Hearts and Minds: Leaders Reproduce Leaders

It seems that most conversations I have in church and ministry settings all converge on the same topic: leadership development.

Leadership is pivotal to organisations and structures of all shapes, sizes, and types – and to life in general. There are ample books, courses, and resources available on the subject, many of which are phenomenal. However, even with this seemingly endless supply of resources, sustaining good leadership development is something that plagues the church. We try our best to develop great leaders, looking at different times for leaders that will lead from the front, or from within, or from the back. All too often, a church will do leadership training really well for a season, or under a particular person but as the season changes, or the key person moves on, it appears that the commitment to excellent leadership development does as well.

So why is there such a struggle with leadership development? Common answers include the claim that we don’t have the right type of people or maybe we have the wrong calibre of people, or the sense that our programmes are ineffective or dated. While these answers may be valid at times, I don’t think they cut the mustard. I have seen great leaders come out of ‘tiny’ and ‘dated’ churches. Great leaders have come out of apparently ineffective programmes and great leaders have been ‘low calibre’ people. Instead, what emerges as the common denominator in the efficacy of leadership development is the quality of the people involved in training leaders.

This is reflected in the idea bounced around in sermons or training about leadership development that ‘leaders reproduce themselves’. Followers, or a ministry group, will imitate the leader’s behaviour and character. This has always challenged me deeply, because as someone who trains leaders, the finger is pointed back at me. The quality of the leadership development programmes which I run reflects the quality of who I am in myself. While I can pick the most ‘suitable’ candidates from the best settings, use the best training programs with the latest information, all of this may still just produce ‘another me.’ While there are exceptions to this, as a rule of thumb, leaders can’t avoid replicating themselves to some extent in the leaders they are developing. This is not to say that programmes and context are not important in leadership development, they are vital but so is our character, our ‘why’, our heart and mind, the internal forces that shape how we engage in leadership development.

This ‘replication of myself' is a scary thought. Each of us know the challenges that we face and the mistakes we have made, so how can we ever develop great leaders? Thankfully as Christians we do not rely on ourselves. We understand that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). We also know that the Lord declares that our achievements are, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6). This certainly does not excuse us from the responsibility of modelling discipleship well, but it does remind us that the work Christ has called us to does not rely on our ability alone. It is important that we continue to grow, developing our hearts and minds to mirror Christ.

Last year, I was privileged to participate in a clinical pastoral education course. The course resulted in significant learning, leading to a deeper understanding of myself. A major aid in that learning was reading Ewan Kelly’s book, Personhood and Presence. In the chapter “Limited Self,” a story is told about Terry, who is a busy chaplain in a large teaching hospital. Another chaplain finds Terry in a state of distress, not about a single circumstance but the overwhelming nature of the job. Terry is extremely busy in his work, always has a full diary, is the first to arrive and the last to leave. He also lives alone and has only a limited social network. The story is not so much about Terry’s busyness or his lack of social life, but rather digs deeper into why he has allowed himself to become so busy at work. The point that reverberates for me is the point that Terry’s busyness was actually about his own fulfilment, and not actually about helping others.[1] This is something that I recognise in myself, and I don’t think I am alone. Throughout the eight years I spent as a youth pastor there were often times where I would find myself overwhelmed with the pressures of finding and training leaders, growing the youth ministry, and discipling youth. As time went on, I began to reflect on these pressures. The more I thought about the circumstances creating this pressure, it became clear that many of the factors were internal. The strong sense of pressure I felt was a result of my desire to be an effective minister – my performance yardstick was what I could produce or develop, not what God could do through me. Although I have grown, I am still learning to rest in the call God has for me and to find significance in that, rather than in what I produce. As a result, I feel less pressure and have become more effective, as I have learnt to increasingly do ministry not in my own strength but by resting in what God can do through me by His Spirit.

From my observations over a decade of ministry, many leaders and ministers find themselves in the same boat. There is something about the way that God has created us that craves what we do to be significant to God and to others, but it can often be masked by a passion or busyness in our work. For example, I have a deeply rooted call or sense that I should make a difference in everything I do. Although this is true in one sense it can also have a negative effect on my work load, and can lead to mixed motives in some of the activities I engage in. The roles I take on, or people who I am serving, can become more about helping myself and fueling my own ambitions rather than genuinely being about the person or task in front of me. While it is not the case that everything we do is superficial and self-serving, it is true that our inherent brokenness means that our own ambitions get tied up with our genuine passion to serve God. As leaders, we are on a journey of untangling this and allowing the Holy Spirit to continue His work of restoration in our lives.

If we reflect on the idea that leaders reproduce themselves, a potential danger for those involved in leadership development becomes quite obvious. We can be guilty of developing leaders in a way that feeds our own need for significance, instead of leaning into the calling God has put in front of us to develop leaders for the benefit of the Church. This is why it is so important for leaders to develop self-awareness. The challenge before us is to be aware of the ‘why’. Are we involved in ministry, in work, or in any other activity, to serve God and others … or to be self-serving?

Jude Saxon has been the Internship Enabler at Bishopdale College since 2017 – before that he was the Youth Director for Richmond New Life Church and part of the National Youth Executive Team for New Life Churches International. Jude has a heart and focus to grow the body of Christ in anyway possible especially with youth and empowering leaders. At the moment, he is completing a Graduate Diploma in Theology.

[1] Ewan Kelly, Personhood and Presence: Self as a Resource for Spiritual and Pastoral Care (London; New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2012), 113–123.