Over the years I have consulted with a large number of church groups on the area of leadership. As part of what I do I ask people to make a list of all of their leadership development problems and challenges. Almost all groups are able to generate a long list quickly. Then I draw a line on a white board and ask, ‘Now which of these are actually discipleship issues, not leadership issues?’ Between 70% and 90% of the issues initially identified as leadership problems are actually discipleship problems.
In a similar exercise, I draw a line down the middle of the white board and ask people to identify the characteristics of a disciple on the left-hand side. When they are finished, I ask them to list the distinct characteristics of a leader on the right-hand side – only those characteristics that aren’t already mentioned under the ‘disciple’ heading. Most of the time there is nothing on the right-hand side. Almost all of the qualities of an effective leader are founded on the fact that he or she is primarily a wholehearted disciple of Jesus.
Disciples are people who engage in spiritual transformation, authentic relationships and sacrificial service. Our character is shaped as we lovingly obey Jesus, listen to the Spirit and step forward into the challenges of authentic missional living. It’s from this pool of people –disciples – that we should draw our potential leaders.
Leadership problems usually aren’t leadership problems at all. They’re discipleship problems. We are trying to make leaders out of people who aren’t well developed disciples. It doesn’t work. Without the foundation of discipleship, we end up with all kinds of problems that we see regularly in churches.
The good news for existing leaders is this: start with a philosophy that focuses on multiplying disciples first, then on developing leaders only from those who are already fruitful disciples. You will avoid the most common leadership problems.