By Patrick Langan

3 Lessons to Develop Leaders

Leaders make all the difference. Good leaders can help a ministry accomplish great things. Not so good leaders can take a ministry equally in the opposite direction. Of course, the Holy Spirit is the one who takes our meager efforts and brings about God’s intended results. Still, good leadership does not just happen. When it comes to developing an effective leadership team in campus ministry, 3 lessons stick out to me.

Find missional leaders…fast.

Missional leaders are students who already own and live out the mission of Jesus. Some freshman and transfer students are already missional and eager to hit the ground running. They want to get involved and engage the mission through a Christian campus community. It’s our job to meet them and help them get plugged into the ministry.

I remember the first time I had coffee with Anthony. Anthony was a quiet transfer student that showed up at a couple of our new student events. He didn’t seem all that different from the other new students when I first met him. But having coffee with him blew my mind. He asked me thoughtful questions. He was eager to get involved. He was actively sharing his faith with his friends. He was praying for the unbelievers in his residence hall. He was a missional student!

I quickly asked him to join me every week to study Scripture and pray. He jumped at the offer. Meeting with him has been the joy of my year. Anthony has only been involved in our ministry for a semester and a half and he is already an active leader. Without that initial meeting, Anthony would not be where he is at now in our ministry. Without opportunities to lead, he may not have even stuck around.

Missional leaders are not looking for a hierarchical ministry where they can just sit and listen to good teaching. Many times the reason our ministries lack good leadership is because we have no place for good leaders to actually lead in any significant way. Missional students are gifted and full of passion to use their gifts. Our job is to find them and let them.

Cultivate an atmosphere of growth.

Leadership can be viewed as a place of function and use or as a place of growth and development. An atmosphere of function is usually characterized by guilt-inducing salesmanship, pride, inflexible structures, self-reliance, complaining and burnout. This kind of atmosphere treats leadership as a place where tasks have to be done and roles have to be filled. It steals joy and kills creative energy. Leaders grow discontent and bitter fast. And the resulting bad attitudes will spill over into the whole organization. Why would someone aspire to lead in this kind of atmosphere?

Turning leadership into a place for growth and development will change the whole atmosphere. Leadership in the body of Christ is where God challenges us, stretches us, and meets our needs along the way. We create this kind of environment by how we talk about leadership, train people, and cast vision.  

When I first joined staff to replant a chapter, I  rounded up 30 students fairly quickly, but we stayed small for a number of years. We lacked good missional leadership. Year after year, I would beg, push and guilt students into filling roles that I thought the chapter needed in order to survive and grow. And year after year the leadership team failed to do much of anything good.

Finally, a training seminar led by Rich Lamb challenged me to change the atmosphere of our leadership team. I began to focus in on the lives of those in leadership and invested in their growth. We even created special retreats just for the leaders. The quality of our leadership team increased dramatically. I was able to ask more from the leaders because the best leaders actually wanted to be in leadership positions.

Leaders have to make a lot of sacrifices. Expecting too little from leaders is patronizing and undermines a student’s confidence in the gifts God has entrusted to them. However, expecting much without investing in them will lead to burnout and bitterness. It makes sense that leaders should be the first to be cared for. Then leaders will be equipped to invest in the rest of the chapter and the leadership atmosphere will attract truly gifted people to lead.

Leadership selection is sacred.

Our leadership selection process should be treated with great reverence, bathed in prayer and executed with the soberest of judgment. The fate of the ministry and of potential leaders really does hang in the balance. We must resist the urge to mechanically fill holes.

God has given His people a great diversity of gifts. Therefore, our selection process should be a creative, exploratory process, examining what people bring to the table, what God is doing in them and what God wants to do in our ministry. Only then can we properly weigh in the opportunities and needs of the ministry.

This process requires a great deal of patience and discernment. We should be looking not only for missional leaders but also teachable, humble leaders. Prideful leaders with lots of skills and knowledge may look good,  but they will often bring more harm. Jesus taught us that leadership is about humble service. Teachability trumps experience, knowledge and skill.

Don’t learn the hard way.

Raising up good leaders who can effectively administrate, teach and disciple the next generation of students will certainly determine the future success of your ministry. Finding missional leaders, getting them plugged into your ministry early, cultivating a healthy leadership atmosphere and treating leadership selection with great care will put your ministry in a great place—a place where God can move and work freely.

Patrick Langan is an InterVarsity Campus Staff Member at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and blogs at No Rights.

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Great points Patrick! Yes leadership is about pulling others up behind us as we grow and develop and sharing the things we learned along the way. It's also about helping others recognize and develop the unique gifts God has given them and mentoring them through their development. The scary things for a lot of leaders is developing the person who will ultimately replace them. It sometimes requires real courage and a strong sense for who we are in Christ to effectively lead others!

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