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The messy business of developing leaders

Ryan Kearns » Church Church Leadership Planning Coaching

Are you and your church ready to embrace the mess of developing leaders?

Churches and organizations of all sizes continue to face the incredible need of how to develop leaders. I am convinced that the biggest need and foundation to developing leaders is not based upon programs, but a shift in values. Let me explain.

Development is messy.

If you have little kids, you have seen first-hand that for them to learn to eat is messy, but it is a mess that is all part of their development. Yes, it is much easier to feed our children than to teach them how to do it themselves. Yet, this plan of action would eventually have very unfortunate and awkward consequences for both of us. I can only imagine if I would have to help cut her wedding cake because she still had not learned how to use a knife!

Invest, don’t bypass

Developing leaders is also messy.

The messiness involved with developing leaders often functions as the main barrier for why churches struggle at developing leaders.

Inevitably, developing leaders will fail, cause confusion, and require extra work. The tendency for many of us is to just bypass the mess of developing a leader because it will just be quicker and done with more excellence if we do things ourselves. But in doing so, we reveal that we are not actually committed to developing leaders.

Creating the right context and culture for developing leaders is as important as any of the best practices and leadership theories you can ever learn. Jesus illuminates this truth for us, particularly in his relationship with Peter.

How Jesus developed Peter

Peter was not going to make anyone’s A-team as a promising ministry leader. He was a small-business owner and worked a blue-collar job as a fisherman. (I can’t help but picture one of those captains from Deadliest Catch.) Yet this did not deter Jesus, he was not interested in those with the most theological training, but those whom God has given him (John 10:29). This should be encouraging for all of us to develop those whom God has given us rather than who we would wish for.

Peter would continue to make messes during Jesus’ ministry and slow things down.

  • Peter started to walk on water only to sink and need Jesus to bail him out (Matt. 14:30).
  • Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was talking about when he awkwardly offered to throw together some tents for glorifying Moses and Elijah (Luke 9: 33).
  • Peter tried to override Jesus in washing his feet, and then reversed course and actually asked for Jesus to give his hands and head a cleaning as well.
  • Peter tried to take on the Roman army and cut a soldier’s ear off (Matt. 26:51).
  • Peter disowned Jesus and denied his leader in his darkest hour (Luke 22:54–62).

But in all these messes were lessons that Jesus used to make Peter into the man who would preach at Pentecost and lead the early church. Developing leaders was not a back-up plan for Jesus but was in the DNA of his short season of ministry. He was incubating leaders to further the mission.

Peter, like you and me, needed to be developed in time with grace.

Peter was a mess. I am a mess. And you are a mess. But it is in the mess that Jesus makes leaders. How much your church is willing to embrace the mess of developing leaders will reveal how just how committed your church.

Peter, like you and me, needed to be developed in groups and time with grace, feedback, and repentance. His influence would be tremendous.

There are Peters all around you. Notice Jesus did not start with CEO-level leaders, but started with uneducated, blue-collar, outside the religious establishment, rough around the edge type of guys. I could be wrong, but I imagine you might have a few folks around your church that fit this description!

Creating a church leadership culture that embraces the mess will in large part determine the quality and types of leaders you produce.

The conviction and culture to develop

This is because developing leaders is not so much about resources, expertise, and skill, but much more about the conviction and culture needed to do so.

Think about it this way.

Can you imagine the experience Peter had every morning the rest of his life when he would hear a rooster crow? It must have reminded him of where the grace of Jesus met his most miserable, messiest moment. And because his leader did not give up on him at his lowest or toss him aside, even this deep failure was able to be redeemed for Peter’s story as a leader.

So, are you and your church ready to embrace the mess of developing leaders?

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 4:4


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