A few years ago, Leadership Training became all the rage in churches. Suddenly if you weren’t training leaders, you weren’t really accomplishing much. “Everyone is a leader, so everyone must be trained as a leader,” we were told.
We read all the leadership books, went to all the leadership seminars, and we worked every leadership mantra we came across into our sermons:
Everything rises and falls on leadership
Leaders are readers (Except for the illiterate ones)
Leaders never eat alone (Which means introverts aren’t leaders. Wait, everyone is a leader. Hmmm)
To make sure that all of the leaders that we had to train got a steady diet of these leadership nuggets, we began herding the sheep through a variety of leadership classes. Small group leader training, ministry leader training, team leader training, cheerleader training. (Maybe not cheerleaders) Everyone needed to go through our leadership classes.
A couple of challenges have popped up, however, on the road to 100% trained leaders.Everyone’s a leader, so everyone must be trained. Our job is to do the training.
First, we discovered that maybe not EVERYONE is a leader. When we started our parade of leadership classes, the same somewhat dysfunctional people kept showing up. And the funny thing is that they were often the only ones who completed all 36 weeks of the Leadership Basic Training course we had so carefully crafted. At the end of the course, we would give them a graduation certificate, but there was no way on Earth we were going to trust them to lead anything.
It turns out some people don’t make good leaders. Not everyone is a leader.
The second, and bigger, discovery is that leadership classes don’t develop leaders. At the end of six weeks (or nine weeks or two years), students become graduates, not necessarily leaders.
I know that you will toss up examples, but I will counter with 30 years of watching, writing, and leading leadership classes both here and in other countries. I can point to few, if any, leaders who were primarily (or even secondarily) developed through a class. Physical and virtual classes are equally ineffective.
Classes and training programs look great on paper. We can create milestones and markers and spreadsheets and dashboards. We can have meetings to evaluate progress and reward according to quotas and goals.
The only challenge is that this approach doesn’t produce leaders.
At best, classes convey concepts, but those same concepts are available in books around the world. Small group leaders don’t come from small group leader classes, campus pastors don’t come from campus pastor classes, and worship leaders don’t come from worship leader classes. Classes don’t harm leaders; they just don’t produce leaders.
Last week, I had this theory confirmed from two directions. On Thursday, I participated in an online gathering around the topic of campus pastor development. I shared the fantastic campus pastor class we created at Seacoast that didn’t develop a single campus pastor. The other consultant in the meeting shared the exact same experience. Her church had, simultaneously to Seacoast, developed a brilliant educational program for potential campus pastors. Their success rate was also zero. Two programs developed separately by two successful multi-site churches with a net outcome of zero.
The second confirmation came from Marcus Buckingham at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. I wasn’t able to attend, but my wife shared that Buckingham’s research shows that leaders aren’t developed through leadership training classes. Concepts are shared, but leaders aren’t created.
So here’s my plea to church leaders; let’s stop pouring time and resources into leadership training classes. Let’s pull the plug; stop the madness. The more time we waste herding people into classrooms and force feeding them leadership platitudes, the less time we have to actually discover and develop and deploy leaders.
Next, we’ll look at how Jesus developed leaders. (Spoiler alert: He never created a workbook or had a sign-up sheet.)
When I posted that leadership training classes don’t work, the reaction was mixed from “You thought leadership training classes worked? Are you an idiot?” to “Of course leadership training classes work. Are you an idiot?” (My paraphrase)
Now I want to look at how Jesus developed leaders.
He never held a class, he never put out a sign-up sheet, and there wasn’t even a Starbucks in Galilee. But the eleven men he poured his life into changed the world. So here are my observations on the Jesus Leadership Pipeline:
Jesus spent time observing potential leaders
He spent time interacting with potential leaders in a variety of situations before tapping them for further development.
Jesus handpicked his leaders
No one self-selected into his group. Anyone could follow Jesus, but his inner circle was by invitation only.
Jesus taught leadership along the way
Rather than classrooms, books, and exercises, Jesus used birds and lilies and farms to teach leadership. Leadership development was a natural outgrowth of hanging out together.
Jesus put his students into difficult leadership situations
He constantly challenged them to lead beyond their comfort zones. (“How are you going to feed the crowd?” “Walk on water.” “Go do miracles.”)
Jesus did not give his students a leadership template to follow; he gave them a mission to complete
His final leadership instruction was to “Go make disciples.” He left the how, where, and when completely up to them.
Jesus taught in public; he debriefed in private
He often debriefed his public sermons in private with his students. They learned as much from the Q&A as they did from the original content.
Jesus treated each leader as an individual
He confronted Peter, he loved John, and he challenged Thomas. In his final words on the beach in John 21, he told Peter that everyone has their own, individualized path to leadership.
Jesus never kicked a leader out
He challenged and corrected his students, but he never excommunicated them. Even Judas left on his own.
Jesus spent three years developing 12 men
He apparently couldn’t come up with a mass program of microwave leadership development. Not only did his program take three years with 12 students, but it was 24/7/365.
So if the Son of God poured every waking hour for three years into a class of twelve handpicked leaders to achieved a 92% success rate, it’s little wonder that we struggle developing leaders in six-week training classes.
The good news is that Jesus gave us a clear and simple pattern for leadership development. The challenging news is that there are no shortcuts.
Source: CHURCH LEADERS