Pastor Bill Hybels once said that Christ’s church is the hope of the world, and leadership is the hope of the church. In light of this, we discover that the reason so many churches are struggling in North America and beyond results from poor or nonexistent leadership.
So, what can we do about this? The obvious answer is for our churches and parachurch ministries to develop leaders. We are all aware of how to NOT develop leaders, but we want to focus on how we can be successful at developing strong church leaders.
As the Malphurs Group provides church vision consulting and leadership coaching to church leaders around the globe, we always make sure to address a church’s leadership development process. Today it would be called a leadership pipeline and consists of steps and competencies. Taking time for developing strong church leaders is integral to the long-term viability of your church. The steps below can help you begin your process towards stronger leadership within your church.
11 Steps for Developing Strong Church Leaders
1. Bathe your leadership development process in prayer.
Pray. Ask God to raise up leaders in your church, to give you wisdom on selecting leaders, and to help you train them well.
2. Determine if the empowered leadership (elders, deacons, administrative councils, families, staff, etc.) support the leadership process.
If you are going to take the time and effort to build into leaders and create a leadership pipeline, you need to ensure that the key players are on board as well. Make sure this step happens early in the process, because you are unlikely to succeed without support and unity from the top.
3. Decide who will initiate, support and lead the development process.
You need a point-person to steer the ship. If you’re leading a church, the pastor will likely be the key director of the process (In larger churches, the executive pastor or adult ministries pastor will frequently manage the process). If you’re a parachurch ministry, the CEO or President will be the figurehead. This person will be your leadership cheerleader. They will be the person to set the vision for leadership development and make sure all steps lead your group towards a strong leadership development process.
4. Arrive at a consensus definition of leadership.
Is everyone on the same page regarding your definition of “leadership” and what it entails? If you don’t define a leader and leadership, how can you know if you’re accomplishing your goal of developing leaders?
So who is a leader? My definition of a leader is: a godly servant (character) who knows where he/she is going (mission and vision), and has followers (influence). What’s your definition? And how does that affect your approach to leadership development?
5. Identify the various leadership levels in your church or ministry and determine how you’ll develop the leaders at each level.
By breaking down the leadership levels, you will set the groundwork for knowing where you need leaders, where you need to train leaders, and how you can build into already-existing leaders to make your leadership pipeline stronger.
6. Determine who will actually develop leaders.
At least initially, the answer most churches arrive at is the lead pastor and staff. You want to make sure you have healthy church leaders and you need to decide who will begin the development process (especially if you do not have much leadership development going on currently).
You want to make sure you create a culture of equipping and training among your staff and leadership. Allowing your staff to build into those around them will create momentum and energy that gives each leader an opportunity to make an even bigger impact.
7. Recruit new and emergent leaders for development.
I encourage staff to begin by recruiting and developing leaders within their area of ministry expertise. If you’re a worship leader, then develop the people who are attracted to your ministry, such as musicians, sound people, etc.
Look for individuals who have expressed interest in leading, helping out, and serving in any capacity. Some individuals will let you know directly that they are ready to lead. Others you will have to recruit and make the effort to invite into leadership. Some times of people need the personal invite or nudge to step into a leadership position. Your vote of confidence by recruiting them is the first step towards developing them as a leader.
8. Deploy the new leaders into their positions of leadership.
Now that you have individuals wanting to lead, you need to determine where they fit best within your various ministries. Where can they lead strongly and how do you get them into those ministries? Do you know what their interests, passions, and gifts are? If they are uncertain, coach them through a process of understanding where the Lord has given them unique talents and abilities, then connect them to the right ministries!
9. Develop the new and emergent leaders for their ministries in the church.
This becomes the most important part of the process, as it involves training your leaders in the areas of character, knowledge, skills, emotions, and the physical aspects of development. Creating a clear leadership development process gives you the ability to build into your leaders, equip them, and release them to lead others.
10. Regularly evaluate your leadership development process.
Every system requires frequent evaluation and critique. Ask yourself if you’re recruiting and developing leaders well. How is the process going? What do your leaders and leaders-in-training say about the process? Take a pulse of how people are doing and adjust your process when needed. They say that “the proof is in the pudding.” So how’s the pudding doing? How strong and widespread are your leaders? Are you developing leaders, leaders of leaders, or developers of leaders? (or all of the above)
11. Regularly reward those in the leader-development process.
Leadership development is rewarding, but it also has it’s challenges. Make sure you are celebrating milestones and successes along the way. Take the opportunity to celebrate with those who are being trained, those who are training, and those who are leading well. Rewards can be as simple as verbal affirmation and praise, but can also be through gifts, a leadership banquet, social events, or highlighting a person’s perspective of the leadership development process publicly or privately.
No matter what point you are at for these steps for developing strong church leaders, take the time to evaluate how you are doing on developing your leaders within your church. The ministry in the church is not just for the pastors. Having a strong leadership development plan and leadership pipeline will allow you to utilize the giftings of those within your church, allow staff and other leaders to focus more on their specific ministry tasks, and create a synergy of service and leadership within your church that extends throughout the entire congregation.
Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is the Founder and Visionary Leader of the Malphurs Group (a church consulting firm) and the Senior Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. He frequently writes on Pastoral Ministry, Church Leadership Development, Strategy, and Vision and also serves churches and denominations as a Consultant and Speaker (The Malphurs Group church consulting team also provides Leadership Coaching and Sunday Secret Shopper Consultations). He is also a husband, father, grandfather, fisherman, and a diehard Florida Gator fan. | @amalphurs | website