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How To Develop Leaders

Here’s a sentence that no pastor has ever uttered: 

“Our problem is that we have too many leaders.”

Ha! It’s laughable to think that we’d ever have such a problem. Instead, we often have the opposite problem. Not nearly enough leaders to do the ministry that we feel called to do.

We need more leaders.

But we don’t just need more leaders. We need more good leaders. 

We need more leaders — laypeople and staff — who have character, wisdom, skill, competence, and an ability to navigate a variety of situations to effectively care for people and make disciples. 

Where do we get these kinds of folks? 

As much as we all wish we could order them from Amazon and have them delivered to our church in two days or less, the truth is that it takes time and effort to develop leaders. They are formed over weeks, months, and years of steady investment from experienced leaders.

It’s hard work. But it’s actually not that complicated.

In this article, we’re going to make the crucial task of leadership development much easier

We’ll look at the three key ingredients of leadership development and then suggest a handful of environments that you can leverage to increase the number and quality of leaders in your church.

Three Key Ingredients to Leadership Development

In the book Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck point out that Jesus’ approach to leadership development (as demonstrated in Luke 7-10) involved three key elements: knowledge, experiences, and coaching.

Jesus always began with knowledge — telling his disciples what they needed to know and how to do the things that he was doing.

Then Jesus provided experiences — giving them the opportunity to try it out, putting into practice the knowledge they had gained.

Finally, Jesus provided coaching — feedback based on their experience that would help them learn and improve for the future.

This helpful blueprint is a contrast to how many church leaders function. 

Some make the mistake of thinking that knowledge is enough. When a potential leader attends a “training,” it often feels quite a lot like a class with lots of content to cover. Rarely do these trainings involve experiences or coaching.

Other leaders, realizing that knowledge isn’t enough, give emerging leaders opportunities. We throw them in the deep end of the pool and figure out how to swim. The advantage of this is that experience is often one of the best teachers — you learn way more by doing than just by reading about it. But if it stops here, a crucial ingredient is missing.

We must also provide coaching. It’s not enough for emerging leaders to learn how and to even get some reps — they also need real-time or after-action feedback that helps them see what they did well and where there are opportunities for improvement. Having experienced the challenges of actually leading, developing leaders are far more open to learn while the experience is still fresh.

So, however you develop leaders, make sure it involves knowledge, experiences, and coaching.

Environments to Develop Leaders

The key to developing leaders is to get time with people. Below are a number of practical, proven ideas for developing leaders. These are great for training new leaders or for helping existing leaders improve.

  1. Ride Alongs 

When possible, don’t do ministry alone. 

Going to visit somebody in the hospital? Take somebody along. Meeting a couple for premarital counseling? Invite someone to join you. Writing a sermon? Ask a young leader to help you put it together. Caring for a grieving family? Bring an emerging leader.

Each of these will allow people to experience ministry up close — out of the classroom and into the real world. Before and after you’ll have the chance to discuss and reflect.

  1. Case Studies

If you’ve been in ministry for more than a year, you can think of a number of interesting scenarios that you’ve had to navigate. 

Some of them are wild! (like my pastor friend who was asked by a potential small group leader if it was a problem that he and his wife were part of a nudist hiking club… true story!)

Make a list of these situations, pull together a group of possible or current leaders, and give them a situation. See how they respond, what Scripture they consider, how they flinch, and give them feedback on how you would or did handle it.

  1. Formative Books

Most pastors have a few books that especially shaped their outlook on God or ministry. Invite a small group of potential or current leaders to read one of those favorite books with you.

Your passion will come through and some of the content that so powerfully shaped you, will influence them as well.

  1. Conferences & Courses

We are blessed to be in an age of wonderful conferences and online courses. Pick one of them and take some emerging leaders along. 

Not only will the content be helpful (hopefully), but the time you spend in the nooks and crannies of the experience will be invaluable.

  1. Church Tour

One of the best ways to learn and grow is to see what other churches are doing. Book a guest preacher and take a weekend to go visit some other churches in your area. 

If possible, arrange a few meetings with their leaders before or after where you can ask questions. Depending on availability, you might be able to connect with 5-6 other churches and learn some valuable lessons.

Can’t break away for a Sunday? OK, then go to a Wednesday Bible study or find a large church with a Saturday night service.

You’ll see stuff you love, hate, and everything in between. The conversations will accelerate your leadership development efforts.

Conclusion: Just Do Something

Too many pastors get paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection. And, as a result, they don’t have a growing number of high-quality leaders.

Instead, just do something. Pull together a group of folks with potential. Invest in them. Give them ministry opportunities. Talk through how it went and what they can learn. Share your heart and experiences. And, over time, you’ll have more great leaders.

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