Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

March 2004
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Building the Right Ones #1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In our last Letter, we saw that since leaders personally build leaders, one leader can build only a few other leaders at a time – that is, if he wants to do it properly.

Since a leader can personally build only a few new leaders, he must be sure that he builds the right ones. He must prayerfully and carefully choose the right few. Unfortunately, too often we spend more time trying to train people than we do making sure we are training the right people in the first place. For most people, formal development programs will not automatically transform them into superior leaders, as if they were butterflies emerging from cocoons. We should spend more time on accurately identifying which ones we should work with.

Today many Christian training institutions will accept almost anyone who applies, as long as they can pay the tuition. In contrast, biblical leaders did not simply hand out application forms, but they personally chose the people they would work with:

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)

He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey… (Acts 16:1-3)

Potential leaders are more available than many people think. The difficulty is to identify them properly, and doing so requires sorting through the myriad nuances and subtleties of healthy leadership.

So, how can we know who to build? How can we discern the call of God upon a person’s life? These are common questions in leaders’ minds. In our next few Letters, we will propose some guidelines concerning how to choose the right emerging leaders to work with.

1. Look beyond appearances and be willing to take some risks.In choosing His key leaders, Jesus looked for men of character (John 1:47) and spiritual passion (Mark 1:18, 20). They all forsook everything to follow Him (Matt. 19:27). However, at the same time, they were ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, and full of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions and animosities (John 1:46; Matt. 14:26; 20:21, 24; Luke 9:49, 52-54; Acts 4:13). Jesus knew they could grow.

In choosing His leaders, Jesus disregarded social convention and human wisdom. For example, in choosing Matthew, Jesus chose one of the hated tax-collectors who could not fail to be a stumbling block to the Jews, and would therefore be a source of weakness rather than of strength to Him. Moreover, when Jesus invited Simon the Zealot to follow Him, He embraced an unsafe man who might be the means of making Him an object of political suspicion.

Jesus had no fear of the drawbacks arising out of the external connections or past history of true believers. Confident in the power of the truth He knew He would give them, He was entirely indifferent to all such worries, choosing the base things of the world in preference to the honorable. Furthermore, Jesus was willing to take such risks. He wanted to gain followers from all classes of men (including the despised and dangerous) and so wanted to have such classes represented among His key leadership team.

It is also true that, in one sense, Jesus had to be content with fishermen, tax-collectors and zealots for His leaders. They were the best that could be had. The present leaders in society boasted of their unbelief (John 7:48). A few prominent men believed in Him but they were not passionate enough to be eligible for key leadership. For example, Nicodemus was timid in speaking on His behalf (John 7:50-51) and Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple “secretly because he feared the Jews” (John 19:38).

2. Do not be in a hurry.

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (i.e., in choosing and appointing new leaders)… (1 Tim. 5:22)

Jesus’ twelve arrived at their final intimate relation to Jesus in three stages:

a. They believed in Jesus as the Messiah and were His occasional companions at convenient times.
b. They entirely, or at least partly, left their occupations to be with Him in uninterrupted fellowship. For example, Matthew left his occupation entirely, while the fishermen probably did not do so.
c. Jesus chose them from the multitude of His followers and formed them into a group to be trained as His future key leaders. This last event probably did not occur until all the twelve had been with Jesus for some time. He did not rush them into serious apprenticeship.
3. Pray much before the choice is made.If Jesus needed to pray about making the right choices, how much more do we? Before Jesus chose His emerging leaders, He spent an entire night in prayer:

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles… (Luke 6:12-13)

Jesus chose the men His Father led Him to. He chose the men He saw in prayer.

…I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Today, sadly, we are frequently more concerned about filling quotas and other complex financial issues than we are about spending the necessary time in seeking God.

Our next Leadership Letter will offer more practical advice concerning recognizing emerging leaders.

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