Eric Geiger on conviction, culture, and constructs that develop leaders
No one should outpace the church in developing and deploying leaders, says Eric Geiger, vice president of Lifeway’s Resources Division. In addition to leading a team of almost 600 to produce a comprehensive array of resources for the local church, Geiger is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy.
His passion for the church comes through as he talks about the need to assist pastors in their mission of equipping their members for ministry. Facts & Trends recently talked to Geiger about the importance of developing leaders to expand the influence and ministry of the church.
Facts & Trends: What are some traits you consider vital to effective leadership?
Eric Geiger: In their classic work based on extensive research, The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner build the argument that credibility is the most important trait. People want to be able to trust and follow their leaders. For a leader to have credibility, the leader must be a person of integrity.
When the apostle Paul challenged Timothy to entrust the message to others, he wrote, “Commit to faithful men who will be able” (2 Timothy 2:2). He did not say, “Commit to able men who will be faithful.” He started with character, with integrity.
Beyond character that results in credibility, a leader must be competent in building a healthy culture. Peter Drucker wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He was not diminishing strategy but was merely elevating the importance of culture.
Without a healthy culture, any strategy is doomed. A leader must also be competent in developing others, setting a direction, and mobilizing people to move in that direction.
F&T: You’ve written that the church should excel in developing leaders. Why is that and why is leadership development important to the church?
Geiger: No organization has the mission the church has—to take the gospel to all people groups, to serve and bless the world. No organization has the promise we have, that what we invest in will last forever. The Lord will preserve His church to the end.
Leadership development is essential for the people of God. The church is healthy when people are equipped for ministry, for serving others (Ephesians 4:11-13). The church multiplies as leaders are discipled and created. A local church’s influence and ministry expands as leaders in that church are developed.
F&T: Lifeway Research found less than 30 percent of church leaders spend time designing a plan to develop leaders. Yet most say they value equipping leaders. Why do you suppose there is a disconnect and what can church leaders do to develop leaders?
Geiger: There is a disconnect, and it exists for several reasons. For a church to effectively develop leaders, the church must have a conviction for development, a healthy ministry culture, and constructs (systems) that help develop leaders. Conviction, culture, and constructs are all essential. If equipping leaders is not occurring, one of those is missing.
The church should identify what is missing, and respond accordingly. So questions to ask oneself are: Is there a conviction for us to develop leaders? Do we have a healthy culture that facilitates leaders developing other leaders? Do we have constructs and tools that help us develop leaders?
F&T: Why is it important to develop younger leaders?
Geiger: Developing younger leaders is important for now and for the future.
For now, we miss out if we don’t allow younger leaders to serve and contribute. The Lord has always used younger leaders to serve His people. For example, Josiah was 16 when he began to seek the Lord, which led to a revival among God’s people. Mary was a teenager when the Lord chose to bring the Messiah into the world through her womb.
George Whitefield and John Wesley met with a handful of others as college students in what was called the “Holy Club.” Jonathan Edwards was 19 when he penned his 70 resolutions.
For the future, the growth, health, and impact of the church depend on developing young leaders. As today’s leaders, we are responsible for future leaders. A leader who is not developing young leaders is not serving the organization well.
The leader is either being shortsighted or selfish—shortsighted in that the future is not being considered or selfish in that the leader thinks only about himself or herself.
F&T: Sometimes leadership development is thought of as distinct from discipleship. Why is that a mistake?
Geiger: To view discipleship as distinct from leadership development is to propose that discipleship does not impact all of one’s life. One’s leadership cannot be divorced from one’s faith.
If leaders are developed apart from Jesus, the emphasis is inevitably on skills and not the heart transformed through Christ. Divorcing leadership development from discipleship can leave people more skilled and less sanctified.
And when competency and skill outpace character, leaders are set up for a fall. We don’t serve people well if we teach them how to lead without teaching them how to follow Jesus.
F&T: Is there a common area of leadership church leaders tend to ignore?
Geiger: Church leaders tend to think too little about the culture of the church. For example, it’s one thing to have a doctrinal statement that affirms the priesthood of all believers. It’s another to have a culture that values the contribution of all believers and does not view the pastors as the only ones who can minister.
It’s one thing to have a doctrinal statement that affirms our brokenness. It’s another for a culture to exist in a church where people realize they are broken and in constant need of God’s grace.
F&T: What has surprised you about leadership?
Geiger: While each context is unique, and a leader is wise to learn the culture and history of each assignment, I’m often surprised at how much of leadership really does translate from one context to another.
People struggle with change in every setting. Character matters in every setting. Clarity matters in every setting. Leaders who view themselves as servants and love the people they lead make a bigger impact in every setting.
F&T: What’s one of the biggest challenges to leading the church today?
Geiger: Churches exist to make disciples. We live in a culture that is faster and increasingly expects things instantly, but discipleship is a long, continual process. It does not happen overnight. Disciple-making is going to be continually countercultural, and that will bring a myriad of challenges to church leaders.
F&T: What kind of pastoral leadership do you think the church needs to fulfill its mission?
Geiger: We need humble pastors who are followers first, surrendered to the Lord, sensitive to His Spirit, and filled with a deep conviction to equip others.
CAROL PIPES (@CarolPipes) is editor of Facts & Trends.