by Mac Lake
It’s happened again: a new season of Bible study is kicking off and your church is facing a serious shortage of leaders.
You promised yourself it would be different this time. You’d planned to conquer the challenge of leadership development and build a deep bench of small group leaders for your ministry, but it never happened.
There is hope, though. You can get ahead of the leadership development curve. Here are three disciplines to help you identify, recruit, and develop more leaders.
1. Develop for vision not for need.
Paul gave Timothy some wise advice about leadership development when he wrote, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Notice four generations of leaders in this passage: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, and others. Paul was teaching Timothy to set up a continually replenishing pipeline of leaders to pass the faith along.
We need to do the same thing.
Many group ministries recruit toward the urgent need rather than the future vision. When we think this way, we tend to only recruit new leaders when we need them. But we have to start long before then. Our churches are filled with people who have untapped leadership ability.
If you want an abundance of leaders in the pipeline you must be vision-driven rather than need-driven. Ask yourself: How many group leaders would it take if our church grew by 15 percent? Identify that number and begin working toward that goal.
2. Look for willingness not just readiness.
This second discipline is more about attitude toward potential leaders. It’s easy to look at someone and conclude, “They’re not ready yet,” and miss out on someone who is willing to learn.
I almost made this mistake when a young man approached me at our small group one night.
“Mac,” Roger said, “I want to do what you do.” I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about, so I asked him to explain.
“I want to lead a small group the way you do,” he said. “Our group members are engaged, they’re growing in their faith, and there’s such a strong sense of community among these people. I want to be able to do that.”
Roger was new to the group and hadn’t shown any signs that he was ready to be a leader.
But I couldn’t ignore his enthusiasm.
So I told him to come to my house 30 minutes before small group each week and to plan on staying 30 minutes after the group ended.
That first week, we talked before the group started, and I taught him one key principle for leading a small group. I told him to observe that principle in action during the group that night. Afterward, he stayed around and we discussed what went well and what could’ve been better about the group session that night. Each week we repeated this same process.
As the weeks passed, I gave him more opportunities to lead within our group. After seven months, we decided it was time for him to become a leader. He was gaining greater confidence, people in the group were responding to his leadership, and now he was ready.
We announced to our group that Roger was going to be starting a new group. We were thrilled when half the group went with him to start the group.
Unfortunately, much of what we do today in the church is “leadership placement” rather than leadership development. We find ready-made leaders and plug them into leadership roles. By taking this approach, we overlook people who may have a willingness and great potential to lead. Yes, developing leaders takes work but the payoff is huge.
Leadership placement may work for a while, but it will hurt the long-term efforts to populate the leadership needs of your group ministry. So work with your current leaders to identify a long list of names that could be potential leaders in the next year or two, and start developing them now.
3. Empower your leaders to reproduce leaders.
Several years ago, I had a defining moment while reading Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He personally gave some to be prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ.”
I had read this verse a thousand times, and I thought, God, I know this. It’s my job as a pastor to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.
But then it hit me that those prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, and preachers weren’t paid positions in the early church—they were lay leaders. And their job, according to Paul, was to equip others to do the work of the ministry.
That morning I wrote out a paraphrase of the verse, “He has given leaders to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.”
This revolutionized my thinking. Anyone in the church who wears the title leader is responsible for developing new leaders.
What if we took Ephesians 4:11-12 seriously? What if our small group coaches developed the next small group coaches? What if small group leaders developed the next small group leaders?
Decentralizing your leadership development efforts could have an exponential impact on your small group ministry leadership pipeline. It did for us.
All of a sudden your leadership development efforts are no longer limited to one person’s capabilities. You’ll have multiple leaders raising up more new leaders anytime, any place, and at any pace.
A growing church will always feel the pressure of needing more leaders, but practicing these disciplines will help you identify, recruit, and develop an ever-expanding group of new leaders to meet the challenge.
by Mac Lake