Leaders by Design: Preparing Your Church for Its Highest Priority

“Job No. 1 for pastors and ministry leaders is not preaching, counseling or sharing the gospel—it’s preparing believers to do so.”

The authors, ordained Southern Baptist ministers, acknowledge their theological position that women are not permitted to be pastors. But in the book, they make no gender distinctions as to which leadership roles men and women are called to, and indeed consistently communicate a vision that everyone, male or female, is born to be a leader.

“We believe women have equal standing before the Lord, that they have equal gifts, that there’s no distinction in terms of being utilized in the church and in the world,” says Geiger.

The authors also don’t give a pass to folks who are convinced they aren’t leadership material. You can’t claim your personality prevents you from answering God’s call, they say.

“It’s been a common debate: Are leaders born or are leaders made?” says Geiger. The latest research undercuts the from-birth theory. “To think that there is a set formula on a personality mix—or even a spiritual mix—as to what makes a great leader is not accurate.”

There are “a ton of types of leaders,” he says. “Your personality will impact how you lead, not that you lead. You can be a great leader no matter what type of personality you have.”

Peck agrees: “Let’s let the Bible define leadership rather than Harvard Business Review.”

A Church-Based Leadership Incubator

So what about local churches that want to embrace this notion of a church-based leader incubator?

“The very first thing to do for whoever is spearheading [a new vision of leadership training] is to make sure there is a sense among the leaders that, ‘We must do this,’” says Geiger. “You need to spend more time on building conviction than you think you do. But the more time you do, the faster the [culture will change] and the faster the constructs will be accepted.”

That means digging deep. The book lays out whole chapters on how to change and rebuild and manage a church culture. Understanding a theology of culture (of any sort) is crucial. In their book, Geiger and Peck start at ground zero, calling readers to evaluate their local body in three areas: creation (core beliefs, what is true, the essence of humanity); the identity of the local church; and how the church is supposed to interact with the world.

From Outreach Magazine  A Disturbing Trend in the Church—And How You Can Help Reverse It

Geiger and Peck then peel back traditions and practices to reveal three layers, each building on the previous ones: actual beliefs, not just what the group says it believes; articulated beliefs, or which actual beliefs are declared, and how; and artifacts, the tangible expressions of beliefs, such as customs, informal rules, organizational structures, policies and even the buildings we meet in and the music we play.

Aligning all three layers is crucial if the church is to be healthy.

“If our churches are going to have strong cultures, there must be actual beliefs driven deeply into the church that are articulated and then expressed in artifacts,” they write. “There will be harmony and congruence between all three layers of culture. The truly embraced convictions of a local church are written in the lives of believers as they interact with one another and the world.”

The Challenge of Change

The reality is, churches that want to change are in for some tough challenges. Congregations resist change. Indeed, human nature resists change. Think, they say, of heart patients who are told they need to change or they will die. Research says even with that dire warning, 90 percent of heart patients don’t take the steps to improve eating habits or ramp up exercise or quit smoking and drinking.

The authors advise churches first to establish a sense of urgency. “Leaders must create a dissatisfaction with an ineffective status quo,” they write. “They must help others develop an angst over the brokenness around them.”

Next, the authors say to form a guiding coalition, a “community of people, a group aligned on mission and values and committed to the future of the organization.”

That’s followed by steps to develop a vision and strategy, which will attract people and drive action. The leaders need to communicate the vision effectively, compelling hearers to step up and start pouring their lives into others.

Once participants are on board, empower them to act. “Ministry leaders must empower others to develop leaders. Leadership development must not be only the responsibility of the senior leadership team.”

Next, generate short-term wins to leverage momentum. “Ministry leaders can create short-term wins by beginning with a few people. People will begin to see that the church does more than produce programs and events.”

From Outreach Magazine  The Other Six Days

As progress is made, ministry leaders can consolidate improvements and produce more change. They then can anchor new approaches in the culture. After all, “leaders do not create a new culture in order to make changes; instead, they make changes to create a new culture,” Geiger and Peck write.

Why Before How

A strong conviction and a churchwide, Christlike culture are crucial before congregations should even consider putting “constructs” into place. Otherwise, the result will be apathy and confusion.

Geiger and Peck say that if the leadership culture is in place, people actually will clamor for the constructs.

“If you pass out a construct—a tool—and people say, ‘Yes, we need this,’ then you know you’ve [been successful] in building conviction,” says Geiger. “But if you pass out a tool and people don’t know what to do with it, or are resentful that there’s one more thing they’re being asked to do, then there’s something wrong.”

He uses the analogy of a hammer and nails. “You need to first spend time saying, ‘We’re going to hang this picture, and here’s why,’” he says. “You don’t just hand out the hammer and nails. They’ll not know what it’s for.”

The Church as Launching Pad

The local church as a leadership launching pad: It’s a big vision, but that’s the point.

“Because a local church exists to serve her community, to bless the world and to be a light to the nations, then the leaders developed in each local church are developed for much more than each local church,” Geiger and Peck write. “We are recruiting leaders to a mission bigger than the smaller ones the world offers.”

To be faithful to its calling, we must remember the original mandate and become intentional in its commitment to creating leaders. Every congregation must foster a culture that says producing leaders is job No. 1. And every church must put in place the constructs or steps that actually get all this done.

Anita K. Palmer is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.