Discerning a Calling – Raising up new leaders

Our “Discerning a Calling” series of articles have mainly focused on the individual considering whether or not to pursue a particular calling. However, there’s also something to be said about our responsibility as church leaders to proactively watch out for people and encourage them to grow in their gifts. Indeed that’s where the primary responsibility lies.[1]

Here are some thoughts on this:

  1. Philip Jensen talks about People to Watch. We should be constantly watching out for people and seeing what gifts they have so that we can encourage them to use them.
  2. This means that from time to time, we will see people look like possible future leaders in the church. At the early stage we are not saying that they definitely will become leaders.
  3. Our focus should be on identifying the gifts that people have and how they can use them. This is very different from -and not to be confused with- looking out for people who meet the specification to fill perceived gaps on the church rota.
  4. We often talk about the Cs -charisma (is there sign of gifting), chemistry (are they able to relate to and work with other leaders), character (can we see the work of Christ in their life) and competence (do they have the ability to do the job). I would start with character first and the look for signs of gifting.  I particularly want to see people who are servant hearted and winsome. Remember that we are at the early stages, they may not be fully ready for the task ahead. Start with the positives about them first!  Even if they are not ready or suitable for leadership, it will encourage you and later on them as you recognise their gifts.
  5. Jim Collins talks about the importance of getting the right people on the bus before working out which seats to allocate to them. In other words, you identify the team of leaders first and then allocate roles.
  6. Be careful. We can be over prescriptive about what we think a leader should look like and what we expect of them. In a multi-cultural context, we need to particularly be wary of the temptation to create a leadership standard which arises out of our own culture rather than Scripture. Remember the primary criteria for church leaders is self-control, godly family life in the home and hospitality.
  7. There are two stages to consider. First of all, do they have leadership potential. They won’t be the finished article yet and may not even be ready to put into leadership.  The second stage is to ask “What might stop them from being leaders?” This will include issues around competency. It may also be that we can see warning signs in their personalities that could put leadership at risk. You may also recognise limits in their abilities at this stage that will need to be complemented by others on the team.
  8. Sometimes, the answer to “what might hinder/stop them?” is to do with existing structures and expectations about how leaders should function. What might the church and the existing leadership team need to change?
  9. How can you help someone grow into leadership so they aren’t pushed in the deep end? Is there a path way?  What training do they need? What opportunities are there to gain experience and be mentored.  Can they start with one area of responsibility or by looking after a small group and grow into leadership?  Will there be leadership roles (elders, deacons) for people to step into?  By the way, this means that either the church needs to be growing, multiplying and sending leaders out to plants or seeing existing leaders step back and take a break from this type of role to create space for new leaders.
  10. Remember that new leaders are being called to join the team alongside you. They are not being recruited to work for you in a hierarchy.

[1] Cf 2 Timothy 2:1. “Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”