Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 2020
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Leadership Letters

Competencies Aren’t Just Knowledge, They Are the Ability to Use It Well

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

A leader may possess a burning vision and a holy character, but without the technical abilities to lead, he will be followed by confusion and frustration; and the greater the vision, the greater the confusion.

This is where many Christian leaders fail. They have a good knowledge of the Bible, but they have never learned how to lead people or manage the practical aspects of an organization. They have a genuine vision and strong character, but they lack basic leadership skills.

Other leaders do have good strategic and technical abilities to lead, but they lack sound biblical knowledge. They are able to build a large, and apparently successful, church or ministry, but they lead it into spiritual error. Again, the issue is inadequate competencies (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

Paul told Timothy to choose elders who had some basic organizational competencies:

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (1 Tim. 3:4-5)

This was in contrast to the false leaders at Ephesus who did not know what they were doing:

They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Tim. 1:7)

Thus, the leader must “know how” to do it. It is not enough to just be blown along by the Holy Spirit. This capacity includes the ability to understand, to teach and to appropriately use the Word of God:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15; cf. 2 Tim. 4:2)

In spite of the fact that most of our Bible schools and seminaries focus on biblical knowledge in their training processes, a great number of Christian leaders are not well-equipped in the Scriptures.

According to a 2003 study by the Barna Research Group, only 51 percent of Christian ministers in the U.S., representing a random cross-section of Protestant churches, have a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone and the personal responsibility to evangelize).

Competencies in the Bible

To fulfill the requirements of his calling, the Christian leader will also need supernatural gifts in addition to natural, human abilities.

See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you: (Ex. 31:2-6)

Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given… Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:6-10)

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Ps. 78:72)

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Prov. 22:29)

Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them. (Acts 6:3)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Rom. 12:6-8)

Building Competencies

As the leader matures, he will experience changes in tasks and responsibilities. His field of leadership may become not only bigger but also more difficult. Higher leadership responsibilities require different, and often more sophisticated, competencies. Consequently, as the leader grows, he will need different and more advanced competencies. He will need to embrace an attitude of continuous learning in his life. He will also need ongoing mentoring by a variety of older leaders.

There are many kinds of competencies that are necessary for leaders to have. Naturally, individual leaders will probably not be expert in every competency; thus, the need for a well-rounded team. Essentially, the individual’s calling defines his necessary competencies. So, for example, a teacher of the Word needs to have studied some Hebrew and Greek, but an evangelist does not.

There are four stages of learning new competencies:

1. The initial gaining of the knowledge or skill. This involves teaching or self-study. This stage can also involve some kind of initial assessment to see what the emerging learner already knows.
2. Increased knowledge or skill proficiency. The emerging leader’s competencies are increased in this stage through case studies, modeling and practice.
3. Ability to apply knowledge or skills in simple situations. This can involve on-the-job mentoring as well as appropriate challenging assignments.
4. Ability to apply knowledge or skill in increasingly complex situations. Now the emerging leader is involved in complex situations where he must solve problems and react to changing circumstances. In addition, he needs feedback on his performance.

In these four stages, the emerging leader moves from reception of facts to active and sophisticated application of them.

The ConneXions Model speaks of “competencies” rather than “knowledge of the Word of God.” This emphasizes that our goal in leader development is not merely someone who knows the Word, but a Christian leader who is actually doing the Word (cf. Jam. 2:14-26; John 5:39-40). This distinguishes the ConneXions Model from the traditional approach to leader development, which emphasizes knowledge for its own sake. Our goal in leader development should not be mere intellectual knowledge, but wisdom – the capacity to use knowledge in a fruitful way.

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