Here’s what I’ve discovered about leadership development: some of the best leaders I’ve worked with as a pastor had their start as workers. They didn’t suddenly jump into leadership but began with some area of simple service that helped them learn and grow prior to them becoming leaders. In short: they were humble followers before becoming great leaders.
But I’ve also discovered that leadership development usually doesn’t happen without the intentional effort of a mentoring leader. Such leaders believe in reproduction—that is, enlisting, training, and mobilizing others for service in the local church—and they take responsibility for making it happen. That seems to be what Paul had in mind when he encouraged Timothy to develop a four-level “discipleship chain” of workers who knew what they believed and were able to teach and train others under their care (2 Timothy 2:1, 2). It’s surely part of what’s involved in the leadership role of preparing God’s people “for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11, 12, NIV).
It only makes sense that as our churches grow and our burdens increase, we move workers (not that all leaders aren’t workers in a sense) into leadership roles, where they can share the responsibility of guiding other workers.
But how do we make this happen? What practical steps can church leaders take to help workers move along the path toward ministry leadership? Consider these six basic how-to suggestions.
1. Develop a personal relationship.
Leadership influence is most effective when a relationship is established with a stronger, more mature believer as a foundation for mentoring and leadership development. It takes time, of course, as building a relationship means time spent interacting, sharing burdens, praying. It means making oneself available and meeting together regularly. It could mean taking a worker to a training meeting or a regional conference. It might mean reading a ministry-related leadership book together and discussing its implications for the church they both serve. Reproducing leaders invest in the lives of others with leadership potential.
2. Share your passion and vision.
As a relationship is built, mentoring leaders begin to share the bigger picture of the church’s ministry vision. They talk about their goals and ideas for future impact as God blesses the church. They mention the kinds of leaders needed as the church grows, and what challenges and opportunities might lie ahead. I’m convinced that workers who understand the mission and direction of their churches often buy in more readily and want to serve alongside others who have purpose and passion.
3. Give increasing responsibility.
Leadership skills aren’t learned overnight! Everyone needs time to develop the abilities that can result only from experience. Based on a worker’s skill level and interest, I suggest gradually sharing increased ministry responsibilities over time. How much time? It varies from worker to worker. Wise mentors understand the unique pace of potential leaders as they develop. Key point: delegate carefully, with clear instruction and plenty of follow-up at first.
4. Hold them accountable.
We all benefit from accountability. Without it, anyone can lose initiative, focus, and effectiveness. Leaders who develop others’ leadership skills know this and, in an environment of support and love, hold those others accountable for accomplishing specific ministry goals. Rather than infringing on their creativity and freedom, such leaders see other workers thrive. Practically speaking, accountability relationships are marked by time spent talking about ministry perspectives, evaluating what is being done in service, planning for improvement, praying for wisdom, and, yes, sometimes confronting failures. But it’s crucial in developing leaders.
5. Provide lots of support and encouragement.
As workers grow and take on more leadership responsibility, they often experience an increased level of frustration. With increased leadership responsibility often come more critics and more problems—no surprise here. Leaders who mentor others are aware of the power of encouragement in leadership development. Everyone needs it, of course, but especially developing leaders. Notes of encouragement, words of praise in front of others, expressions of thanks, appropriate appreciation gifts—these can have an immeasurable impact.
6. Treat them like leaders.
As future church leaders learn and gain experience, treat them as viable leaders at the level of service at which God has placed them. Work with them as co-laborers, and value their opinions and perspectives. Allow them to have the authority they need to carry out their responsibilities. Let the church know that you respect them and value their ministry. Such an approach builds a commitment in others to stretch themselves and grow even more.
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) was a pastor for 30 years and associate national representative of the GARBC. He now represents the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches.