In our last Letter we looked at the traditional approach to building Christian leaders: the local church sends its emerging leaders to a specialized, independent, external entity (the “factory”) that takes responsibility for training them and then sending them back.
A Comparison of Three Approaches – Parts 2 & 3
Another approach is when the church has an internal “Leadership Development Department” (LDD) – in effect, a “local factory” – that takes responsibility for training new leaders. This is becoming a very popular approach today with the spread of church-based theological training; in essence, the seminary is brought to the church.
This has some advantages over the “central factory” approach, since the “local factory” will probably be more in touch with the church’s own doctrines, beliefs, values and vision. Moreover, the participant will be able to maintain his existing relationships while he goes through his learning, and he will be considerably more likely to continue his life and ministry as a part of the church when he completes his learning.
However, this approach still has significant downfalls:
- The local church itself is still not vitally and personally involved in the development process. By itself, this represents a critical and fatal shortfall of the approach.
- Usually this approach represents an attempt simply to “relocate the seminary” to the local church. Much of the actual content of the training remains academic and theoretical. Moreover, since the local church lacks the resources of the seminary, the quality of this content is frequently diminished.
- It obscures and distracts us from the fact that much leadership development – perhaps the most critical – does not occur formally but casually in the context of the relationships and ministry responsibilities and opportunities of the local church. In many nations, where do the young people learn to play soccer? The homes, local parks and streets form the organic and spontaneous environment for skill development, mentoring and practice. Why can’t the church adopt a similar model? Ted Ward once asked me, “What was the hardest thing you ever learned to do?” After some thought I replied, “To speak.” “That’s right,” he said. “The hardest thing people ever learn to do is to communicate in their first language, and they do it without going through a single course or class!”
- This approach often maintains the educational “caste” structure of the traditional system, in which advancement within the church is tied not to proven spirituality or ministry capacity but to an academic degree obtained by writing papers and passing tests.
A much healthier approach is when leadership building takes place immersively and pervasively throughout the church with the support of a specialist LDD. In this model there should be considerable “cross-linking” between the community and the LDD and no “walls” between them.
The LDD cannot do it properly by itself. It takes a family to build a leader – a large family. Leaders are not formed in isolation but in community. If they are to be healthy, they need the nurture and support as well as the genuine accountability of the community. They need the spiritual mothers and fathers, the role models, the friends and the organic ministry opportunities that only the local church community can provide.
We must move from the “factory” approach to the “family.”
From the Factory to the Family
By moving from a centralized “factory” mentality to a pervasive “family” approach to leadership development in the church, the following can be achieved:
- Multiplication. The inherent limitations of the centralized factory will be lifted, the family approach providing a model that can be multiplied virtually endlessly with every local church or group of churches providing a learning environment for their emerging leaders.
- Self-support. The local church provides the financial support for the learning process, thus maintaining both responsibility for and control of the development of its own emerging leaders. To be truly self-governing, the community must be self-supporting.
- Holistic development. The learning process becomes considerably more effective since the local church provides the spiritual, relational and practical context for the development of the whole man.
- Security in restricted countries. In restricted countries, factories are obviously not viable due to their size, visibility and the ease with which they can be closed down. Church-based learning communities, on the other hand, can be small, easily-hidden and pervasive
If a church denomination or network were to adopt a church-based learning community approach to leadership development, their seminaries and Bible schools could adopt new roles that would support the local learning communities, functioning in these areas:
- Training local leaders to build leaders.
- Designing appropriate holistic processes and learning experiences to be used in the local learning communities.
- Developing appropriate materials to be used in the local learning communities.
- Maintaining standards of quality of training.
If we can effectively do this – if we can move from the factory to the family in our leadership development – we will dramatically increase both the numbers and the quality of the leaders we build.
In our next Letter, we will consider some practical ways in which this can be accomplished.
Next Letter: Healthy Leaders Are Built in Community #3