11 Great Leadership Development Tips For Pastors

Thirty years ago, 'leadership' was a dirty word in most churches. And while most churches have evolved and embraced leadership as a helpful practice, there remains a lot of confusion about what it takes to grow as a leader. 

Recently, I was asked to share what's working right now in churches who are thriving in their efforts to develop leaders. Based on what I've seen just this past year in helping over 60 churches reimagine leadership development, here are 11 tips that will help any pastor who's tired of guessing at leadership development. 

  1. Define leadership. Most pastors assume that everyone in their church understands leadership. The truth is that there are thousands of possible definitions of leadership. Why not adopt a simple way to clarify leadership that anyone in your church can learn and remember?
  2. Prioritize your personal development. There aren't a lot of pastors who put in the work to consistently grow as leaders. They simply don't have time for themselves because of everything else on their plate. But what if the best thing you can do for the people you lead is to take time to improve as a leader?
  3. Determine the competencies needed to lead. This tip is all about the kind of character, skills, and knowledge leaders need to thrive. Most pastors never take time to clarify what matters most, which can exhaust precious time and resources on secondary issues. What are the 4-5 competencies that are critical for every leader in your church?
  4.  Emphasize your strengths. The most common approaches to leadership development attempt to shore up weaknesses. Such an emphasis on a leader's weakness ignores evidence that your value as a leader is derived predominantly from what you do best. How would your personal development change if you invested primarily in strengthening what you are already good at?
  5. Prioritize on-the-job development. Most churches develop leaders in classroom environments, where information is shared via lecture. But what's working best right now is to focus attention on helping leaders grow as they're carrying out their tasks. What would happen if you texted 2-3 leaders in your church today and asked how you could help them with their work?
  6. Tap into your emotional intelligence. Most pastors think they connect well with the men and women they lead. The truth is that very few pastors have the self-awareness and empathy needed to elicit deep trust and respect. How are you actively cultivating the 'soft skills' necessary to lead well?
  7.  Create opportunities to learn from mistakes. Most churches do not allow developing leaders to fail, choosing to reduce risk by never asking or allowing someone to lead who has not already established a standard of excellence. But without the possibility of failure - and the chance to learn from it - the capacity of that leader is unnecessarily stunted. How can you give leaders the chance to fail small, creating learning experiences that cannot significantly damage the church?
  8. Don't be the expert. Most pastors assume that they need to have all the answers if they develop other leaders. The truth is that some of the most powerful learning experiences are those where no one has the answers, and everyone presses into a problem with curiosity. What if you told leaders in your church, 'I don't know,' when you don't know the answer to their question?
  9. Believe that volunteers are leaders, too. Most churches treat volunteers like worker bees, valuable only for the tasks they perform. But what happens when you see volunteers as leaders and create a system of developing anyone who invests time and energy into the work of your church? Make sure that your definition of leadership (see Tip #1) can apply to every volunteer.
  10. Make leadership development an extension of discipleship. Most pastors do not treat leadership development as a critical component of training someone to follow Jesus. But in the Church, anything and everything you do to develop leaders should be part of your discipleship plan. How can you strengthen your leadership development program by fusing it to your discipleship system?
  11. Build a leadership pipeline. Most churches have multiple ways of developing various groups of leaders, or they create an assembly line where every leader is built the same way. But what's working well right now in churches is a simple and sustainable leadership development plan called a leadership pipeline.

If you're tired of guessing at developing leaders and want a framework that puts all of these tips together, I wrote 'What Is A Leadership Pipeline?' for you. It's short (three pages) and shows you three ways you can start building your leadership pipeline today.

====> Download 'What Is A Leadership Pipeline?' 

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