Developing Organizational Leaders

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In a previous post, I wrote about developing disciplers and shepherds, which accounts for much of the leadership that most churches need. In this post, I turn my attention to describing organizational leaders – and how we can develop them from our own congregation:

Exploring the start of the problem

Lets take as a starting point, that most pastors have no formal training in organizational leadership. Some of them, however, are great organizational leaders. In my conversations with leaders of churches, I have discovered that most learn to lead and manage organizationally by doing. When they got their first pastorate, it came with the expectation that they would be the leader, the executive, the decision maker, the planner, the organizer, the coordinator. Most learned by trial and error.

In my experience in the corporate world, it is not that different. Some leaders had taken “management” classes, in school but the day to day challenges of management are very far from the classroom. Most managers have learned more by doing than by studying. In the corporate world, however, managers can learn by watching each other. In most companies, there are a few very successful, talented managers that others can observe, emulate, imitate. Often, a leader can sit under another leader as a mentor, enhancing the observation, with direct interaction and the ability to ask questions, or bring challenges to a master. In the business domain, there are great masters and authors who we can read, and take some of their learning away to try to practice in our setting. Demming, Drucker, Covey, and many more have great practical advice and ideas for leaders to put into practice.

Most churches are small, and pastors are often alone – having no peers that they interact with on a daily basis. Their opportunities to interact with other church leaders is greatly limited, so their opportunities to learn by observing other leaders is similarly limited. Mentoring opportunities are also limited. They may be limited by physical proximity, or denominational affiliation, or by organizational structure and culture.

Why this is a problem

In most churches, the pastor or senior pastor or monsignor or bishop is the key organizational leader. The expectation is that he or she will “create” the organizational culture. This expectation falls on one who may not have much organizational support from the denomination, may not have much of a peer group for support. What is more, people have an expectation that their pastor will simply “know” how to do this.

What is the result

Most churches keep rolling along the same way they have been because it requires the least skill and know-how as an organizational leader. I fear that many pastors are terrified to say what they really feel about the state of their church, because if they did it would be incumbent on them to lead the church to a better place.

Where can we start

Since pastors may not have the right leadership skills, know-how, or experience, and they are the ones we most frequently look to to lead – what is a body to do? How can we get out of the trick bag? Some have suggested sending pastors to management class, or infecting seminary with some organizational leadership training.

Where does leadership come from

In the wild, leadership is really born out of passion and frustration. Passion can be thought of as a burning desire – an overwhelming interest in some outcome. Frustration is the burden one feels personally to do something about that outcome. They are not the same. As a sports fan, you may be passionately interested in the prospects of your favorite team to win this years championship, but you may not be frustrated enough to get out of the stands and try out for the team. Frustration is what gets one out of the position of spectator, and onto the team that is directly accountable for the outcome.

From the stands to the bench

As organizational leader you can move from #1 player to manager/coach/team captain if only you have a team. Within every church there are pockets of individuals who are passionate about the mission. Some of them may even be frustrated enough to do something about it. As the de facto organizational leader, this is your bench; your team roster. Finding these frustrated passionate individuals is step number one. Remember God’s plan for the body – it is that He gives us all gifts and talents that can be used to fortify and edify the body. Not that ONE should have all the gifts and talents, but that ALL should exercise the gifts and talents we are given. Furthermore, God gives gifts and talents on a temporary basis to each of us, as we participate in the mission of His Church.

Leadership is not a solo activity

A leader must have followers, and some of those followers are also leaders. Let God equip your team with people who have leadership skills, talent and experience.

Leadership is not about telling

The best leaders don’t necessarily tell people what to do, and how to do it. The best leaders ask questions because questions are more powerful than answers. When you ask your teams questions, and you value their answers you are investing trust in them. Their answers tell you whether they are aligned with you and each other. Their answers allow you to steer their thinking by asking more questions.


Pastors can improve their own leadership and develop leaders within their organization simultaneously, by filling positions on their roster with people whom God has equipped with gifts and talents for this purpose. These people will be identified by their passion and motivation. Pastors can learn to lead from followers who are also leaders. They can develop leaders by investing trust in them.

My next will focus more specifically about leadership activities and how to do them as a team.

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