So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. (John 5:19-20)
How do you raise up leaders? You’ve identified a potential leader in your small group. Now what?
This is something I think a lot of us over-think. It’s very simple, really. But we get caught up in all of the what ifs and lose track of it.
Fear can paralyze us. We don’t want to raise up a bad leader.
First, let me dispel something here for you. You’re supposed to raise up leaders. If you let fear of raising up a bad leader stop you from doing that, then you’re doing pretty poorly at leadership. So you can’t just stop.
And here’s the thing: What if you raise up a leader, and you’ve done your best to make him or her as good a leader as possible, and he or she becomes a bad leader? That is not your fault. People are going to make their own choices. Judas Iscariot was a bad leader, and he was trained by Jesus himself. That’s not Jesus’ fault; Judas made his choice.
If you train a new leader—if you’ve done what you could to train him or her up right—and he or she goes off the deep end, that is not your fault.
So you have to train leaders. Some bad ones will get through. And that’s all right. Jesus will take care of his Church. It’ll probably take some action from you (like making the person not a leader in the ministry anymore and retraining them if he or she is willing). But the Church has had bad leaders in it for the entirety of its existence, and we’re still here 2,000 years later. It will be okay.
So, how do you train a leader?
There are three phases to training a leader:
Phase 1: You show him or her how to do it.
Phase 2: You do it with him or her.
Phase 3: You let him or her do it.
Now, we’re assuming a Phase 0: Identify the potential leader here. You should always be on the lookout for people who God wants to develop into leaders. That’s right: this is going to require a lot of prayer and a lot of leading from the Spirit.
But if you don’t know how to follow, you don’t know how to lead. And if you aren’t following the Spirit, you’re misleading people.
So, Phase 1. Now that you’ve identified your potential leader, start showing him or her how you do what you do. Invite your potential leader to watch you. You may even quiz him or her over what he or she learned from it. Just say something like, “So you saw how I led the small group. What did you notice?” And then you just affirm the good observations, correct the bad ones. If the potential leader didn’t notice something, fill in the blank. Answer questions.
And remember to make him or her feel good about asking questions! You need to train your potential leader to ask questions, and that won’t happen if he or she is never sure you want to hear them. If you don’t train people to ask questions, you train them to not ask questions.
Remember that leaders are all lifelong learners. You need to be always asking questions. At the very least, you need to always ask: “How can I make this better?” and “How can I become better at leading?”
So after a while of letting your potential leader watch you and teaching him or her that way, it’s time to go to Phase 2. Ask your potential leader to help you do it. If you’re leading a small group, you can start by having him or her help you prepare the weekly small group time. And from there, you expand his or her roles—the potential leader goes from helping plan the weekly small group time to helping plan an activity, then to helping you lead a small group meeting, then to going with you to hang out with small group people, then to helping you lead an activity. You don’t need to stick to that order. Get him or her involved in the way you think he or she need to learn next.
Eventually (and probably decently quickly), you’ll get to the point where he or she is ready to lead a small group meeting on his or her own. This is Phase 3: Let him or her do it. This might be before or after he or she is doing one-on-ones with small group people on his or her own—that’s up to you.
And when he or she leads a meeting on his or her own, you may choose to not even be there. Your group is going to defer automatically to your leadership, so if you’re there, you may hinder his or her leading. But if the emerging leader isn’t ready yet, you should be there. And even if you aren’t there, you definitely need to be available.
And give your new leader permission to fail. It’s okay to have a small group meeting flop. It happens. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it, too. Make sure he or she knows that, if it doesn’t go well, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean your new leader isn’t supposed to lead. It means he or she is learning.
I still sometimes spill my drink down my shirt when I’m trying to take a sip from a cup. I’ve been doing that almost my entire life, and I still get it wrong sometimes. Being experienced doesn’t mean you never fail; it means you fail less often and you use it to learn for next time.
So it’s that simple. First you let him or her watch you do it, then you do it with him or her, then you let him or her do it on their own.
Jesus did what the Father showed him. Jesus’ disciples did what he showed them. That’s just discipleship.