Tips for Developing Church Leadership

Tips for Developing Church Leadership

by Rudy Mitchell and Steve Daman

Starting a new church, but short on leaders?

A few years ago, we interviewed a number of Greater Boston’s church planters to ask how they were developing new leaders for their churches. Here are some of their tips for raising new leaders.

1. Pray first. While you might be thinking you need people with particular skills, what you really need are people with spiritual maturity and Christ-like character. These foundational qualities take time to develop and time to discern. Lining up leadership should not be rushed. Do what Jesus did before he chose his team. Get up on the mountain and pray.

2. Examine and test. You don’t want to rush into appointing someone as a leader until you have thoughtfully and prayerfully assessed their potential and discovered their passion. To get there, you’ll need sufficient face time to begin to listen to their hearts.

  • Motives: Ask them to tell you their story about their calling to serve Christ and his church, and see if you can discern their motives for accepting a leadership role.
  • Beliefs: Are their beliefs sound and consistent with Scripture and with the church’s vision?
  • Character: Are they teachable? Faithful? Humble? Do they love Jesus?
  • Skills: Talk openly about the candidate’s strengths and potentials, but also weaknesses and limits. (You might go first in this one.)
  • Vision: Ask them about their vision for the position and brainstorm together what it might look like for them to take leadership over a particular ministry. See how that conversation goes.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to implement this type of assessment as it may save both you and the candidate much pain and difficulty if, in fact, it turns out they are not the right person for the job. For scriptural precedent on testing, read 2 Corinthians 13.

3. Make disciples. Developing leaders can look exactly like making disciples.

  • Replicate yourself: Move beyond the rigid supervisor/supervisee relationship and consider that your goal is to replicate yourself, to pass the torch to others who can learn to do the work even better than you do.
  • Spend time together: Training, discipling and mentoring require that you and the emerging leader spend time together and become part of each other’s lives in a deep and meaningful way.
  • Lean in: Lean in to the relational aspect of leadership development. Make yourself available. Listen well. From listening will grow understanding, spontaneous prayer, love, and maturity.
  • Huddle up: Add a regular Bible study time with your mentee with an eye toward applying what you learn reflecting on Scripture to ministry and life situations. This kind of intentional discipling can be one-on-one or in small huddles of three or more.
  • Grow yourself: With humility, remember that iron sharpens iron, and through this relationship, you’ll be changing and growing, too.

4. Learn together. Add to the essential, relational side of leadership development some formal training and exploration. Look for opportunities to gain knowledge and insight together.

  • Create training opportunities: Learning can happen in regular leadership meetings, special training sessions, or on retreats. Listening, vision casting, and discussion can all help.
  • Pick resources: Choose books or articles, and maybe online resources or video series that your team can study and discuss.
  • Flex scheduling: If team members seem too busy or have conflicting schedules, you might be able to provide some training through virtual online meetings, one-on-one or in groups.
  • Back to school: See what’s available at local Christian colleges, Bible institutes, and seminaries. Encourage your emerging leaders to pursue and gain academic credentials along with practical knowledge. The learning and the credentials may open doors for them for even more effective ministry.

5. Do and reflect. When it comes to raising up leaders, nothing can substitute for hands-on-experience and on-the-job training. Perhaps your church or ministry can offer internships, residency, or apprenticeship training. In the same way that Jesus’ disciples watched and followed, listened and asked questions, and then were sent out, follow that pattern.

  • Show and send: After instruction in and modeling specific skills in real life ministry with your mentees along for the ride, start delegating responsibilities and monitor how it goes. Let them lead a small group, or teach a lesson, or get out and get dirty serving.
  • Reflect and send again: Observe, supervise, and coach. Give feedback. Reflect together what happened. Pray together. Send them out again.

A couple final hints:

  • Articulate roles and responsibilities: Make sure the new leaders can articulate back to you their responsibilities and what they are accountable for so that your expectations and theirs are always in sync.
  • Shepherd their hearts: Periodically discern if the leaders find joy and fulfillment not only in doing the work of ministry, but in learning to do it better.

SOURCE: In 2014, the Emmanuel Gospel Center’s Applied Research team completed 41 in-depth interviews with Boston area church planters of various denominations, ethnic groups, and church planting networks. This article was derived largely from responses given by these church planters regarding their own practice and view of leadership development, with added insights from the EGC Applied Research team.


Connect with church planters: Visit the Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative.