Developing F.A.T. Leaders
By Dilan Braddock
When I felt my call to pastoral ministry during my Junior year at Baylor University, I was ready to give my life and plans over to God. I was enrolled in Baylor’s business school and I felt my call to ministry required a major change, but when I started talking to mentors about this everyone said, “Stop!” They urged me to reconsider, and said the best thing I could do for my ministry was stick to my management degree and then head to seminary, which I did. Since then, I have realized a large part of ministry is people management and leadership development. As a student coordinator who is transitioning to a director of discipleship role, I have seen this firsthand.
The numbers that matter
I stared at my Church here in Houston a week before COVID hit. My first year of ministry was a brutal one, but it did teach me which numbers were most important. Before COVID, the numbers that we tracked were the quantity of worshipers and first time visitors but for us, these numbers are now secondary. The most important number that we track now is who our new leaders are, and how we are discipling those currently on our teams. Butts in seats isn’t the greatest measure of church health. Instead, it is the strength of our leaders. If the Church wants to thrive in this day and age, it will depend on the development of key leaders.
If we are seeking to create Christian Leaders, their development must be rooted in the life-long process of discipleship. In other words, we don’t create leaders and hope they become disciples. We create disciples who will become leaders in their communities. Eric Geiger and Kevin Beck studied church leadership for years, and show us the pitfalls of separating the two. “Divorcing leadership development from discipleship can leave people more skilled and less sanctified. And when competency and skill outpace character, leaders are set up for a fall. We don’t serve people well if we teach them how to lead without teaching them how to follow Him. We don’t serve leaders well if we develop their skills without shepherding their character.”
Churches who prioritize skills over sanctification end up with scandals. Pastors need to invest in their key leaders’ spiritual growth as well as their leadership traits. There is only one problem with this approach; it’s the difficult and long way. To be honest, there are many times where I think “Wow, this would be so much easier if I did this task or lead this team myself.” But easier does not mean better.
There is a lot for us to do as pastors. More than any one woman or man can bear on their own. This isn’t a new problem. Adding leadership development to this list seems impossible, but it can become our relief. Moses’ father in law, Jethro, gives the leaders of the Isrealites some ancient wisdom that we need to hear today,
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Exodus 18:17-21
Moses was trying to do it all himself, and Jethro saw the burnout coming from a mile away. I bet Jethro would walk up to many pastors today and exclaim “What you are doing is not good!” Developing leaders is not only beneficial for those who are being equipped, but it also can save your own ministry. Jethro instructs Moses to find trustworthy people from the community who aren’t in it for themselves and appoint them as leaders. Jesus doubled down on this with the selection of the disciple, sending of the 72, and The Great Commission. We are in the business of making disciples who make disciples. If we want to transform our churches and communities, we need to make sure we are constantly seeking to develop and disciple new leaders who can help bear the load of ministry and increase our fruitfulness.
So, what does it look like for us to find, disciple, and equip people to be key leaders in our communities? Let’s walk through some of this practically, step by step.
Cast a Wide Net
I remember reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor in seminary and cracking up over one section where he joked about going into a new church, expecting a squad of spiritual Green Berets who would be skillfully equipped to tackle any problem they faced. When he got there he quickly realized his church, like all of ours, is filled with a bunch of average joes. People who are doing their best, but are struggling with sin and don’t have a perfect theology.
When looking for potential leaders in our congregations, I sometimes worry we set our standards a little too high. We only look for the best of the best, the 10/10 leaders who check every box and are immediately ready to step into service. I hate to burst your bubble, but you will not find many of those out there. Just like Jesus did when finding his own disciples, we have to cast a wider net.
Around here we like to say look for F.A.T. Leaders: Faithful, Available, and Teachable. First off, they have to be faithful to God and have a velocity towards Christ. This means they have both the direction and acceleration towards Christ. How long they have been a Christian isn’t as important as the manner and speed in which they are heading towards Him. Secondly, they have to be available. I have had so many amazing prospects fail to meet this requirement. They are gifted and say they want to serve, but they are booked from 8AM – 8 PM Monday through Friday, or can only commit to one Sunday a month. While we should find a place for these people to serve, they cannot be our key leaders if they have no time. Finally, they need to be teachable. This may be the most important thing. We want leaders who will listen, submit, and be open minded.
F.A.T leaders could have been attending your church for ten years or two months. The thing I love about this criteria is that key leaders don’t have to be long standing members, big time givers, or have influential jobs in the secular space. Some of my greatest success stories are people who joined my teams in the first month of attending the church.
Include them in the Process
When I find the F.A.T people in my congregation who have these three traits or the potential for these three, we grab coffee, lunch, or a beer and start the process. Leadership development always has to be relational. Seminars and training can be a helpful tool, but large group meetings cannot replace one on one mentoring.
After I meet with people and get to know them, I plug them in where their passions and skills meet our needs. Then they begin by simply observing. One of my key leaders or I will lead with them for a couple weeks and once they are comfortable watching, I equip them with all the tools they need and let them start leading under my supervision. This is the training wheel phase, and this is also where most churches stop. We recruit volunteers, write them lesson plans, make a schedule, and send them weekly reminder emails.
After your leaders have been serving under your supervision for a few months, you need to invite them into the decision making room and let them help you to make this team better. Meet with them 1-on-1 and give them permission to start making meaningful changes in the teams they serve on. Sure, you cannot accept every suggestion they make, but they will probably have a few helpful ideas. Accepting a volunteer’s suggestions takes humility as a leader, but if we want to create a collaborative environment, we have to accept feedback.
Give leaders responsibility
When your leaders have been serving for a year, maybe more, you need to start empowering them to truly lead. By this, I mean giving up control. Volunteers will become bored and unmotivated if they are stuck doing the same tasks with limited influence for long periods of time. Begin equipping and challenging them to do the tasks that you would usually do.
Criag Groeschel says it this way, “Don’t just delegate tasks to the next generation. If you delegate tasks, you create followers. Instead, delegate authority to create leaders.”
As ministers, this can be uncomfortable. It’s much easier to delegate tasks than to give up authority. Can I let this 23 year old who has never been to seminary teach my students at youth group? Yes. Can I let this mom of three pick a curriculum and lead a young mothers ministry? You bet. Can this retiree be in charge of our entire Tech team on Sunday mornings? If you let him.
This is the most dangerous step in the entire process, because you are entrusting your new leaders to ride without the training wheels. Will there be mistakes or bumps along the way? Probably. But that is the price of dealing with people. Jesus worked through the disciples, and those guys were a mess. I think we can work with the flock He has given us.
Be Able to Step Away
As a pastor, I know I have done my job when I feel like I can step away and let my leaders own the group they lead. I have been serving in my current community for three years now, and I am just getting to this point with some of my people. This article may make this path seem easy, but it’s so difficult. It’s hard to let go and give up power and authority, but it’s the gospel thing to do. The Christ hymn found in Philippians 2:5-11 asks us to have the same attitude as Christ, who even though He was God, did not hold that over anybody, but became a servant of all.
Being a servant hearted leader sometimes means stepping away from a team or ministry and having faith that God will be just fine without you. When we are stubborn, we rob others of the opportunity to serve and limit the Kingdom impact. When we develop leaders and let them lead, we see true multiplication. The secret is, when pastors step away from some of the extra stuff stacked on our plate, it will free us up for the spiritual aspects of ministry we often overlook – prayer, scripture reading, and silence.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common