By Glen Schneiders
READ THE SIDEBAR: “Keys to Cultivating Leaders”
Leadership development never happens accidentally. I learned this important lesson in the early years of our new church. I had a very young, inexperienced staff, and I found myself increasingly frustrated that they were not more assertive leaders. They were tentative at times, and at other moments were like bulls in a china shop. “Why don’t they just step up and lead?” I kept asking myself.
One day as a staff member and I were making a hospital visit, it hit me. Actually, I made the visit while he was in the hospital bathroom having a panic attack! It was not that he did not want to make the visit, but rather felt unprepared and needed coaching from me.
For the first time, I viewed staff leadership deficiencies as my failures in leadership development. The people on my staff had great hearts and were committed to our church’s vision. They were the right people, but lacked experience. They needed someone to develop them as leaders.
I recalled my first hospital visit as a 20-year-old. An elderly man in our church had major surgery and had just returned from the recovery room. I was not prepared for what I encountered when I entered his room. His wife, upset by the uncertainty of his condition, was seated apprehensively next to him. As I greeted her, I noticed there were numerous tubes with all sorts of fluids secreting from his body. The sight of blood made me queasy, and the room began to spin.
I asked her if I could pray with them. I knelt, placing my head on the bed, to keep from fainting! She thought I was deeply spiritual. I was just trying not to end up in the bed next to her husband. I couldn’t get out of that room fast enough.
My second hospital visit was much different. I had described the first hospital experience to our elders, and one of them led me around on this visit, and kept me shielded from the tubes, bags, and blood. I never lost consciousness, and slowly, after several visits, with the help of our elders, I felt more comfortable in those settings.
Creating a Leadership Culture
My young staff members needed the same support from me that I received from my elders. The issue was not desire, but rather confidence and competency. They needed someone to coach them.
I committed the classic mistake in leadership development. I hired someone to do a task, to take something off my plate. As soon as they walked in the door, I shoved the job at them and expected them to figure it out. I failed to assess their abilities, train them, or give them constructive feedback as they performed the task themselves. From my experiences, I realized an important part of my role as lead pastor was to develop leaders and a leadership culture.
Creating a healthy leadership culture may be as important to the long-term viability of the church as anything the church planter does. A significant part of the church planter’s job is to provide a healthy environment for leaders to grow within the emerging church.
One of the first elders in our new church, when asked to serve, told me, “I don’t believe I’m qualified.” I promised to walk with him on his leadership journey. Sixteen years later he still serves as an elder. He recently told me it was my promise to walk with him and coach him that encouraged him to accept the role.
Following the Example of Jesus
Jesus modeled leadership development. He made it a matter of first importance in the establishment of his kingdom. Jesus’ first action, with a clear vision and sense of where he was going, was to call 12 others to come and follow him.
Jesus then spent significant time mentoring 12 men (and several vital but less publicly acknowledged women) for three years. He trusted the disciples with responsibilities, gave them opportunities to succeed and fail, and challenged them to learn through their experiences. He debriefed the experiences. He was their biggest fan and most loving critic.
Jesus never stopped teaching his disciples. Even as his time on earth ended, Jesus reminded them of the mission for which they were trained. His commission was a restatement of his vision, and it implied his confidence in their ability to implement it.
At his ascension Jesus declared, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus reminded the disciples they would not be alone; the Holy Spirit would walk with them and would take his place in ongoing leadership development.
Like Jesus, the church planter must make identifying potential leaders a high priority from day one. The future of your church and the church universal depends upon this. Place time on your calendar for developing leaders.
In the busyness that comes with new church work it will be easy to shove leadership development to the back burner. If that happens, developing leaders will be formed without your input, and your church will have to live with the results. If you want to maximize effectiveness, and minimize heartache, time spent with leaders must begin on day one.
The Pareto Principle states, “A minority of inputs produces a majority of results.”1 It has become known as the 80:20 rule. (Twenty percent of people control 80 percent of the world’s wealth.) While originally applied to economics, the 80:20 rule has been expanded to include leadership development. Leaders are encouraged to spend 80 percent of their time with the 20 percent who will make the greatest difference. Make sure the difference makers have your ear and your calendar.
Finding New Leaders
Be continually on the lookout for new leaders. Watch for those who are at midpoints in careers and are ready and able to move from success to significance. They have a certain flexibility, created in the marketplace, that allows them to consider opportunities to use their resources and skills for kingdom advancement. But they will not see the church as a viable place to use those skills unless you have them on your radar screen.
Also scan the horizon for emerging leaders. Many are challenged to do something different with their lives than to climb the ladder of success that has left their parents unfulfilled. Young people are looking for a meaningful cause for which to give their lives. This means youth ministries must also develop a leadership culture.
Continue to be an active learner. Where do you go to be challenged? You cannot lead leaders if you have stopped growing. Ask annually of yourself and from other key leaders, “Am I still the right person to lead this mission?”
As your church grows, you will have to be more selective with whom you spend your time, even among your growing leadership circle. Failure to do this will stifle the growth potential of the church and emerging leaders.
As the church grows, the organization will need to be fluid enough to adopt and adapt to new leadership structures. Some who led in the early days of your church will not “get promoted” to new levels of responsibility. Recognizing this early on and helping people to understand their strengths and weaknesses can help ease some of the pain associated with the necessary changes of a growing church.
Someday you will be gone, and the effectiveness of what you have done will be measured by how well the church survives and thrives in your absence. Great leaders help mentor their successors and provide a solid core of leaders to assist the church for years to come.
Jim Collins says great leaders “set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation.”2 Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church grew mightily in your absence under the hands of capable leaders that you helped to develop?
1Pareto Principle, “80:20 rule,” www.paretplaw.co.uk/principle.html.
2Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: Harper Publishing, 2001) 39.
Glen Schneiders ministers with Crossroads Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky. This article is adapted from his chapter in Church Planting from the Ground Up, edited by Tom Jones. The book is available from College Press Publishing Company (www.collegepress.com) and other booksellers.