The Need

It is no secret that one of the biggest needs in the church today—all around the world—is well-equipped leadership. Just look at your own church. Would you say, “We’ve got all the leaders we need to accomplish all that God wants; in fact, we’ve got so many leaders, we’ve got to export the best just to make room for all the others”? We all have a strong sense that we could—and should—be doing better.

Most churches are strapped for good leadership and have no intentional strategy for developing leaders. Even many pastors feel ill-equipped, sensing that their training has not given them the competencies they need to be effective in their roles.

Key lay leaders who serve on governing boards typically have little or no biblical training for their roles in the churches they are trying to lead. Youth leaders often have more training to fulfill their role than do the governing board members of the church. Yet board members are responsible for the church’s overall ministry.
Some organizations that work with churches have identified tension between the senior pastor and the governing board as one of the greatest hindrances to church unity and effectiveness. Board members are typically well meaning, but few have ever been mentored for their ministry responsibilities. Rarely has anyone intentionally focused on developing their character maturity or their theology, especially their theology of the church. Yet they are the most influential leaders in our churches. We have found that most members of governing boards would love to receive leadership training. They long to see their governing experience be more spiritual, effective, and enjoyable. Pastors would do themselves and their churches a huge favor by making leadership development a priority.

The Answer Has Been There All Along

The good news is that God is moving. Church staff members are showing an increasing awareness of the necessity of equipping leaders. They are reprioritizing their own job descriptions to ensure that leadership development is at or near the top of the list. They are seeing themselves not just as doers but as equippers. At the same time, God is raising up countless people within local churches who want to give their lives to his kingdom. God is moving in churches all around the world to equip ministers and multiply churches.

The church has a God-given capacity to engage in whole-life leadership development. It can develop godly character in its leaders, help them forge a strong theological worldview, and build strong relational and leadership skills. The local church is by design the most effective incubator of spiritual leaders on the planet.

The answer to the shortage of church leaders around the world has been there since Pentecost. The answer is this: restoring the church to the center of leadership training—which has been God’s strategy all along. When the church is actively fulfilling its mission of raising up leaders for the harvest, nothing can stop it. The answer is church-based leadership development.

Hands: Servant-Leaders Who Equip Others

When James and John asked for the top spots in his kingdom, Jesus countered with, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42–44). Christlike leaders are primarily servants. The world system is into domination and power plays. The citizens of this new community, the church, influence others by sacrificially serving them.

In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf shares that the inspiration for his book came from Journey to the East, a book written by Hermann Hesse that tells the story of a group of men on a journey.8 Leo goes along as the servant who does the menial chores, but who also encourages the group with his spirit and song. He is a person of incredible presence. Everything goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group disintegrates and the journey is abandoned. They found they couldn’t make it without the servant Leo. Years later, one of the party came across Leo, who turned out to be the head of the group that organized the journey in the first place.

Leo illustrates one facet of biblical servant leadership—the willingness to take the lowest place. Ephesians 4:11–12 identifies another: Church leaders don’t settle for merely doing the ministry (without paying attention to threats to the mission of the group); they equip others to serve God well. When they leave the group, it functions effectively because people have been prepared for service.

Strategic Components: Equip in a Whole-Life Context

The second strategic question church-based developers of leaders must address is this: “How can we provide a rich context where whole-life development can take place?” In one sense, we don’t develop leaders; God does. By his Holy Spirit, he trains and shapes and molds his leaders. But we can provide an interlocking framework (rather than a formula) to optimize the development of the leaders in whose lives God is working.

A whole-life approach to growing leaders will benefit from three integrated strategic components: courses, community, and mentoring.

Courses: Cultivate Biblical Wisdom

It’s easy to roll out a one-liner like, “Courses don’t train leaders, people do.” It’s easy because it sounds so right—right, that is, until your strategy includes the cultivation of biblical wisdom as a vital goal for your leaders. If your aim is to produce Christian leaders who think wisely and well, then courses that encourage theological reflection are an essential component in leadership development.

The overall goal of producing wise, godly, and skilled leaders should drive the choice of course material. Consider this checklist as you choose leadership development courses for your church:

  • Do these courses encourage whole-life development?
  • Do these materials allow the participants to formulate their own biblical convictions?
  • Do these courses facilitate the development of a learning community?
  • Does this curriculum provide an ordered pathway for leadership development in our church?
  • Does the design of these courses incorporate effective methods of adult learning?

Jenny and her husband, Ben, were small group leaders in our church who faced a series of serious family crises in a short space of time. They were enthusiastic members of a theology course I was leading called “Discovering Intimacy with God.” Soon after one of their kids had run away from home, Jenny said to me one night, “Rowland, I’m so thankful we studied the lesson ‘Our God Is Sovereign.’ That truth was like an anchor when our family was drifting onto the rocks.” Courses that encourage theological reflection and bring about life-change provide stability for existing and emerging church leaders.

Community: Facilitate Relational Learning

Learning takes place best in community. Jesus modeled this as he trained the Twelve. He spent time with individuals, giving extra attention to Peter, James, and John, yet he taught his twelve disciples mostly as a group. When he needed to speak unvarnished truth to them, he did so in front of the others. For example, when an argument broke out among the twelve disciples about who was the greatest, Jesus sat them all down—even though James and John’s mother had tried to promote her boys—and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Then he sat a little child on his knee and taught all of them more about humility in the kingdom of God.

If it’s true that learning is optimized in community, then we should view any regular meeting of a ministry team, leadership group, or study group as an opportunity for the “one anothers” of Scripture to take place. Rather than viewing these occasions as meetings for only decision making or study, we should elevate them to become communities of love where we can build each other up and communities of truth where we can be honest and open with each other.

A community approach to leadership development in the local church implies that we are choosing to love. We are committed to each other. We are family. And it is an organic process.

Mentoring: Encourage Spiritual Friendships

Christian mentoring is a purposeful spiritual friendship to encourage growth in both the mentor and the protégé. Essentially it is a friendship between two or more people who respect each other. Mentoring is spiritual in the sense that it needs to be orchestrated by the Holy Spirit and result in spiritual transformation. Mentoring is also purposeful. Going to lunch with somebody is not in and of itself leadership development. But enjoying lunch together can provide the occasion for intentionally asking developmental questions about the knowledge base, character, and ministry skills of your protégé.

Because mentoring is at its essence a friendship, forcing people into mentoring partnerships seldom works. Rather, we need to hold high the value of intentional spiritual friendships, model what it means to be a spiritual father or mother, and provide opportunities for God-directed mentor links to take place.
Courses, community, and mentoring may sound like a leadership development formula, as though you can develop godly leaders by enrolling them in well-designed courses (“head”), then encouraging body life (“heart”), and finally tacking on some mentoring relationships (“hands”). In reality, all three of these strategic components should occur simultaneously.

Courses provide opportunities for authentic community and meaningful mentoring to take place. When genuine community occurs among leaders, mentor links will occur naturally. And when intentional spiritual friendships are formed, gaps in the leader’s knowledge, character, and ministry skills will be identified and filled. Most important, courses, community, and mentoring provide a rich and varied context in which whole-life development can occur.

Strategic People: Identify Key Groups to Be Trained

The third strategic question church-based equippers need to ask is this: “Who are the most committed leaders in our church, and how will we develop them?” It is strategic because many churches take their leaders for granted and easily adopt a haphazard approach to leadership development.

Who are these highly committed leaders? They include the following:

Your Governing Board

What are you doing to develop the “head,” “heart,” and “hands” of these highly committed people? Are you offering them stimulating courses and regular experiences of authentic community? Are peer-mentoring relationships developing among them? Leadership development needs to begin with your leadership core.

Your Staff

What are your plans to enhance the development of your staff members? A strategic plan (involving courses, community, and mentoring) should be in place for your paid as well as your unpaid leaders. How are you helping them grow as leaders? If you have interns, are you merely “using” them, or are you developing their gifts and passion for ministry?

Excerpt from The Leadership Baton (Zondervan). Used with permission.