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.