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February 13, 2017

Five Steps to Create a Leadership Development Culture in the Local Church


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Leadership development in the local church must be intentional. It doesn’t happen by itself or with just good intentions. It starts with creating a culture that fosters the development of all people for ministry. There are many definitions of culture, but Merriam-Webster offers a definition that relates well with what I hope to say here: “Culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” When leadership development is part of the culture of a local church it ceases to be just a “seasonal program” that some people go through. Rather, it becomes an important part of the church’s life and ministry.

The question that arises at this point is how do you that? How do you create a leadership development culture? Here are five basic steps that are important for creating a culture of leadership development for the local church. These steps will help you to start working in this important area of the local church’s life:

1. Define leadership.
There are so many different definitions of leadership around. You can search for “definition of leadership” in your browser and find a myriad of definitions. The first step to create a leadership development culture in your church is to do the hard work of defining leadership for your own ministry context. As you and your team work on defining leadership in your context, ask yourself these questions: What does a leader look like in our church? What does a leader do in our context? When you can answer these important questions you’re ready to move on. Responding to these questions will give you clarification on what it means to be a leader in your ministry context.

2. Hire a staff member to focus on leadership development.
Many local churches have staff members in charge of a lot of different ministries, but very few churches have someone in charge of leadership development. A church that values leadership development must be committed to invest all of the necessary resources to have someone on staff leading the way to equip the saints for the work of ministry at every level. Some people in the past have asked me if this should be the senior pastor. My response to this question is “no,” because when the senior pastor is wise enough to hire a different person to focus on this important area of ministry, it gives him or her the opportunity to take care of the many other needs of a local church. Pastors are very busy people and have a lot of different things on their plates, so having someone different in charge of this crucial ministry in the life of the church is the best way to go. In smaller churches where there are no resources to hire someone to do this work, you can always find a volunteer to help in this area. God will always send someone to help when we have the vision and commitment to focus on developing people for ministry.

3. Create a leadership development pathway.
Creating a leadership development pathway will give your church a vehicle to get everyone involved in the ministry. Having clear expectations of every member in the church is important. When you are creating a pathway you need to be clear about the different leadership levels the church needs to accomplish the vision. There needs to be a clear developmental process from the top executive team to the custodial team. Remember that a “one size” leadership development process DOES NOT fit all. The leadership development pathway needs to be uniquely defined and relevant to your own ministry context and vision. I understand that creating a leadership development pipeline uniquely designed for your own context and vision is difficult, but the investment is worth it. I know that it is easier to buy someone else’s program and start using it, but this won’t take you far. Do the hard work and create a leadership development pipeline and start using it, refining it at least once a year based on the needs of the church and the vision God is giving you.

4. Model leadership development at every level.
The values of the leaders become the values of the organization. Leadership development flows down, not up. When you are serious about creating a leadership development culture for the church, you need to live out the value of developing other people. Every staff member at every level needs to have someone they are investing in. Just like Moses had a Joshua, Elijah an Elisha, and Paul a Timothy, every single staff member or volunteer in every area needs to have someone they are apprenticing. Always remember that leadership development does not happen in isolation but in community. We need the community of believers to equip one another for ministry.

5. Get rid of all of the excuses.
When we have a lot of excuses we will never be able to accomplish anything in life. Again, creating a leadership development culture has to be intentional. If you think you don’t have time to develop leaders then it’s time to delegate some of your responsibilities and make the time to do it. Being busy is a golden opportunity for leadership development. If you don’t know how to develop leaders then it’s time to learn. If you think you have enough leaders then realize that this is a selfish mindset that will always hinder growth. If you think no one is ready to be developed remember that Moses wasn’t ready when God called him, and that Jesus searched for people who were willing. To live out the value of developing leaders for the work of ministry, and to model leadership development, you need to remove all of the excuses.

As a conclusion I want to offer five important questions that will get you on the right direction to creating a leadership development culture in the church:

  1. Do we have a definition of leadership?
  2. Do we have someone leading the charge of leadership development?
  3. Do we have a leadership development pathway uniquely designed for our own context and vision?
  4. Do we model the value of leadership development at every level?
  5. Do we have a lot excuses for not developing leaders as we should?
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