When a young man or woman goes to Bible school to become a leader, what is usually addressed? Competencies! Perhaps some token...
Healthy Leaders Are Built in CommunityMalcolm Webber
An ancient African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Similarly, it takes a spiritual community or family to build a leader.
God sovereignly raises up His leaders, but we also have a responsibility in the matter. We have to work at it. It does not happen automatically. Leadership building is the responsibility of the entire local church. Churches must consciously, actively and deliberately develop the present and next generations of leaders. In most churches, leadership development is left entirely up to chance. What differentiates a church that raises up leaders from one that does not is a clear priority for, and some means of ensuring, developmental opportunities for its people. Churches that are serious about the present and future intentionally develop leaders!
Moreover, this responsibility is not simply delegated to the “Leadership Development Department.” It is a community responsibility.
A Comparison of Three Approaches – Part 1
In the traditional approach to building leaders, the local church sends its emerging leaders to some specialized, independent, external entity (Bible school, seminary, etc.) – the “factory” – that takes responsibility for training them and then sending them back (if they ever make it back; many do not):
This “factory” approach has greatly hindered the work of Christian leadership development in several ways1:
- By limiting the numbers of leaders who can be trained to however many the relatively few specialist entities are able to cope with.
- By removing the students from the contexts of life and ministry that are vital to their development as people and as leaders.
- By siphoning off key leaders who, after their training in a city seminary, for example, do not return home since they prefer the new lifestyle or the greater opportunities now available to them. Many will try to find pastoral jobs in the city; if they’re not able to do that, they simply obtain “regular” jobs there. This “brain drain” is a problem facing churches in many developing countries. The American consulate in Madras reported that in the late 1970s the “brain drain” among Indian theological students was 90 percent. This is one reason why hundreds of churches in India do not have pastors.
- By discouraging and disabling the local church communities from assuming their vital responsibility for the building of their own emerging leaders. Sadly, this disconnect continues long after graduation, with the leader forever looking to outside influences for his growth and development.
- By introducing woefully inadequate declarations of qualification, confusing diplomas with actual capability.
- By introducing a spiritual “caste” system into the church: the degreed professionals are distinguished from the “laymen” who, in many cases, are actually more qualified to do the real work of the ministry.
- By wasting significant resources – financial resources spent in maintaining institutions, and years of people’s lives spent studying many things that have no relation to useful ministry skills or inner spiritual capacities.
Thus, the “central factory” approach has undermined both the quantity and the quality of our Christian leaders, while changing the spiritual and social dynamics of our churches themselves.
We would never dream of sending our natural children off to another (more “expert”) family to be brought up and then sent back to us when they’re adults! Even though we recognize that some families are, in fact, better than others in raising children, we would not even consider that the advantages of this “expertise” might outweigh the irreplaceable benefits of a child being raised by his own parents in his own family.
Strangely, however, when it comes to our spiritual sons and daughters, this is exactly what we do – we sent them off to the “experts”! We need to change our thinking: just as the natural family takes responsibility for bringing up its own children, so the church needs to reclaim this God-given responsibility of building our own leaders.
One of the main reasons why local churches see themselves as fundamentally incapable of building leaders is because they have been trained to view leadership development as necessarily involving institutions, buildings, tenured professors with big degrees and salaries to match, accreditation, desks and dormitories, libraries containing thousands of books, etc. However, if our goal in leadership development changes from scholarship to the development of the whole man, then suddenly we recognize that not only is the local church capable of building its own leaders, it is in fact, the only place where it can properly occur!
This is how church leaders were built in Acts – there is not a single instance of a seminary or Bible school that functions remotely from and independently of the local church.
In our next Letter, we will look at two more approaches to building leaders.
1This is not a wholesale criticism or rejection of theological education. Some Bible schools, seminaries and non-formal training programs are very good, some are very poor, and there are many in-between. The ones that are disconnected from the life and ministry of the local church and who are entirely academic in their focus are addressed here.