Every church needs more leaders all the time. And every church needs leaders who are both competent and committed. We’ve talked in this space about building leadership pipelines, perhaps the most urgent task for church leaders.
But how do you choose whom to invite into those pipelines? What observable traits make for strong and gifted volunteer (and staff) leaders who can help a church achieve its mission as a unified team?
We’ll assume that the potential leaders you are considering share the spiritual commitments of the church and are aligned with its values and mission. Given that starting point, here are three non-negotiable traits for choosing emerging leaders.
- They embody the values. Embodiment is different than agreeing with or assenting to. When you look at their life and their ministry service to date, it is clear that they actually live out the values. If one of your values is reaching unchurched people, the right potential leader will have frequent interaction with non-Christians, laced with spiritual intentionality. If you value serving the poor, the right leader will invest some of her time working at homeless shelters or volunteering at a food bank. A crucial test – would you point to a third party and say “If you want to know what’s important at a church look at this person”?
- They are already doing what you want them to do more of. It’s more than talking a good game, or pointing to past accomplishments at a previous church. In the same way that a critical predictor of success for a new hire in the business world is demonstrated competence at what you are hiring for, the right potential leader will already be doing in some way, shape, or form, what you want them to be doing if you select them for leadership development.
- Others already look to them for leadership. In a volunteer based organization like the church, the most important form of leadership is informal, not formal. Titles may matter to some degree, but to fuel a volunteer organization there need to be a whole lot of people who hold primary titles like “teacher”, “executive”, “carpenter”, and “stay at home parent”. Titles such as “Board member”, “Small group leader”, “Worship coordinator”, and “Outreach director” will reflect their commitment of discretionary time and effort more than their professional designation. People will follow them because they embody the values and because they are already leading. These are the people you want to select, nurture, and develop.
A final question for you, developer of leaders: do you have a file folder, Notes app on your smartphone, or sticky note loaded with names of people you see as potential emerging leaders in your church? If not, a great starting point would be to survey your congregation – perhaps in conversation with others – and see how many folks possess the three traits we have just listed!