Identifying and training the potential leaders in which we are to pour our time and energy into is not an easy task. Yet, it is vitally important if we are going to fulfill our mission and sustain what we are currently building. As a pastor, I understand more and more each year why Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before selecting the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-13). If you have ever had the painful experience of investing in someone and watching them walk away, you understand the value in choosing the right people.
Here are some mistakes I have made and lessons learned along the way:
Looking for people already mature.
Oh, how I wish leaders could be ordered on Amazon already programmed with leadership skills, faithfulness, and Vineyard values. They would sell out immediately. The challenge is that leaders must be made from the raw materials in everyday people. Leaders in my church have many different backgrounds. I’ve learned it can take just as long to deconstruct wrong beliefs and values in people than starting with those who are newer to the faith. Both can bring unique perspectives and gifts to the table.
We don’t have to start with someone who’s already mature in their leadership. Paul had a lot to develop in Timothy (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Yet, there was loyalty in their relationship that caused Paul to say, “you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” — Phil. 2:22. It is worth the time to invest in someone, to watch them grow, and to help them find out how God wants to use them.
Compromising faithfulness for ability.
Loyalty and faithfulness are obvious qualities we look for in a potential leader. But what if that loyalty is a façade hiding insecurity and the need for approval? I have experienced insecure people latch on to a leader because they represent the father figure from which they need approval. The test comes when the relationship is tested through correction. As one of my mentors told me, “you never know what is in someone till you cross them.”Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it — Psalm 141:5. They may have all the right abilities, but don’t forget to ask, how’s their heart? We don’t want to take advantage of their loyalty but want to help them only do what the Father is doing in their lives.
Only considering extroverts.
It is easier to identify someone who is the life of the party. Their gregarious nature and personality make them stand out, but it may not mean they are a leader. Some people use an outgoing personality to hide insecurities. It is more challenging to notice the quiet person in the corner who may not be the center of attention, but when they speak people listen.
James and John were extroverts but their insecurities showed up and they wanted to call down fire (Luke 9:54). By contrast, David couldn’t even be found at the party (1 Samuel 16:11-13). He was out in the field with the sheep being ignored by men but being prepared by God. We must consider all kinds of people and listen to the Holy Spirit on how to help them use their gifting and personality.
Fishing solely in the church pond.
You may be crossing paths with future leaders outside of a church context. You can ask, Who in the community expresses leadership? Who are the influencers and gatherers of people? They could be entrepreneurs, teachers, or wise community members who have lived in the area for decades. My prayer is, “God help me see the potential in people which you see.” Then you can start to ask the Father how you can invite them into your community.
For example, Jesus tells his disciples to target the “man of peace” when they enter a new town (Luke 10). He saw these people as key to extending the influence of His kingdom. He must also have seen these qualities in Matthew. Matthew responds to Jesus’ invitation and throws a party and all his friends come. He was an influencer and gatherer (Mark 2:13-17). Like Michael Gatlin says, I believe some of our best leaders don’t even know Jesus yet.
Depending on one set of eyes
Who else on staff is connecting with people you could identify to be leaders? It’s important to get input from other leaders. You cannot know and have relationship with everyone in your church, so you’ll want to throw your net out to a wider area.
It’s also important for your potential leaders to be trained by the right people. Sometimes a staff member can be a great friend and peer to a potential leader but they need more. They may need other experience to further their leadership gifting and skills. John the Baptist wasn’t reluctant to hand-off his disciples to Jesus (John 1:35-37). He knew Jesus could take them further than he could.
Learning these lessons has allowed me to identify the right leaders to sustain the ministry that God has called me to. It gives me great pride to see spiritual sons and daughters take the lead. They are taking everything I can give them and adding their own gifting to excel in places I cannot.
Have more lessons you’ve learned while developing leaders? We’d love to hear from you.
Share lessons you’ve learned with pastors and planters on the Multiply Vineyard forum
Tony Portell is the pastor of Life Church Indianapolis, a Vineyard Church with two campuses. He also serves on the Department of Mental Health’s Crisis Response Team and as a Fire Department Chaplain. He holds degrees in counseling and pastoral studies. Tony is an entrepreneur having started and franchised businesses nationally and internationally, a mission organization and four churches. He is married to Lori and they have two children and two grandchildren.