I’m constantly asked what it takes to raise up more leaders or, to put it biblically, to make more mature disciples. And that’s good because leadership and discipleship multiplication are some of the most important ministries church leaders can undertake.  So I’m going to brush stroke the basics of a leadership culture. If you want to learn more, there are several free articles on this website and workbooks for sale in our store.

Leadership Multiplication

Step OneLeadership development has to ooze out of every pore of the lead pastor and every paid and unpaid leader of the church.  In most established churches where the expectation is for the pastor to do all of the pastoral ministry, the beginning of a leadership culture always begins with the lead pastor speaking about leadership development at every meeting and often in the pulpit. Every staff meeting includes a time when the focus is squarely on leadership development. My favorite way of explaining this is that every paid staff person needs to have a “To be” list that is longer than their “to do” list.  A “to be” list is a list of people each staff person considers either be their apprentice or a potential apprentice.

When a leadership culture emerges in a church, no one is allowed to lead without an apprentice learning how to do what the leader is doing. After all, being an apprentice to someone is the definition of a disciple. If you want to see some of the best examples of a leadership culture, visit churches like Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, TX, or New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, HI (a great trip), or Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL (or read Dave and Jon Ferguson’s book Exponential).

Pastor, are you willing to beat the drum of leadership development? If so, make Ephesians 4:11-12 your mantra. You see, this isn’t rocket science.  You just have to persist.

Step Two: Every leadership culture has four categories of people – apprentices, players, coaches, and scouts. Let’s take a look at all four.  To help us better understand the four categories I will use a football metaphor.

Apprentices come from all levels of spiritual maturity. The one thing they all have in common is that they are willing to learn a new skill and be held accountable for using that skill in on-the-job training.  No courses or classes, just hanging out with their leader. Much of the time they are on the bench watching how their leader lives and does ministry. But now and then they are put in the game (ministry). After the game, they review the game film (talk about how the leader did what he did).

Players are those who play the game – and everyone is allowed to play the game (ministry) at some level. What is important to note is that the only time a paid staff person, including the pastor, plays the game is when showing an apprentice how the game is played.  Otherwise, paid staff never actually play the game.

Scouts and coaches are usually paid staff. Staff are expected to scout everyone they meet and to coach those who are willing to step up to plate and swing at some form of ministry. They then challenge the person to be the best player they can be. Like with any football team, there are a variety of specialized coaches, a head coach (lead pastor), defense and offense, and special teams. The larger a church is, the more coaches will be necessary because of specialization. A small church might just have one coach – the pastor. Good coaches always have a list of potential replacements if a starting player gets hurt. In other words, a lead pastor always has a list of potential replacements for the worship leader.

I’m a great believer that you get what you look for.  If a person spends enough time looking for new leaders, they will find people willing to be equipped even in the weakest congregation. God always provides what a church needs to God’s will. The problem is our spiritual eyes are too often focused more on programs than on people.

The primary reason why most churches never develop a leadership culture is because the lead pastor and/or staff so enjoy playing the game that they guard the ball and never hand it off to others.  They rob the congregation of the joy of ministry and prevent them from reaching their God-given potential.

In my book Unfreezing Moves, I talk about mobilizing a congregation for ministry rather than for directing or coordinating volunteers. This shift is huge and requires a re-wiring of most established churches. Instead of being content with 20% of the people doing 80% of the ministry, the goal is for 80% of the people to be involved in actual ministry. And I should add that most of this ministry isn’t sitting on committees. You will notice later in this article that serving on a committee is one of the least important ministries offered by a thriving church.

When a leadership culture emerges, old concepts are replaced with biblical images. Volunteers become servants.  Nominations are replaced with spiritual gifts. Delegation is replaced with discernment and empowerment. Instead of trying to get people to fill ministry slots designed by the institution, people are encouraged to match their God-given skills, interests, and passions with something they feel God wants them to do. They are then coached to make it happen.  And most of these ministries take place out in the community rather than in the institution.

In a leadership culture you have to think of every person as a potential leader at some level.  One of the questions I taught my staff to ask of every new person they met is, “What gift does this person bring that we didn’t even know we needed?”

For a church to have a leadership culture, it has to have some type of farm system from which to draw new players. I’ve found it’s helpful to establish a leadership ladder that looks something like this:

  • Leader of leaders
  • Leaders of leaders
  • Leaders of systems
  • Leaders of major or core ministries
  • Leaders of long-term ministries
  • Leaders of short-term programs
  • Leaders of committees
  • Apprentices in training
  • Visitors

(If you don’t like the concept of a leadership ladder, then envision the categories as ripples in a concentric circle.)

The higher up the ladder a person goes, the more skills are required. As the person shows dependability and effectiveness, that person is offered more responsibility based on their gifts and level of commitment.

In this model, even visitors are seen as potential future leaders. In some cases becoming a leader means first becoming a Christian. This is especially true for most effective church plants – where a number of their new people come from the ranks of non-believers. So don’t be fooled into thinking leadership development and evangelism aren’t twins, because they are.  For churches, leadership development also means spiritual growth. Never forget that. So if your church has a number of new converts, part of your leadership culture has to include opportunities to grow in the faith. And Jesus taught us that spiritual maturity happens best on the job – that is, in the act of doing ministry. In a thriving church, the actual ministry is the classroom.

Pastor and staff, in the beginning, set aside one hour a day and ten minutes every meeting to identify potential leaders.

Step Three: As a church grows, it has to develop some form of systematically discovering and deploying new leaders into ministry. No matter where I’ve consulted, when I find a great leadership culture it includes some variation of the following: identification, enlisting, equipping, deploying, coaching, and celebration. The church develops some systematic way of achieving each of the six systems. In a large church, identifying, enlisting, and equipping are the hardest parts of a system. In a small church, deploying, coaching, and celebrating are the hardest parts.

Pastor, does your church have such systems and if so, does every paid and unpaid staff person understand and put the systems into their daily ministry?

Question: How have you already implemented some of these ideas? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.

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