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Steps to apprenticing new leaders

Every church needs more leaders! That never changes. There are a lot of reasons for that. It could be partly because the church is largely a volunteer organization. It could be because people gravitate more towards being ministered to than to ministering to others (so we are fighting human nature). It could be because our ministries are not exciting or don’t seem to be yielding fruit. It could be because our systems are better designed to burn people out than develop them. Those are all issues you may need to address.

There is one big mistake I see repeated over and over in churches that severely limits the number of leaders they can deploy. Too often, I see churches searching for leaders instead of developing them. I’ve been guilty of that. As we have looked for high-level leaders, at times I have looked at someone and determined that they just weren’t ready and passed them by, only to have someone else pour into them and suddenly they were accomplishing far more than I could have imagined. So many Pastors look around their congregations and say, “I just don’t have any leaders.” They see leaders as people that you recruit or invite instead of people that you develop. What I have learned is that we should develop widely and choose selectively. That doesn’t mean that you are spending a ton of time with a ton of people hoping one of them will develop into a leader. But it does mean that you are encouraging every leader at every level of the church to be developing someone. Everyone can pour into two or three, and if that is happening, great leaders will begin to emerge throughout your church.

Here are some keys to apprenticing great leaders throughout your church:

  • Have a plan for developing your current volunteers: It can be sending out a blog or a video every month, but training and developing your volunteers should be a priority. It is also helpful to ask for a response or have a conversation about the things you send out. If your team circles up before church, ask people to share what they got from the piece. Watch for who most often is excited about what they are getting from it. You may have found your leader for the next level. Also, pass on that monthly training/development to people that you believe would be great volunteers in your ministry. Ask them what they thought about it.

  • Task before title: A classic mistake that we make is that we see someone we think could have great leadership potential and we recruit them and hand them a job description. That often doesn’t go as well as we would hope. We are often disappointed. They seemed like a strong leader. They were very excited about the ministry. They said they would be happy to do the job description. How could it have fallen apart? There are a million factors involved in leading a ministry. Someone can be a great leader at their business and even be passionate about your ministry area, but they may end up being overwhelmed by certain aspects of the role. Some people are not prepared to be so discouraged by other church members. When you step into leadership, you see how the sausage is made. You see that people aren’t as committed as you hoped. You see that others on the team aren’t looking to improve the ministry. Things that you get paid to deal with at work where you lead can be way more frustrating in an environment where you expect everyone to be giving their best for Jesus - and you aren’t getting paid. Also, they may be very good at certain parts of the job, but fatally terrible at others. For instance, maybe they love making sure all their volunteers have what they need, but they don’t communicate well or they struggle to cast vision for how the ministry should be done. For these reasons, the concept of task before title is really important. You can ask someone to do certain tasks several times before you ever talk to them about accepting a title. If you need a director for your small groups ministry, you may ask a potential leader if they would be willing to survey the current group leaders to determine what their greatest needs are. You might ask if they would be willing to review a couple of curriculum sites and give you their breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses. Those two tasks hit on two very different skills. If you have continued to talk through training and development pieces with them and they are killing it on the tasks you have asked them to do, it might be time to talk “title.”

  • Use the five stages of leader development: Typically, once we have given someone a title and their up-front orientation, we release them into the wild and just ask for some reports from time to time. That’s a fantastic way to lose a leader in a short amount of time. Just because they have shown themselves capable and have seen and accepted the job description, it does not mean they are ready to take leadership of an area of ministry and know what to do in day-to-day scenarios. The five stages of developing a leader are a great way to do ongoing training and make sure they understand the “why” behind the things you’ve asked them to do.

  • I do, you watch, we talk about it.

  • I do, you help, we talk about it.

  • You do, I help, we talk about it.

  • You do, I watch, we talk about it.

  • You do, someone else watches.

This is a very relational way to develop leaders. In many cases, it will not cost you much more time than what you are already doing. If you are currently doing all the tasks of leading small groups, save that work for when you can be with your apprentice. If you are currently leading a children’s class because it has no leader, bring in those you hope to develop and have a conversation afterward. You will have to be somewhat intentional to line that up or it will never happen, but it will be well worth it. The thing I love about these 5 steps is how they resemble the way Jesus taught His disciples. How often did they watch Him and then there was a follow-up conversation? How often did He send them out to serve and then there was a follow-up conversation?

We can’t afford to be lax about this issue. Our world needs to see a rapid expansion of the Kingdom of God, but we are held back by a lack of leadership. Really, it is a lack of discipleship. This is such a key area of spiritual development for those that we lead. Let’s stop recruiting and start developing.

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