One of the realities that Churches of Christ are slowly coming to grips with is a growing shortage of capable leaders. If in fact healthy leaders are in shorter supply, this is something we need to address and do it in a hurry. It seems to me that the best ways to begin doing so are to invest in the existing leaders we have, and then to also work to fertilize the soil for the growing of new leadership.
We need to make leadership development a top priority. We need to do it in our schools and our churches. Of course, this only makes sense if we plan to nurture those leaders and allow them the space to use the gifts God has given them. If we don't plan to do that, leadership development makes no sense and is a waste of time. If that's the path we choose, I am indeed concerned for our future. However, if we are willing to pay some significant attention to this, I believe it will make an enormous difference.
Preserving and Growing our Existing Leaders (I've talked about this is in greater detail in other posts, so here's a quick bullet list)
- Avoid the Hireling Mentality. Treat ministers, elders and ministry leaders with appropriate respect. They could have chosen to do something else with their lives but have submitted themselves to God's call on their lives. They are a cherished resource to the church. Treat them as such. It pains me that many of those who ventured into ministry alongside me in the mid-late 90s are no longer in ministry. Some might say that shows they weren't really cut out for ministry to begin with. Perhaps that's true in some cases. However, it's also true that the Church bears responsibility for its abuse of ministers and other servant-leaders through the years. Now, to some extent, we are reaping what we've sown. That pains me to type. But, I believe it's true.
- Pay them Fairly and Allow for Proper Rest. Churches have generally gotten better at this one. However, some churches really need to pay attention to this one. I've always found it hypocritical for churches to call people to be generous and then not model generosity toward those who serve Her. While they may exist, I don't know any minister that is in ministry for the money. I also don't know any ministers who will retire early because their salary allows them to. However, I do know some that are not in ministry because they simply couldn't afford to be any more. In one extreme case I know of, the church placed a young minister, his wife, and 3 kids in a rather leaky parsonage complete with roaches, rats, and mold. The church had money to make repairs, but wouldn't…justifying it by saying, "If something goes wrong at my house, I have to fix it…let Him fix his own house." I'm not sure that attitude honors Christ. Beyond that, to think that somehow treating a minister and his family that way serves the interests of the Church and Kingdom is naïve at best. The kids were sick all the time, he and his wife quietly resented the church, and home life was difficult. He moved on several years ago after considering getting out of ministry, and that congregation is still looking for a minister. It's an extreme example used to show how bad it can be out there for some. As I mentioned, most churches have grown a lot in this area. This is good news, as churches will seldom go wrong behaving generously toward those who serve in ministry. We should take note that in the Scriptures, any time the delicate subject of treatment of church leaders is brought up, it always to say, in essence, "Treat them properly." This is good counsel indeed. It will honor God, cultivate a healthier environment for the flourishing of leadership, and it will ultimately come back to the church in spades.
- Invest in them. Elders, ministers and ministry leaders need opportunities for learning and spiritual growth. As leadership thrives, the church thrives. See post 1 on healthy leadership for more.
- Expect the Best from Them. Removing many of the factors that contribute to ministerial mediocrity leaves the minister without any excuse for not pouring the very best of themselves into the ministry. "The very best of themselves" is not finite. They can do this both in ministry and at home. They will just need to discern what that means for them and how to faithfully honor God in each context. A fairly paid, fairly resourced minister who is given freedom to lead and is offered the support of the church should be expected to serve with intentionality and a sense of redemptive urgency that expresses itself in excellence-orientation. Of course this could be expected of those who have none of the above, but it's not particularly realistic. Great things happen when the church and those who serve Her are going out of their way to bless one another–embodying Jesus' command to "love one another." When this happens, God blesses, and we can expect great things.
Growing New Leaders
- It's an old-fashioned idea, "The Equipping of the Saints," but we need to figure out how to do it much better and make it a higher priority. I wrote an article, entitled, "God Calls Church Leaders to Invest in
Others," in the Christian Chronicle back in May 2005. There appears to be a
formatting problem that has removed a small portion of the article.
Nonetheless, you can click here to read it. As I suggest in the article, "Real equipping is far more than permission giving. It is more than putting a sign-up sheet in the lobby. Real equipping takes seriously both the call that everyone shares to ministry and the unique gifting that each person has, which comes from the Spirit, "just as He determines" (1 Cor. 12:11b). Thus, God calls us to more than merely filling any role in ministry with anyone who will take it. God calls us to give permission, to train, to release, to empower, to mentor, to let go."
- Offering those who serve in leadership the service environment mentioned above will help draw people to leadership. Right now, the view among many people is, "I can serve God anywhere. I don't need to go into ministry to do that." This is obviously factually true. The problem is that when people make that decision because they don't want the drama, church-induced poverty and emotional beatings they perceive dysfunctional ministry sometimes brings—that should let us know something systemic may be wrong. Let's decide to make ministry a calling that may produce suffering from without, but strive to not contribute to the flogging of our own. We do need Kingdom-First Christians in all vocations. However, we don't want to unknowingly create a ministry habitat that is hostile to existing church leaders and utterly frightening to the next generation of would-be church leaders.
- Existing leaders need to view the cultivation of new leadership as one of their primary callings. Able leadership developers always have they're eyes open to the leadership gift in others. When they spot it, they engage people in meaningful ways about how that gifting can be used for God's glory. We need to cultivate this mentality, and look for the jewels God has scattered all around us.
- Existing church leaders need to pay attention to how we speak of ministry. Ministry, next to Christ and my family, is the greatest blessing in my life. I need to say that as often as I can.
- Create an "organic" mentoring program. Here's what it looks like: simply invite people to "ride-along" with you as you serve. It's really that simple. A major part of what drew me to the ministry was watching some great people like Dan Anders, Scott Lambert, LaJuana Gill, Linda Truschke, Ken Durham, Jeff Walling, Matt Soper, and others, up close. I sat in elders meetings with them. I was with them as they visited the sick. I watched how they planned and how they balanced family and ministry. I could ask them questions. It made a huge impact on me, and helped me get a real glimpse of what ministry looked like and how it could be done well. I realized that good church leaders were fallible, but had a vibrant walk with Christ. As a young preacher, I was blessed to get to know some older preachers who were willing to continue the mentoring process with me…albeit in an unstructured way. We are simply friends who talk ministry together—with me doing most of the listening. I continue seeking their wisdom to this day.
- One added bonus to such a mentoring system is that it removes some of the naivete that causes such a shell-shock when young ministers finally get out on the frontier. Those who have seen ministry up-close are less likely to be gravely shocked, disappointed, etc., and may be able to handle tricky situations with a bit more maturity.
- Once an organic mentoring program is in place, encourage, but allow space for emerging leaders to be who God has called them to be. The mentors I've had throughout my life have counseled and advised, but didn't try to clone me into their likeness. They felt it was important that I grow into the leader God wanted me to be. I'm quite different than all of my mentors, but their wisdom is very much a part of who I am. God has created each leader a bit differently. This is a beautiful thing.
Well, that's a start. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts.