Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

April 2020
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Leadership Letters

Don’t Just Build Competencies, Build Healthy Leaders!

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

When a young man or woman goes to Bible school to become a leader, what is usually addressed? Competencies! Perhaps some token attention is paid to the other four elements of a healthy leader (Christ, community, character, and calling), but for the most part, our attention to “leader development” is given in the area of competencies such as biblical knowledge, how to preach, how to counsel, etc.

Competencies are essential but not sufficient in developing healthy leaders. Consequently, we have many “disconnections” in our leaders today.

I once attended a meeting of a local church’s leadership team where the senior pastor expressed his desire for more “leadership training” in the church. The team discussed how to do this. One of the team members offered to begin teaching a course on New Testament survey, and they all agreed this was a good idea and moved on to the next subject. The issue of “leadership development” had been successfully addressed!

Years ago a young man said to me, “I’ve spent the last seven years of my life and a huge sum of money in gaining an advanced religious education. Now I’ve finally graduated from university with a higher degree. In the eyes of the religious world I’m equipped, I’m qualified, I’m ready to go. But, in reality, I don’t know where to go, what to do when I get there, or how to do it!” This young man had graduated from a good Christian university, but he had a long way to go in being built as a leader. Like many leaders, he had some strong competencies in certain areas, but no overall context for those competencies, and huge lacks in some of the main areas of the Christian life!

In a poll conducted by Tyndale House Publishers, 80% of ministry graduates had left the pastorate in the first five years of their ministries.

According to Robert Clinton, over 70 percent of leaders who successfully climb the ladder of leadership influence do not finish well. Some dramatically fail, precipitating public scandal, while the majority of leaders who lose their influence just fade quietly into obscurity. They fall short because in their outwardly successful lives there is a disconnection between the development of leadership competencies and the development of leadership character. The lack of character is a frequent cause for leaders failing to fulfill their true potential; and this lack of character can be traced to a lack of Christ and community in the lives of the leaders.

A 14-nation research project found that the prime reasons for early and painful return from missionary service (in both older and younger sending countries) were not related to inadequate formal training in missions. The project found that the prime causes were clustered around issues related to spirituality, character and relationships in the life of the missionary (see Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William Taylor). In other words, it is usually not a lack of competencies that undermines missionaries; it is inadequacies that occur in the other areas that are to blame. These are areas frequently not addressed in preparation – Christ, community and character (no doubt calling was not specifically addressed by the research or else we suspect it would have shown up, too).

Why do we have to continue doing it the same way?

We don’t!

As necessary as competency development is, it is not sufficient to ensure that the leader’s life will result in truly positive influence or an enduring legacy (cf. Eccl. 1:16-18; 12:12). Many leaders may accomplish much but never amount to much!

We must embrace an approach to building leaders that goes beyond teaching competencies and into the essential matters of the leader’s life in Christ, their character, their community, and their calling.

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