Ann Michel of the Lewis Center questions the common advice that churches should only invite those who are already spiritually mature into leadership roles. She says new leaders can grow in faith and discipleship through their service, especially when existing leaders are committed to supporting their faith development and leadership growth.
I’ve read a lot of advice over the years on where churches should look for new leaders. Much of it stresses the importance of seeking new leaders who exhibit spiritual maturity, who have demonstrated their commitment to God and to the church through measures such as regular worship attendance, Bible study, and tithing. But as important as these measures are, I’ve yet to find (in my church at least) that group of spiritually mature, biblically literate tithers just sitting on the back bench waiting to be invited into leadership.
Leadership is developed on the way to something else.
In my experience, it works the opposite way. People grow in faith and commitment as they serve and as they become more deeply committed to God’s work through the church. This was certainly true of Jesus’s disciples, whose spiritual shortcomings are well documented in the Gospels. If Jesus had been looking for disciples who already manifested compliance with the expectations of the faith, he might have looked to the Pharisees. Instead, he called together an unlikely band of followers, knowing that their shared ministry would be the fulcrum of faith formation and leadership growth.
Leadership doesn’t develop in a vacuum. The motivation to lead emerges as someone is drawn into service because they see an urgent need, a compelling vision, and an opportunity to put their gifts and passions to work. It flourishes as the individual becomes more deeply invested in a particular mission and develops deeper connections with other Christian leaders.
Leadership as a fulcrum of faith formation
When new leaders are given the opportunity to serve, they have the opportunity to learn by doing, and they grow in discipleship by practicing discipleship. They are also given a front-row seat to observe how more mature leaders put their faith into action. Within a context of mutually supportive relationships, new and mature leaders can help each other explore the spiritual significance of their shared work. Such collaboration can provide the interpersonal bonding and relational space for faith to flourish. In short, ministry leadership can be a powerful incubator of faith.
Each of us serving in church leadership can probably recall how God used some of the tasks and challenges we faced to mold our spirits and help us grow in faith. But this growth is also facilitated when existing leaders are attentive to cultivating new leaders in ways that move them simultaneously toward deeper faith and growing leadership responsibilities. They do this by regularly highlighting the spiritual dimension of their work, by praying together regularly, and by engaging the Scriptures in more than token ways. They do this by regularly lifting up how what they are doing matters to God, why it is important to the church’s mission, and what it means to each team member’s personal discipleship. In a spiritually mature group this conversation might happen spontaneously. But it’s also important for team leaders and pastors to model the way, just as Jesus did.
Providing a path toward spiritual maturity
Many churches today don’t have an army of newer, younger leaders waiting in the wings. To keep their leadership pipelines full, they need to draw in folks who may not have had the same type of Christian education and nurture as older members who came up in the church. Inviting a new or spiritually immature person to serve without a commitment to help them grow in faith and commitment is irresponsible, both to the congregation and the individual invited. But an invitation to step up and serve, when it is accompanied by a desire and willingness to help them grow, can provide a new leader with a powerful path toward spiritual growth and maturity.
Is spiritual maturity a prerequisite for new church leaders? I don’t think it must be, as long as the seasoned, spiritually mature leaders already in your ranks are committed to helping new leaders develop, succeed, and grow in faith.
- More Church Leaders | Stronger Church Leaders, a Lewis Center video tool kit resource
- A Biblical Model of Leadership Transition by Lee Kricher
- Spiritual Growth through Mission Participation by Ann A. Michel
- 5 Simple Ways to Grow New Leaders by Ann A. Michel
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