Reproduction 101: Raising Up Church Leaders From Within

A distraught pastor on the edge of burnout came to my office looking for encouragement and practical ideas. His self-diagnosed greatest problem was a lack of solid, committed men who could rise to leadership responsibilities in his church. I sympathized with him until I asked him how long he had been serving there as pastor. His answer: ten years. After probing the issue and clarifying further, it became obvious that in ten years this pastor had not personally discipled or mentored a single man. He had led a few to faith in Christ, but never poured into them personally as a discipler or mentor. He was frustrated that other churches in surrounding communities would not see the value of sending men his way to help establish their men’s ministry leadership team. This pastor thought he had a leadership problem. What he actually had was a reproduction problem.

For almost thirty minutes a part-time worship leader explained to me over the phone how he felt less and less relevant and was ready to hand the baton to someone else in his normative-sized, rural church. The only problem was, there was no one else. So he called to ask for financial assistance and personal contacts, hoping to scrape up just enough money to import some younger worship leader into their church culture at minimal cost. For almost thirty years, he had not taught a single student or younger man or woman to lead worship in that church. He expected that other churches had. But he had not. He thought he had a musician problem. What he actually had was a reproduction problem.

“Healthy churches raise up leaders, disciple and mentor them, and give them opportunities to serve.”

“Our problem is we just don’t have enough teachers,” said the church matriarch toward the end of the Small Group training session I was leading. The group of five small group leaders was on board with starting new classes but were convinced that there was not a single person in their church, beside themselves, who were capable of teaching biblical lessons and shepherding small groups. I asked the matriarch how many people from her classes over the years she had mentored in teaching then released to start new classes. You get one guess at her answer: none. They thought they had a spiritual maturity problem. What they actually had was a reproduction problem.

After several decades in a suburban church a retiring pastor was on his last lap in the ministry. He called asking if we could train the search committee and help “get a good, solid young pastor in here.” In all of his ministry at that church he had not seen a single person surrender to vocational ministry. Neither had he given regular appeals, or made regular relational investments, that some might do so. Instead, he expected that other churches were producing the kind of pastor his church would need. He thought he had a pastoral transition problem. What he actually had was a reproduction problem.


The stories are endless. Unhealthy churches expect other churches to raise up and release the leaders their church needs or will need. Healthy churches raise up leaders, disciple and mentor them, and give them opportunities to serve within the congregation. In a healthy church, when God calls internal leaders elsewhere the people rejoice in faith. In an unhealthy church, when God calls internal leaders elsewhere the people unsettle with fear.

So you’re a church leader? Great. Who are you raising up to eventually lead or to release?

“So you’re a church leader? Great. Who are you raising up to eventually lead or to release?”

Pastor. What upcoming students, young men or older men do you see have the hand of God on their lives? Invite them to a mentorship group with you once per month. Take them through a theology book, practice sermon writing, and create space for them to teach and preach.

Music/Worship Leader. What men and women in your worship ministry are most musically gifted and show promise as a future choir, band, orchestra, or congregational worship leader? Pour into their souls through strategic one-on-one or small group discipleship. Let them into your world of planning and preparation. And give them opportunities to lead.

Deacon. Where are those younger men who love Jesus and are devoted to their families and their church? Find a younger man who is already walking with God and organically serving the church body. Take him along with you on church visits. Meet with him monthly and ask him about his soul. Talk to him about the joy and responsibility that is yours to be called a deacon.  

Sunday School / Small Group Leader. Find one or two people in your group who show regular preparation for and interest in weekly lessons and group fellowship. Ask them if they will fill in for you one week when you’re out, or if they will take the lead in planning a particular event or reaching out to a certain group member or prospect. Eventually hand them more and more responsibility. Then ask if they would consider either taking over this class or launching a new one.

Children’s / Student Ministry Leader. What children or students exhibit a natural leadership gifting? Carve out an hour every week to meet with them separately and disciple them in the rhythms of evangelism and spiritual discipline. Consult with them for group planning and outreach ideas. Give them some responsibility over graphics, promotion, teaching, organization, or hospitality.

Usher or Greeter. Find a young man or young woman who is relational and loves the Lord. Have him or her stand next to you at the door. Explain, over time, the importance of the first-face and first-response ministries at church. Share your personal joy to be a greeter in the house of God.

Sure, church leaders can be imported but it takes a while for them to assimilate to the culture of the congregation and of the community. Sometimes they never fully assimilate before they move on. If that is God’s design, then praise the Lord. But think with me how beneficial (and biblical) it is when church leaders are raised up from within—when the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry, resourced in their giftedness and mobilized to share and to serve.

I know it’s hard to hear, so I saved it for the end… If you have a leadership vacuum, chances are you have a reproduction problem. There are other reasons, but most commonly a lack of leaders within a congregation stems from a lack of intentional leadership reproduction from within that same congregation.

“If you have a leadership vacuum, chances are you have a reproduction problem.”

Who are you discipling/mentoring today to take the reins tomorrow?

Grace and peace,

Tony

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