Few activities in ministry leadership carry more potential for both good and evil than assembling a team of people to lead with us. Ineffective leaders can bring an organization to its knees. Conversely, effective, tested leaders can spring a ministry forward like nothing else can.
This is not a new revelation. Yet, we often make decisions we later regret when choosing leaders. We let circumstances or pressures dictate our choices. We act out of a sense of obligation. We make trial-and-error assessments. The ramifications may not surface for years, but they will surface. Let me share from my own experience.
When our church first began meeting in 1990, I was determined to be accountable to others. Almost immediately, I structured a presbytery for external oversight, choosing respected ministry leaders who knew me well. Though I recognized organizing internal accountability in a new church would be tricky, I appointed a few men, most of whom I had known for only weeks, to form a makeshift financial committee.
Then something happened for which I was not prepared--church attendance began to swell. Within three months, our weekly attendance rate was nearly 200; within 24 months, attendance was up to 600. In response to the rapid growth and influx of finances, I pressed to set up more formal leadership within the church.
My plan was to install several deacons during the church's first two years. I wanted to show the local Christian community, whatever our growth rate, I was no dictator. The strategy produced the desired effect; but negative residual effects were manifold, and they manifested gradually.
Since I had not trained or prepared the new leaders, their tendency was to revert back to methods of leadership learned in their former churches. Everyone had different ideas about how to approach the work of the ministry, and the cacophony of opinions often touched off counterproductive disputes.
Further, I learned that several of those I had placed in leadership lacked the personal development their new roles demanded. Marital problems, financial strain and other personal difficulties cropped up in some of their lives. Often I spent more time helping these people out of jams than working with them in ministry.
Eventually, my leaders struggled to maintain relationship with me. I was no longer the wonderful, new pastor in town. Traits of mine once considered unique were now irritations. In the end, I was left with an inner circle plagued by competing motives, varying visions and weakened loyalty.
Today, our weekly church attendance is more than 5,000, and we successfully maintain both external and internal accountability. Some of our leaders from the early days are gone; others are still with us. Those who have remained have matured--as have I--and have proved they were called to lead from the beginning. But we have learned the fallacy of prematurely placing people in positions of authority.
We should utilize the Pauline letters and qualification lists to determine whether an individual meets biblical standards for leadership in ministry, but even when we believe a person meets the necessary requirements, we must be mindful of timing. Is this person properly seasoned for service?
Here are some questions to ask when considering whether it is time to install a leadership candidate: Does the individual demonstrate a consistent giving pattern? Has he or she consistently carried out assigned tasks? Does the individual ever pressure you concerning recognition for his or her successes? Would this person honestly serve the ministry for any length of time without a formal title?
My original desire to be internally accountable was honorable, but my effort to establish formal leadership right off the bat could have been disastrous. Take time to discover the people who love both you and the vision of your ministry enough to serve anonymously. Your decisions have eternal consequences. Don't rush!
B. Courtney McBath is pastor of Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk, Virginia, and founder of Calvary Alliance, a worldwide association of ministries. He is the author of Maximize Your Marriage (Creation House Press).