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.
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!