Spotting, Assessing, and Training Leaders for Church Ministries
“Help! I don’t see any leaders!”
I know the feeling. Pastors often struggle finding leaders for church ministries. We need them, but we don’t see them. And even if we saw, we’d be unable to train them fast enough to meet the rising demands of ministry.
After a few years pastoring, it’s easy to become jaded about this. Like a sleight-of-hand magician playing with our mind—“Now you see them, now you don’t”—we ask, “Where did all the leaders go? What happened to all of yesterday’s exciting prospects?” We thought they’d stick around and help with the work. As we number the names of potential ministry leaders who fizzled out over the years, we are tempted to feel discouraged.
A lack of leaders strains the staff—especially the pastors— and discourages ministry leaders who need help. It limits our ability to reach the lost, care for the hurting, and make disciples.
We need to find and train leaders. But how?
YOU’RE NOT ALONE, BUT YOU MUST PRAY
Let’s start with the bad news: the laborers are few. This has been a problem for at least two thousand years. In Matthew 9, Jesus’ heart broke for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few’” (Matt. 9:37). Let this serve as an encouragement: you’re not alone.
As we (sinfully) compare our ministries to others, we assume they have more leaders, better workers, and unending help. I propose that this is simply untrue. We all struggle to spot and train new workers. “Few laborers” is everyone’s reality. We’re in this together.
So what do we do? We pray. It’s important to note what Jesus didn’t say. He did not say, “The laborers are few, so go recruit from other churches, start an internship, or launch an annual training program.” No, Jesus’ primary program for leadership development is prayer. The laborers are few; “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38).
Pastor, are you praying for ministry leaders? As your heart breaks with compassion for the sheep and burns with desire for the harvest, do you fall before the God of the harvest in prayer and beg him for laborers? Do you pray for eyes to see who you may train, even now, in your own congregation?
YOU HAVE WHAT YOU NEED, BUT YOU MUST TRAIN
They’re already among us. As we pray for laborers, let us recognize that God has already gifted the church with what she needs. The future laborers we are praying for may be in our midst. We are one body, with many members. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:6).
In Ephesians 4, God gives officers to the church for the purpose of equipping “the saints for the work of ministry.” In Titus 2, Pastor Titus is instructed to train up the older men and women in the faith so “they can urge the younger” (Titus 2:4).
The New Testament example encourages us to look within, be thankful for who we already have, and train them to do the work of ministry. The superhero ministry leader of your dreams may not be coming. Yet you have a whole congregation of ordinary aunts, uncles, grandpas, students, retirees, and blue-collar workers among you—regular folks whom God has remade as building blocks for his temple.
1. Start withpeople, not programs.
If I may humbly offer a few don’ts: don’t start with an internship. Don’t start with a leadership pipeline program. Don’t start by outsider recruitment. If you’re not already doing the work of training the saints, just start there.
I also mean this as a word of encouragement. You don’t need a silver-bullet program. You have been gifted with regenerate members whom God has gifted particularly for your church. There is a time and place to recruit workers from other churches (Lord willing, in partnership with those churches). You may be wise to eventually start an internship or build a pipeline. But first, trust that God has already equipped his church with future ministry leaders.
2. Train those who will respond to your training, and who will then train others.
Before he hosted a formal internship program, Mark Dever explained his discovery process of new trainees in this way:
Taking my sermon preparation very seriously; praying for evangelism and discipling; trying to model that by befriending non-Christians; sharing the gospel with them; befriending members of the church and trying to help them grow in Christ; watching who responds to my work, who picks up on the pattern, and who begins to reduplicate what I do with others; praying in particular for those brothers.1
Personally, I pour into everyone I can, and then I see who responds. We demystify leadership development in this way. Begin with training through modeling, explain what you do and why you do it, and then pour additional time and resources into those who:
- Respond to your work.
- Pick up on the pattern.
- Begin to reduplicate what you do with others.
WHAT DO WE DO?
How should I train my ministry leaders? Let’s go back to Paul’s instructions to Pastor Titus:
1. Train them by your example (Titus 2:7).
I don’t know of a better “program” than spending time with the trainee. When participating in a particular task, bring them along with you. Show them how you fold the bulletins and pass it on. When you work on the annual budget, don’t do it alone. When attending a lunch meeting or counseling session, if appropriate, bring a trainee. Let them see you at your best and your worst. When they see you at your worst, model repentance and humility.
2. Train them to be temperate (Titus 2:2).
This means self-restraint and a clear mind. Ministry is often filled with drama and unpopular decisions. A sober-mind is important. Extremism is a threat. Consider using ministry-dilemma case studies with the trainee. Walk them through principles of biblical wisdom.
3. Train them to be worthy of respect (Titus 2:8).
Personal holiness is of utmost importance. When a ministry leader fails, it’s not always due to lack of skill. They fizzle due to sinful distractions, temptations, the inability to be refreshed in the Word, or moral failure. In addition, some leaders would be more effective if they simply grew in self-awareness, approachability, compassion, warmth, and people skills. Many otherwise godly men suffer simply because they come across as standoffish, harsh, or uncaring. It’s wise to correct ways in which the trainee unintentionally loses the respect of others.
4. Train them to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6).
Paul rewords this admonition for the older women: “not slanderers or addicted to wine.” The person who is competent in their job yet fails in their self-control will destroy their ministry. How many churches have suffered because a ministry leader has had a sharp temper and loose tongue? Self-control is not something that can be taught in a class or assessed in an exam. It’s caught, taught, and corrected through life together.
5. Train them to be sound in faith, love, and endurance (Titus 2:2).
Paul again rewords this for the women: “train them to teach what is good.” How? First, in your own teaching, show integrity and seriousness (2:7). Personally, my goal is to teach the trainee how to read the Bible. Only if they read the Bible correctly can they teach the Bible correctly.
You should also read and discuss good books on doctrine and biblical theology. Read the Bible together and teach inductive Bible study along the way. Discuss sermons with the trainee and receive their feedback. Just as I write this, I have paused to ask Alton, one of our church members, for his feedback on my sermon text for this Sunday. Seek to incorporate training into your regular ministry patterns and day-to-day conversations.
Yes, the laborers are few. You’re not alone. But the good news is that you already have what it takes to begin training. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need a new program or an expensive residency. Simply pass on to others what has been given to you (2 Tim. 2:2). Trust that God will raise up workers for his church and send laborers into the harvest. And what a harvest we have before us!
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