Does Leadership Development Have a Place in the Church?

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The greatest leader and developer of men wore sandals and walked the sands of Galilee. Jesus spent three and a half years pouring his life into twelve men who would become the Apostles of the early church. These Apostles went on to wisely handle tough situations, delegate, define roles and responsibilities, unify large bodies of people, mentor others, communicate clearly, and cast vision — all in the power of the Spirit. It was Jesus who prepared them for this task.

Jesus showed us that being one of his disciples means more than just learning his teachings and living them out; it also includes influencing the thoughts and behaviors of others. While some are appointed to particular leadership roles, all must consider how to maximize their influence. All disciples are charged with making disciples, and disciple-making is not an easy thing. Disciple-making is a challenge made if one learns, understands, and applies basic leadership principles.

Leadership development is the intentional investment in growing the capacity of individuals to understand people; who they are, how they function, and what makes them click. Learning skills and practices that, when properly implemented, optimize the performance of the team.  The initial focus is inward on self, followed by an outward focus on others.  One must lead himself well before he can lead others well.

A well-led organization might be described as follows.  A vision for the future exists, is communicated, and is known by team members. Priorities are established.  Tasks are identified.  Responsibilities are assigned.  Accountability exists.  The right things get done.  A high level of trust prevails.  Everyone’s input counts.  People are inspired.  Team members commit.  Individuals grow.  Everyone is on the same page.  Healthy conflict is fostered.  Personal conflict is addressed.  Core values are known and lived.  The organization functions like a well-oiled machine.  How much more effective might your team be if this described it?

But achieving effective leadership doesn’t just happen, which is why leadership development is necessary.  The demand for effective leaders far exceeds the supply.  Some people are born leaders, and even those individuals have many opportunities for growth and improvement.  Others are not born leaders but have the potential to be great leaders if they are given the chance to learn and grow.  The solution to our leadership deficit is the intentional investment in growing and developing leaders.

But is it appropriate to apply church resources to leadership development?  Consider the following four examples.

MOSES: HIGHLY EDUCATED

Moses grew up as a member of Pharaoh’s household after being “rescued” from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter.  He likely spent much time in learning and development for future leadership roles as a member of the royal family.  Then, after killing an Egyptian, he fled to Midian where he spent forty years tending Jethro’s sheep.  No doubt God used these experiences in Egypt and Midian to prepare Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the threshold of Canaan.

JOSHUA: MENTORED

God appointed Joshua to succeed Moses and lead Israel into the Promised Land.  Moses filled some big shoes.  He carried a heavy load.  But Joshua wasn’t ignorant of what was involved in replacing Moses.  Joshua had served Moses prior to his appointment as Moses’ replacement.  No doubt, while there isn’t anything in Scripture that specifically states it, Moses sensed Joshua was God’s man for the future and invested in Joshua’s development as a leader. Joshua went on to lead Israel successfully.

THE TWELVE: DISCIPLED

Jesus relinquished the earthly leadership of the early church to His disciples when He ascended into heaven. What a tremendous responsibility they were given! But Jesus had prepared them well. He shared His vision. He taught them His guiding principles. He lived the life of a servant before them. He gave them assignments that afforded valuable experiences. Imagine the rich conversations they likely had sitting around a fire in the evening. On top of all of this preparatory work, they were filled with His Spirit to give them courage and to make their efforts truly effective. They were formed into useful tools and made useful by the hands of the Master.

TIMOTHY: TRAINED

Timothy, at Paul’s direction, assumed the crucial responsibility of ensuring pure teaching in the early church at Ephesus. No doubt, as Timothy accompanied Paul and Silas in their journeys, Paul invested heavily in Timothy’s leadership capacity to handle the challenges that he would face.

Are you still not convinced that leadership development belongs in the church?  Why not?  Leadership development is simply the applying of one’s self to do the best job possible leading an organization by learning and utilizing the most current knowledge, thinking, and practices available. Do we not owe God our best? After all, He has given us His best.

 Furthermore, fulfilling the Great Commission is often an organizational effort—a collection of individuals working together to reach people for Christ. The leader’s effectiveness impacts the fruitfulness of the ministry. Are we doing our best to bring people Jesus if we choose not to avail ourselves to the best applicable leadership knowledge, thinking, and practices that will enhance the effectiveness of our ministry?

Imagine the effectiveness of a ministry that is well-led and that has the presence and power of God on it. Achieving this level of leadership rarely just happens. It requires an intentional investment in the growth and development of people.

Is leadership training a substitute for the presence and power of God on our churches?  No. Absolutely not! After all the preparatory work Jesus had done with the disciples, He instructed them to tarry until they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Leadership training is, however, a useful tool, with ministry precedence, to optimize the efforts invested to reach people for Christ.

Todd Arnold
Todd Arnold
Todd Arnold earned a PhD in civil engineering from Penn State University and works as General Manager of Pine Test Equipment, Inc. in Grove City, PA. He lives in northwest PA with his wife, Abby, and their children, Erin and Drew.