About three weeks into my work as the leader of a church plant/revitalization, I was able to put words to something that had been bugging me. Our group of fifteen was made up of some who had come with me in order to help with the work and others we’d “inherited” from the existing congregation we were trying to revitalize.
Some members of the group were happy and joyful servants, others were skeptical that it was going to “work” but willing to give it a try, and still others were distrustful and unhappy. But the nagging feeling I finally was able to put into words is that as dedicated as some of these people were, my wife and I didn’t have anyone else in the church who cared as much as we did.
That’s not meant as a criticism of those other people; it’s simply the reality of church planting. For a church planter, the work can be close to all-consuming. It combines your religion with your career and your livelihood.
“What I longed for in those early days was others to come alongside me and bear the burden of leadership, responsibility, and care.”
The stakes can feel very high, and it’s unrealistic to expect many other people to feel as invested as you in the nascent church’s viability. I know from my own experience and from talking to other church planters that this realization can heighten feelings of isolation and loneliness.
What I longed for in those early days was others to come alongside me and bear the burden of leadership, responsibility, and care. Now, twelve years later, I no longer feel a sense of being alone in the work. As I write this, I’m in the middle of a sabbatical. In my absence, the church’s other elders, staff, and deacons have been leading the congregation quite effectively.
You Need to Raise up Leaders
If you’re a church planter, you need to first and foremost focus on preaching the Word—week in and week out. Without that, whatever you’re planting, it won’t be a church. But along with that, you must give yourself to developing and cultivating other leaders. Doing so has an impact that reaches far beyond your own personal need to have others share the burden of caring for the church.
Here are three other benefits of developing leaders in your church plant.
1. Developing leaders is important for the health of church members.
The most important way you’ll help your church members grow is by preaching the Word of God faithfully. But pastoral ministry also involves a lot of one-on-one investment in people’s lives, and even the most diligent church planter will have limits on the number of people for whom he can care.
By developing other leaders who can teach, disciple, evangelize, counsel, and shepherd the flock, you raise up others who can care for the health of all the church members.
2. Developing leaders is important for the health of the congregation as a whole.
Having all of the leadership concentrated on one individual is certainly unhealthy for that person, but it’s also unhealthy for a church. A plurality of leadership means a congregation isn’t held hostage to decisions that have been made without considering the church planter’s biases, weaknesses, and blind spots.
When more people are involved in a church’s leadership, it’s less likely that individual members will become dependent on the gifts and personality of the church planter (who may, after all, not be with them forever) and more likely that they’ll be built into the life of the church as a whole.
3. Developing leaders is important for mission.
I don’t know about your experience of the space-time continuum, but I’ve found that I can only be in one place at any given time. And that means there are a lot of places I can’t be present to proclaim the gospel and disciple believers. Assuming that the same holds true for you, then you’re going to need to invest in other people who can go out to places where you are not.
“Planting new churches locally and internationally requires leaders who can initiate and oversee the work.”
Planting new churches locally and internationally requires leaders who can initiate and oversee the work. Those leaders must come from somewhere, and so you need to invest in developing them.
Church planters have a million things to do, many of which seem urgent. Investing your time in cultivating new leaders might seem like slow work that doesn’t produce immediate and measurable results. But in the long run, it’ll help strengthen and expand the scope of your ministry.
How to Raise up Leaders
Here are three suggestions for how to find and develop new leaders for your congregation and others.
1. Develop leaders by sharing responsibility.
A lot of church planters are control freaks. I don’t know if the nature of the work attracts those kinds of people (because it’s easier to direct a church you start than one you inherit from somebody else) or if it creates those kinds of people (because so much seems beyond your control). But you’ll never be able to raise up new leaders if you’re not willing to let other people share in the responsibility of teaching, making decisions, and caring for the flock.
Some object that it’s dangerous to let unqualified people lead the church, and I agree. I suggest you shouldn’t do that. Instead, find people who meet the relevant biblical qualifications (Titus 1:5–9; 1 Tim. 3:1–13) and give them a chance to lead, even if they do things a bit differently than you.
2. Discover leaders by looking around.
Sometimes, a person’s abilities and gifts are obvious and right on the surface. But as I look at the leaders our church has helped to raise up, I’d say a good number of them were people I wouldn’t have immediately considered as having “leadership potential.” That may be because of personality (maybe they’re quiet, introverted, unassuming) or culture (I’ve learned that leadership sometimes looks different for people from different cultures), but I know I’ve been guilty of overlooking people who eventually became effective leaders. So, how do you discover these people? Look around your congregation and ask questions like,
- who is already bearing spiritual fruit in the life of the church?
- to whom do people go for help or counsel?
- who is already doing the work of serving and caring for others without having been given an office or a title?
3. Develop leaders by training.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Once you’re committed to raising up new leaders and you’ve identified potential candidates, you need to start actually training them. This will look any number of different ways —from one-on-one meetings to large group classes—but you must begin to intentionally invest in helping to grow the character and competencies the individual will need for the specific service they render to the body.
Mike McKinley is an author and the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia.