** Disclaimer **
This blog post is not about strong arming helpless volunteers to be canon fodder while you do “ministry” if you are looking for warm bodies to make up the numbers – what I’m writing here won’t be for you.
“Leader” is a word which seems to have replaced priest, pastor, minister in the church – we are all church leaders now. Yet, the word “leader” can be emotive and mean different things to different people. If you look at the five fold ministry template as explored by Paul (see Ephesians 4), he doesn’t mention “leadership”, it is hard to track down in scripture – the nearest you might get is “overseer” . . . the point I want to make at the start of this post is that we have incorporated the word leader into most areas of ministry in the church – worship, children’s, youth, church . . . all suffixed with leader.
I love what John the Baptist says when he sees Jesus begin his ministry,
He must increase, I must decrease
If we are to start right as we think about how we might equip others we need to remember that a leader is one who is called to serve. Philippians 2 bears this out and whilst it talks about Christ, the focus here of Paul’s teaching is that we should be like . . . our attitude, our approach, our heart, our purpose needs to be shaped by these words. It isn’t a passage for us to read and just think, “wow, Jesus was amazing and gave up so much for me.”
WE are called to be servants. Servant leaders.
Do people follow our lead because of what we say, “follow me, I am the leader!” or do they follow our lead because our lives are shaped after Christ and we are seeking to equip, develop and invest in others as He did? Leadership is not to be pursued for itself, to “be” the leader . . . everywhere in scripture where oversight, gifting, responsibility is mentioned it is for the purpose of enabling and equipping others – building people up for works of service.
I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader
OK what shall we do?
So, before we start to think about recruiting and equipping a team – lets think about ourselves for a moment.
Primary Role. In looking at how we might raise others up to serve alongside us we need to ask an important question, what is our primary role in ministry? What are we spending most of our time doing? If we are working in children’s and youth ministry it might feel like there is no primary role – just a whole bunch of stuff you have to be trying to do all the time – pastor, evangelist, teacher, craft expert, resource guru, administrator (running the rota in some churches requires a degree!) . . . any number of things. If, on top of that, you also have a full time job doing something else and you just try and squeeze in as much youth or children’s work as you can – life might just feel to confusing to even think about this. “What day is it, is it Wednesday?”
So, here is the thing – if we are intent on raising up others effectively then we need to make doing this our primary role. If we are raising up fellow servants, then we are raising people and our people deserve the best we can give in terms of energy, commitment and time. I have honestly never seen servant leaders raised up effectively by others when it has just been seen as, one more thing I need to do.”
The Tension. The key tension in getting this done is that of people versus tasks. Many of the things we might have listed earlier are jobs that need doing – but raising others up is not, first an foremost, about a job that needs doing, “I must raise up people because I’ve fifteen jobs I need doing” . . . It is about spending time investing in others, developing them, discerning their gifts and helping them explore what God has for them . . . which, might not even be working with you! That can be tough if we are wanting to see instant results from our endeavours. Jesus spent three years teaching, equipping, modelling . . . to the same bunch of guys, who continued to struggle to “get it” – the joy of working with people!
We can, of course, avoid this and simply focus on the jobs that need doing and move people around like pawns to make things happen. In the end though – they won’t be developed and empowered in ministry and we might find ourselves regularly moving in a fresh batch of pawns.
Create the Environment.
We need to ask ourselves this question – Are we a thermostat or a thermometer? The difference between the two may be obvious – but forgive me for spelling it out. A thermostat sets the temperature – and when the temperature in a room drops, on comes the heating to raise it again. A thermometer just takes the temperature – the question here then is whether we are proactive or reactive to the environment we lead in.
Do you make things happen, or do you wait and see what happens? This will also have an impact on the tension between people and jobs that need doing – if you are reactive, you may never feel free to focus on people and raise them up.
Creating the atmosphere.
Enthusiasm :: are you passionate about what you do? This is a key question. If you want to raise others up to join in with what you are doing or take a lead in serving others can they see your passion for ministry? If we are enthusiastic about what we are doing it is attractive – if we loathe something and are trying to offload it this will also come across to others. Take the route from the word “enthusiasm”, “entheos” which literally means, “in God” . . . it is also where we get the word “infuse” from, as in “to infuse a pot of tea”.
I used to make tea for my mum when I was little, the only problem was that I would forget to boil the kettle, it didn’t matter how much I stirred my teabag, not a lot happened – it just looked worse when I added milk, milky water rather than tea. If you imagine the Holy Spirit to be the tea bag, we only get a decent cup of tea with hot water! It is the same with us, are we hot, passionate, enthusiastic for the things of God? If we are, then this will be obvious to those around us, the Holy Spirit in us will be free to work.
Christ’s Attitude :: I get up some mornings, stub my toe, and the day is a write off. It doesn’t take much . . . our attitude has an impact on those around us, our ability to build and sustain team, our approach to our work and to those we work with. An aeroplane has an altimeter, but it also has an attitude meter – which tells the pilot whether the nose of the plane is pointing up or down. How is your attitude? Philippians chapter 2 is the litmus test for any leader – ultimately, what are you aiming for – fame and adulation, or do you want all the glory to go to Jesus?
Others :: If we realise that we cannot do this on our own we are already half way to growing a team and raising leaders. It isn’t enough to prefer others as people, we need to prefer them with opportunities to do stuff. Half the battle is with us. We need others to be involved in the ministry to children and young people. Jesus gathered disciples – but even within the 12 he had a special 3, I believe these guys became two things 1) his best friends on earth. 2) Those he chose to particularly invest in for the future of the Church. Who is on your team? Who have you called to join you? Jesus didn’t leave it to chance – yes we have to work with what we have got, but do we even know what (and who) we have got? The challenge sometimes is “what if they are better at stuff than me?” – The answer here should be “praise God!” – This will depend on whether our security as a servant leader is in our relationship with Christ or in the work we do for Christ.
Stuff that has helped me.
I will just rattle through the following, it is not a definitive list – but these are things I have tried to remember as I have failed (more often than not) and needed to focus on them – if they help you then great!
Who are you following :: We are first and foremost calling others on in their journey with God, calling them to follow Christ and then into deeper relationship with Him and then into service to others . . . we all need others, further along the journey than we are in order to keep learning as servant leaders, I love Paul’s statement, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11 verse 1), this, from the same person who said, “I am the worst of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1 verse 15) – what is great about this is that he is writing to Timothy . . . a young church leader who Paul has raised up. Timothy later became a Bishop and is thought to have been martyred when trying to stop a pagan procession. Paul was his spiritual Father – we are all seeking to follow Christ, we also need spiritual fathers and mothers who will pray, encourage, challenge and inspire us.
Awareness :: Are you aware of yourself and who and what is around you? I know this might be insulting – but I have met many leaders who lack awareness about themselves and also seem to miss what is going on for others – being so focused on getting things done we can miss it if people are hurting, broken, missing, angry, frustrated . . . dare I say it, maybe we need to shift gears in our ministry or give other people an opportunity for going for it and we are just not aware enough to get out of the way. If we want to raise up leaders we need to be aware. A book that has helped me reflect on this is “Awareness”, Anthony De Mello, published in 1990 – 3 years after his sudden death, a Jesuit monk who wrote extensively about spirituality.
Look for influencers :: Who are the people making the impact in the lives of children and young people, who are those who are influencing them – “influence” is one definition of leadership. It might not be those you think! This included the young people who, when they turn up, there is a crowd in toe. The young leader who always has a gathering of children around them . . . there may be some natural potential at work here; investing in these people has often reaped dividends for me. Bear in mind that not all influence is good – discern the difference first.
Be real :: Don’t try and be someone else – as I was getting into ministry in the 80s there were more beards and cardigans leading stuff than you could shake a tree at! The influence of beards like John Wimber, David Pytches, Barry Kissell, Graham Kendrick, my mother . . . I’m joking about my mother. I am not suggesting these guys were copying each other, but there did seem to be something going around that said, “beard = holiness”. We need to model ourselves on Christ. We also need to be real and vulnerable (appropriately) with those we lead and equip – if we have no issues we just come across as unreal, detached people who others can never aspire to match – let’s get real, acknowledge the struggles and be ourselves – this is also crucial in our day to day ministry with children and young people – they can spot a fake a mile off.
Your Health :: Your personal spiritual life is more important than any programme or how gifted you are. The best thing you can offer the children and young people you work with, the leaders you train and encourage – is a healthy you. In your inner life with God, in your relationships with family, in the way you seek to balance life and work. This speaks volumes. Also, if you work from a place of rest you are less likely to be stressed, chaotic in how you manage time, resources and people.
Know your limits :: Everyone has personal limits; we all have to ask for help from time to time. There is stuff we just cannot do. Raise others up, maybe at first, in areas where you know there is lack – you will also feel less threatened if it is something you can’t do anyway . . .
Release :: Truly give stuff away as you begin to raise up leaders, don’t half give something away, really let go of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a safety net – it does mean you have really asked somebody to do something. A classic of not doing it would be a talk to a small group. The person you have asked has prepared and prayed about it – they deliver their talk, then you chime in with “what so and so meant to say was”, you think you are helping! How crushed are they – you gave them a responsibility and have taken it back just as quick.
Safety :: Find a safe environment to do the above. A small group is the place to start speaking maybe, not the main evening service in Church. Make sure you help prepare the person and then fully de-brief afterwards. Focus on the positive – they need to know this was a safe thing to do. As a general rule, if I have let a young leader have a go at something and it works well – I praise them and thank them, highlighting, in order to reinforce, the things they did that made it work (that and the Holy Spirit of course). If something has gone badly with a young leader I normally take the responsibility, maybe I released them too soon, maybe it was the wrong environment, and could I have prepared them better? The last thing someone who is just starting out needs to hear is how much they have shown you up by getting it wrong! We should be big enough to take a few knocks for our team while they are growing into a role.
No Template :: There is no template for raising up leaders – different things work for different people. Sometimes great things happen without us doing very much, other times it is a slog, no matter what techniques or methods we employ to get anything to happen! That is just life. We need to be consistent in life when stuff is going well and when it isn’t. What works in one place might not work in another.
However, while there might not be a “template” there are some steps as we raise people up:
I do it – yes you do it, make sure you really know how to do what it is you are going to raise someone else up in – if you don’t, get someone else to do the raising up.
I do it and you watch – get the person who you are investing in to watch you when you do it (lead a small group, take an assembly . . . etc) – de-brief after, make sure to highlight the things you could have done better, hadn’t thought about, don’t just say, “that is how to do it – watch and learn matey, watch and learn!”
You do it and I watch – get them to do it, while you watch (or do it together as an interim) then de-brief, focusing on the positive whilst gently mentioning the stuff that needs work.
You do it and someone else watches – the whole process can end with your input to someone unless you pass on this crucial message. When they have honed something and become really good at it – who are they going to raise up? Continue to create a culture of raising leaders by making sure the leaders you raise up do the same thing.
And Finally – The key thing to remember, especially in our current culture, is to be in the business of raising others up long term. Don’t experiment with peoples lives – seriously invest, seriously pray, as we gain perspective that looks across years rather than weeks we start to ask the question, “where will those I am working with now be in a decade” – we might even get a glimpse of what God has in store, and nothing is more exciting than seeing something take root in another person’s life and God begin to grow it, nurture it, and use that person – as you step back and let them lead – it will thrill you!