MANILA—How are leaders made?
Are they formed organically through a combination of life experiences, or are they developed intentionally at the hands of other leaders?
Though life experiences (and even more importantly God’s providence) do play into any given leader’s leadership development, I would still argue that leadership development must be intentional.
Leaders don’t just happen organically.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of an intentional leadership-development strategy, you might want to ask yourself why. It sounds very spiritual to say that we’ll just make disciples and leadership development will take care of itself organically. The problem is that “organic leaders,” like unicorns and Santa Claus, only exist in an imaginary world.
Discipleship is the obvious starting point of spiritual leadership. Disciples are the raw materials out of which we can shape leaders. Our primary objective is to make disciples—to help people follow Jesus, fish for people, and enjoy fellowship with other believers. But if we stop there—if we intentionally make disciples and don’t intentionally train leaders—our growth will either plateau, or it will crush our current leaders. Healthy discipleship growth will always threaten to overwhelm current leaders and leadership structures. The only way to solve this problem is to either stop growing or train and empower new leaders.
The Apostle Paul showed a serious commitment to training and empowering future leaders in both his writings and his lifestyle, always bringing young leaders along with him on his missionary journeys. Perhaps Paul’s most well-known disciple was Timothy, a young man from Lystra who traveled with him extensively and eventually become the leader of the church in Ephesus.
Part of Timothy’s leadership development happened as he accompanied Paul on missionary trips. When we first meet Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16), he is described as “a disciple” with a Jewish mother and a Greek father. At that point, he was not a leader; he was simply a disciple. That’s the starting point of all biblical leadership.
The next thing we know, young Timothy is traveling with Paul all over the world on church-planting mission trips. I’m sure Paul appreciated Timothy’s company, but I think that main point was to upgrade Timothy’s leadership through a mobile frontline internship.
While we don’t know all the details of Timothy’s leadership training under Paul, we do get some sense of the things that Paul was trying to impress upon Timothy as a young leader when we read Paul’s letters to Timothy (1 & 2 Timothy). In these fascinating letters, Paul gives Timothy some advice about pastoring the church in Ephesus, and reminds him of some of the things he had taught him in the past.
In both letters, we see a recurring phrase that illustrates Paul’s intentionality in Timothy’s leadership development: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you”(2 Timothy 1:14; see also 1 Timothy 6:20).
Those “good deposits” that Paul speaks of don’t come to people naturally. They don’t come from random life experiences, or even reading leadership books or blogs. They only come when someone entrusts them to us; when someone takes the time to develop us as leaders.
Note: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and multiplication, check out chapter 5, entitled, “How to Multiply Like a Leader.”