Looking for Leaders: Starting the Search

Inside the college ministry sphere, there is a ton of talk about student leaders. Sometimes that talk is praise; I hear things like, “Our leadership team are ROCK STARS! They get it.” Many times, however, I hear deep laments. “They just don’t get it,” or, “I wish I had some leaders!”

But I know that this isn’t just a problem for campus ministry staff. I’ve been in enough churches and heard the same refrain enough times to know that seemingly everyone is looking for more and better leaders.

I get why. Many ministry staff – church or campus – are overwhelmed, anxious, and discouraged. They feel like – and sometimes are – doing everything that their ministry needs to function to the point where they don’t feel like they could take a vacation if they wanted to. They are worried about people leaving their church because things aren’t going according to the grand vision they had in their heads. Add to that the perceived veneer of highly ‘successful’ churches who have like 4,247 leaders. It’s easy to feel the pressure to find and develop ministry leaders.

Although all of those are very valid and practical reasons, I’d like to suggest that the real reason to find and develop leaders is much, much different. I believe the church and its ministries need leaders because that’s how Jesus did it.

Sure, but Jesus was the Son of God so of course He had people who would follow him.

Right you are, but I believe that Jesus sends His Church into the world to do more than run good-looking ministries. Jesus sends His bride into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to open all that He has commanded. These are Jesus’ parting words according to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 (18-20).

Before we move on, disciples are definitely more than leaders. Entire volumes have been written to espouse what a disciple is an is not, so I’ll let you research that on your own. I know, in practice and theory, that leadership is included in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

How do I know? Because the Apostle Paul implores his disciple, Timothy, to, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:1-2) I take this to mean that Paul wants Timothy, as an act of obedience to Jesus and fulfillment of the Great Commission, to pass along what Timothy has received from Paul – namely the Gospel of Christ Jesus. I don’t believe that this is a particular call only for Timothy. I believe that you and I have received the message of the Gospel because people like Timothy passed along the Gospel.

That means that we, as hearers of the Gospel, are responsible for passing along the Gospel. The Christian’s call is to make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach faithful obedience to all of what Christ has commanded.

Looking for Leaders

But what should I look for?

Great question. In looking for leaders, I use a four-variable grid to assess a person’s potential. Before I share those, I’d like to say that just because someone isn’t currently qualified for leadership, that they will never be qualified for leadership. There are plenty of legitimate reasons that it would be unwise for someone to be in ministry leadership. Here is the grid I’m looking at to help assess a person’s leadership potential:


  • Knowledge – Does this person have a firm understanding of and belief in Christ and His Gospel? Do they have a hunger for the Scriptures and for prayer? Knowledge can be taught and is one of the easier deficiencies to overcome.
  • Skills – Is this person competent in the basics of Christian leadership (articulating the Gospel, meeting a stranger, leading in prayer, serving behind-the-scenes, leading a small group, preaching a sermon) Not all of these need to be present for someone to be a leader. A person’s willingness and humility to learn are traits that make superb leaders.
  • Character – Does this person have a desire to continue the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven? Are they currently serving/ministering to their spheres of influence? It’s impossible to completely assess a person’s motivations, but its usually pretty obvious when someone’s motivations are not Christ-centered. In my experience, the true and full desire to see Christ magnified comes only through the Holy Spirit.
  • Stage – Is it wise for this person to lead given their current life-stage? Some people are good fits for all of the above criteria but are supremely busy. Sometimes the most gracious thing we can do is to say, “no” for someone who is already over-extended.

Now what?

Now it’s time to start your search! If you’re asking these types of questions, I’m willing to be that your church or ministry doesn’t have a leadership development pipeline. So how do you go about doing that? Here are some really practical things you can do today to start identifying leaders God is beginning to raise up around you.

  1. Invite those you’re leading to begin serving. Some people are really eager to begin serving and leading but don’t know how to start. A simple invitation to help you do something might be all they need to take the plunge into leadership.
  2. Identify those that show up early and stay late after. People that show up early to help setup or stay late to help clean up are already thinking about what they can do to help. That means they already putting their time and talent into action to serve the Kingdom. Maybe they’re ready for a little more responsibility. You won’t know until you ask.
  3. Who are those you’re leading talking about (in a good way)? Do you hear someone’s name come up somewhat frequently for good reasons? Are your people singing anyone’s praises? Maybe they’re seeing the fruits of leadership in someone else you never noticed.
  4. Who has asked you to help lead or serve? I find that people are often eager to lead or serve wherever their help is needed. Sometimes, people approach you looking to serve. In believing the best about them, give them an opportunity to serve and to fail. The Gospel allows us to fail with the right motives.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making four more posts about identifying new leaders. Do you have any thoughts or questions? Anything you would want to add or omit? Let me know at mswanson@ccojubilee.org or in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.

4 Threads of Good Follow-Up

This is it!

All over the country, campus ministries are launching their ministry seasons through first-week outreach. They spend loads of hours and energy trying to meet new students that descend on their campuses during the first few weeks of class. Our ministry would spend months before hand prepping and praying for this first week of class.

I remember a few years ago being really excited about the number of students we had met and the amount of contact info that was exchanged. It was the most contacts we had ever gotten, and God was clearly on the move!


…it never really translated to significant growth in our ministry. Week after week of our mid-week gathering went by and we wondered where all of the students we had met had gone. We debated, scratched our heads, and came up empty for explanations.

We knew we had done the follow up with these contacts, but they never panned out. Then we started to ask about the quality of our follow up, and it was like someone switched a light on.


Maybe we hadn’t done as well as we had thought in following up with our list of contacts. We then started to define what good follow up looked like, and trained our leaders about how to do it.

Good follow up is Timely 

The best follow up happens the same day. If we receive contact info from someone, our goal is to contact them that same day to invite them to something else we have going on, whether its a small group, social event, church, or to coffee. We found that during the first week of class students are more willing to respond to an invitation right away before they get busy with the rest of the semester. So take advantage of that time!

Good follow up is Personal

At our church, first-time visitors that give us their contact info receive an email from our lead pastor as a welcome and thank-you for coming to the church. While that’s (mostly) appreciated, we found that the most effective follow up is personalized from someone that actually made a connection with the contact. We instituted a rule that if you receive a contact card from someone, the leader or volunteer that received the card puts their own name on the back so they personally can follow up with that person. It makes that person feel more important, and like they aren’t just another number in a system.

Good follow up is Warm

The younger generations are experts at sniffing out when someone is merely going through the motions. It’s one of the things I love about my generation, but it’s also a double-edged sword. “Not being authentic” usually is the quickest way to shut down conversation with a millennial. So we coach our student leaders to be sincere when they follow up with someone. We want to communicate the love Christ has for them, even if it’s just by thanking them for stopping by our involvement fair table, checking out our tie-dye station, or just meeting them.

Good follow up is Pointed

While it is really good to be timely, personal, and warm in our follow up, we need to make sure to finish with an invitation. This is an exercise in trusting God’s provision for us; by inviting the most unlikely student to interact with us again, we are choosing to trust that Jesus’ words are true in Luke 10:2. Jesus says that the “harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers.” By inviting a student to anything, we are living into that promise from Jesus. We found that we need to make it easy for our students to invite by putting all of our events in one place.

What do you think? What makes up good follow up?