3 Surefire Ways to Fail in Developing Leaders

Tony Morgan says that church leadership development efforts often fail because they are programmatic rather than personal,they are limited to specific roles, and they move people into leadership before they are ready.

Most churches are stuck when it comes to leadership development. In my work with churches across the country, the ones excelling in this area truly stand out. They launch new campuses with strong campus pastors. They develop teaching teams that work. Their succession plans are effective and create momentum. Their volunteer teams thrive. Their small groups replicate.

A culture of leadership attracts and retains leaders of all kinds by allowing them to lead within their unique spiritual gifting.

Placing a high value on leadership is not a strategy in and of itself. I can note three distinct issues that I come across all too often that hurt churches’ ability to develop and empower leaders — even in churches that want to succeed in this area. Here is what I see so many doing that is not working:

1) Programming Instead of Personalizing

You just might fail in developing leaders if you adopt programmatic strategies rather than making leadership development personal.

For example, many churches decide to schedule periodic “leadership training” meetings on generic leadership principles, or engage leaders in regular book studies or courses. The problem is that another teaching probably isn’t going to create a culture of leadership development. To actually change the culture, you have to invest quality time and resources into key staff and lay leaders.

When you personally invest in these relationships, true leaders will value it greatly. People who have experienced that kind of investment tend to pay it forward to the people they lead. That’s the start of building a leadership culture. It doesn’t have to be formal or structured to be intentional mentorship.

How are you creating connections between leaders on your team? If you’ve been trying to “program” leadership development, it may be time to start considering a more personalized approach.

2) Limiting Development Opportunities to Specific Roles

We see churches fumbling when they limit their leadership development efforts to certain positions instead of creating a culture of leadership throughout the entire organization.

This is a particularly common trend with the emergence of multisite campuses. Growing churches are constantly on the lookout for the next Campus Pastor. The role of Campus Pastor is certainly a priority, but a culture of leadership should permeate your connections team, children’s ministry, student ministry, worship team, and so on.

A culture of leadership attracts and retains leaders of all kinds by allowing them to lead within their unique spiritual gifting. I’ve always believed that healthy leadership is less about the leader and more about those being led. The real win in leadership development happens when all of God’s people are fully equipped to do God’s work. That means your structure is built to allow leaders to rise up in their area of passion.

How are you investing in leaders from multiple zones of ministry to strengthen your church’s leadership culture?

3) Giving Positions of Leadership Before People Are Ready

Without a doubt, one of the greatest ways to ensure that leaders fail is to put them in positions of leadership before they are ready.

The Bible teaches us that we should be very intentional about whom we place into leadership roles. “Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader” (1 Timothy 5:22). When a leader is given a position before he or she is ready, several things start happening:

  • High quality leaders start leaving. John Maxwell calls it “The Law of the Lid.” Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. High capacity leaders will eventually leave if you are not creating environments where they can flourish.
  • Character flaws shine through. You set up leaders to fail if you assign them a vital position because they completed a program while they have yet to develop in character. The stress of trying to do a job without having mastered the necessary competencies will put any leader’s character flaws on display.
  • The church will not function at its highest capacity. No group will function on a level higher than its leader. Instead of pioneering the vision forward, a person who was not ready to lead will continually pull back until things feel manageable.
  • You’ll create tension on your staff teams. Strong leaders will immediately recognize the problem. They’ll then have to wrestle with how to handle it.
  • The leader will ultimately fail. Very few people who have been given a position before they were ready are able to tread water long enough to learn what they need to know. In most cases, they will fail at what you’ve asked them to do and will take on the pain and frustration that comes with failing at something to which they felt called. It won’t necessarily have been their fault. After all, they weren’t ready, and their leaders should have recognized that.

These are just a few of the most common reasons I see for why churches fail in developing leaders. Reversing these patterns is worth our attention and energy. Why? Because helping leaders succeed is vitally important to the health and growth of churches.

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan is founder and chief strategist for The Unstuck Group which provides consulting and leadership coaching services to over 100 congregations annually. Previously, he served on the leadership teams at several churches, including Granger Community Church in Indiana, NewSpring Church in South Carolina, and West Ridge Church in the Atlanta area.


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