Friday, May 12, 2006

Launching People Into Leadership

When I was in college, I went to a church with a fantastic small group ministry. In fact, I would have to say that my love for discipleship started there. The teaching and community at that church rooted me firmly in the Scriptures, and I gained a strong understanding of the purpose and role of the church. I will always be grateful for that church and its leadership.

But I have a bone to pick with their leadership development process.

There always seemed to be a need for leaders, but it was ridiculously hard to become a leader. Here's my story. I grew up in the church and in Southern Baptist Sunday School (which I have discovered offers more Bible teaching to 5-year olds than some seminaries offer to MDiv candidtates). I put my faith in Christ at the age of 6 and was baptized when I was 12. I worked as a counselor at a Christian youth camp and I was an intern at my church's youth group. Granted, like all of us, I definitely I had (have) lots of things that God needs to work out in my life. But it took me 3 years to become a small group leader at this church.

Here were some of the problems I encountered:

Don't Ask, Don't Tell. At this particular church, leadership was elevated to such a high level that there was an unspoken rule that you had to be "tapped" to be a leader. In fact, any mention of being interested in leadership might come across as arrogance. Being asked to be a leader was almost as rare as the audible voice of God.

Passover. About 1.5 years into my time at this church, I heard the audible voice of my pastor asking me if I would ever be interested in small group leadership. I answered enthusiastically "yes," but was careful to not appear prideful. He seemed shocked. Which I still don't really understand. I was involved in everything and constantly offering to help with stuff. But then, I had to wait another 1.5 years before actually being able to lead. I was passed over twice for leadership. I never really understood why we couldn't start two new groups instead of just one. And I only actually assumed leadership by default when one of the leaders placed over me stopped coming to group.

Wandering in the Training Wilderness. Training to become a leader was always a moving target. Would it take 3 months? 6 months? One year? Two years? It kept changing. At one point, the training to become a leader took so long that a college student could potentially complete the training by graduation day, if he really applied himself.

I take leadership very seriously. And I take the Biblical requirements for leadership very seriously. All of our potential leaders go through a rigorous application, training, interview, and approval process. They are asked to sign our core beliefs and a leadership covenant, and they are ultimately approved by our Executive Leadership Team.

But we try to make entry into leadership as easy and quick as possible. In general, we like for people to be at NCC and involved in a group for a year before leading, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes, we have launched people into leadership after one semester. Other times, we have asked long-time NCCers to hold off on leading their group and get involved in a discipleship relationship with a leader first. But in general, we try to launch as many people into leadership as possible.

At my college church, discipleship was viewed as an activity that only a privileged and gifted set of people were qualified to do. That's not what Jesus said. Discipleship is an activity that every Christ follower should be involved in. We believe every person at NCC needs to be discipling others, and we want to encourage, equip, and empower them to do that.

Here are some ideas for launching people quickly:

Always Ask, Always Tell. Encourage your people to lead small groups. Ask them individually to lead groups. We even ask new Christians are encouraged to become "helpers" in our Alpha course. Create an environment where everyone is expected to share their faith and teach others what they know. Be on the lookout for how God has wired people and suggest to them how God could use them to help others grow in their faith. After all, that's what full-time ministry is supposed to be about (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Raise Up. Raise up leaders, don't pass over them. I am not advocating putting people into leadership before they are ready. The Bible strongly cautions against that, and we will be held responsible for placing people into leadership who are not ready. I am advocating that we put them on a path towards leadership. If there is someone with great leadership potential but they need to grow spiritually or deal with character issues, put them on their own path of discipleship to work on those things. When we have told people "no" at NCC, it is a conditional "no." We put a path before them and a timeline for reevaluating. This helps them grow. And it's the church doing what it's supposed to do.

Streamline Training. Make your training understandable and accessible. At NCC, we have a 3-hour training. I LOVE training. It's one of my favorite things to do. I would like to have a year-long training class for NCC leaders. But discipleship and leadership is not learned in the classroom; it's learned on the field. We have found that the best way to train is to get them started with a short introduction to discipleship- we talk about leading yourself well, discipling others, and how to lead a group-- and then put them into relationship with a coach (we call them zone leaders) who continue to disciple them and train them in leading their group. Don't make your training so overwhelming that people are intimidated.

This is a balancing act. Implementing an expedited leadership process can be risky, but we have found that it's a risk worth taking.


At 9:19 AM, Blogger Elaine B said...

Good stuff here. There is a lot of tension in the area of leadership regarding things like training, spiritual maturity, and just plain old pride: I think a lot of leaders are worried that expanding the leadership base makes them less important or necessary. But setting up a hierarchy of discipleship like NCC has (with the Zones, etc) is a great solution. A bit risky, of course, b/c a newbie leader will not always say or do the right thing. But I'm pretty sure God didn't want to design a foolproof church government/discipleship program.
It's great that you've been able to take away some lessons from an environment that didn't nurture your leadership.

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Hyla said...

Elaine, that's exactly it! We don't do or say the right thing, but I don't think God calls us to do and say the "right thing". I think He calls us to follow the right One and encourage others to follow the right One, too... the rest falls into place.
I love NCC's low-intimidation approach to leadership. I wouldn't have felt "good enough" in a lot of church environments, but here it just happened. That's not to say that church leadership should be loosey-goosey, but that accessibility of leaders and leadership is important, too. After all, discipling someone else leads the discipler to natural growth themself. (Is that a word? whatever)


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