If you’re looking for leaders, there are two ways to get them: you can collect them or you can create them.
Some leaders collect other leaders. In other words, they recruit already-existing leaders and call them into the mission. My son’s high school hired a new football coach last year – a former NFL player. He immediately tapped his existing network of former teammates to serve as assistant coaches. He now has the most credible coaching staff in the state.
When you’re starting something from scratch – whether a football program or a church plant – you generally have to be able to collect at least a few existing leaders. But if all you do is collect other leaders, your potential for growth and impact will be limited.
Furthermore, in church planting, the problem with collecting leaders is that you can lose them just as quickly. Leaders tend to be attracted to other leaders – but they also tend to have their own agendas, aspirations, and assumptions. If you fail to sponsor their agenda or embrace their aspirations or honor their assumptions, they will soon move on to follow another leader more to their liking.
The best way to generate long-term impact, build a movement, and honor God’s work in the lives of people is to create leaders. Creating leaders requires identifying leadership potential in people; calling that potential into action; giving them opportunities to try and fail and grow; providing regular and honest feedback; and moving them into greater and greater ownership. This is harder, slower, longer-term work. But it’s also more rewarding. Every leader I know remembers the mentor who believed in him, who called him toward leadership, and who walked alongside him as he “grew up” into leadership.
A healthy church needs to both collect and create leaders, but the creating should outweigh the collecting. Which means the leaders you do collect should be the kind of leaders who love to create other leaders. If the leaders you collect are leader-collectors but not leader-creators, what you end up with is a mutual admiration society – a fan club – but not a movement. You can always tell a church like this because it’s usually plateaued. It’s collected some good existing leaders, and they admire one another. But they’re not building any new leaders. On the surface, it seems to have a culture of leadership; but in reality, it has a culture of territorialism. The leaders it’s collected are protective of their areas of ministry (which, not surprisingly, generally align with their agendas and assumptions). They’re not giving those areas away to new leaders.
By contrast, a church that is creating leaders will have an ethos that is: 1) messy – because lots of young leaders are getting lots of chances to make mistakes; 2) direct – because honest feedback is critical to leadership development; and 3) gracious – because as up-and-coming leaders are trying and failing, they need the good news of the gospel to free them from pride and fear and self-concern.
If you’re a leader, here are some questions for reflection:
- What leaders around me have I collected (they were already leaders before they got here)?
- What leaders around me have I created (they weren’t leaders but became leaders while they were here)?
- What opportunities are there in our context for not-yet-leaders to take risks, embrace their potential, and grow into leaders?