When I travel conducting my seminars, I often meet young leaders who are ambitious (in a good way) for leadership responsibilities (I Timothy 3:1.) At the same time, they are frustrated because they don’t get the opportunities they would like. Also, I constantly hear from older leaders that they increasingly realize the need to focus on developing the next generation of leaders before the entire leadership team at their church is 60 and older with not a 20-something in sight.
Today is the first of a two-part blog on raising up the next generation of leaders. Part two will come on Tuesday of next week.
We are encouraged by Jesus in Matthew 9:36,37 to pray for workers (leaders) for the harvest. In Acts 1:24 the eleven prayed, asking the Lord to show them which one he had chosen to take Judas’ place. We need wisdom, and a good dose of God’s guidance, to pick the right people for leadership. Everywhere I’ve gone over my 45 years of ministry I pray to be able to find those to invest in as leaders. Pray earnestly that the Lord of the harvest will raise up leaders in your context.
2. Look around you
Some of the very leaders you are looking for are right in front of you. Ask the Lord for eyes to see them, to be able to discern potential in those you see every week. Look for faithful, dependable types who have the ability and desire to pass onto others what they get from you (2 Timothy 2:2). Don’t look for perfection, but for hunger and raw talent.
3. Set them up for success with clarity on responsibilities, authority and expectations
I've discovered through the years that people do much better at any responsibility when they have clarity on what you have asked them to do (a written job description), what authority they have to make different kinds of decisions (spend money, choose curricula and select people), and what expectations you have for them in that particular role. When placing a person in a role, most leaders have something in mind that they're expecting to see, but they often don’t express those expectations up front. Clarity is a huge motivator and morale builder.
4. Give them small tasks to develop confidence, competence and faithfulness
Luke 16:10 tells us that people who are faithful in small things will also be faithful in bigger things. Bobby Clinton, Professor of Leadership at Fuller Seminar and author of “The Making of A Leader” (a must-read for all leaders in my opinion), calls this the “Big Little Principle.” Give them a small task or responsibility. If they do well and show good character in doing it, add something more; incremental responsibility. When they consistently do well and exhibit good habits of follow-through, discipline and a positive attitude, you can see how they do in being responsible for another person’s work. You have now moved them from worker to supervisor. Take them as far as their gifts and capacity will allow. This principle is practiced in business, in sports and it will work in the church. This is better than throwing them in the deep end of the pool and hoping they swim.
5. Build a small group
I have found it very productive to take a few promising leaders and have a weekly group with them, working through leadership material and ideas. You get to observe them closely, see how they interface and interact with others, listen to how they pray and get a sense of their hunger to grow, learn and apply what they're receiving. You could consider studying through a book of the Bible, such as 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy or Nehemiah, or reading a leadership book and discussing it. Make sure there is lots of interaction and the group doesn’t become a teaching venue for you.
6. Help them discover their gifts and passion
We are a body, a family and a team (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12). Different people have different gifting, capacity and passions. It’s good to help potential leaders discover how God has wired them. Some are very administratively oriented, others are great communicators, and still others have excellent skills in technology. They can learn about who they are by different inventories, through experimentation, and by feedback from others who know them well and have observed them in action.
There is a post on my blog titled “Staying in your gift zone, but getting out of your comfort zone” which is helpful in creating a leadership development pathway that is gift- rather than need-based. This is not to say that a person never does anything outside of their gift zone; but, more, that they spend most of their time doing what they are best suited for. Marcus Buckingham says that “The best of their job should be the most of their job.”