Wondering how to implement a healthy leadership development strategy?
I recently asked Eric Geiger, who leads the resources division at Lifeway and pastors ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN, to talk with one of my coaching networks about how churches can better develop leaders. He gave me permission to share a portion of that interview with my online readers. Here were some of the highlights:
TONY: What are some of the key components of a healthy leadership development strategy?
ERIC: First off, we have a belief that no one should outpace us — the Church — at developing and deploying leaders, not just inside the walls of the actual church, but also in the community. We should be the absolute best at this. No one has the mission that we have. No one is promised that their organization is going to last forever. Ours lasts forever.
Kevin Peck, my co-author of Designed to Lead, and I have had 10 years of conversations with churches that do leadership development well. We came up with three consistent components, which we unpack in the book: Conviction, Culture and Constructs.
A lot of churches would say they have a conviction for leadership development, but they don’t really have a conviction for leadership development.
If a church can function without really developing leaders for a sustained period of time, then you need to own it: Leadership development is not a strong conviction in that church. When that’s the case, the starting point is not going to be a construct to implement. It’s going to be doing some soul-searching on whether or not you really believe that leadership development is a mandate for the body of Christ.
And we do. Ephesians 4:11-13 says the goal for us as ministry leaders is not to do ministry, but to develop other people for ministry. It’s not to perform tasks, but to prepare others.
The second key component is culture. An unhealthy culture will reject a leadership development construct. The two work together in a cycle that feeds each other.
You need a culture that values that the “professionals” are not the only ones who do ministry. A culture that believes that everybody is gifted. A culture that celebrates when leaders are developed for outside the church.
Lastly, there are constructs, a way to view and have healthy systems, like a leadership development pipeline, for example. A way to say, “Here’s how we develop leaders around here. Here are the competencies we train for along the pipeline.” It doesn’t have to be complicated. Look at your existing ministry, and look at the layers you already have. Who oversees the greeting volunteers, for example? You probably already have the foundations of a pipeline in place.
And then look at the competencies along those layers. What do we expect? What do we want to see happen in somebody’s life here? How are we going to train for those? A strategic leader can spend a day and map out a pipeline. It won’t be perfect; it will get changed. But you can start executing something, as opposed to spending three years trying to build a pipeline that you never even start executing.
TONY: Do you have a sense of which of those three is the most challenging, or most neglected, for church leaders?
ERIC: I think oftentimes the temptation is to skip over conviction. But then there are others who have a strong conviction, but they view constructs as unspiritual, and so they’ll reject constructs and wonder why they can’t scale. You have to have constructs to scale. I think the most common, though, is not truly having as strong of a conviction as we think we do.
TONY: How do you implement a strategy for leadership development without creating a new program?
ERIC: A lot of people get excited about a value — whether it’s prayer, or evangelism, or leadership development or missions — and they’ll immediately think the only way to prove they really value it is to create an associated program for it. And that’s how things get cluttered. We think, “If I don’t have a night on the week assigned to this, I don’t really value it.” It comes down to wanting this to be a value embedded in the culture more than a program that people attend.
So, for some practical ways to really implement it, it comes down to the constructs:
Is there a leadership development framework that every area can agree on?
The kids ministry, the guest services ministry, the groups ministry, the student ministry… there should be a common nomenclature. For example, in every area at my church, we call it “coaches” or “directors.”
How do we use our existing programs for our leadership development pipeline?
Going a step further, there should be common competencies you’re looking for in your context. We want discipleship to mean this, and stewardship to mean this, and leadership development to mean this. If it looks the same across ministries, that’s better than a program. You then use your already existing programs to develop people instead of adding something new.
TONY: How do you identify leadership potential in people?
ERIC: Paul says start with the faithful who will be able, not the able who will be faithful. There’s a fundamental difference in that kind of thinking. Start with the heart, with someone’s faithfulness to the Lord. But for something practical: Never, ever rely on announcements. You have to do the hard work for sitting down with people, sharing the vision, inviting them to be a part. That’s the absolute best way to recruit.