Churches are always needing more leaders to help lead key areas. This means that developing leaders in the church is a core part of a senior leaders role. If this is an ad-hoc and erratic process, then the results won’t be great. But if a church develops a leadership pipeline – a system for identifying and developing leaders – then it will be strengthened beyond measure.
What is a leadership pipeline?
Simply put, it’s a map of the process for developing leaders in your church of every level.
This pathway will provide a guide and structure to maximise the growth of leaders, from the earliest and easiest role to pastoral leadership or eldership. By investing in people, the goal is that they will be equipped and deployed into the ministry they are called to.
The benefits of developing leaders in the church through this kind of pipeline are clear:
- Clarity of leadership development steps
- Facilitates easier leadership succession planning
- Provides a natural place for coaching and discipleship
- Ministry expansion supported with more available leaders
So how do you develop such leadership pipeline in your church? What steps can you take in developing leaders in your church? Here are some steps to consider:
Jesus sat up all night praying before choosing his leaders. If it’s good enough for the Son of God, it should be good enough for us. Asking God to give us eyes to see people how he sees us will change our perspective on some individuals, meaning we may pursue some people we originally wouldn’t have considered!
At what point in the leadership pipeline does someone ‘graduate?’ What makes a leader? Without defining that, it is impossible to know if your leadership development process is successful or not. What character, skills, attitudes, values and abilities do you want your leaders to develop?
Don’t just develop leaders for one level of church life, such as small group leaders. What about area leaders, deacons or even senior leadership team members and elders? Don’t aim your sights too low, otherwise, you’ll find that you have many ‘low-level’ leaders and not as many ‘high-level’ leaders, which will lead to a crisis at some point. So consider different leadership levels such as:
- People learning to lead themselves, which means serving and participating in groups and ministries
- Those who will lead people
- Leaders who will lead leaders
- Those who will lead leaders who are leading leaders
Faithfulness and consistency are arguably more important than gifting or charisma. As faithfulness and effectiveness – not one or the other – reveal themselves through someones work, it could be that they take on more responsibility and authority.
You don’t want to spend time launching something, only to find out that other key leaders aren’t fully behind or convinced about it. Make sure others are brought into the planning process. It’s easier to change course before you set out on a journey.
Who else is will be involved in the discipling and training of leaders? I’ve found that if only one person conducts the teaching and training, a certain style of leader – identical or similar to the trainer – will thrive. Other people not of that style will be dismissed because they don’t fit a predetermined mould, or others will try to change who they are to fit in with what could be considered the ‘right’ way of leading. We need variety and diversity in our leaders – there is more than one style of leadership in the church!
It’s best to recruit and develop leaders within the skillset and arena you best function and are most gifted in. Let worship leaders develop musicians, teachers develop teachers, prophets develop prophets, evangelists develop evangelists, and so on.
Traits in potential leaders to keep an eye on include:
- A servant heart – no airs or graces, happy to help out however is needed.
- Teachability – open to learning and receive input.
- Willingness – they want to step up in responsibility and lead!
- People skills – they are likeable, and people listen to them
Sometimes people will step forward and volunteer themselves. Others may need a personal request and invitation. This isn’t a bad thing – it can be a matter of confidence, which will grow as they learn and lead over time.
A temptation for many church leaders is that we like to teach! We gather a room, pull out the Bible, and open up the scriptures with great biblical teaching about leadership. The problem is, that on its own, teaching from scripture doesn’t actually develop leaders!
Make sure your church leadership pipeline has hands-on, practical training. Develop peoples hands (skills), not just their head (knowledge) and heart (character).
Some suggested areas of equipping would be:
- Scripture – biblical principles for kingdom leadership
- Strategic thinking – planning, implementing and reviewing
- Systems and structure – time management, team-building, building culture
- Skills – conflict resolution, coaching, listening skills
Leaders need to lead. In fact, if they aren’t leading something, are they actually leading?
Think of your own journey. I bet you learnt the most by actually leading things – and even making mistakes! Of course, teach principles and truth, but don’t forsake opportunities and feedback. Without actually empowering those you are looking to develop, you’ll never have leaders – just well-taught members.
Consider peoples passions, gifts, skills and aptitudes. Then release them into the best fit for them!
It’s one thing to equip and train leaders, but to really develop leaders in the church, you need to coach them. This is part of discipleship and is the only way people will improve in aspects they need to – whether that is character, skills, knowledge or understanding. This step can’t be sidestepped or shortcut. Coaching, challenging, encouraging and correcting is part and parcel of seeing people learn and grow.
I’ve written about the importance of review before – it is key for seeing improvement and growth. So ongoing evaluation and change are important to ensure you are succeeding in the ways you want to succeed. Getting feedback from participants is especially crucial – don’t think you have the best perspective because you only see things from one angle.
Developing leaders in the church is costly in energy and time, but incredibly rewarding. These steps will help you build a leadership pipeline that is a manageable and effective system for identifying, equipping and releasing people into roles that will see them grow in God and in themselves.
To find out how I help churches like yours with their leadership development pipelines, and other challenges, click here.