Leadership Multiplication and the Way of Jesus

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Dwight Zscheile believes that developing leaders is a priority in churches today and he writes about several dimensions of the work of leadership development.


The Gospels suggest one of Jesus’ top leadership priorities was developing other leaders — who themselves were capable of forming new generations of leaders. Leadership replication and multiplication characterized Jesus’ ministry, making possible the exponential growth of the early Christian movement as evidenced in Acts and the Epistles.

Why Leadership Multiplication Matters Today

The landscape of local church ministry is changing throughout North America. With the end of Christendom, Christians are embracing the apostolic, missionary environment in which the church now finds itself. While the solo-pastor, clerical, and professional models of leadership characterized Christendom, many churches today rely increasingly on home-grown lay staff. They are fostering collaborative teams of leaders, serving part- or full-time, in paid or unpaid positions. In some cases, this is a response to shrinking finances; in other cases, it is a deliberate attempt to reclaim first-century models of church leadership.

Such congregations have learned that one of leadership’s principal responsibilities is to help all members discern and develop their ministry gifts — leadership itself being one of those gifts (as noted in Romans 12:8). Moreover, the only way to grow the ministry of the church beyond the limited gifts and abilities of current leaders is to engage others with leadership gifts, and to develop and deploy them in mission — whether lay or ordained, paid or unpaid, volunteer or staff. Such distinctions, so significant in Christendom, are becoming less and less relevant.

Megachurches have discovered the value of prioritizing leadership development within their congregational cultures. And some smaller churches are also emphasizing leadership replication. For example, emerging churches that purposefully seek to remain small, high-commitment communities with light institutional footprints employ a growth strategy of multiplication rather than expansion. They send forth new leaders to plant additional cells or congregations. This requires existing leaders to develop new generations of leaders continuously.

How Jesus Multiplied Leaders

When we look at Jesus’ own approach to developing a team of self-replicating leaders, several themes emerge. One is the importance of arelational context for leadership development. Jesus developed his leadership team by calling them to follow him in his ministry, inviting them to observe and reflect together on what he said and did. Likewise, Paul repeatedly offers himself as a model for his apprentice leaders to emulate, having served as Barnabas’s apprentice in his early years of ministry.

This speaks to the mentoring and coaching dimensions of leadership development — something secular organizations have seized upon recently, but which is still underemphasized in training for church leaders. Present church leaders must develop the capacity to serve as leadership mentors and coaches to the budding leaders entrusted to them within congregations. Many current leaders, especially clergy, never consider that this might be an integral part of their role and fail to prepare for it — even though they themselves could benefit from coaching and mentoring in their formal training and beyond.

The discernment and recognition of leadership gifts is another critical function of leaders. In the clerical/professional paradigm of ministry, this was largely confined to scouting out the occasional candidate for ordination. In an apostolic/missionary paradigm, leaders are always on the lookout for those in their midst with emerging leadership gifts. They also must help lay people with obvious leadership gifts (as evident in their occupations outside the church) discern missional vocation — the deployment of leadership for God’s purposes in the world. As in the mentoring and coaching dimensions, this requires skills in listening, spiritual discernment, and guided theological reflection.

After Jesus had spent time developing a group of leaders around him, he charged them with authority and sent them forth to practice in pairs what he had been modeling and teaching. This short-term mission trip afforded them the opportunity to try out missionary leadership on a limited basis. While we structure field education components into seminary training for this purpose, we do not do the same for local church leaders. Before Jesus released his leaders with the full authority of Pentecost, he gave them micro-opportunities to lead, with the chance to return to him for reflection and further teaching. Church leaders should be similarly equipped to design structures for emerging leaders in their midst to practice ministry leadership in a measured form, with accountability, feedback, and theological reflection. So often lay leaders in congregations are given responsibility for ministry leadership without any chance to discern whether they are indeed called to that particular role, to grow into it, be adequately trained, receive appropriate and timely feedback, and be encouraged along the way.

Another central leadership formation competency is team-building. In a leadership-multiplication mode, once leaders have helped recognize fresh leaders and leadership callings in their midst, they must also help those leaders develop teams to engage the full complement of spiritual gifts in the congregation. Team-building enters at all levels of the 21stCentury church — from the lead governance team charged with big picture oversight and direction for the whole congregation, to grass-roots teams focused on specific mission initiatives.

Throughout biblical models of leadership development, there is an emphasis on character formation for leadership. Given our tendency to believe that strategies and techniques are sufficient for leadership, we easily lose sight of this imperative. How can Christian leaders tend to the character formation of the emerging leaders around them? Various forms of conversations, exhortation, accountability, spiritual practices, and modeling are required.

As Jesus tells the seventy in Luke 10: “the harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. May the lord of the harvest send out more laborers into his harvest.”


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About Author

Dwight J. Zscheile is associate professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary.


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