How to Grow the Leaders Your Church Needs to Thrive

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Michael Kurtz describes a simple but profound leadership development formula in which each leader is responsible for mentoring new leaders and creating the expectation that those new leaders will also mentor others. It is a leadership succession plan begun by Jesus himself.


Years ago, I was introduced to a leadership development phrase that has become a ministry mantra for me: In the church we are called to make leaders of leaders of leaders. This leadership statement contains a simple but profound three-part formula for compound leadership development.

  1. A leader is called to develop and hone his or her own leadership knowledge and skills.
  1. This same leader is charged with mentoring another, helping to encourage, guide, and empower that other person in their leadership pathway.
  1. A third and essential step is placing the expectation before the leader’s mentee that they too are encouraged and expected to become a mentor to others.

In other words, each person is expected to participate in mentoring ministry through receiving and giving, resulting in an ongoing and life-giving leadership chain. Each is charged with being a leader of leaders of leaders.

An integrated three-step process

Leaders often concentrate first on developing their own leadership skills. Later they begin to think of intentionally mentoring and developing other leaders to serve in the church. And the third part of the formula — passing on to mentees the expectation that they too are to be engaged in mentoring others — often comes last or not at all.

Each of the three leadership development steps is vital and necessary. Unless all three are at work simultaneously and synergistically, leadership growth can be stunted and stymied. Rather than engaging these steps through isolated activities, the three parts are to be integrated and dynamically connected with one another.

  • To ensure a healthy leadership pipeline in the local congregation, leaders must continually attend to nurturing and developing their own leadership practice and skillset. This occurs through continuing education and through relationships with mentors and coaches who provide needed and useful feedback.
  • At the same time, these mentored leaders must be mentoring other prospective leaders. In a well-designed mentoring ministry, the leader is both mentor and mentee simultaneously.
  • Finally, leaders need to provide the expectation and direction that their mentees will also mentor prospective servant leaders.

These three practices are connected in purpose and must occur simultaneously. Ideally, this is an ongoing dynamic process. Servant leader volunteers should always be learners and mentees, continually learning and growing. They should always be mentoring, sharing, and showing. They should continually be encouraging, resourcing, and empowering others to mentor additional prospective servant leader volunteers.

This leadership life cycle is critical for healthy leadership succession in the local church. A strong, intentional mentoring ministry can ensure healthy succession in every area of ministry — nursery workers, caretakers of the campus, Sunday school teachers, administrative committee chairpersons, or people who replace pastors or other staff members — and can contribute to the long-term viability, vitality, and fruitfulness of a congregation.

Jesus’ leadership succession plan

Jesus’ three years of public ministry had the primary goal of putting in place a succession plan to ensure the furtherance of the gospel. For 36 months, Jesus spent most of his time and energy mentoring diverse and sometimes difficult disciples. Because Jesus invested in their leadership, they were empowered to turn the world upside down, leading a spiritual revolution that impacted lives throughout the world and throughout time, abundantly and eternally.

We in the church today are awarded the privilege and responsibility of sustaining this servant leader succession plan begun by Jesus! This calling and empowerment has an “apostolic succession” connotation, as we consider this gracious and vital charge of carrying on the servant leader legacy within the Body of Christ.


This article is adapted from the book From Pew Sitters to Servant Leaders: Developing Servant Leader Volunteers Through Mentoring (Plowpoint Press, 2018) by Michael Kurtz. Used by permission.

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About Author

Michael Kurtz is a pastor in the Western N.C. Conference (UMC) and a licensed marriage and family therapist. His most recent book is From Pew Sitters to Servant Leaders: Developing Servant Leader Volunteers Through Mentoring (Plowpoint Press, 2018).


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