3 Steps to Developing Leaders

As I talk with leaders and church planters there is reoccuring topic that always keeps coming up…developing leaders. Common questions I get are: How do we develop leaders? What are you guys doing at Redeemer to develop leaders? What content do you use to develop leaders? What systems and structures do we need to put in place to develop leaders? These are great questions to be asking! If you are asking these questions then it means that you are valuing the right thing as a pastor/church planter. You know that your job is not to provide your church members with spiritual goods and services, but instead it’s to make disciples, equip the saints, and raise up other leaders to do the same. If you want to develop leaders it’s because you value multiplication of ministry not just church growth and large crowds.

As I have these conversations I am noticing two common mistakes leaders make when thinking about developing leaders (I’ve also made these mistakes).

  1. The desire to develop a bunch of leaders in a few easy steps. You cannot mass produce leaders in our churches. Regardless of how great your “leadership pipeline” looks on paper, you must take into account that not all leaders are alike. [Shameless plug:  I’ll be posting a follow up next week titled 3 Ways of Leading Others, and discussing how to develop each type of leader.] Leaders are to be developed. Development takes time and intentionality. It means you must know the people you are developing. They need opportunity and time to learn and grow. This is true for all types of leaders- MC leaders, church planters, or ministry team leaders.
  2. Looking for “already leaders”, rather than having a commitment to develop everyone. Instead of thinking about how we are going to develop everyone in our church, you are just look for potential leaders that are “close”. You grab those folks, train them up (you’re really just teaching them your language and “offense”) and send them out to lead. The problem with this is you’ll soon find yourself stuck. When you need more leaders you’ll be left hoping and praying for more “already” leaders to miraculously walk in your door. This is common among church planters. You get lots of “already leaders” at the beginning, but after 6-8 months your left desperate for more help. Again, this isn’t development. It’s just re-training “already leaders” who are new to your church.

Here are 3 steps to developing leaders that I hope will help you move out of these 2 ruts I just mentioned. Keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  1. Design a clear target for each type of leader you are looking to develop. Some questions to ask: What does this type of leader look like in my church? What do I expect this type of leader to do/believe/know? What type of characteristics should mark this person’s life?  At Redeemer we’ve developed a clear target for leaders at every level: every day disciples, MC leaders, deacons, elders, and church planters.
  2. Have each potential leader self-assess in light of the target. Self assessment is powerful. Before you being to train and develop someone, give them a chance to identify their areas of strengths and weakness. Allowing them the self-assess in light of the target accomplishes three things: a) it gives them a clear picture of what it means to be this type of leader…which is something we often fail to do, b) it allows them to admit weakness and express a desire to grow, & c) it allows you to begin to personalize your leadership development plan.
  3. Train leaders in the basics, but personalize their development. All leaders need the same baseline training. This is where you teach and train them on the things in “the target”. But in order to develop healthy leaders they need more than just baseline training, they also need ongoing development. On-going development is about helping an individual leader grow in the areas of weakness they self-assesed. This can happen through coaching, special classes, one-on-one meetings, assigning books to read, sermons to listen to, videos to watch, etc. This is where leadership development and discipleship come crashing together beautifully. The problem is we often don’t let them. Our “pipelines” and “programs” are too rigid. Not to mention that we are not patient or intentional enough in our leadership.

When you give people a clear target and allow them to self-assess it can awaken desire for growth in potential leaders. When you go beyond teaching and training, and begin to personalize on-going development leaders will be less likely to burn out and more likely to reproduce themselves in others.


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