At a recent Church Planter Cluster I was doing a training piece on, “The Top Ten Ways to Develop Leaders.” We had a lively discussion, it was a topic that just about everyone in ministry deals with and the feedback actually expanded my list to twelve. I will spare you of the complete list, but let me share a few points with you:
1. EXPECT IT TO BE DIFFICULT
Our church planting vision comes from Acts 13 where the Holy Spirit says to the church in Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”—Acts 13:2-3 (NIV)
We are all about finding high-level leaders and the setting apart and supporting them.
In Acts 13, Barnabas and Saul clearly had a DNA of developing leaders, so as they embarked on this new adventure of church planting, they decided to take John Mark with them:
“John Mark went with them as their assistant”—Acts 13:5 (NLT)
But John Mark only lasted a few verses:
“John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.”—Acts 13:13 (NLT)
Leadership development isn’t easy. Often when we pick someone to pour our lives into, they end up flaking out after eight short verses—sometimes sooner.
Leadership development is more difficult than preaching, it is more difficult than vision-casting, it is more difficult than just about every part of ministry—and it is arguably the most important aspect of ministry.
Not too long ago we spotted a highly gifted potential leader at our church. So we sent him through a Discovery Center assessment to help him discover his next steps and to learn how we could best coach him. He came through the Discovery Center smoothly as a potential Campus Pastor candidate and we got him on a leadership track. We plugged his wife and daughter into our church and ministry and they loved it. Yet despite his gifting, his talents, his family, and a clear plan he insisted on acting like a flake. He finally resigned because he “was not feeling it” and instead of pursuing ministry he had decided to write an opera. Yes, an opera.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the first time in my ministry life that a gifted, potential leader decided to flake out on developing as a leader in order to write an opera—it happened about ten years ago with another guy!
Okay, they were rock operas. Does that make it seem more reasonable?
Leadership development is all about working with people, so it is messy, fulfilling, ugly, frustrating, painful, rewarding and extremely difficult. It never works anywhere close to as easy as it might be portrayed in the leadership books.
Most of us give up on leadership development because we expect it to be simple, smooth and stress-free. After all, we’re leaders now and we were—and are—so very delightful to work with. We project that everyone else should be too.
Leadership development is tough.
If we are not experiencing a John Mark every eight verses or so, we are probably not doing leadership development correctly.
2. FIGHT THROUGH FAILURE, DISAPPOINTMENT AND BLOWBACK
The Apostle Paul had his share of leadership development failures and disappointments. There was John Mark, and just about everyone else:
“Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength…”--2 Timothy 4:16-17 (NLT)
Jesus’ primary ministry strategy was leadership development. Yet he experienced failure as well:
“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot —went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”—Matthew 26:14-16 (NLT)
Ever been betrayed? It happens regularly in ministry. There is failure, there is great disappointment. And one of the hardest things to deal with is the blowback from others.
We had another Campus Pastor candidate in our church. We took the best steps we could—a Discovery Center, a clear plan, regular meetings…When it became apparent that he would not be able to get the campus off the ground, he did the normal thing—betrayal. He went off at me, then secretly took a couple ladies from our church and started his own church.
The good news is that event barely effected our church at all. We had enough safeguards in place (betrayal happens, so we were ready for it) that it was only a minor blip for the church.
But it was tough on me because I had poured a lot of my life into this potential leader. I’ve been through this type of thing enough that I can usually deal with the discouragement pretty quickly (If I’m discouraged, I’m not leading.) But the toughest part is often the blowback. The gossip, the “I told you so’s” from people who never told me so. I remember one lady pointing a finger in my face and asserting, “I knew he was trouble from the beginning!” And I’m thinking, “You’re telling me now? Where were you at the beginning?” Anyway, the blowback is often more difficult to deal with than the betrayal.
We have a solid ABC (Advice, Brakes, Crisis Management) Leadership Team in place to help process the failure, the disappointment and the blowback. Because we have to push through it. Fight through the problems.
If we are not experiencing a Judas every three years or so, we are probably not doing leadership development correctly.
3. LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
Leadership development is difficult, it is discouraging, but we need to keep doing it. Paul’s mantra at the end of his life was this:
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”—2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
Paul and Barnabas got into a major argument about, yes, leadership development.
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”—Acts 15:36-39 (NIV)
But notice their solution to leadership development problems? More leadership development!
“Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.”—Acts 15:39 (NIV)
They kept on developing leaders. When it got difficult, when it didn’t work, when there was major conflict, they kept on developing leaders!
Jesus responded to betrayal by bouncing back—big time. He rose from the dead! That will show your critics!
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”—Matthew 28:18 (NIV)
How did Jesus respond to failure and disappointment in leadership development? More leadership development! He sent out the eleven—and us.
We may experience a John Mark every few verses, and a Judas every few years, but if we keep plugging away and developing leaders, we will see more Pauls, Barnabases, Silases and Timothys and we will see a few John Marks mature and turn around too:
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.—2 Timothy 4:11 (NLT)
Let’s keep at this leadership development thing. We’re excited about two new campus pastor candidates at our church. Maybe they will work out, I think so, I hope so...but we all must pursue more leadership development. It will make all the difference.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.—1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)