Leader training. We know that it’s important. We know that we ought to do it. So why do so many churches just go through the motions? Perhaps we do a little bit of orientation to committees and show people where the keys are. Often, it’s little more than “nuts and bolts” explanation.
This weekend, I facilitated a workshop with 25 people from different Presbyterian churches across our area. While I had been invited to share the story of our church’s experiments in leadership development, I found that the real value came in the discussion with the whole group. I love a room where people are lively and asking questions and interjecting ideas (and occasionally leading me down rabbit trails!).
Here are 4 key lessons that rose out of our conversation.
1) Clarity is King
Often, leader training is poor (or nonexistent) because the church muddles along in a fuzzy haze. Too many established churches just go along with things “the way they’ve always been” without taking the time to reflect on what makes their congregation distinctive. The more clear you can get on anything, the better you can communicate your identity to your leaders. After all, your leaders are an expression of the unique identity of your church.
First and foremost, you should search the scriptures to be clear on the general teaching about what a congregation should be. However, when you have done that hard biblical work, you’ll find that you still have to discern the particular identity and calling of your particular congregation.
What makes your congregation unique?
What makes you different from any other church in your community?
What is your distinctive niche in your denomination/movement?
If your church disappeared from your neighborhood, would anybody miss it? For what reasons?
Do you have defined summaries of your identity? (Mission statements, vision statements, etc).
If your church isn’t clear on who it is, your leaders won’t know what to do.
2) Create a Culture of Service
One participant pointed out that the real starting point for developing good leaders is to have a church-wide culture of service. This observation received a lot of approbation. There are lots of ways to create that culture, but one of the ideas that came up in our conversation was to celebrate service in worship.
Our church takes the opportunity in every worship service to celebrate how members are offering their time, talents, and gifts as service unto the Lord. We do this right before we take the monetary offering. Not only do we highlight people who are serving within the church, but we also call attention to people who are serving out in the community in various capacities. So one week, we might offer praise to God for the efforts of our landscaping committee and the next week we might offer praise to God for the tutoring work a person is doing in their personal volunteer time.
A culture that celebrates service will create rich soil in which leaders can grow.
3) Spiritual Formation is Foundational
One participant observed that people in a church wanted to know that their leaders were loving people who could be trusted and with whom they could talk. That seems like a pretty simple statement. Yet it gets at a deeper truth that at the heart of it, church leadership is about attending to the spiritual formation of the congregation. This kind of formation only happens in an atmosphere of trust and open conversation.
That being the case, you have to decide what’s most important to shape in your leaders. Do you focus on getting all the nuts and bolts of process right? Do you focus on heritage and history of your denomination? These things are important. But the most needful thing is spiritual formation. Our leaders need to be pointing the way in growing closer to Christ. Therefore we need leaders who are continually growing in their faith themselves.
We built our formal leadership training process as a process of prayerful discernment. It begins with questions for reflection that elaborate on our leadership vows. Each of these questions invites the candidate to reflect on their understanding of Christ, the scriptures, the calling of the church, etc. We then have a 4 part training class that goes deeper into the vows, and we structure the class as a Bible study with hymn singing, prayer, and plenty of scriptural reflection.
If your church leaders are not continually growing in faith, your congregation will stagnate.
4) Borrow, Adapt, and Iterate
As we laid out our process for leadership training, one person commented that her home church had been a church of 13 people and the process would never work.
And she was absolutely right.
A model is just a model. For any given church, you have to borrow things that you think might work, adapt them to your current situation, and keep tweaking through different iterations until you find things that work for you.
As I’ve reflected on this, I think the big thing that holds many churches back is fear. Fear that they’ll put effort into something and it won’t work. Fear of failure. Fear of offending someone and they’ll leave. Fear that somehow they’ll loose what little they have.
Fear paralyzes us and destroys ministry.
And I believe it is written somewhere “Perfect love casts out all fear”
(Don’t take my word for it, go look it up in I John 4:18)
So do something. Anything. Borrow just one item from someone else. Go ask stupid questions of people in your church. Any little action is an opportunity to learn. Tweak what you do and try a different version. You’ll fail. Of course you’ll fail. That’s the whole point of iterating. Fail boldly, for it is in our failures that the Holy Spirit shows up and works on us, leading us to trust the Lord more and to listen to His instruction.
The real adventures of leadership are in the lessons God has as we try new things.
I hope these principles are helpful. Remember, every step forward is an improvement. Take it one step at a time, ask good questions, be in conversation with other people who are doing ministry. I’d love to continue to conversation with you. Leave your ideas and comments below. And be sure to sign up for the Horizons of the Possible email and join the community of conversation about life, ministry, and wellbeing!