Every leader has experienced a lack of leadership around them at one time or another. We’ve all been there. At one point, I remember showing up early to a conference, and Steve Nicholson saw me and asked, “hey, how are things going in Duluth?” And I told him “I just don’t have enough leaders. I have to find some more leaders.” He just kind of chuckled and said, “Well, they’re all right in front of you.”
In the moment, I didn’t really like that, but over time, I began to realize that God actually had given me all the leaders that I needed in my church, even though it was pretty small at the time. My job was to invest in them, to help them to become the leaders I needed—the leaders God had always intended for them to be.
What if this was true for you, too? What if the leaders you were looking for really were right in front of you, just like I discovered they were for me? Sometimes, we just have a hard time seeing who these people are, or figuring out how to unlock the leadership gifts God has already put in them. That’s why we’re going to take the next few months to unpack this little acronym that you can’t pronounce—IRTDMN—from our Launching Leaders booklet. Some of us have been using it for years, and we’ve decided that it’s unpronounceable. But that hasn’t stopped us from making it into a word, and even using it as a verb—who are you IRTDMN-ing right now?—anyway.
Haven’t heard of IRTDMN yet? Well, read on. We hope you find this as useful as we have.
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Our tried and true, biblically-based method for reproducing leaders is taken straight from what we see Jesus do in the gospels with his disciples. It would be hard to find a better model for leadership development than Jesus. His leadership team has continued to develop and reproduce for two millennia.
So, in order to help ourselves remember the steps of this process, we’ve come up with this process: IRTDMN. Clunky as it is, many of us have been using this for so long and so frequently that it just rolls off our tongues. IRTDMN stands for these six steps:
I — Identify
R — Recruit
T — Train
D — Deploy
M — Monitor
N — Nurture
In broad strokes, these steps describe the arc of developing someone as a leader. Each stage has its own concerns and challenges, but this month, we’re going to focus on the first one:
Identifying potential leaders can be one of the biggest challenges in the whole training process. God provides what we need, so it’s likely the leaders you are looking for are already right in front of you. Pay attention to the people you have. Leader or not, they all need opportunities to serve in the body of Christ. Make sure you are invite everyone to serve and volunteer—everyone gets to play! This is where you’ll start to see leaders emerge.
Leaders Start as Servants
Actually, leaders remain servants, too. But the first place you’ll notice a potential leader is in some kind of service. Observe your volunteers. And pray for them. This can be the hardest part of reproducing leadership for many of us, but prayer tends to open our eyes to see people the way God does.
On your own, you might look around and think “there’s nobody here who could ever lead anything!” Or you might get way too excited about every single person who shows up to do anything, and find yourself trying to make everyone a leader. Neither extreme will probably turn out well. But Paul assures us that Christ has provided the leaders we need to build up his church.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… Ephesians 4:11-12
Think of all the people in your church like a bed of seeds in a nursery. When you plant seeds in the spring, it takes a while for them to sprout. Some emerge sooner than others. Some never do. But discovering which ones will sprout takes some time. The same goes for leaders. Some start to catch your attention right away. Others may take time to show their leadership gifts.
Leaders have Influence
One way to identify leaders is to look behind them and see who’s following. Practically, this means that you might be looking for the person other people listen to in a group. This isn’t always the loudest or the most enthusiastic person. A leader may not constantly demand attention. But when they do speak, others value what they say.
Maybe they help the group come to a decision. Maybe they easily and naturally bring people together—they could be the one who gathers a crowd to go out to lunch together after your Sunday service. Maybe you notice their friends a co-volunteers seeking out their advice and opinion. These can all be signs of influence—leaders lead, and people want to follow them.
Leaders Start Small.
If you think you have a leader on your hands, before you recruit them, it’s a good idea to test to see if they are ready for some leadership. For this reason, it’s really handy to always have a few low-level leadership projects on hand that require an assortment of leadership gifts.
You might have a desk drawer or filing cabinet in desperate need of reorganization. Someone with administrative leadership gifts might jump at the chance to tackle that project. Maybe your church gives away bottles of water in the park on a hot day as a simple outreach. Someone with evangelism and leadership gifts might thrive as they lead of one of the groups of volunteers walking around the park.
The possibilities here are limitless. What simple jobs would you have for someone with a hospitality gift? Compassion? Strategic thinking?
When you have these ready, you can start to match up the jobs with the people you think might be leaders. Invite them to one of these tasks. See how they respond. Watch how they do. Check in with them afterward. Ask lots of questions. Remember, God has already created the leaders to build his church. We just want to help get those people into the right places, to help unlock what God has already placed inside of them.
Leaders are FAST.
As you watch potential leaders serve, look for people who are FAST:
F — Faithful: Do they do what they say they are going to do? Can you count on them? Often this is the first test. You have someone who seems ready and enthusiastic, but they don’t follow through on their commitments, and you are left to scramble. A leader is someone you can depend on.
A — Available: Do they have time to commit to leadership? If they don’t have the time, it doesn’t matter how gifted they are. They simply won’t be able to give what is required of leaders in ministry. (Note: Don’t disqualify people too quickly on this criterion, though. They may be willing to make time for leadership opportunities. In fact, the people you are looking for may already be quite busy. Availability can be much more about how a person prioritizes their time, rather than how much leisure time they have right now).
S — Servant-Hearted: Do they show up to serve? This can manifest itself in a few ways. Watch how they work with others on a team. Do they notice and anticipate the needs of others? Do distractions or other priorities get in the way of them contributing to the team? Do they get irritated when they are asked to do a different job than the one they came to do? Jesus came to serve. Did they?
T — Teachable: Do they listen to and graciously receive correction? This is incredibly important. Everyone will have things to learn on the way to becoming a leader. Everyone will need to be corrected or redirected from time to time. If you bring correction, and the person gets defensive or angry, they might not be ready for leadership. And you want people on your team who can take direction or some constructive criticism, otherwise, your vision gets derailed pretty quickly.
Developing leaders can be a long and sometimes frustrating process. But as you develop your ability to identify potential leaders well, the rest of the process will be smoother. If you start out with the right people, you save yourself much greater frustration down the road. And the payoff is immense. God doesn’t intend for us to all be ministry mavericks on our own—he has the people to build the church. So he helps us discover where to invest, and he empowers us to do it. To raise up the leaders he has already given us.
Next time: Recruit! Once you’ve identified your leaders, we’ll discuss how to get ‘em on board.
What do you think—do these steps seem helpful to you? What are your biggest challenges in leadership development?