By Randy Gariss and Ryan Fletcher
The actual idea of leadership is profound and indispensable, but as a trendy fad it is often
wearisome. The popularity of leadership podcasts, books, seminars, conferences, workshops,
and sermons tell us we crave better leadership.
The reality is that much of the current offerings on leadership are just spiritualized mush. It seems we’ve taken every leadership book on Amazon, reworded the points to make them sound kinder, attached a Scripture or two, and then thrown them to the church. The only thing missing is the essence of biblical leadership.
We, the authors of this article, find ourselves wrestling daily with this issue. Ryan, a young leader in a large church, spends most of every working day recruiting, training, and assisting leaders. Randy, after 40 years as a senior minister, is mentoring college students headed into their first ministries. Our own concerns drive us; we don’t want to add to the mush, we are obsessed with raising up authentic kingdom leaders.
Here are four convictions we hold.
1. Christian leadership is always about the kingdom of God.
Christian leadership is not about raising up people to fill the slots or run the machinery of our churches. We don’t raise up leaders because we need someone “to run something,” nor will leadership ever be a code word for getting enough volunteers. In the end, our goal in raising up leaders is not to sustain our existing programs, or even stock a specific ministry.
Instead, the driver of Christian leadership must be more epic. It asks the questions, “Will these people help advance God’s kingdom? Can these people help draw others deeper into the heart of God?”
2. Christian leadership is always more about the back of the room than the front.
Jesus warned the disciples that their leadership was never to look like the world’s leadership: “Their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25, 26). Talent, vision, brilliance, charisma, popularity, wealth, desire, or even great influence will never substitute for the essential quality Jesus called for—a humility that serves.
Many people can command a room, far fewer serve it. It is relatively easy to find leaders talented enough to “get people to do what the organization needs” or to “rally a cause.” It is just not the starting point of God’s call. The ability to influence people will necessarily be part of leadership—but influence can never be uprooted from service.
Ezekiel 34 is a haunting text, a rebuke with a timeless warning to the leaders of God’s people. It is an indictment against the leaders of Israel who had lost sight of who they were.
Ezekiel thundered against those who thought they were only to be kings, priests, rabbis, and assembly leaders of the Lord’s people. While they may have had other specific roles, above all they were to be shepherds. They were to be the ones who served, who bound up the sick, who looked after the broken, pursued the lost, and cared for God’s people as if they were their own. At that they had failed.
Oh, it was fine to be king, but that was always to be the hyphenated second word; they were to be a SHEPHERD-king. It was OK to be a rabbi, but it was always to be the hyphenated second word; they were to be a SHEPHERD-rabbi.
That message has not changed; whatever role a leader may have, it is a hyphenated word that follows the word shepherd.
3. We recognize the gift of leadership within people more than we create it in them.
Leadership can be encouraged, enhanced, mentored, and strengthened, but it is still God who raises up leaders. In Romans 12:8, leadership is listed as one of the gifts given by the Spirit. In Ephesians 4:11, 12 “Christ himself gave” leadership to the church.
It has been said Hank Aaron was terrible at teaching others to hit a baseball. Yes, Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run king (until Barry Bonds) could not tell others how to hit a baseball. He would say things like, “Just do it. Watch the ball hit the bat. It’s so easy.” And for him, it was. He had a gift. In many ways, leadership is such a gift.
We don’t say this to make us passive in the development of leaders, but rather to remind ourselves of the order. Look for what God is already doing in someone’s life. Look for a faint leadership spark and then blow those embers into a flame.
We are never first in someone’s life. God is first. We are the ones watching, anticipating, and looking for what God is doing. Part of our own faithfulness is believing that God is at work, believing that God, in every generation and in every place, is raising up individuals who will pick up the mantle of responsibility for the care and advancement of God’s people.
So what fledgling signs are we looking for?
• a heart for God—the courage to try things, and fail
• no duplicity—faithfulness in the little things
• humility—a passion for lost people
• a zeal for the things of God—big-picture curiosity and imagination
• budding wisdom—influencers
• and compassion.
These traits may not be there in abundance. Like young plants just coming out of the ground, they may only be sprigs that hold faint promise . . . but faint promise is enough.
It makes us nervous when someone says, “There are no other leaders here, there is only us.” That may be true, but it gets dangerously close to asserting that God is not doing his part! Perhaps there are no other mature leaders, but God is always meeting the needs of his kingdom.
In our search for emerging leaders, we should always be reminded: emerging leaders probably won’t look exactly like us. We are not looking for our clones or for someone who possesses our style. We are looking for the menagerie of leaders as given by God. They will be bold like Peter and timid like Timothy. They will be as feminine as Phoebe and as masculine as John the Baptist. They will have the warmth of Barnabas and the bluntness of James. Leaders are not made in our image, they are made in his.
4. Prioritize leadership development and invest now in the leaders yet to come.
If our ministries are to produce a rich flow of Christian leaders, we must pour our lives into those getting ready to lead. It is relatively easy to invest all our time in those who are most broken; like the poor, they are always with us and they seldom intimidate us or threaten our position and skills. They will never usurp our little kingdoms.
But it is not effective shepherding if we are not raising up shepherds. This has nothing to do with anyone’s worth or value, but it’s a critical observation that Jesus chose to invest most of his time in those who would eventually lead others. Paul repeated that pattern . . . so ought we.
Will everyone we invest in become great leaders? Of course not, but they didn’t in the New Testament either. Jesus poured a lot of time and life into Judas, and Paul had his Demas. But, occasional heartbreak aside, this truth still stands—the raising up of men and women who will care for God’s people is our ministry. Invest today, tomorrow, next week, and the week after that in those who may someday shape the hearts of God’s people.
An African proverb brilliantly states
“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.”
1. Consider rebalancing your life around a 60/40 ratio. Invest 60 percent of your time in current and potential leaders. Use 40 percent of your time doing the things only you can do.
2. Including a potential leader in one hour of your ministry is, for him, worth 10–20 hours in the classroom.
3. Books—read, mark, and lend them. Imaginations are captured by the passion and the clarity they contain. They kindle vision.
4. Take your developing leaders to visit other places and other people. They will see different leaders and leadership styles, and this will combat the one-size-fits-all approach (many times that size is only our own). It is also true that we sometimes catch things easier than we can be taught them.
5. Look for leaders among the youth. (Paul did.) Think about starting a leadership group as early as junior high.
6. Pray, pray, pray for leaders; Matthew 9 commands it.
7. Pray for God to allow you to see the unseen in a potential leader. May you see a spark that only God could have shown you.
8. Keep growing yourself; such a life is contagious to others.
9. Hospitality is a great setting for leadership development. Bring people into your home.
Randy Gariss is the director of the Life and Ministry Preparation Center at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. Ryan Fletcher is the associate pastor at the Anthem Campus of Christ’s Church of the Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.
On a personal note, I, Ryan, several years ago was a one-year ministry intern for Randy. I can’t express the height of frustration I felt at the end of our first conversation. While Randy had spoken encouraging words to me, he had also said, “Ryan, I think your view of leadership is too focused on the front of the room. Whether it is the only experience you have had, or whether your heart is too drawn to it, I don’t know. But I believe your year with us will be best spent not on the stage, but rather out of the spotlight, just serving people.” It made me mad. Didn’t he think I could preach or teach? What was so wrong with me that I had to spend a year never really leading?
Oh, how silly and foolish that thought was. In reality, being at the back of the room was exactly the kind of leadership I needed to learn and do—it was distinctly Christian leadership. My view of leadership was altered that year. And perhaps more importantly, I was changed.