your church have any way to identify people in the congregation that may be potential leaders? Do the pastors have a way to assess the membership? This may be as simple as knowing the congregation and actively probing to see who is both gifted for leadership and aspires to do it. For larger churches, leadership identification is more involved. It may be events and interest meetings geared around meeting people that would desire to serve. It may be using your small group or Sunday School classes as a means of identification. Current leaders in these roles can always be on the lookout for others, if they know to be. Equip current leaders with an understanding of what to look for in other members and they can be a church’s best means of identifying new leadership.
Equip new leaders?
Of course, leadership development does not stop at identification. Every church needs a process of growing people into roles of leadership. The beauty of leadership equipping is that it can work right into the everyday rhythms of church life and ministry. After all, that is what you are equipping them to lead. Is your church set up with Sunday School classes? Use those as a means of equipping leaders, by identifying them and having them walk alongside other leaders. Have a graduated process of equipping that prepares them for that kind of leadership role. The same works with small groups, or any other type of ministry in your church. Equipping does not have to be done in classes. Consider ways outside of a classroom to equip people for leadership in evangelism, counseling, missions, and preaching.
Activate and send leaders?
Finally, the goal of leadership development is having more people who lead so that more gospel ministry can be done. Leaders need to be given pathways to lead. It does your church no good to have a whole lot of people walk through some training process if they are not given avenues to lead out in ministry and outreach. Find ways to activate members in your congregation who are qualified to lead.
And consider the ways that you can send developed leaders. This is where the church’s ministry gets multiplicative. Develop leaders and send them to start new churches in your community, move across the country to plant churches, or cross the globe to share the gospel with people who have never heard. Every missionary started as a regular church member somewhere, and along the way, someone saw fit to equip them to go. May that be your church.