Why Most Pastors Should Not Be Developing Younger Leaders

I was talking with a ministry leader last week on the phone. She had used our website chat to ask some questions about a blog post and the chat became too deep for text message so I asked her to call me on my cell.

Side note: I love having chat on our blog. While we’re not always available, it’s a great way to interact with ministry leaders while their mind is on their job. Social media doesn’t always afford that opportunity.

We were talking about building a leadership development program in her church. She had a few challenges, but one was a surprisingly clear-headed admission of something most ministry leaders won’t admit.

Her pastor had been trying to develop leaders himself for years, but it was only a source of frustration for himself and his staff. She had been tasked to start fresh with the endeavor where her pastor had failed.

After our conversation ended, this thought stuck with me. Pastors are often expected to be the “Senior Developer” for the leaders in their church, but they are most often not the right person for that role.

Being a good leader doesn’t mean you’re automatically a good developer of leaders.

It might be obvious, but helping people grow as leaders requires a completely separate skillset from the act of leading. Yes, as a leader, younger leaders will learn some things from your example.

But developing leaders requires intentionality, active teaching, accountability, evaluation, challenges, feedback, and a hundred other interactions that young leaders won’t get from shadowing older leaders.

Expecting younger leaders to mature by osmosis doesn’t scale.

There’s no way that younger leaders will be able to spend enough time around more mature leaders to grow themselves sufficiently. And it certainly won’t work if you have more than only a couple leaders that need to mature quickly as leaders.

If you have a staff or group of lay leaders in your church that need to grow as leaders in tangible, meaningful ways, you need to provide a focused growth environment that’s more intentional than shadowing.

Seminaries don’t teach leadership development skills.

Seminars are great to learn a lot of Bible in a short amount of time in preparation for professional ministry. They are sometimes adequate at equipping future pastors to lead a church organization.

They are terrible at readying future ministry leaders to reproduce themselves in the lives of other leaders. That is not a skill or discipline that pastors are given in school.

Great leaders often don’t have insight into what makes them a great leader.

Just because someone is, themselves, a great leader doesn’t mean they have the self-knowledge to know what makes them so effective. In fact, even if they did know, it’s even harder to articulate those qualities to others.

Most pastors don’t have the time to develop their leaders.

Pastors are busy and developing leaders is a time-intensive process. It takes time to coach, evaluate, give feedback, listen, and how growing leaders accountability to training goals. That’s not time that most pastors have available, which means those things end up not happening at all.

Coaching is an entire skillset unto itself.

Learning to be a coach takes focused training. Great leaders, even ones that have insight into great leadership, still need to learn the deep skillset of coaching to help others grow as leaders.

Of course, developing younger leaders might be a perfect role for some senior or lead pastors. Some pastors might excel at this role. Some pastors might be naturally good coaches and require less training to do the job well. Some pastors might have already structured their job description to have the time to invest in younger leaders.

But, from my experience, too many pastors hold themselves solely responsible for the growth of their team and lay leaders. That burden puts to much stress and weight on a role that’s already pretty serious. And, what’s more, it’s an unnecessary burden that pastors shouldn’t be obligated to carry.

What options does a pastor have?

For those reasons, I heavily advocate for one of two options. First, hire a coach onto your team to be responsible for the growth of the other leaders. That option is great is you have the budget for it and your team is large enough to justify a focused role.

Second, bring on a coaching consultant to work with your leaders in a remote role. Someone like Matt Adair or Shawn Lovejoy can help younger leaders (and more seasoned leaders) grow in both effectiveness and in personal health as a leader.

I know, respect, and trust both men and their coaching teams. When it comes to leadership development in the ministry space, they are two of the best.

Disclaimer: I run a company that helps ministry leaders train volunteers and develop leaders. TrainedUp provides online training resources and tools to manage the learning part of leadership development. Coaching, though, is too human and often too messy for software to solve.