Article by Teresa Chang
As church leaders, our primary job is leadership development. This comes as a natural outflow as we structure our churches to be destiny incubators; it should be one of the main purposes of the church and why we do things in establishing church health. Yet, how much of this is at the forefront of christian leadership thinking, planning and decision-making as church leaders? I was speaking to one of my good friends back at my home church, who also happens to be a deacon of our church. She has served as a leader to multiple church small groups, community groups and as the head of a couple of our church’s ministries. In her roles, she has served over multiple people, church small groups and has served under various church leaders and elders. I asked her, “hey, in all your time in leadership, has anyone ever asked you what your personal vision and calling is? As you served, did you receive ministry coaching or did your leaders discuss with you a development plan where you could grow towards your personal calling while serving out their organizational vision?”
The ensuing conversation was surprising for both of us! See, my friend and I have both worked careers in the justice system for quite some time, and to us, this seemed like a logical conversation that every leader or organizational head would have with those over and under them. My friend pointed out that in the business world leaders are very intentional with communicating to employees about structure, purpose and development. Yet even with the church leaders she served under they never discussed what their organizational vision was, nor mentioned anything about personal vision. I found my experiences leading in our church to be the same. So why is this conversation so absent in the church?
My current theory is that perhaps this is a consequence of the secular/sacred divide. Whether advertently or not, we have somehow relegated something as basic as people development to something only discussed in the marketplace. And because our church culture has shifted to one where the focus is on gathering for a spectator event on Sundays, we simply do not see value in the conversation for developing people into their vision and calling. Yet in the workplace, this is a very common cultural practice; having a culture of feedback and clearly communicating expectations is the norm. Even talking to friends in various seminary programs, it seems that there are very few that have incorporated leadership development into their curriculum, and often the expectation is that this will be learned via an internship (which would vary from internship to internship, yielding inconsistent results!).
Thinking back to my church, my friend and I noted that we are very “hands off” with the leadership roles in place. Being an Asian American church, we are very wary of offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings. The result of this is that church leaders are often put into positions just to fill a leadership spot, and because there is no focus on raising up leaders from within the particular ministry a leader is over, we end up playing “musical chairs” with our leaders and bodies are shuffled around from one leadership position to another. This creates discontinuity and chaos every time a new leader is put into a position, because the organizational vision of the previous leader was not continued by someone raised up under them.
My friend shared with me a story about a meeting they had a few weeks previously. It was an emergency management meeting discussing safety practices for our congregation in case of anything bad happening, such as a fire or an active shooter. She said that for the first time, our core leadership realized that we have all these people in our church with all these different skill sets, and they’ve never thought to apply them in the church. What it boils down to is this, we as leaders need to start looking at people differently. We need to think outside of the box and not just stick with our preconceived notions of what is needed for ministry programs or tasks. And we need to stop making the excuse and letting those we lead make the excuse of “oh that’s just something I’m not gifted in.” My friend mentioned that at her job, there is an adjudication process where they apply the “whole person concept.” We need to start seeing our people for the fullness of what God has made them to be, and we need to start focusing on developing them into the leaders and destinies God has called them to.
So how do we get there? It has to come from a cultural shift to honor people where they are, celebrate them for all the gifts and talents and skills God’s put in them and all that God has called them to be. And we need to develop a mindset where we don’t over-glorify the pastors, deacons, elders and those called in to full time ministry. For example, we have a new couple at our church, and the wife is a doctor. Her doctor’s skills and training is something she can bring to the body of God; something she can lay at the feet of Jesus. So as we step in to our role as destiny incubators and people developers, we get to redefine what we think of as spiritual and partner with God and with those we lead to guide them to the vision and calling that He’s dreamt for them. How beautiful the Bride of Christ will be, as we each bring the fullness of ourselves to shine to our brightest!