Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

February 2011
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Why We Must Build Leaders

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Building leaders is not an option; we must build leaders. Moreover, we must build healthy leadersTM.

Here are seven reasons why:

1. Building healthy leadersTM is biblical. It was one of the main things Jesus did. At the earliest period of His ministry, Jesus began to gather around Him a company of disciples, in order to prepare them to carry on His work. From the start, Jesus wanted not only to have followers and disciples, but men whom He would build to lead and disciple others (Matt. 4:19). The training He would give these men was the principal part of His earthly ministry (John 17:6). Moreover, when He departed, Jesus’ final and ultimate instructions were: “Build people!” (Matt. 28:19). Paul built leaders who built leaders (2 Tim. 2:2). Everything in the New Testament revolved around building people (Eph. 4:12-16).

2. Leaders make a difference – to everything. People need leaders; it’s simply the way God has made us. Without leaders, the people are scattered (Matt. 26:31). Just before he died, Moses looked at Israel’s need and he cried out to God to provide leadership (Num. 27:15-17). Similarly, Jesus looked at the multitudes and He told His disciples to pray that God would raise up leaders (Matt. 9:35-38).

Even in the easiest of times, people need leaders, and the more challenges that lie ahead of us, the more important effective leadership will be. Our times are characterized by both great difficultly and incredible opportunity. Not only do we need more leaders (quantity), we need healthy leaders (quality). This requires coherent strategies for both selection and development.

3. Churches and ministries can’t always bring in from the outside the leadership they need. The traditional solution to a leadership shortage is to look outside. Sometimes this may be successful, with the new leader bringing the fresh air of experience and perspective significantly different from either the fundamental limitations or the ingrained “groupthink” of the current team.

However, so much of a leader’s eventual effectiveness depends on deep relationships and trust, on cultural fit, and on specific organizational experience and knowledge. Even if an “outside hire” is able to fill a current vacuum, it will seldom be sufficient to cure the systemic leadership shortage. In addition, frequent trips to the outside will be expensive and do not come with money-back guarantees. The grass will often look greener on the other side but the only long-term solution to the leadership crisis is that we learn to build our own leaders.

4. The cream does not always rise to the top. Building healthy leadersTM is easier said than done. It is not sufficient merely to send someone to a seminar or to give him a book on leadership to read. Leader development is highly complex and very little understood. Consequently, in many churches and ministries, it is essentially left up to chance. We pay lip service to it, but devote little time to this endeavor. The small efforts at leader development that are made are often haphazard and not part of any overall cohesive strategy. Often, we simply hope that the leaders will somehow raise themselves up! When asked what his leader development strategy was, one leader said, “You just have to let the cream rise to the top.” In other words, “We have no intentional strategy for leader development; we’re just hoping for the best!”

It sounds spiritual to say that God alone can raise up a leader, but this is not a biblical perspective. Consider evangelism as a parallel. If our churches have no intentional evangelistic strategy, certainly some people will be saved, but that number will be dramatically increased if we have a strategy and even more if that strategy is a good one! It’s the same with leader development: if we have a coherent and biblical strategy, both the number and the quality of leaders who are raised up will be considerably higher than when we leave it up to chance.

The healthy church or Christian ministry is not just a “doing” organization; it is a learning and building organization. Its way of life is continuous learning and building – at all levels. Building people of all ages, and building leaders are central elements in the culture of the effective church or ministry. “Building” is hard-wired into everything everyone does. It is every leader’s responsibility to nurture and expect leadership everywhere. This must become the mindset that pervades our churches and ministries. Building a leader-building culture is the ultimate act of leadership.

5. Leadership failures are costly. We pay a high price when our poorly-built leaders fail – and the higher their leadership level, the higher the price.

This price can include the impairment of the leaders’ own lives and the loss of their future potential in God, the lengthy turmoil (in some cases complete demise) that the church or ministry faces in the wake of the failure, the waste of ministry opportunities in the meantime, and damaged credibility before the outside world. We must build leaders; not merely appoint them.

Effective building processes will not eliminate all leadership derailment (think, for example, of Judas or Demas), but it can dramatically reduce it.

6. Most of the cost of leader development has already been paid. The transformation of life – the nurturing of spiritual life, relational capacity, character and vision – and the practical development of the leader’s ability to lead, occur primarily in the context of life. The spiritual opportunities, the personal examples, role models and coaches, the challenging assignments, the responsibilities, the pressures, and other dynamics that are so powerful in development are already present in any church or ministry (Acts 2:42; 1 Thess. 1:5-7; 2 Tim. 3:10-17). Not to take intentional advantage of them and thereby reap a return on this existing investment is bad stewardship!

7. The future of the church, the nation and the world depend on it. With few exceptions, people will not rise above the level of their leaders (Luke 6:40). If we care about the Bride of Christ and if we have a vision for the nations, we will build leaders. We must build leaders!

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