the shape of leadership

Nurturing Excellence in the Development of People

Three ways to equip others in ministry

I preached for the first time while a teenager in high school. My youth pastor gave me an opportunity during our weekly youth service, and I was both thrilled and nervous. I worked hard on the message, practiced it, and then delivered it to a group of my peers.

Was it excellent? Not a chance. Was it good? Probably not. But I had a leader who was willing to take a risk on a student with a dream.

Over time, new opportunities arose. I started teaching a Sunday School class and served a summer internship at our church after completing high school. A couple of years later, I became a part-time associate youth pastor. Just before my college graduation, I transitioned to a full-time youth pastor position.

The quality of my ministry during those years wasn’t exactly “excellent.” But I was getting better. Why? Because I had a leader who believed in me and gave me a chance to learn. I had someone to model the way and mentor me in ministry. And the more I grew, the more opportunities I received.

Every leader faces a tension between the desire for excellent programming and the need to develop people. Most pastors live and lead with a vision of excellence. They want to offer the best ministry possible. At the same time, pastors carry the responsibility of discipling and developing people.

When you’re raising up new leaders, they probably aren’t up to your standard of excellence — yet. As a result, you may be hesitant to hand off responsibility because you know your programming may take a hit in terms of quality. At the same time, if your standard of excellence is more important than your commitment to people, you’ll never develop new leaders.

Do you lower your standards so you can develop more people, or do you stop developing people so you can maintain your current level of excellence? Neither. There’s a third option, and it begins with three steps.

1. Catch a vision for people development. Ephesians 4:11–13 reminds us that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

You are called to be an equipper of people. If you are avoiding people development for fear that your standard of excellence will decline, you are missing the point.

When you’re raising
up new leaders, they probably aren’t up
to your standard of excellence — yet.

Besides, you probably don’t have enough money to hire an expert for every role. Instead, you have to hire people developers who will invest in the growth of others.

2. Systematize excellence. One reason excellence can decline when we focus on developing people is because we haven’t created a system that replicates excellence. In other words, our training and equipping of emerging leaders is less than excellent.

Here are three questions to consider:

  • Have you defined what excellence looks like in your ministry?
  • Do you have clearly documented processes and systems that make it easier to train new leaders in your standard of excellence?
  • Have you developed a quality onboarding process for new volunteers who are stepping into an area of ministry?

If you don’t systematize excellence, the performance of your newest team members will be an ongoing source of frustration. Create the systems that make it possible to train a top-notch team. Once those systems are in place, you can move to the third step.

3. Grow people toward excellence. People don’t simply wake up excellent one day. They grow into excellence. Some aspect of your church’s excellence may experience a dip when a new volunteer steps into a ministry role. However, if you’ve systematized excellence, you’ll mitigate the depth of the dip.

It’s important to view growth as a process, not an event. You can’t just show new leaders a few documents or videos in an onboarding process and expect them to perform at your standard of excellence. You have to help them grow toward excellence. Give them the initial training, and follow it up with these practical steps:

  • Pair your new leader with an experienced mentor. This allows him or her to learn from someone who already models the excellence you desire.
  • Debrief with new leaders after they serve. Talk about their experiences, what went well, how they can improve, and how you can help them.
  • Provide ongoing training and resources.
  • Rather than dumping the entire job on the new leader, increase his or her responsibilities gradually.

This process will not only help your church maintain greater consistency in its level of excellence, but it will also draw out the potential of people. Your belief in them, and your willingness to equip and mentor them, will help new leaders become the people God is calling them to be.

Mark Batterson once said, “Legacy is not what you accomplish. Legacy is what others accomplish because of you.”

Similarly, excellence isn’t your legacy. Your legacy is found in the people you develop to grow to their full potential.

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