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 Ways to Spot a New-Comer (and how to engage them)

Most churches and ministries I come across have a desire to see new people get involved and engaged in their community. It starts with Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18), but often falls flat when it comes to execution. Many leadership teams hit a wall when it comes to even identifying the new people visiting their worship gathering.

Because of that, I wanted to give you some helpful thoughts about how to identify new folks visiting your gatherings and a few ways to respond to them

#1 - The "deer-in-the-headlights"

This is perhaps the most easily identifiable person because they wear their feelings on their sleeve. This is the person who looks around as if a child entering a massive library for the first time: reverent, awe-filled, and confused. They don’t know where to go or what to do, but they’re (usually) excited to be there. You can usually find these people in or near the entryway of your site. They might be under- or over-dressed, depending on your culture.

The easiest way to engage this person is to talk to them and to ask them questions. Most often, this type of person is excited to be with you, but they simply don’t know where to go or what to do. Ask them if they’re new and introduce yourself; see if they have any questions. Ask them if they’d like to sit with you, stick with them for the remainder of their time at your event, try to exchange contact info, and follow up immediately! They will be more likely to return in the future.

#2 - The "covert operative"

This person is usually quite shy, and is probably least likely to seek out information. They don’t talk to anyone as they come in, they seat themselves quickly, are polite so as not to raise suspicion, and leave as quickly as they came. They might be skeptical of your church or your faith, just checking out your church, or are really shy.

If the covert operative isn’t going to seek out information on their own to get plugged in, that means we have to give it to them! This is why each gathering should have a very simple next-steps invitation anyone can opt in for. Some other options are to include a brief greeting time during your worship service (we’ve found that asking a specific question is most effective and least awkward) to allow people to connect. Try to establish a one-on-one connection with this person, but don’t be offended if it takes them a few gathering to warm up.

#3 - The “checking things out”

This person is the one who is really just trying to check out who Jesus is and who you are in light of Him. They want to know if and how faith changes people, and maybe if your church has the answers to their questions. They may or may not have a history with faith, but want to know if yours is a safe place they can ask questions. They want to know if they can trust you.

Some of the checking things out people will come right out and say that they’re just effectively window shopping. But that’s uncommon because they don’t want to out themselves as not the in-group. You have to get to know them and their story before they trust you enough to share their questions. This is why we make it a practice of following up with every new person by sharing the Gospel with them, believer or not. That way, we don’t assume anyone about anyone and we get to communicate what we’re about!

#4 - The “ready to go”

This is the person who wants to get plugged into the life of your church or ministry as soon as possible. They’re often transplants from somewhere else and looking for a “solid” community to join. They want to know that you love Jesus and other people, preach the Gospel according to the Bible, and that they can fit in. They’re want to dive deep quickly.

The people who are ready to go are often the people we’re secretly hoping everyone who walks through our front doors. But we have to be careful not to simply throw them in the deep end. We want them to learn about who we are collectively in light of the Gospel. The goal for these folks is to get them plugged into a small group and service during corporate worship, then to shepherd them towards membership. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Don’t be afraid to share your church or ministry’s vision with them early on!

There are plenty more types of people we encounter each week, but here were a few of the more common types. What do you think?