IMPLEMENTING LEADERSHIP IN A YOUNG CHURCH PLANT

What do you notice is the greatest void in the ministry of a brand-new church?  Frequently, it is a void in leadership that finds the pastor and his family “doing everything.”  While that is often to be expected in the early months, it becomes lethal if not addressed and resolved in subsequent months and years. While there are several key components of a church plant “that makes it,” none are more significant that an expanding plurality of leadership under the inspiring vision and disciplined oversight of the senior pastor.

 

Here are few key steps that enable every church plant to implement a leadership pipeline:

 

The first step is that the church “planter” himself must transition into becoming an effective, Spirit-guided “pastor.”

 

It is time to do more than talk about “what we are going to do as a church” and simply start doing it.  Long before you can mentor another budding leader, you must first model it!  Fleshed out, this looks like door-to-door visitation and one-on-one discipleship amongst other leadership disciplines. (It is very likely that someone you lead to Christ and disciple will become your most indispensable and influential partner in leadership because they will grow with you and under you.)  Being available and poised to counsel in the areas of personal sanctification is a must for those attending.  Visiting the elderly and shut-ins must be a regular, frequent part of your weekly rhythm. To raise up additional under-shepherds, those very same people must first be a part of a flock of well-fed and cared for sheep.

 

The second step is to read broadly, listen intently, and dig deeply into the Word to refine your philosophy on becoming a “leader of leaders.”

  • Read and reread Acts, a book that repeatedly addresses the challenges and contexts of this very transition. (Act 6:1-8; 14:23; 16:4)
  • No matter how far off it sounds, start with the belief that there are people in your local community that God has gifted to lead in your church.
  • Spend less time recruiting distant Bible college graduates and church staff and look for blossoming leaders in the assembly…who probably are not fully developed yet. (That is a good thing; it permits you to train them in the unique culture and context of your ministry!)
  • Some of the problems and burdens that stress out the point man and demand more leaders affirm your growth.
  • You don’t develop leaders to get tasks done; you get tasks done to develop leaders.
  • As one pastor put it, “Leaders develop best when they are in the game.” (Don’t wait for them to be perfectly qualified before inserting them into a need-to-know, need-to-go area of responsibility.)
  • Listen to other pioneers that transitioned successfully from a start-up to a flourishing business or ministry.  (One of the best secular resources I have found is a podcast by NPR called “How I Built This with Guy Raz”)
  • Always remember the indicative levels of your pastoral maturity: “I” is entry level, “you” is immature at best, and “we” is the highest level of leading with consensus and partnership.

 

The third step is to tenaciously begin to practically invest large amounts of energy and time into that one or two or more that God has gifted to your church in spiritual leadership.

  • When given an honest choice between attracting a “crowd” or investing in the “core,” go with the latter EVERY TIME! (It may not be as flashy and attractional, but it will most assuredly lead to a more sustained and fruitful ministry.)
  • If possible, have a LOCAL MAN fill the void of treasurer and secretary who has the potential for more.  (Our current administrative pastor who is almost a full time paid staff member started out in this role.)
  • Don’t be in a rush with deacons.  (I learned this office must not be rushed and filled only with those with the right temperament.)
  • Use a church management software from the jump.  (While we use Planning Center for services, giving, and people, whatever you use should enable leaders with full-time, off-site jobs to seamlessly coordinate during the week.)
  • Pick your volunteers; don’t ask for them.  (This allows you to pair up responsibilities with those who are biblically qualified and have a sustainable passion.)
  • Schedule an annual leadership retreat the moment you have one other family onboard to serve/be accountable at a higher level than the attendees. (This has been a key component of building a leadership team of 11 couples who love to be together and share a mutual vision.)

 

The fourth step is to learn how to maintain and encourage those who begin to log some years in leading the church with you.           

It is not enough to start a leadership team; you must learn to maintain it, or it will often implode in a costly way to your fledgling church.  One the biggest mistake the church planters like us make is that we tend to burn out our volunteer leaders and have way too much turnover creating unnecessary flux.  If you are looking for it, Paul, in the opening chapter or closing chapter of his epistles, consistently takes the time to encourage the elders and servants in the local church.  Here is one example in Philippians 1:
 
  • Encourage not just the upfront leaders but the behind the scenes servants who truly form the backbone of your ministry. (You will “outrun your coverage” if you forget to support those who staff your entry-level and essentials like nursery, greeters, cleaners, deacons, etc.) Ph 1:1 “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:”

 

  • Show gratitude…all the time. (Every request and response you offer should be tempered with thankfulness. Do it until they ask you to stop, and then give them more. This gratitude also bears fruit when those same leaders begin to oversee their own leaders and mimic the grateful tone you have inaugurated.) Ph 1:3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”

 

  • Make them know that you enjoy them and their fellowship. (If you are only around your leadership team when formal ministry is done, you are missing out on a level of expanding comradery that can only occur when you are laughing, playing, and “just shooting the breeze.”) Ph 1:5, 8 “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”

 

  • Regularly communicate Christ-centered confidence in their potential. (Believe in them; they have enough others in their family and the community who remind them that they are “novices and nobodies.”) Ph 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

 

  • Pray for them. (Whether they realize it or not, the moment a man or woman who surrenders to greater leadership responsibilities in the local church, they will predictably begin to experience more spiritual resistance and attack from our mutual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The responsibility for leadership turnover rests as much upon the prayerless pastor who recruited them as the individual who commitment falters.) Ph 1:9 “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

 

Every local church pioneer must quickly and thoroughly go from “planter” to “pastor” if their fledgling work is to be grounded and grown.  In no area is more intentional time and focus required than that of developing leaders to maintain and expand the gospel ministry.  Without this key transition, not only will the church die, but you will burn out your dear wife, kids, and anyone else that you “dump on” when you should have learned the art of sanctified delegation.  While you see nowhere Paul instructing Titus or Timothy how to build massive crowds, he does command them, for the sake of their churches, that their primary responsibility is to develop leaders:  2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.  Until you obey this command, you are not pastoring.  Maybe planting.  But not pastoring.