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Defining “Leader” by Michael Warden, CPCC

May 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Coaching Ministry Leaders

How Do You Define "Leader" in your faith community?

How Do You Define "Leader" in your faith community?

One of the key roles of any ministry leader is multiplication–that is, the ongoing work of identifying and developing new leaders to extend their reach and multiply the impact of the church or organization. Most leaders work to accomplish this by creating apprentice systems or curriculum-based programs designed to train a potential leader to fill the role. Too often, however, ministry leaders jump into this process without first asking a vital foundational question:

What is a leader?

How your church or organization answers that question will shape every aspect of leadership development you create from there on out. When I have ministry leaders take the time to genuinely explore this question together, they generally discover that their assumed definition of “leader”–that is, the definition they naturally gravitate towards–is far too narrow, and effectively blinds them from seeing or engaging with the full potential for leadership within their church. Here’s what I mean: Most ministry leaders tend to define leadership in terms of the organization–i.e. You are a leader if you fill a specific leadership role in the organizational structure. So staff members, small group leaders, children’s ministry teachers, serving team leaders–these are the leadership roles ministry leaders see, and tend to train (exclusively) for.

But what happens when you define leadership in terms of the church organism (i.e. the entire faith community) rather than just in terms of the organization? Suddenly a host of leaders show up on the radar that were previously invisible. For example, what about the woman in your church who organizes and leads relief efforts through the Red Cross in your community? Or the man who meets informally with a group of young men each week to train them in the Word? Or the musical artist who regularly invites other musicians from the community over to his house to jam together and talk about life? Or the family that takes in foster children from third world countries? All of these folks, you realize, are leaders within your church. You begin to see that leadership has much more to do with influence than it does with an organizational position. As John Quincy Adams rightly said, “If your actions inspire others to do more, and to become more, then you are a leader.”

We sometimes forget that the church organization is designed to serve the church organism, and not the other way around.

So what happens when ministry leaders define “leader” in these broader terms? Well first, you begin to see how limited and limiting most of our organizational leadership training programs really are, and how many people they “miss” altogether. Not that we shouldn’t train people to take on leadership roles in the organization–of course we should! But a broader definition of “leader” turns the focus outward, and shifts our thoughts toward a more missional mindset. Leadership development becomes less about “How can we recruit them to join us?” and more about “How can we come alongside and serve them?” How can we as ministry leaders begin to support, provide resources for and even train the people of influence (i.e. leaders!) in our faith community to increase their impact and multiply themselves?

I find that when ministry leaders begin asking questions like these, two things happen: Leadership Development becomes a lot more messy and harder to measure. But it also becomes a lot more powerful, effective and life-giving–both for the ministry leaders and for those they lead.

What’s your definition of “leader”?

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