The Search for New Leaders Begins with Prayer

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Ken Willard and Kelly Brown say that prayer and study are necessary first steps in creating a leadership pathway for your church. They present six ideas for laying a spiritual foundation for a new leadership development process.


Leaders tend to be people of action. This is a very good thing! But we suggest you ensure a strong foundation of prayer and study to create a leadership pathway for your church. This investment of time and prayer will pay off in the long term with a more fruitful process designed to last more than just a season or two.

The following are a few examples of how you might begin a process of leadership development in your church with prayer. Pick one or two which seem to best fit you and your ministry and put them in place now.

1. Pray for your current leaders.

List out all the current leaders in your church on 3 x 5 index cards, one person on each card. Set a time each day to pray for one of your leaders as you hold their card. Thank God for them and their gifts, pray for God’s Spirit to guide them and their lives, and pray for this to be a season of leadership growth for both them and their ministry.

2. Schedule a day of prayer retreat for leaders.

If possible, use an off-site facility so you will not have the normal distractions of using a familiar location. Assign each leader a short devotion based on a different leader in the Bible. Make this time of prayer a chance for you and your team to grow as both leaders and disciples. Consider including people who are not currently serving in a leadership role, maybe up-and-coming leaders, or maybe those in whom who you see the gift of leadership but are not serving in a leadership capacity in ministry.

3. Pray for community leaders.

Create a list of community leaders (police chief, fire chief, school principal, business owners, local government officials, etc.) and pray for one or two by name during each of your meetings. Grow your perspective in what leadership looks like and the many types of leaders God has placed all around your ministry.

4. Focus on biblical leaders.

In your leadership meetings, focus each time on a different leader in scripture who you can learn from due to either their situation or their unique skills. (You might use the Wesley Study Bible or the Maxwell Leadership Bible). End each study time with a prayer for God to equip your leaders to best guide your congregation through the challenges of today.

5. Study great Christian leaders in history.

Make a list of Christian leaders you admire throughout history, such as John Wesley, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Francis Asbury, Mother Theresa. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, etc. Try to include some leaders your church leadership team might not be very familiar with, or at least might not know as much about. Assign each member of your leadership team one leader from history. Ask them to learn as much about the leader as they can and come back to share their story and a few lessons for everyone.

6. Pray for discernment in recognizing new leaders.

Spend time in prayer as you review the listing of first time guests, new members, or other who may be new to your church. Pray for discernment to recognize new leaders, especially those who may not fit the mold of your current leaders.

A quick word about this journey to create a leadership pathway for your church. Don’t try to do this alone. Prayerfully gather at least two or three others to take this journey with you. If you were to try to do this alone, as good as your intentions might be, you would likely create a leadership pathway perfectly designed for YOU! Look for leaders who are as diverse as possible in all senses of the word, leaders who have a variety of experiences and who can help you and each other see new possibilities.


Excerpted from Church Ecology: Creating a Leadership Pathway for Your Church (Market Square Books, 2020) by Ken Willard and Kelly Brown. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

picture of Ken Willard

Ken Willard (kwillard@wvumc.org) is the director of discipleship, leadership, and congregational vitality for the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown (kbrown@eocumc.com) is the director of congregational vitality for the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and an associate certified coach with the International Coaching Federation.


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