I don’t recall aspiring to be a leader. I do have childhood memories of realizing that I was one of the fastest on the playground, or that I got better grades than my friends. But the moments when I realized that I might be able to lead were different. Almost always, those moments involved the recognition and encouragement of someone else.
Mr. Showers asked me to consider joining my high school’s student council. Mr. Hsieh encouraged me to apply to be a resident advisor in the college dorm. My parents and then Pastor Oliver assured me that I could lead youth ministry on a church staff.
I would not have considered myself ready for any of those challenges. I believed in their value, and I respected those who were already leading in those ways. But in each case, it wasn’t until someone told me I was ready, and told me they believed in me, and gave me an opportunity, that I was willing to try leading in those areas.
It’s a pattern that I now see looking back over my career and ministry too. Keith told me I was ready to be a manager. Roy told me I was ready to be a director and then a vice president. Tim told me that I could help lead a new church plant.
Each of those leadership encouragers in my life were also leadership developers. They not only told me I could do it and gave me an opportunity. They also came alongside me to show me how to lead in those areas, and to support me, both as I grew, and when I failed.
In most cases, they were able to stay nearby until I didn’t need their help anymore. By then, they often had moved on to something else, because my development as a leader actually enabled their own development and opportunities.
In fact, as I look back, not many of my leadership developers had my development as their primary goal. In almost all cases, they were people who had some larger goal, some important job to get done, some mission about which they were passionate. It was their passion to advance that mission that led them to enlist help. And along the way, they discovered that additional leaders are the best kind of help for a mission.
Every healthy church needs leadership developers. In fact, churches only stay healthy and have opportunities to grow when they intentionally develop and enable new leaders. It always involves some risk, and it always requires patience with mistakes. It always demands that current leaders be willing to let go, even in areas where they are leading effectively, because there is always something else that needs to be done.
The “something else that needs to be done” is so important, too, because leaders are not just needed in each local church, but also in the state, national, and international mission fields of that church. One pastor I know has a “preaching school” within his church, where he develops pastors to help other churches in the area. Another pastor I know is intentionally developing church planters and campus pastors so that their church’s witness can expand to other communities.
If you are in any way a leader in your church, or in other settings, you too can probably list the leadership developers in your life, those who encouraged you and gave you opportunities. They are probably among the most respected people of your life. Let me encourage you, in your church setting in particular, to be one of those leadership developers. New leaders are desperately needed to advance the gospel, both in your church, and the mission fields of the world.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.