Jesus said much about the church’s leadership pipeline. In fact, he initiated it. Without it, the church’s proliferation from “Jerusalem . . . to the ends of the earth” would be impossible. And while we have few examples of how the original 12 apostles developed future leaders, we know they must have by how quickly the church expanded. The Bible describes in much greater detail the apostle Paul’s leadership pipeline—the individuals he discovered, developed, and deployed as well as the instructions he gave them to do the same.
Two millennia later, however, Jesus’ church is facing a leadership pipeline problem. Some would say it’s dire. I’d like to provide some biblical ideas for finding solutions.
What Won’t Help
First, it won’t help to ignore this dilemma or just try to wish it away. This is a real problem in the church today. To help reveal the concerns at hand, we include stories and statistics about different aspects of leadership development in this issue of Christian Standard. We include an investigative report that asks, Are our Bible colleges turning out tomorrow’s church leaders? We also look at alternatives for educating leaders, how we can best recruit new leaders, the health of our current leaders, the leadership pipeline for church planters, and the problem of message drift when we don’t get this right.
Second, it won’t help to just continue doing what we’ve always done, expecting different results. We need people with wisdom to help us find innovative solutions.
Third, pointing fingers won’t help at all. “Bible colleges are failing to turn out enough leaders,” some say. “We can only train people that churches send us,” say others. Let’s seek unified ways to resolve this problem . . . before it’s too late.
What Each of Us Can Do
The following list includes just a few ideas for what we can individually do to help fill the church’s leadership pipeline with the right people. I’d love to hear your ideas as well.
1. Be aware of the problem. Jesus was astutely aware of the leadership pipeline problem: supply wasn’t meeting demand. (Our country has faced this problem economically lately!) As Jesus put it, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). He spoke these words to the leaders he was training to help them become more aware. So . . . yes, be aware of the problem, but also discuss it with others (without casting blame or arguing).
2. Recognize your power source to resolve the problem. Answers won’t come primarily from your own brilliance, your methods, programs, opinions, or theories. Every pipeline has a “supply station,” and ours is God himself. To ignore where Christian leaders come from (who calls, gifts, and strengthens them) is to greatly restrain the flow of new leaders all down the line. (It’s like trying to grow fruit on a branch not connected to the vine.) Jesus’ solution: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (v. 38). Before you do anything else, ask God to send workers. Make this a spiritual discipline that you practice every day.
3. Partner with God. Once we have prayed, we must be prepared for God to move. As his ambassador, he will use you in this vital assignment. He may send future leaders to you. You may be his “sending agent” to a particular person or group of people. Keep watch for how he will use you.
4. Invest in people (especially young people). As a small groups minister, I learned that the more time I spent with people, the more opportunities I had to find potential leaders. So, I visited our groups, prayerfully looking for folks with leadership character traits. I spent time before and after every weekend service talking with people (focusing on those I didn’t know well). I went to other church activities to prayerfully scout for leaders. I made the discovery, development, and sometimes even the deployment of new leaders a part of every small group leader’s role. (By the way, I never had a supply deficit. Demand was another story.)
Regardless of your church ministry position, part of your role, I believe, is to spend time with people—especially young people. Our youth pastors do a tremendous job, but they can use our help. Encourage students in whom you see potential. Tell them you see something in them that God can use for his kingdom.
5. Be the kind of leader who can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). We don’t just want to fill our leadership pipeline; we must fill it with people who, like King David, are men and women after God’s own heart. You are influencing people you lead, and they are very likely to follow your example as a leader someday. So be a leader of high moral character and integrity. Spend time with God. Abide in him.
One more thing, leader. I want to encourage you to not give up. Christ’s church needs you; God’s kingdom needs you. Perhaps you can find renewed purpose and passion in teaming with God to discover and develop more new leaders. Remain in Christ so you can remain in the ministry he has called you to. You will bear fruit . . . fruit that will last.