Discerning Emerging Leaders

In his book, From Followers to Leaders [Churchsmart Resources, 2008], Bob Logan referred to an extensive survey of churches who were asked the question: “What is your greatest need as a church?” There was no surprise that the number one answer was “leadership development.” Over the last three years, as I’ve gone through training in a number of Church consultancy processes, I’ve had the opportunity to meet any number of Church Consultants, all of whom have affirmed the finding: “Every church where I have facilitated has expressed the need for more leaders and more mature leaders.” Yet, as Logan writes, “most pastors and churches don’t yet have a clear path for developing leaders within their own congregations … [they] muddle through, patching together a plan as they go.”

Looking at the leadership development efforts in the local church, I’m often reminded of a delightful phrase coined by Eugene Peterson in a Leadership Journal article, Haphazardardly Intent. As churches muddle along, there is a vestige of leadership development that pops up from time to time accompanied by the happy surprise that a leader has emerged.

Aubrey Malphurs [Building Leaders, Baker Books, 2004] suggested a clarification that would begin to erase the “haphazard” from the  ”intention” to develop leaders. His solution was to define leadership development as “the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.” There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, but one point does stand out:

Leadership Development has to be seen in light of discipleship growth and maturity. When Leadership Development is viewed as a unique endeavor reserved for a select core of elite “chiefs” it becomes an appendix to congregational life, somewhat distant and disconnected. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave much room for such a distinction as he focuses the unified impact of apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers on one task: to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ v. 12.13]  Seeing this in holistic terms, and treating leadership development as a normal expression of the momentum in discipleship, probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But, it does require a different perspective where churches don’t begin their search for leaders until they’ve begun their process of raising disciples. It’s all a matter of intention and all part of a continuum.

In a study that continues to serve as a reference for me, Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber outlined the practice of the Ancient church as a deliberate and intentional process. Drawing specifically from The Apostolic Tradition [Hippolytus, 215 A.D.] Webber described four phases of spiritual growth and development: 1. a time for Christian inquiry – the seeker period; 2. A time of instruction, when the converting person was known as a hearer; 3. An intense period of spiritual preparation …; and 4. A time … for the new Christian to be incorporated into the full life of the church. The early church clearly identified four distinct steps of spiritual growth: Conversion, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual Formation, and Vocational Formation. Each step of the Journey, as Webber called it, defined the mission and message of the church. And, each step connected critical elements of character and spirit in a dynamic flow that was recognized and celebrated by whole congregations.

I suppose, then, that it’s no surprise to find similar patterns on leadership development being applied to the church in the 21st century. In their book, From Followers to Leaders, Robert Logan and Tara Miller recast the journey by using the term “path”: the path of leadership development: The path of faith [becoming a follower of Christ], the path of serving, growing and praying [Spiritual formation.] Before the last path [the path of multiplying: investing in others] are two paths where congregations seem to begin to get “muddled.”

The first, the path of developing, identifies emerging leaders [not to be confused by the term “emergent leaders”!] Emerging leaders are people who begin to take on new challenges and expanded roles of influence in ministry. According to Logan and Miller, as these people “come into their own” on the second path, the path of leading, where they find themselves in need of support and guidance. They need wisdom to “discover their gifts and call, and developing competence in ministry” in order to go on and lead groups and teams of others. The big question facing the “muddled” church is how to aid emerging leaders to discern their fitness for a future in ministry.

Answering that question alone can be a daunting challenge for a congregation. Fortunately, there are a number of agents available to aid churches. Books are being written and programs are being developed. There is an announcement in this newsletter of an exciting initiative being offered for the first time this Spring for the emerging leaders of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in the British Columbia and the Yukon: The Ministry Assessment Process for Emerging Leaders.

There are many and good materials available, but the burden of leadership development remains a matter of mission for the local church. And, for the local church, several critical questions need to be addressed for success:

  1. Is there a distinct understanding that their fellowship is the culture that God has chosen to raise up leaders?
  2. Is there a clear sense of process given to each stage of spiritual growth? Is it communicated in such a way that everyone knows this to be their shared journey in faith? And does the fellowship celebrate with those who are making progress down the path in a meaningful way?
  3. Are the proper resources attached to each phase of spiritual development?

Do church leaders have a way to identify people as they move through the stages so that they can provide proper encouragement and support?