All the kingdoms of this earth are not worth relinquishing one moment of the heaven of worshipping and serving the Lord our God....
Building Designers of Indigenous Leader DevelopmentMalcolm Webber
In our last Letter, we looked at “Three Approaches to Leader Development”: the three ways that a leader development ministry might work with indigenous leaders. The third of these, and the most recommended for achieving true indigenization and contextualization, is the “Build the Designer Approach.”
In this approach, the outside leader development ministry serves indigenous leaders along these lines:
We will come and explore with you the basic, biblical principles of how leaders are built, and, on the basis of those principles, we will then work with you as you develop the strategies, methods and tools that you will use as you build your own leaders.
The following are the six specific things that the leader development ministries can do as they seek to build designers among indigenous leaders:
1. They should prayerfully, relationally and strategically pursue engagement with Christian leaders who can potentially catalyze and champion healthy leader development movements.
Appropriate leaders to work with will demonstrate the following:
- Vision for healthy leader development.
- Strong connections to other leaders, willing and able to work together with them for the sake of the Kingdom.
- Learning and innovation, flexibility and willingness to change.
- Readiness to engage.
2. They should build them in their own spiritual lives, biblical understanding, marriages, families and ministries.
There are two reasons for this. First, one of the greatest current needs of many Christian leaders – including those with the most leadership responsibility, and especially in areas of fast church growth – is for their own personal nurture, encouragement and strengthening. It can be challenging for them to receive this help from inside their own groups; so, this can be an appropriate and beneficial role for an outsider to play. Second, as the leader development ministries work personally with them, it provides an example for them to follow as they personally build their own leaders. Thus, the leader development ministries must be committed to genuine, caring relationships with the indigenous leaders and help them build their own lives. These personal relationships then become the foundation for healthy leader development partnerships.
Such relationships cannot be forced. Neither can they follow preset patterns, plans or timetables. Trust and respect must be earned and this comes through a sincere commitment to listening and learning. The leader development ministries must first get to know the indigenous leaders, hear what they have to say, and learn their vision, the current situation in their churches, and their genuine needs and struggles. This can be done through time spent together during meals or while visiting for several hours or days. It will take time for relationships to be built and trust to be established. Moreover, the exact manner in which relationships are nurtured may vary considerably culture to culture.
When the leader development ministries are sincerely committed to the indigenous leaders, and not merely trying to use them to fulfill their own agendas and expand their own influence, they will find that one relationship quickly and naturally leads to another, as the indigenous leaders introduce them to other leaders in a pattern of relational-networking that is deep, open, effective and lasting.
3. They should explore with them the core biblical principles of leader development.
This is quite different from imposing a particular curriculum or preplanned leader development “package” on the indigenous leaders. Instead, this involves working with them conceptually to enable them to internalize the fundamental biblical principles of leader development.Universal biblical principles, rather than established curricula, are the foundation of indigenous leader development. For example, one core biblical principle is, “Leaders build leaders.” Two practical implications of this principle are:
- Leaders must take personal responsibility for building new leaders, and not only fulfilling their ministry responsibilities. Jesus personally built His emerging leaders, while He conducted His ministry; He did not delegate that responsibility to some “expert” institution.
- It takes personal interaction with mature leaders to build emerging ones, and not only academic work in classrooms. Jesus took His emerging leaders “with Him.” His disciples’ personal interactions with Him in life and ministry profoundly transformed their lives and made them strong leaders.
While biblical principles will work in any culture or context, the specific application of the principles (the appropriate curriculum, etc.) will vary considerably. Consequently, the leader development ministries should not impose the form of application but, instead, explore with the leaders what those forms might be. The leaders themselves must design their own leader development forms. In short, the leader development ministries should “bring seeds, not potted plants.”
During this building process, the leader development ministries must nurture the indigenous leaders’ abilities to think and design. This could be done through specific training that is designed for this purpose, as well as through the personal examples of the teachers and mentors who model the thinking-designing process. The leader development ministries can also give the leaders challenging assignments to stretch them and cultivate their abilities to think about how leaders are formed and to design their own leader development processes.
This should be all done in a face-to-face context of much encouragement and prayer.
In working with the leaders on biblical and theological issues, the goal of the leader development ministry must not only be that the indigenous leaders think biblically and accurately about doctrine, but also that they express right doctrine in a manner appropriate to their own culture and context, creating their own underlying assumptions about the most suitable forms of theological teaching and not merely building upon the outsiders’ assumptions.
This exploration must, of necessity, be highly flexible, so it can accommodate not only cultural differences, but also maturity levels and even philosophical differences found among the indigenous church leaders.
It is also beneficial to create “design teams” – both within and across church networks – consisting of indigenous leaders and teachers who work together to design their own leader development.
4. They should coach them on an ongoing basis as they form and implement their own designs in their own environments.
This will happen in individual meetings with the leaders, in which the leader development ministries will discuss what the indigenous leaders are doing in their leader development, their specific designs, the problems they face, and possible solutions and strategies.This includes encouraging them, giving them “permission” to take risks and try new things, connecting them with others from whom they can learn, and debriefing with them their failures as well as their successes.
5. They should resource them with leader development tools, printed materials, examples and case studies of effective leader development in a variety of contexts, and other pertinent resources.
This is a different kind of resourcing than simply supplying the curriculum to use. The indigenous leaders are the ones who always must be in control of their own leader development. If they own it, they will implement it, use it and support it – they will take responsibility for it. Many leader development ministries have been genuinely puzzled when indigenous leaders initially embrace their materials and approaches with apparent excitement but never follow through with a systematic and enduring implementation. It was because they never truly owned it.
The leader development ministries cannot simply supply the indigenous leaders with the package that will do the job for them; instead, they must build their internal capacity to design.
6. They can help them network with leaders from other groups and church planting movements, with whom they interact regarding leader development.
This can be done within their own nation or culture, or it could involve leaders from other nations or cultures. A vigorous sharing of models, ideas, applications, successes and failures is greatly beneficial to all participants in such networking.
In addition, new “design teams” spanning multiple movements and even nations can be established.
This kind of networking is not intimidating to the indigenous leaders since no one is trying to get them to “join” something or to embrace a specific doctrine or specific form of leader development – all the leaders are responsible for their own leader development work. Thus, deep friendships and even working relationships can be forged across the Body of Christ.
Through the above six-part process, they can encourage them to define their own foundational models of Christian leadership and leader development, appropriate to their own culture and context.
In some cases, the indigenous leaders have been so convinced by the outside “experts” that they will never be capable of such a thing; so, this may require a lot of encouragement.
This is the ultimate expression of indigenization and contextualization – when the indigenous leaders define their own foundational models of leader development.
“Designing” and “doing” are not enough, if outsiders are the ones who defined what leader development means in the first place. Fully indigenized leader development means that the indigenous leaders are the ones responsible to define, design and do their own leader development. These are the three key elements.
Throughout all this work, the leader development ministries must:
- Aspire to an attitude of true servanthood, refusing to ever use the indigenous leaders in any way.
- Strive to come as learners, not as experts.
- Dialogue with the leaders, asking questions, learning from them, studying their culture, history, struggles.
- Bring resources rather than agendas, principles rather than forms.
- Embrace flexibility, since healthy leader development will look very different place to place. Moreover, it will change over time.
- Honor the local leaders, never doing anything that would undermine them or their authority.
- Affirm the local leaders’ right to all decision-making regarding their own leader development work.
- Help the leaders, from the beginning, to be self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating and self-designing in their leader development work.
Clearly, to do all the above will take considerably more time and involve more complex challenges than an outside leader development ministry showing the indigenous leaders “how to do it,” or simply doing it for them. This, however, is a true partnership of equals with neither domination nor dependency, and it is an appropriate answer to the current need of the church in much of the world.