Geiger, Eric and Kevin Peck. Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership
Development. Nashville: B&H, 2016.
The most capable and impactful leaders of the next generation will be those who have a theology of leadership based on the truth of Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (ESV). People who are created in the image of God cannot help but recognize that they have been designed to lead and serve in a way that tells a better story than the world could ever come up with apart from Christ (55). “No one should outpace the Church in developing leaders because no one else has the assurance that their contribution will last, that their leadership will eternally matter” (8).
Leadership development doesn’t just happen. No one has ever accidentally stumbled into a situation where their organization is launching leaders that are positively impacting culture for Christ. Unfortunately, there are plenty of leadership philosophies that are built on things that are very antithetical to the gospel. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Kim Jong Un are leaders that come to mind who have been quite effective at building kingdoms for their own purposes to the detriment of those that follow them and those that unfortunately find themselves in their path. Why would Christian communities leave leadership development to chance? In their book Designed to Lead, Kevin Geiger and Eric Peck remind us, “For leaders to be developed consistently and intentionally, churches must possess conviction, culture, and constructs” (14).
Conviction is the starting point in leadership development. If the church’s vision doesn’t include a strong conviction about the why and how of leadership development, be prepared to see that church flounder as they navigate the mountaintops and valleys of ministry. Ephesians 4 lines out the many gifts and roles that are necessary for maturity and unity in the body of Christ. As you assess the current state of ministry in your church, you should ask some important questions. Are people in my church being developed and equipped? What am I doing to equip myself? As we evaluate the leadership training in our context, what is the purpose?
The difference between the leadership of Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham is the purpose of their leadership. Both of them are remembered for the impact that they had, but Billy Graham chose to use his impact for the sake of the gospel and has had the privilege of leading many to Christ over his years in ministry. Hitler on the other hand is one of the most hated men in all of history because of his treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Vision casters must stay laser-focused on the why behind the what as it relates to their convictions for leadership development. Without that laser-focus, good intentions can easily drift into bad habits. In the words of the great theologian A.W. Tozer, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it” (75).
If your church or ministry context has a strong conviction about leadership development, your culture will be defined by it. A healthy culture in this area means that people immediately will notice a strong identity, a clear mission, and the constant development and deployment of godly leaders (24). Here’s a great question to ask. When your church departs worship each week, are the people just leaving or are they truly sent out to go in the spirit of The Great Commission?
I have the privilege of serving as the high school principal in a Christian school just north of Atlanta. My hope and prayer is that our leadership development strategies are markedly different than the leadership development taking place across the street at the public high school. If the servant leaders that graduate from my school aren’t any different than what this world offers, then we will have failed. As Peck and Geiger point out, “A disturbing amount of leadership training being utilized today fails to stop and ask what God wants from our leadership. Even Christian education often promotes effective leadership habits and practices without ever challenging motivation or intent” (61). We must be diligent in our efforts to continually assess the why behind the what to ensure that we are living out the call that God has placed on us individually and collectively to invest in the hearts and the minds of the students that have been trusted to our care.
A church dedicated to godly leadership development will have a culture of gathering for worship in order to be filled up to go and live out the gospel. The gospel itself is good news and our world needs Christian leaders who are equipped to tell a good story that draws people into the mission of the church. We must be culture makers that are drawing people towards something far better than anything the world has to offer. Romans 5:8 reminds us, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV). In a world full of fake news, let’s keep the truth and the best news in front of all we come in contact with!
What are the leadership constructs in your church or ministry organization? “A leadership construct provides a framework for leadership development, a pipeline for future leaders, and a path for people to walk in their own leadership development” (29). To evaluate the intentionality of the leadership constructs in your church, ask someone that has been attending for a while to share with you what they see as available paths for leadership development. How can people be onboarded into leadership development rather than left in the pews week after week?
In my school, we talk often about the strand of leadership development throughout our entire Bible curriculum from 3-year-old kindergarten all the way through our Senior Bible classes. If we desire for our students to impact the world for Christ, where are we being intentional in helping them build those necessary skills and aptitudes?
My family is privileged to worship and serve at Cedarcrest Church in Acworth, Georgia. The leadership development at our church operates on a 4-part Leadership Growth Track. The four areas of development are: Connect, Grow, Serve, and Share. The Connect module explores what it means to discover healthy relationships that lead to meaningful growth. The Grow module focuses on developing gospel-centered community that leads to spiritual transformation. The next module is Serve and that involves exploring opportunities to serve and build the body of Christ. The final module on our Cedarcrest Leadership Growth Track is Share. The goal of Share is equipping people to become self-starting, reproducing, fully-devoted followers of Christ.
Within the published Leadership Growth Track materials at Cedarcrest, there is information about how to evaluate each of these areas of growth and where the fruit should be evident. If a person is maturing through the leadership growth track to the point of serving, then we should see that person actively serving in a ministry area of the church on a regular basis. If they have advanced to the final level of share, then they are obviously leading a ministry in our church where they are replicating their leadership by investing in others. People at this level of leadership are helping us with the next round of Leadership Launch that includes our Leadership Foundations classes. It has been a joy of mine to be able to teach some of these classes on a rotational basis over the past few years. The entire program is founded on Scripture and geared towards impacting culture for Christ.
Godly leadership development requires that we regularly evaluate our ministry in light of both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. It is impossible to love God and love others without intentionally recognizing that God has designed us to lead and to point people to Jesus in all that we say and do. Geiger and Peck point out four evidences that you should expect to see in the lives of those who are being developed as godly leaders: Models of Character, Guardians of Doctrine, Shepherds of Care, and Champions for Mission (93). You can see in those four categories everything that is needed to truly impact the culture for Christ. There is also plenty of room for recognizing the diversity of gifts found in Ephesians 4 that allows people to lead from their strengths.
We live in a generation that spends a lot of time worrying about their image and thinking through what they should post next on social media. Can you imagine what our communities, our country, and our world would look like if Christians embraced the fact that God designed us to lead and care for one another based on the good news of the gospel? Rather than feeding a consumer mentality, let’s challenge our people to hold themselves to God’s standard for discipleship. “Consumption is focused on the masses and for the short-term payoff. Discipleship is focused on the person for the long run, for fruit that will last” (159).
If Christians are all rowing in the same direction in the area of discipleship and leadership development, there is nothing that could stop us from igniting a revolution of love, mercy, and grace that would thwart any efforts of the enemy. We must be careful not to fall in the trap of just buying into all the leadership books and conferences that are out there. “Divorcing leadership development from discipleship can leave people more skilled and less sanctified. And when competency and skill outpace character, leaders are set up for a fall. We don’t serve people well if we teach them how to lead without teaching them how to follow Him. We don’t serve leaders well if we develop their skills without shepherding their character” (160). Let’s make sure that the very best in leadership development is coming from the church. After all, if we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 ESV) and justified by the finished work of Jesus on the cross, it is apparent that we have been uniquely and intentionally designed to lead.