I suppose it’s out there somewhere, but I’ve never found it: the church that has more leaders than it knows what to do with. In fact, most churches I visit have a leadership vacuum. There appears to be more ministries and missions than there are dedicated disciples willing to lead them.
How can your church find enough leaders?
1. Increase Your Leadership Base by at Least 400%
How? By releasing your current leadership base from the Bondage of Bureaucracy. This is easier said than done, and yet, this is the single most important item on this list. If you don’t do this, you’ll never have enough leaders I don’t care if you lead a congregation of thousands.
Most churches organize around their denomination’s guidelines or around a set of bylaws that were developed using the committee model. The goal of these church models was to diffuse the power and expand the decision making process to as many folks as possible. The notion was that if the church gave someone a job and input into decisions, they would assimilate into the life of the church. But what really happens is that life ends up being sucked out of the leaders. Instead of being excited about doing ministry and mission, they’re caught up in the bureaucracy of insignificant decision making rather than on actually doing something transformative.
I was in a Deep South congregation recently that had their commercial air conditioning units stolen. Because the bylaws demanded that any expenditure over $500 had to be approved by the board and additionally any expenditure over $1000 had to be approved by the congregation, it was literally weeks before they had a cool enough building to worship in. Now, let’s get honest here. Were they really not going to replace the units? The decision to replace them was a no-brainer and a single person should have been able to make that decision and get it done (preferably before Sunday!).
The key to that kind of decision-making process is trust. That church (and your church too) should only have people in key leadership positions who are trustworthy and have the well-being of the church as their priority. If you don’t trust someone to do the job, don’t put them in the position. Period. But if you do trust them, they don’t need a committee to make most decisions. Do they need to check with the treasurer to make sure the money is there? Sure. Do they need a budget to work off of? Absolutely. Do they need to take a decision to replace stolen air conditioning units to a committee, the board, and then the congregation? No.
This is just an example. The fact is, at least 90 percent of committees in most churches could be eliminated and replaced with a very small handful of dedicated disciples who have been empowered to both make and implement necessary decisions. And if your average committee has five members on it, for every committee you replace by a key decision-maker, you release four people for new leadership—that’s a 400 percent increase in your leadership base and you haven’t even started raising up new leaders yet!
2. Stop Supporting the WII FM Public Broadcast and Watch New Leaders “Come Out of the Woodwork”
For too many years, the church has been an unwitting supporter of the WII FM public broadcast—the What’s In It For Me? station. Instead of insisting on spiritual maturity by its leaders, the church has tolerated less-than-Christian behavior that’s “Me” focused. Leaders in the church must think, speak, and act like a committed follower of Jesus.
The problem is, most churches have done little to encourage and foster Christian maturity. Instead, they’ve largely operated under the delusion that one hour of worship and another fifty minutes of Sunday School was enough to grow believers into disciples. To become a committed disciple takes a little bit of knowledge and a lot of practice. However, they’ve tended to emphasize just the opposite. The church is long on dispensing knowledge and short on expecting practice.
Once upon a time, I took piano lessons. I faithfully went to my lessons and I’d listen to my piano teacher’s instructions. And then I’d go home and live my life. I didn’t have “time” to practice scales and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, but on Thursday afternoon, I made my way back to my teacher’s studio. It only took six weeks before my teacher sat me down and said, “If you’re not going to practice, you’re wasting your time and mine. Come back when you get serious about wanting to play the piano.” And with that, I was dis-invited from piano lessons. Being a pianist just wasn’t important enough for me to make practicing a priority.
In the scheme of life, becoming an accomplished pianist is of far less importance than becoming a committed disciple of Jesus. And though it sounds pretty harsh to even consider dis-inviting someone from discipling, our churches would be filled with committed disciples if the church made faith-practice an expectation. Churches that set high expectations for their leaders . . . and who refuse to compromise those expectations . . . seldom have any problems raising up new leaders. Indeed, once a discipleship development system is put into place, new leaders start coming out of the woodwork because faithful disciples of Jesus naturally lead.
3. Stop Teaching and Disciples Become Leaders of Leaders
The printing press changed more than we give it credit for. Sure, it boosted literacy and made the Bible available to the people in the pews. And yes, it made information available so that the university system could thrive. But in the same breath, it also very nearly put an end to the apprenticeship method of training. It’s because a few crafts can only be mastered by hands-on practice that the apprenticing system even exists today.
Over the years, the church has emphasized teaching more than any other method for raising up disciples and leaders. My own library has nearly a hundred church leadership books that I’ve read and reviewed through the years.
Of course, teaching encompasses more than just reading. The art of teaching can be loosely defined as passing on useful information from one person to another. Those of us who are good at Trivia Pursuit have managed not only to accrue useful information, but a lot of near- useless information as well (unless you need to get the pink piece of the pie). But raising up someone to be a leader takes more than handing them a stack of books and sending them to school. Leadership (and discipleship) requires training, and the most effective training system is apprenticeship.
Apprenticing for church leadership is best accomplished in a small group setting. There, the apprentice can watch a group leader practice the skills of leadership and even ask questions about it. Modeling is the first step in any apprenticeship. Before the blacksmith hands their charge the hammer, they get to watch. Of course, they don’t just sit there and watch—that would be like the church modernity model; instead, the blacksmith’s apprentice is assigned lesser tasks like stoking the coal, pumping the billows, or fetching materials. In a small group, the novice practices leading incrementally by being assigned similar tasks. They might serve as a greeter and/or a host to begin with. Later, they might lead prayer or the Bible study portion. And so on. Step-by-step the small group leader would train the apprentice, not by asking them to read a book, but by asking them to lead little-bit by little-bit until they’ve become an accomplished leader.
Of course, this is just a thumbnail sketch of raising up a leader in a small group. In our system, a small group leader, for instance, is apprenticed for at least eight weeks. During that time, they also make a commitment to one-on-one monthly mentoring and begin attending a weekly coaching clinic with other small group leaders. Because these disciples are literally immersed in discipleship and leadership training (the church simply can’t do one without the other), they not only become effective leaders, they become leaders of leaders as they begin to apprentice novices in their ministry and missions to the community.
Your church is already full of leaders who are right under your nose. All you’ve got to do is set them free, grow them to maturity, and stop teaching them and you’ll have all the leaders you know what to do with.