Some rules on developing leaders in and for the church

By Peter Robinson
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Chris Wright, a biblical scholar and the International Ministries Director of Langham Partnership, has suggested that the great commission in Matthew 28:19, 20 is not so much a mandate to go to the far corners of the earth as it is about making disciples and baptizing wherever we are. Chris is not downplaying an emphasis on missions. In fact, his argument is that we should be involved in mission wherever we find ourselves: in whatever we do and wherever we are we should be engaged in God’s work of drawing all people to himself.

Since Jesus was speaking to his immediate group of eleven followers in Matthew 28 it is possible to suggest that this charge is to leaders in the church. This view would seem to reinforce the commonly practised 20/80 rule in which a small minority within the church do the majority—if not all—of the ministry of the church. That would be a problematic understanding both because of the unequal division of labour and the limitation it would place on the ministry of the church, but perhaps most significantly because of the immaturity it fosters in communities. 

Reading Matthew 28 in context of Ephesians 4

When we read Matthew 28 in the context of an Ephesians 4 model of the church, the 20/80 rule is turned on its head. For Christians to grow up in their faith and for the body to function properly, to move toward maturity, every part needs to be working together for the building up of the whole body.  And this requires leaders who know how to lead rather than leaders who do the work of ministry themselves.  

We need a brief comment here about a trend in churches in which it is suggested that everyone in the church has gifts of leadership. Referencing Ephesians 4, proponents argue that everyone in the church has at least one of the five gifts of leadership listed. As appealing as this approach might seem to be it doesn’t bear out in the local economy of our church communities and it reflects a misunderstanding of the particular role in the church for those with these gifts of leadership. Instead, we should recognize that Ephesians is describing a particular role in the church for those with gifts of leadership: it is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ.” Leadership gifting does not confer the responsibility to do the ministry of the church. Rather, it is a call to invite, equip, and encourage the whole body to do ministry in and for the world. 

A healthy body

A healthy body is one in which every part works together for the whole just as a healthy church is one in which the whole community works together, both gathered and scattered, in God’s work of calling all people to himself. At issue here is the recognition that some have particular gifts of leadership precisely so that in using those gifts to build up the body everyone in the church might find their own métier in ministry. 

The tendency towards a professionalism of ministry is so potent that it is essential to work proactively against it. With that in mind here are a few rules that help us foster an Ephesians 4 model of the church.  These aren’t broad rules for how we minister (which would require a much more thorough list) but are, instead, practices that serve to help disciple others as they grow into leadership.

Practices for growing disciples

1)      Use programs to develop leaders. There is a subtle but strong temptation in ministry to put the focus on what we are able to measure, which tends towards our putting our primary focus on the success of programs. Whether we have existing ministries that need new leaders or we are launching new programs that need people to help out, we tend to look around and find the nearest available people who might have the time and energy to do the work that is necessary. But that is to use people to make programs work instead of using programs to help people grow. In the church we need to cultivate the kind of vision and practice where the people who are serving in a ministry (and what is happening in their lives as they grow up in their faith) are more important than the results we hope to see through that ministry. So, for example, developing a small group ministry in a church is good but failing to use that ministry to help people identify their gifts and grow into ministry is a missed opportunity.

2)      Commit to walking alongside of other leaders. It is not enough to tell people to let you know if they need any help along the way or to tell them that you will check in on them from time to time. To give people ministry responsibility without also giving them ministry support is to betray them. It is difficult to find the right balance between micromanaging (where we don’t give others freedom and responsibility to lead) and asking others to take on ministries without paying attention to them as they grow into that responsibility. Learning to lead well demands something of an apprenticeship--we need others to walk alongside of us to help us develop the skills, wisdom and perspective that are essential to weathering the challenges of ministry. There are some leaders who have particular gifts of mentoring others but all of us can play a role in mentoring others, seeing them grow up in the faith, as we walk alongside of them as they learn how to lead. This can be as simple as checking in with them regularly to see how things are going, listening carefully as they take on ministry responsibilities, paying attention to their struggles, concerns, and questions and praying for them. Paying attention builds trust, which in turn fosters good communication.

3)      Never go solo. It is tempting, particularly if we are entrepreneurial to launch a new ministry even if no one else is ready to help out or get involved. We may even justify our efforts with the thought that once others see this new ministry they, too, will get excited about it and want to join in. While that might seem like the easiest and most efficient way to get something new started as quickly as possible, it is to miss the real opportunity of inviting others into shaping a ministry and growing up in their faith as they do so. 

These rules aren’t meant to be comprehensive but they do help provide a sturdy foundation for actively encouraging and supporting others as they grow up in their faith so that the whole body can do the work God has given it to do in the world.



Peter Robinson is Professor of Proclamation, Worship and Ministry at Wycliffe College.