Leadership does not begin with a title or position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are about your own. — Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak1
Leadership means risk. One of the most significant risks a leader takes is choosing future leaders. While we’ve all experienced incompetent or unhelpful leaders, we’ve also experienced mature, generous, and compassionate leaders—the kind of leaders we want to emulate. And multiply.
Having a good understanding of what you’re looking for in a leader can help you raise up strong leaders and minimize risk to your church.
Where to start
As you consider who’s ready for leadership training, begin by reminding yourself of the goal: you’re not aiming to do all the ministry yourself; you’re equipping the saints for ministry. Be prepared to entrust ministry to others—and to let go of it yourself. And as you get started, pray often that God will bring the right people to mind at the right time.
Then, look over your list of current volunteers. Using Andy Crouch’s definition of leadership at the beginning of this post, who’s already leading in your church? Who’s already serving faithfully? Those who are faithful with little will probably be faithful with more (Luke 16:10).
From there, look at people on the margins with potential to serve. Maybe there’s a new couple that previously led college ministry. Or maybe a teacher wants to start a special needs ministry. If you think these folks have the right heart to become leaders in your church, you can give them a trial run by asking them to help with specific short-term projects. For example, you could ask the couple that loves college ministry to mentor a student in your church, or you could ask the teacher to organize an appreciation dinner for families with children who have special needs. Then, once they’ve proven they’ll follow through, you can start tapping them for leadership development and other ministry opportunities.
Qualities of a leader
- Conviction. When thinking of people who will have leadership responsibility at your church, you want to ensure they agree with the main points of your theology and ministry philosophy. They probably won’t need to argue the finer points of your church’s doctrine, and you can train anything they should know. But you will want to make sure they’re walking closely with God, growing in their faith, and loving the people in your community.
- Character. As Larry Osborne says, “Whenever a staff member’s giftedness and platform surpass their character, it eventually creates disillusionment and cynicism among those they work with. It also tends to create festering jealousies and division among the rest of the staff, especially among those who become frustrated and disheartened by all the success and public praise they see heaped on someone they know is actually a jerk behind the scenes.” While he’s talking about church staff specifically, it’s true for everyone in leadership. Look for people who are the same during the week as they are on Sundays, who earn your respect, and who deal fairly and generously with others without watering down truth.
- Competency. It’s a no-brainer: don’t put your super artsy, left-brained thinker in charge of finances and spreadsheets. You want the right people in charge of the right things because that’s where they’ll thrive. As Romans 12:6 teaches, God has given each of us different gifts all for the same purpose: to make the body of Christ flourish. Matching each person’s gifts to essential ministry opportunities in your church gives potential leaders confidence that God can and will use them in his kingdom.
- Chemistry. When considering someone for leadership, think about how that person will fit in with your existing leaders. Do they bring something new to the table? Do their gifts complement the gifts of others on the team? Are they enjoyable to work with? Are they overly negative or yes-men/yes-women? If those on your leadership team are too similar to one another, you’ll miss opportunities for growth that comes from introducing new ideas and perspectives.
- Capacity. As you’re training people for specific leadership roles, consider whether they have time and energy to give to their areas of leadership. If someone can’t lead now, you can set occasional reminders to check in with them to see if they’re ready to start leading.
And while it’s implied in the characteristics above, always look for people who are teachable and servant-hearted.
Learn more about how to effectively identify, train, and empower leaders for ministry in your church with our free guide.