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Testing the Heart of Potential Leaders

Tony Portell

Tony Portell

Pastor, Life Church Indianapolis
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One of the great temptations in pastoring is putting people in places of leadership before they are ready. Let’s face it; sometimes it seems like a warm body is better than having to do something yourself. We need people to serve and lead, but there is a real danger in releasing people too soon before they have been properly developed.

When you acknowledge someone as a leader, they immediately have influence. You want that influence to be positive and supportive of your other volunteers.

If there is any question about whether or not a volunteer’s heart is in the right place, the best time to deal with it is before you give them a leadership position or title.

If there is any question about whether or not a volunteer’s heart is in the right place, the best time to deal with it is before you give them a leadership position or title. We’re all painfully aware that it is much easier to hand out a title than to take it back.

I’ve heard it said, “You never know what is in someone until you cross them.” These words have stuck in my brain for twenty years. Warning signs of danger often do not appear until there is a disagreement. Then you discover what is in someone’s heart.

What if there was a way to deal with conflict and see how a potential leader responds before there is a real issue?

Here’s an idea to try out. Give a potential leader a task. When they have finished, compliment them on what worked well. Next, look for something wrong or something they could have done differently. Share it with them, and see how they respond.

I know this can be tough, because as pastors we’re nurturers, but we are also leaders. If we are going to develop more leaders, we are going to have to be able to deal with conflict and learn how to spot these warning signs before larger problems arise.

You can learn a lot from the person’s response to your critique. I’ve found that there are typically three negative responses.

If they make an excuse, they are often battling insecurity. They cannot stand to fail in their own eyes or yours so they make excuses to avoid taking ownership.

If they get mad, they are often struggling with immaturity. They may get defensive or quiet.

If they get hurt, they are often dealing with identity. They may not be able to separate what they’ve done from who they are. Every criticism seems like a personal attack.

What is the ideal response you are looking for? You want someone who is humble, teachable, and secure. If they respond in a negative way over a small issue, you now know that they may not be ready for the leadership opportunity you had in mind. Now you have a chance to disciple them and help them develop deeper levels of maturity.

When one of your godly lovers corrects me or one of your faithful ones rebukes me, I will accept it like an honor I cannot refuse. It will be as healing medicine that I swallow without an offended heart. Even if they are mistaken, I will continue to pray.  —Psalms 141:5

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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.

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