How to transition from attracting followers to reproducing leaders
Have you paused to consider that you’re pastoring the first generation in history that doesn’t need leaders to get information? When you see your folks on Sunday, many have been online, finding all kinds of other pastors, authors and zealots and obtaining all sorts of information. Even though people no longer need us for information, they do need us for interpretation as we help them navigate the barrage of information they consume each week.
My concern is that we, the leaders of the church, have either misunderstood the biblical idea of leadership or we’ve dismissed it as “secular” or “fleshly.” We’ve read the Bible with a “follow-ship” bias and missed the call from God across the Old and New Testaments to lead.
Look again at the book of Genesis, where we read familiar words: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.” Just what does that mean? We receive a clue to a part of its meaning in the next phrase: “and let them rule”
(Gen. 1:26, NIV).
To be made in God’s image is to be given the capacity to lead and rule. God is the ultimate leader over creation, and He’s delegated a portion of it to us. From the beginning, we’ve been called to lead. In fact, most of history is the story of people pursuing and perverting this calling, from Nero to Stalin to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. But those counterfeits remind us: There must be something real about the call to lead.
We have made it about titles and positions when it’s really about positively influencing others. Jesus never held an official position. He laid aside His divine rights (see Phil. 2:5-8) and influenced through serving (see Matt. 20:25). His approach to life and to people moved others to follow Him. Good leaders leverage their influence for a kingdom cause.
In one of Jesus’ earliest calls to His disciples, He said, “Follow Me, ... and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). He meant, if you stay with Me long enough, I’ll transform you into an influencer of people. Mature believers are not only followers of God, but leaders of men.
I began serving as a pastor in 1979. At the time I knew nothing about leadership. In fact, it wasn’t even a category in my mind. I just loved God, the Word and the people. Along the way, my idealistic assumptions about people evaporated. While those folks claimed to love God too, they weren’t easy to lead. In fact, you might say they acted like “sheep without a shepherd.”
Sadly, their shepherd knew little about leading. It wasn’t until I went on staff with John C. Maxwell in 1983 that I began to see the significance of this issue. I witnessed the power of combining a Spirit-filled, Bible-believing church family with a secure, visionary leader. What an amazing combination.
From that point on, I wanted to follow Jesus more closely and learn to lead more effectively. In four years, my college department grew from an average of 60 students on Sunday to more than 600 students. I don’t think it’s because my teaching and preaching got any better or God suddenly smiled on us, but because I learned to lead and to reproduce other leaders.
One of the deepest needs in the church today is for healthy, effective, life-giving leaders who multiply other leaders along the way. I’ve committed my life to developing a new generation of leaders. Will you join me?
Tim Elmore is founder and president of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit organization that develops emerging leaders. A graduate of Oral Roberts University, he has written more than 20 books, including the best-selling Habitudes.
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