As have seen in previous Letters, our leadership development efforts must not be conducted apart from a living community of people in which the emerging leaders function and participate.
Firstly, those emerging leaders who are being trained must be formed into a community themselves, and not be allowed to exist as separate individuals. In our traditional systems of education, the individual students arrive at the class, sit at their separate desks, listen to the lecture, participate in whatever group tasks are required of them, then leave and go their own separate ways until the next class time. Whatever relationships and community they do form during their schooling are usually incidental and are rarely integrated into the schooling itself.
The best “leadership school” is a transformational, learning community in which all the participants take responsibility for each other, hold each other accountable, care for each other, pray together, worship and seek God together, work and serve together, struggle together, resolve conflicts, and learn and grow together.
Biblical examples of learning communities include the “company of the prophets” in the time of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’ 12 disciples, Paul’s apostolic team, and Paul’s learning community in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9).
It is significant that nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus alone with one of His disciples. Even the interactions that appear to have taken place between Jesus and one person were always conducted with others close by. Certainly there are clear biblical examples of “one-on-one” mentoring such as Moses and Joshua or Elijah and Elisha, but in view of Jesus’ practices we may have to question some of our modern methods of discipleship and mentoring, for it appears that Jesus engaged in character building when the “family” was together. In addition, some of the unhealthy dependencies and transferences of dysfunctionalities that we often see in mentoring relationships would be avoided by a community approach to building disciples and leaders.
Secondly, as previously stated, the community of emerging leaders must itself be a part of a larger spiritual community. The learning community may be distinct but it must not be separate from the overall community. The two communities should not compete but should have one unified corporate agenda of building leaders. This larger community might be a local church or group of churches.
Both the learning community and the larger community must take initiative in building the relationship between them. It will help in this regard if there is some overlap of direct leadership between the two communities. It will be particularly effective if the top leader of both is the same person; this will help greatly to create a strong level of ownership of the learning community by the larger, spiritual community.
The larger community can take responsibility for providing:
- Overall leadership for the learning community.
- Providing and sharing the vision.
- Practical provision – shelter, food, clothing. Significantly, this means the learning community does not need to be dependent upon outsiders for funding. (Some outside financial support could be beneficial for initial start-up expenses. Please see chapter six of Church Planting by Malcolm Webber for more on the need for indigenous ministries to be self-supporting and how that relates to their own abilities to also be self-governing and self-propagating.) This, in turn, means that church-based learning communities can be multiplied almost limitlessly!
- Spiritual care and nurture. Pastoring and shepherding. This spiritual care can occur in both formal and informal ways. For example, each participant could have a pastoral coach, an intercessor, a ministry mentor as well as learning coaches, in addition to the informal roles of those in the community around them.
- Teaching and mentoring (both character and ministry).
- Modeling the various gifts and ministries.
- Sharing life stories.
- Life examples.
- Returning missionaries and traveling ministries sharing their stories.
- Prayer support.
- Learning materials and resources.
- Ministry opportunities and responsibilities.
- Housing for participants and their families.
- Ministry assignments after the formal learning period is over.
- Ongoing mentoring after the formal learning period is over.
The learning community can take responsibility for:
- Praying for the church.
- Being accountable to the church.
- Being committed to the church and sharing its burdens.
- Submitting to the church’s vision.
- Providing various forms of ministry and service in the church community.
- Being examples and mentors to younger members of the church.
- Visiting the people to build relationships with them and looking for ways to serve – both spiritually and practically.
- Leading special combined meetings on a regular basis.
- Sharing the participants’ visions with the church so there is mutual understanding.
- Providing reports on the participants’ growth.
- Inviting counsel and advice.
- By making the learning community an integral part of a larger spiritual community the participants will experience a more holistic learning and growing experience.
We will also avoid the frequent problems associated with “re-entry” into normal life after the learning experience. For example, after going through an intense learning experience that has lasted for several months or years, participants will frequently experience difficulties in reconnecting with their local spiritual communities. It is not uncommon for them to go into depression, discouragement, confusion, isolation or other forms of emotional and intellectual disequilibrium after the artificial “high” of the learning time is over. This can partly be avoided when they maintain their relationships and responsibilities within their normal community throughout the learning experience.
In addition, the gap between knowledge and practical ministry that usually occurs in traditional schools will also be avoided. When the emerging leader is placed in a far-away school for training and nurtured in an artificial environment for a long time, he will be too far removed for too long a time from the rugged life and challenges that he is to meet in the ministry.
When young people are educated away from their churches for long periods of time, that very education sometimes puts them out of touch with their congregations. They return to their people with strange ideas and habits. They are not even the best teachers of the people from whose intellectual and spiritual lives they have been absent for so long. They no longer know how to answer their difficulties or respond to their needs. They are out of touch with the people. The congregation has not grown with them, nor they with the congregation. They are now “outsiders,” and only a few exceptional people can overcome that profound difficulty. This will be avoided if the emerging leaders maintain their life, relationships and ministry in the local church while they participate in an intense time of learning, experience and growth.
As previously stated, 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 begin a new area of study.
Next Letter: The Eternal Nature of God