Looking for Leaders: Starting the Conversation

The past two weeks we’ve been looking at leadership in ministry and what we can do about it. I’ve attempted to convince you that leadership is necessary for fulfilling the mission of God. I’ve also tried to make the case that the best leaders are homegrown.

But today, I’d like to get really practical; I want leaders, but I don’t know how to start that relationship. So how do we start?

The Awkward Conversation

As I was starting out in ministry, the folks that were mentoring me started talking about developing leadership. Before those conversations, I had never heard much about developing ministry leadership in my church outside of potentially going to seminary. So I had very little grid for my own ministry leadership, let alone calling others to leadership.

My memory of the very first time I invited a student to be a part of a ministry team is pretty strong, mostly because I was terrified! I had just started discipling this student — we’ll call him Brandon — a few weeks prior to the conversation, but it was clear that this young man was mature beyond his year. Everyone that met him knew that he loved Jesus and was serious about the Gospel. But we sat down to lunch that day I couldn’t help but feel some anxiety. I was sitting face to face not just with this student, but my own insecurity and fear of being rejected, our leadership team failing or making the wrong decision.

I swallowed hard, and asked a question: “Have you ever thought about leadership?

Brandon’s face told me more than his words ever could — he was shocked! In the ensuing conversation, we talked about what leadership could look like, what we hoped for our ministry, and how we each could serve Jesus through our church and campus ministry. I had no idea that things would go the direction they did. To this day, not only is this student one of the best leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with but is a dear friend with a bevy of shared memories. It all started with an awkward conversation.

The past two weeks I’ve tried to make clear that there are certain things which are good indicators of potential ministry leadership, chief among them a love for Christ, a willingness to serve, and a humble heart. Those seem to be the easy things to identify a person. So why was it so hard for me to invite Brandon to serve in that capacity? And why was he shocked when I did invite him?

I’d like to suggest that he had never experienced a church culture where growth and leadership were common and talked about. He never thought of himself as a leader, because before that point he had always seen himself as a spectator. When I called Brandon to get off the sidelines and into the game something clicked for him. He began to realize that he had a role to play in the Kingdom of Heaven. He eventually accepted that call and began a growth spurt that God is still using to this day. I’m so glad we dove into what to me had been projected as a really awkward conversation, and I know that he is as well.

The Call of the Kingdom

I think Brandon’s story is more typical than many of us know. I think this because this is exactly how we see Jesus operate with his leadership team. In Matthew 4 Jesus calls two sets of brothers, Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John. Both sibling sets receive the same call in very similar ways: “follow Jesus, and He will make you into fishers of men.”

Charles Spurgeon commentated on this passage in a sermon called “How to Become Fishers of Men:

That is exactly what Christ did; and when we are brought low in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we may feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what he can make us.

Spurgeon compels his audience to trust not in their own ability to perform, rather the same power which raised Christ from the dead in order to become fishers of men.

Jesus took plain, sinful, arrogant, prideful, broken, hurting, ill-equipped, and incompetent men and turned them into the leadership of the vehicle of the Gospel through two words — follow me. I believe that we can claim that same promise.

If you think back to the story I shared earlier, specifically to the things which were barriers to me calling Brandon, you’ll find that they all were anti-Gospel. Jesus speaks to things like fear, anxiety, and pride, and assures us that we find rest from our strivings in Him.

For us, that means that the work of developing leaders begins in faith. It specifically means that we must choose to believe that the same power which raised Christ from the dead is strong and competent enough to turn us into fishers of men.

Exchanging our Awkward

Meditating on these truths helped me to overcome those fears and gave me confidence that the Holy Spirit was already at work in the hearts and minds of those around me. It emboldened me to begin inviting those around me to follow Jesus in a more serious role. I gave me the desire to overcome the awkward conversation, and press into what could be a life-changing decision for that person. I now look forward to exchanging the awkward for partnership.

Here are a few practical tips that I’ve found which made that conversation a little less awkward and a little more productive:

  • Pray – We would try to begin the process by praying that God would show us who He wants to lead His work. As people came to mind, we would pray that God would make it clear to us and to them what role He has for them to play in His story.
  • Affirm their gifts and talents – We want to encourage people that they have gifts and talents which God has given them to serve the church (Eph. 4). This is not the time for constructive feedback, that can come later. Be sure to state what you believe would make them a good fit for the role you’re inquiring about.
  • Invite them to something specific – Most people need some help envisioning what they would actually be doing. So call that person to a specific role, a specific task, or a specific set of expectations. Whatever it is, be as clear as possible about what you are calling them to.
  • Cast the vision – Use that conversation as an opportunity to cast part of your ministry or church’s vision for the work they are being called to. People want to know that the energy and time they’re giving up are going to matter to the mission.
  • Give them time to respond – Make the ask, but then give them a few days or a week to think and pray about it. If their time and energy matter, then we want them to count the cost of what it will take to serve faithfully. This is another good reason to call them to something specific.
  • Consider giving the role a time-duration – We’ve found that giving students a duration to the role they are being called to is helpful. It allows them to give their full time and attention during that time, but also allows them to opt out and change expectations if necessary.
  • Offer to help equip them – Some folks are willing but lack some of the confidence and skills necessary to serve effectively. We have found that when we offer to train someone they are more likely to accept because they feel more assured that they won’t fail.

What do you think? Did I miss any sure-fire tips for starting the conversation? How have you seen God show up in these conversations? Thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know the answers to these questions or as a few below.

Looking for Leaders: Building Through the Draft

Last week we talked about the real need that many ministries and churches face when attempting to raise up leaders. While I touched on it briefly, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about new leadership potential, and what hasn’t worked for me.

Drafting vs. Free Agency

Most people know that I’m a massive ice hockey fan. I have been from a young age. Summers are usually tough for the sport of ice hockey because very few professional leagues play during the summer, so I have to get my hockey fixes through YouTube or by playing some video games.

The lone bright spot for July comes on July 1st, known to the hockey world as the first day of free agency. This is when the calendar year flips for NHL contracts, leaving many players without a contract agreement. This allows them to freely negotiate with any team in the league for any amount of salary within the bargaining rules. Each year, there are a few big-name players whose contracts expire and as a result hit the open market to cash in on their skills. Likewise, teams all over the league covet these players and often over-pay the “market value” for what these players is. Teams that do this usually end up spending too much, rendering them unable to retain the players they have developed through the entry draft. This usually results in the competitive level of those teams being relatively short.

By contrast, teams that choose to build through the draft over several years are able to retain their young, skilled players because they don’t make as much money, have an affinity towards the city they play in, and likely raise the talent on the team with other young players together. These teams are usually competitive for years and years. This strategy is far more difficult, because you need successful organization, rather than one General Manager who can pull off big trades. You need coaches who are proven, scouts with a vision, a development program that isn’t prideful, and a city behind all of that to root for and support the organization.

I see many similarities between developing leaders and building a successful hockey organization. Most – if not all – ministry leaders don’t have to be told about why their job or ministries matter. They have said ‘Yes!’ to those roles because they care, and they want to see Jesus’ name magnified. But many also try to land the free agent when it comes to finding leaders. They’re looking for the big name summer ‘Free Agent’ who will fix everything. Regretfully, I don’t know that those types of people exist.

Building Through the Draft

I believe that the Biblical model for raising up new leaders is to ‘build through the draft.’ Jesus models for us what it means to invest through ministry multiplication when it comes to raising up leaders. Ministry multiplication occurs when called disciples begin to see themselves as actors in the mission of God rather than spectators watching things unfold. In other words, Ministry multiplication is a natural overflow of highly intentional discipleship from believer to believer, where both engage in a mutual pursuit of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

When I was starting out I had it in my head that the best leaders for my ministry would be college students who already loved Jesus, had a firm grasp on leveraging their gifts for the church and the Kingdom, were leading others to faith already, and really didn’t need me. I was really looking for people who could do was I was called to teach them to do. Graciously, God brought us a number of students who had some of those things figured out, and we began to see some good things happen. But eventually, we hit a wall because new folks stopped coming back, our students were less joyful, and our “discipleship” meetings were the same problems we rehashed this time last year with very little growth in that time. It felt like someone threw a switch from “Good” to “Bad” and somehow everything stopped working like it was supposed to.

So what happened?

I don’t know that I ever had a firm grasp on how to build a culture of discipleship, but it was coming to bear that I hadn’t.

So we went back to the basics. We started asking questions about what leadership was and wasn’t, and we found that as a ministry had to re-learn a little of what it meant to a people faithfully pursuing Christ together. We reformed and tightened up our preaching and worship to make sure that it preaches Christ crucified and nothing else. We reformed our small groups by equipping our leaders to disciple their friends and group-mates. We changed what we asked about during our discipleship meetings. We started to build a support system for younger and newer Christians and non-Christians to grow. We wanted to make it easy and clear for students to figure out what their pathway could be.

As we did that, we saw more student engagement, more discipleship, more first-time faith professions, more small groups, and more energy. Our students started to get excited about ministering to their peers. This type of community is infectious and curious to the people who observe. I also believe that it’s incredibly attractive to the contemporary mind.

Infrastructure

Perhaps you’re realizing that the first thing you need to do is to start thinking about what type of culture your faith community supports. I believe that this is the perfect place to start when you’re thinking about raising up new leaders. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • What are the action points people who attend our ministry are usually called to?
  • What does someone who is “engaged” in our community look like? How can we tell?
  • How does someone move from “attender” to “leader?”
  • What does a leader in our ministry look like?
  • What are you as a leader actively doing to foster discipleship?
  • What are the things we’re doing to equip people for ministry? Are they working?

These are only a few questions we could ask. What do you think? Is there anything I missed? Let me know!

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.