Growing Leaders for Ministry in the 21st Century

Pastor and young man

I want to help pastors develop their emerging and current leaders for high-impact ministry in their churches. While this certainly includes staff, Ephesians 4:7–16 makes it clear that developing laity is key.

Consequently, the following general process is designed to help pastors craft a unique leadership-training approach for their ministry in general (a more specific, detailed process is in my book Building Leaders, Baker Book House, 2004), and their lay leaders in particular. As you read this article, ask how you might apply this material to your people in your unique situation.

The Definition of a Leader

What is your definition of a leader? Many write and talk about leadership today, but few clearly state what they mean when they use the terms leader and leadership. When people speak about leaders and growing leaders for the 21st century, what are they talking about? How can a pastor know when he has developed a leader if he does not have a definition? Thus, it is not practical to discuss leadership development without defining what or who it is pastors are attempting to develop. Here are some characteristics of godly leaders.

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1. Christian leaders are servants. Jesus specifically addresses servant leadership in Matthew 20:25,26 and John 13:1–17, where He defines a servant leader as one who humbly serves others based on his love for them.

2. Christian leaders are godly servants. This is in reference to their character. What most often distinguishes Christian from non-Christian leaders is character. Though many in the business world acknowledge the importance of character, godly character is the essential ingredient that qualifies Christians to lead others.

3. Believing leaders know where they are going. This involves the leader’s direction. Leaders need both a ministry mission and a ministry vision. The ministry mission is the church’s mission, which is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). The ministry vision is the church’s vision, which is a clear, compelling picture of what the church will look like as it accomplishes the Great Commission. All church leaders (board, staff and lay leaders) must be moving in the same biblical direction or there will be chaos.

4. Christian leaders have followers. Leadership implies followers. If a person has no followers, he is not a leader.

Developing Lay Leaders

To explore a process for developing lay leaders, pastors need to address at least three areas. The first area defines leadership development. The second examines the biblical guidelines for leadership training. The final area addresses the four core competencies of leadership training.

What Is Leadership Training?

Leadership development is the process of helping leaders at every level of leadership assess and develop their Christian character and acquire, reinforce and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.

As a process, leadership development is never-ending. This is because leaders are learners. When a leader stops learning, he stops leading.

Leadership development focuses on leaders at every level in ministry (whether one leads a team that voluntarily cleans the church every week or one sits on a church governing board) because all leaders in ministry need ongoing training.

Leadership development involves character assessment. Character assessment helps leaders know where they are in their personal character development and where they need to grow.

Leadership development includes acquiring new leadership knowledge and skills. Leaders need to continually assess and keep current with the leadership knowledge and skills required for their areas of ministry. This involves reinforcing present, valid leadership knowledge and skills.

Finally, leadership development includes refining existing leadership knowledge and skills. Leaders need to discard anything that is unbiblical or culturally irrelevant for ministry in the 21st century. This is easier said than done—especially with older leaders who have embraced the tried and true.

Biblical Guidelines for Training

Scripture provides principles to guide leadership training in all areas of ministry. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs leaders, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Scripture also provides numerous examples of trainers and those in training such as Jethro, Moses, Jesus, Paul, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, and Apollos.

The Bible, however, does not prescribe how leaders are to be developed. This means the Holy Spirit has left the process and structure up to each church as long as leadership development does not violate Scripture. Each ministry has the freedom to design a leadership-training process that is tailor-made for its leaders. A characteristic of churches that train leaders is the implementation of a development process. The structures may be different, but training takes place. In training, churches have a distinct advantage over seminaries—immediate application. The problem is, few churches are intentionally training leaders.

Four Core Leadership Competencies

The four leadership competencies are character, knowledge, skills and emotions. While good leaders are strong in these four areas, all leaders need to grow and develop these leadership competencies. Since no one will ever arrive at perfection in these areas, everyone must constantly strive to grow and develop in each as a leader. That is the mark of good, maturing leaders. They are consistently learning and growing spiritually, intellectually, experientially and emotionally.

More than 25 years ago, one of the first Army leadership-training manuals coined the expression that best summarizes the first three: “Be, know, do.” I would add a fourth—feel. Feel involves the emotions. All four areas deeply impact the kind of learning that must take place for leaders to be competent.

1. The Leader’s Character

Character reflects the heart and soul of the leader. Soul work develops the leader’s Christlikeness from core to crust. Psalm 78:72 says David shepherded (led) his people with “integrity of heart.” That is, character.

America in general and the church in particular are currently facing a leadership crisis. Howard Hendricks says that the great crisis in America today is a leadership crisis and the great crisis in leadership is a crisis of character. Leaders must be people of good character. Even the corporate world has begun to emphasize the importance of good character and servant leadership, especially since the fall of Enron and the Arthur Andersen Company. The problem in theological education is that character development is often assumed. Educators stress the importance of character development but only assume students are working in this area. This poor assumption has proved fatal for some of our top Christian leaders.

However, it is the character component—being—that lasts and demands a leader’s attention and development. The importance of character raises several key questions: Who must leaders be to lead effectively at each level of ministry? What are the character requirements for the various levels of leadership in the church (deacons, Sunday School teachers, ushers, greeters)? Who do people expect the leader to be? Scripture provides general character qualities.

First Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:6–9, and 1 Peter 5:2 provide the church with the characteristics of elders, who were equivalent to today’s pastors. First Timothy 3:8–13 provides the character qualities for deacons. In 2 Peter 1:3–9, Peter lists qualities for all Christians. Acts 6:3–5 provides some qualities for Early Church leaders, and Galatians 5:22-23 presents the fruit of the Spirit that should characterize all leaders regardless of their level of responsibility. Other necessary character qualities are found in 2 Timothy 2:2 such as competence, trustworthiness and teachability.

Teachability is vital. A lack of teachability is the potential leader’s cardinal sin. It quickly disqualifies one from leadership in any area because leaders must be learners. When they stop learning, they stop leading. If one is unteachable at the beginning, he is not leadership material. Some seminarians feel they can only learn from certain faculty—most often those who are recognized scholars in their fields. They turn a cold shoulder to the faculty who teach in the more practical areas. This attitude sends a clear message that this aspiring leader is not teachable, has a pride problem, and will likely crash and burn later in ministry.

Leader-trainers are encouraged to develop character audits to use with their trainees. I have developed two character audits for use in training leaders at the seminary and church level. It is based on the character qualities in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. The female leadership audit is based on 1 Timothy 2:9,10; 3:11; Titus 2:3–5; and 1 Peter 3:1–4. It is in Appendix J of my book, Being Leaders. Leader-trainers may find these audits helpful in assessing the character of those whom they train.

2. The Leader’s Knowledge

The leader’s intellect is his capacity for knowledge. The cognitive aspect of learning is the process of acquiring and processing content or information. The information may be old or new. Regardless, leaders need to be knowledgeable of their ministry areas. A seminary colleague once said his biggest struggle as a pastor-leader was knowing what to do.

In preparing Moses for leadership, God specifically taught Moses what to do (Ex. 4:15). Competency is based to a great degree on knowing what to do. Leadership training is where seminarians often come up short. They are trained well in crucial areas such as biblical languages, theology, church history, and homiletics, but receive little training—if any—in leadership.

The key questions regarding the leader’s knowledge are: What must one know to lead at his level of ministry? What are the basic knowledge requirements at each leadership level?Those responsible for developing leaders at any level must answer these crucial questions.

To identify the knowledge components for leaders at each level is beyond the scope of this article. Regardless,pastors will benefit from some help in this area. The following list will get you started. Leaders:

  • Must know God (Romans 6–8).
  • Need to know themselves (their divine designs, and strengths and weaknesses).
  • Need to know and understand people (this involves the use of tools such as the Personal Profile and the Kiersey Temperament Sorter for training purposes).
  • Need to know how to study the Bible and have a general knowledge of the Bible and theology.
  • Need to know how to pray.
  • Need to know and agree with the organization’s statements (core values, beliefs, and doctrine) and direction (mission, vision, and strategy).
  • Need to know how to think and plan strategically.
  • At higher levels need to know how to preach, raise money, develop staff and perform weddings, funerals and baptisms.

3. The Leader’s Skills

The leader’s skills affect his actions or behavior. Psalm 78:72 states that David led his people with “skillful hands” as well as “integrity of heart.” Leaders must be able to put into practice what they learn. They may have leadership knowledge, but can they lead? Can they turn theory into practice? When they are up to their elbows in alligators, can they lead their team out of the swamp? The key skills questions are: What must one be able to do to lead a ministry? What skills must one have to function well at each level of leadership? For example, what leadership skills does one need to serve as an elder or deacon? What habits are necessary for effective leadership and ministry? Leaders at each level must answer these questions for the people they train.

Following are some general leadership skills of which trainers need to be aware. The first are task skills such as how to cast vision, pray, discover and develop core ministry values, how to develop a ministry mission statement and strategy, the ability to teach and preach the Bible or a Sunday school lesson. These are listed in the Task Skills Inventory trainers can use to develop leaders.

Second are the relational skills such as how to listen, encourage, mentor or coach, resolve conflicts, network, counsel, motivate, take risks, solve problems, build trust and other vital ministry skills.

4. The Leader’s Emotions

A person’s emotions are his feelings. Leaders’ emotions are their heart work that reflects what they feel. Scripture has much to say about emotions, beginning in Genesis when Adam and Eve experienced shame due to their sin (compare Genesis 3:11-12 with Genesis 2:24). In Genesis 3:10, Adam experienced an unhealthy fear that caused him to hide from God. Cain expressed extreme anger toward God in Genesis 4:5-6. On many occasions, Jesus expressed His emotions. For example, He was deeply moved and wept at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:33–36); He became angry with His disciples (Mark 10:14); and He had compassion for certain people such as lepers and the blind (Mark 1:41; Matt. 20:34). The expression of emotions is found throughout the New Testament and concludes in Revelation where John, describing the New Jerusalem, writes, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

A leader’s emotions affect his mood. Research as well as ministry experience shows a leader’s mood is contagious, spreading quickly throughout a ministry. A good mood characterized by optimism and inspiration affects people positively. However, a bad mood characterized by negativity and pessimism will cripple a ministry and damage people.

A senior pastor’s mood has the potential to set the mood for the entire church. Many people have experienced or know of senior pastors who have attempted to lead using fear. In these situations, people do not follow because they want to but because they fear the wrath of the pastor.

The key emotions questions for leaders are: What emotions are liabilities for your ministry? What emotions must you deal with to create a better climate for ministry? It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail regarding the leader’s emotions. The following overview, however, should help catalyze your thinking in this area.

To develop emotional well-being and establish a spiritually healthy climate for ministry, leaders must cultivate two primary areas: their emotions and the emotions of the people they minister with and to. The first area relates to the leaders’ emotions and is twofold.

Area 1: Leaders must understand and manage their own emotions. Understanding their emotions involves taking four steps:

  • Step 1: Leaders must learn to recognize their emotions when they occur.
  • Step 2: Leaders should identify their emotions. Look for: anger, anxiety, sadness, fear, shame, discouragement, surprise, joy and love.
  • Step 3: Leaders must deal biblically with the destructive emotions. For example, Ephesians 4:26 addresses sinful anger, and Philippians 4:6-7 addresses worry and anxiety.
  • Step 4: Leaders may want to explore why they are experiencing certain emotions.

Once leaders begin to understand their emotions, next they must manage their emotions. To accomplish this, they need to remember two things:

  • They cannot control being swept by their emotions because the emotional mind often overrides the rational mind such as when a person loses his temper.
  • They can, however, control how they respond to or handle their emotions. They can recognize them and deal biblically with them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Area 2: Leaders must not only be aware of and work on their own emotions, but also recognize others’ emotions and help them manage them as well.

This is commonly referred to as empathy. Most people have been in situations where an emotionally unhealthy person, whether in a leadership position or not, negatively affects a ministry. It is imperative that leaders deal with these people for the sake of the ministry and to help the individual. How do leaders accomplish this? Much the same way they handle their own emotions, only they apply the four steps above to the individual who needs help.

After leaders recognize that others need help with their emotions, they need to assist them. Leaders can help others manage their emotions by example and by working one-on-one with them.

This solution assumes the people in or under our ministries want help. The problem is that the person needing help is often emotionally and spiritually dysfunctional and not willing to work on the issues. The leader should attempt to work with these people but be ready to get them help should they need professional care.

Here is a warning label concerning these four core competencies. Learning can be distorted if any one of the elements is overemphasized. Character is a must, but without knowledge and skills, one’s ministry is severely limited. The leader may be nice, but he may not know what he is doing.

Knowledge without skills is dry intellectualism. This is a major problem in seminaries because faculty and students can become disconnected from the real world of the church and because much of their learning is theoretical. A skill without knowledge is mindless activity or mere busywork, and skills without character can lead to mere task-oriented ministry.

Finally, emotions without knowledge lead to more frustration. The leader knows something is wrong but does not know what it is or how to get relief. Good leader-teachers train their emerging leaders to integrate and balance as much as possible the four elements at their respective leadership levels.

Aubrey Malphurs is senior professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and president of the Malphurs Group in Dallas. For the original article, visit

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