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When No One Seems Qualified to Lead

How five churches overcame obstacles to leader development.
When No One Seems Qualified to Lead

Mark Jobe: Our only prospects are outsiders, outcasts, or barely shave.

Dann Pantoja: My young team has more questions than I have answers.

Debbie Reagan: Why is my mentor harsh, condescending, and nosy?

Carol Cartmill: Nobody volunteers, now what do I do?

Brad Eakins: Small town Wyoming resisted my efforts until …

Unlikely Candidates
What do you do when no one seems qualified to lead?
Mark Jobe

When the Berean Mission Church, my first as pastor, began growing, I hoped to hire additional leaders. But we couldn't find anyone who wanted to come to the mission's tough, southwest Chicago neighborhood. Our only choice was to develop leaders from what we had.

My first leadership team consisted of four unlikely candidates—a young Hispanic man fresh out of the Marines, two gypsy brothers, and a former alcoholic who came to Christ in his sixties. None of them had any biblical training for leadership. None had ever led in a church setting before.

Yet in 17 years, that little urban mission has grown to become New Life Community Church, a congregation that meets at eight satellite locations every Sunday. Each of those satellites has its own pastor. And all but one of those pastors was grown from within our church.

And though the church has grown from 20 to nearly 2,000, we continue to develop leaders by looking for the same qualities I saw in those first four unlikely men.

Raising leaders FAST

Tony Wasso grew up in a gypsy family on Maxwell Street. He came to church each Sunday in a white T-shirt and with a big metal chain around his neck. But Tony, like the other three on our first leadership team, had four key qualities that comprise the acronym FAST—he was faithful, available, Spirit-filled, and teachable.

All four of those men were hungry to be used by God. They were willing to commit (faithful), give their time (available), seek after God with all their hearts (evidence of being Spirit-filled), and humble themselves to learn (teachable).

I tried to model my discipleship of these men after Jesus' example of apprenticing his disciples. At the beginning of his time with the Twelve, Jesus did the bulk of the ministry while they looked on.

In time, Jesus began giving the disciples opportunities to minister. After three years apprenticing them, Jesus released fishermen and tax collectors to plant his church. I hoped God would do the same through me.

I designated three nights each week to visit members of the church. And each night I took one of the four apprentices with me. At almost every point of ministry, I found some way to include one of the four.

But we also met weekly to pray, learn, discuss, and most importantly, develop friendships. I wanted the group to have fun together and grow close. We had cookouts, retreats, and volleyball games. Our wives got together, too.

I knew I could inspire these men from a distance, but the only way to influence them was up close. And when I did bring an apprentice along on a ministry opportunity, I made sure everyone knew, this man isn't my project; this is my friend.

Spotting the call

Tony was often with me at the men's fellowship for new believers that we hosted on Saturday evenings. He grew up in the area and could easily hang out and talk with the men who came.

But I noticed that Tony's interactions with these men went beyond neighborhood familiarity. He truly cared for these men, and occasionally someone would break down and embrace Tony. And Tony wept with them.

One day, Tony and his wife, Linda, began working with a woman whose husband was abusive. They gave her a ride home, only to find the husband in a fit of rage and challenging Tony to a brawl.

Tony knew how to fight from life on the street, but instead of meeting the challenge with fists, Tony met it with love. He got right in the man's face and spoke to his heart, "We want to help." That husband began seeing Tony for counseling, and it became clear that Tony had a God-given heart for troubled people.

Tony's life showed three benchmarks we look for before graduating an apprentice on to greater responsibility—calling, character, and fruitfulness.

I went to Tony shortly thereafter and asked him, "Would you be my ministry partner? We have many people who come to the Sunday night service with prayer needs. I'd like you at the services to pray for them with me."

At first Tony was scared to take such a public role. Soon, however, prayer and counseling became Tony's niche for ministry. And as he continued to demonstrate calling, character, and fruitfulness, he grew in leadership. Today Tony is the pastor of one of our eight satellite sites.

Too much too soon?

As the church's growth accelerated, we needed to step up our leadership development. And nothing grows a disciple more quickly than active ministry. So we created more entry points of leadership for new apprentices.

We created a one-on-one mentoring program for new believers preparing for baptism and asked our apprentice leaders to serve as the mentors.

We also launched home fellowship and study groups, each facilitated by an apprentice leader. That apprentice, in turn, was required to take an apprentice under himself to help lead the group. Eventually, the first leader became a coach for other group leaders, and his apprentice took over the group. Today we have more than 105 home groups, each led by an apprentice leader and his or her apprentice.

In time, we built coaching teams and retreats for developing these apprentice leaders, but our practice has always been, "To be a leader, all you have to be is a few paces ahead of the people you're leading." This enables us to give even new believers opportunity for apprentice leadership—so long as they're learning to lead those even newer to the faith than themselves.

I was sharing our church's apprenticeship approach recently with a class of grad students at Moody Bible Institute. One of them, an associate pastor, asked, "But if I come to your church with my seminary degree, what would you do with me? Where would I fit in?"

I answered, "The first thing you would do is apprentice in a small group under Joe, the factory worker. If you could demonstrate to Joe that you minister to the group in love and demonstrate calling, character, and fruitfulness, we'd expand your ministry opportunities."

It isn't an apprentice's education we look for, but his heart. We ask, "Are you FAST enough to be a leader?"

Mark Jobe is pastor of New Life Community Church, Chicago, Illinois.

* * *

Teaching Gen-Why?
My mistakes—and lessons—from mentoring postmoderns.
Dann Pantoja

Mentoring postmodern church planters is like hiking the mountains of British Columbia—painful, scary, exhilarating, and fulfilling! Each day, you're bound to say "Whew!" "Wow!" "Whatever!" "Whoah!" and "Woohoo!" all at once.

Four years ago, I made a commitment to take a journey with a multicultural group of young, Christian leaders. The group became WavesChurch. The planting team asked me to become their mentor. I was planning to answer a few questions about church planting in the postmodern context. I ended up learning more questions.

Will it enhance community life?

I was trained to search for excellence. My management professor taught me to practice kai zen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. To me, responsible leadership means being prepared and being thorough. All bases must be covered. And, I thought, that kind of excellence must be applied in mentoring.

I drafted a church planting ministry plan for my team. It was based on a thorough theological study of church planting and church growth. I did a careful demographic study of our city and included quotes from big church planters and church growth experts. I presented the WavesChurch Planting Ministry Plan to them in a way I thought was very professional.

The response? Silence. They weren't excited. I thought, There must be something wrong with the plan. Are the numerical growth projections I calculated using MSExcel incorrect?

One of them finally spoke up: "Dann, how would this enhance our community life?"

"What?" I answered defensively. "Let's deal with that later. We have an urgent task to do based on Christ's Great Commission, and I'm leading you to do our best for the Lord!"

"But Dann," he gently replied, "church planting is all about building a biblical community. This can only be done by being a genuine biblical community. Being determines doing; doing determines having. We cannot have a successful church plant and accomplish our church growth goals unless we become a genuine biblical community."

In a very polite way, they ignored my hard work. They tried to hide their skepticism, but one finally said it: "Dann, you must have really worked on this technique, and it must have really worked in your past ministries. But it's just a technique."

I was devastated. I found out that my expertise really didn't impress them.

Remember what Morpheus said in the original movie The Matrix? "What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you're talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain." This new generation of church planters demand that I teach them real stuff. They wanted what was authentic and not what was mere image.

Later they expressed that they wanted to experience what the Word of God said about church planting—the power of God to change lives, the power of God to transform our city, the power of God to bring city leaders of Richmond to recognize Jesus' lordship.

After six months as a part of a biblical community and witnessing the power of God at work in our lives, then they asked me about the ministry plan.

Open to new ideas? Really?

WavesChurch was meeting in a hotel. Nothing seemed to be happening. Our people didn't seem to be excited enough to invite their friends. I was thinking of renting a classroom in a nearby church.

One of our team disagreed.

During one of our prayer sessions, Jeff Wong shared with me his idea of having a worship service in a tea house. "We'll serve tea while we worship. We'll have food and drinks while we're listening to BiComm." (BiComm or "Biblical Communication" is our term for the sermon).

Our coaching team (pastoral staff) invested a couple of weeks debating the issue. We had to review our biblical theology of worship, our theology of food and drinks, our understanding of what gathering together was all about. We were forced to delineate what is culturally appropriate and what is biblically grounded.

We decided to try Jeff's idea.

Our people started inviting their unchurched friends. Our attendance doubled. But we soon found that the tea house was not the best place to disciple our people. Our tea house church became a house church and now meets in three locations. Few in our community realize that WavesChurch is 120 people meeting in houses, because our people are excited about serving. Our city leaders call when they need volunteers, because WavesChurch frequently supplies workers for social service agencies and community events. Richmond, British Columbia, is our mission field.

Who's mentoring whom?

Jack is a multi-gifted person. He is an artist, musician, counselor, excellent public speaker, and a doctoral theology student. I was trying hard to get him to work for our denomination as a church planter. So I started sharing our organization's vision. As he neared graduation, I invested more time with him.

During one of our lunches together, he looked straight into my eyes and gently asked: "Am I one of your projects?"

That question stunned me.

"It's my job," I said. "Part of my responsibility is to recruit and train church planters for global ministries."

"Dann," Jack responded, "I want to mentor and be mentored unselfishly. I don't want to be recruited into a denominational mission program. I want to plunge into building biblical communities. I want to advance the Kingdom of God, not a denominational flag."

Jack and I are still having our monthly mentorship sessions. He's now serving as a church planter—with another mission agency. And I'm no longer a denominational recruiter.

Although my role with the WavesChurch planting team was initially as mentor, after a year the team asked me to serve as lead pastor. I've been having my own kai zen experience, but the quest for excellence is leading me in new directions, new relationships, and new community.

And into a whole new level of service.

Dann Pantoja is lead pastor for WavesChurch in Richmond, British Columbia. www.dannpantoja.com

* * *

The Resistant Protégé
Being mentored wasn't as natural, or as fun, as I'd dreamed.
Debbie Reagan

I followed God's call across town to a new ministry in a deteriorating neighborhood. I was out of my community, out of my comfort zone, and soon, I realized, out of my league. I needed help.

My pastor, with 30 years ministry experience behind him, saw my struggle and offered to teach me the basics of cross-cultural ministry. Grateful, I told him I would be a willing student, eager to receive his insight and counsel. How could I have known that in just a few short months I would feel stifled and resentful of his attempts to mentor me?

I had expected him to teach me about "real" ministry issues, like how to handle differences in theology and beliefs and how to conduct training sessions for workers from completely different backgrounds. I needed to know about liabilities and risks—you know, the important things.

My pastor, however, felt he also needed to address issues that I did not consider ministry related. He wanted to discuss my personal style (he said some found it intimidating), my approach with others (often too direct), the way I communicated the ministry vision and values (too zealous), and how others perceived me (sometimes judgmental and critical, he said).

I resented the focus being on me. I was sure my struggles were with them, the people in that strange environment in which I was trying to minister.

When I choked

I had been invited to a grassroots meeting on feeding the city's pedestrian poor. To my dismay, the consensus of the pastors and politicians present was to rely on government food and funding. I was relatively unknown by everyone around the table, but I spoke up in favor of relying, instead, on God. I reminded them of Christ's feeding the multitudes with a small boy's lunch. I urged stepping out in faith and named some ministry models around the country that had successfully done just that. I told them that churches in the suburbs could offer resources and would want to help.

Maybe it was the message. Or the delivery. All I know for sure is that my speech drew rousing objections and stern looks from most in the room. I was lectured on the necessity of government funding and was told to wise up. They did not want or need the help I was offering. They could do it their way, thank you.

When I got together with my pastor, I was sure he would be appalled at their attitude. In our session that afternoon, as I recounted the details of the meeting, he seemed discouraged that I had so soon alienated myself from the city's religious leaders.

"Why didn't you come to me before attending the meeting?" he said, shaking his head with disappointment. With weariness in his voice, he continued, "We could have talked about it. Instead, you marched in as if you had the solutions to all their problems."

I was angry at his response. I had not done anything wrong! I had represented Christ's interests in that meeting! And yes! I did have the solution to their problem, and I was not going to apologize for it!

I sat glaring at him across his desk, doubting at that moment whether his priorities and motives were even biblical. Whose side was he on anyway?

My pastor talked about my body language and how intimidating I was coming across. He told me that I did not look or sound like Jesus at that moment. Those were fighting words to me.

What was wrong with everybody? If I disappointed him, then he certainly infuriated me! We parted without resolution.

Batting lessons

As I woke the next morning, my heart was heavy with the unresolved issues. I started my day in prayer and brought my frustrations to God. I asked Him to make the attitude of 2 Chronicles 34:27 true in my life: "Give me a tender and responsive heart, so that I will humble myself before you when I hear Your Word, O God!" I asked God to somehow make clear to me His perspective on my situation.

Later that day, at a nearby field, I watched two boys playing baseball. The older boy hit the ball almost every time. He ran the bases easily. He was good. When it was the younger boy's turn, he swung and missed, repeatedly. When he finally hit a foul ball, he ran the bases anyway, and his friend allowed it.

Immediately I identified with the older boy. He could be me, I thought. God knows I had taken the role of mentor to hundreds of kids in youth ministry. I smiled thinking of all the kids I'd helped make it to first base.

I looked back to the diamond just as the younger boy pitched and the older one hit a long fly ball and started circling the bases. The younger boy lost his temper and ran with all his might, lunged at the older boy, and tackled him. What a shame, I thought, that the younger boy should be angered because his friend hit the ball so consistently and so well.

That's when I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper to me, "It's not the older boy who represents you here, but the younger one."

It was painful, but I realized that God had provided a coach for me as well, and I resented his skill. I had looked upon my pastor's abilities as something he was using against me, not as something to observe and learn from. I could now see him as someone who understands the rules and subtleties of ministry, someone willing to share his knowledge with me, someone with tremendous patience and love for me, who wants to see me make it around the bases.

I wish I could say that being mentored instantly became easier for me. Even after I shared this new insight with my pastor, I continued to experience frequent strikeouts and a lot of frustration under the watchful eye of my mentor.

I had blown it with the pastors who were starting the food program, but God opened another door. The pastor of a large inner city church was interested in reaching the children of his neighborhood, and my pastor suggested that our churches might partner. Soon I became the point person for the ministry.

Just before Christmas I organized a service at our church in which both congregations could enjoy fellowship over a mix of delicious cultural foods. It was the first time our church had hosted an inner city congregation. My pastor took a back seat and allowed me to run the entire program. It turned out to be a wonderful evening.

As the evening wound down, my pastor congratulated me on a successful evening for both congregations and on a work well done! His words were unexpected and gave me great hope and encouragement.

I now understand the value in holding myself accountable to others. I'm learning to let those in leadership speak to me regarding my attitudes and behaviors. My batting average is way up these days.

Thanks, Coach!

Debbie Reagan is a lay leader at Leptondale Bible Church in Newburgh, New York.

* * *

Don't Call Me "Leader"
You can encourage reluctant people to grow into (shh!) leadership.
Carol Cartmill

When my former pastor asked me to chair our education board, I thought, Why me? I'm a stay-at-home mom. I don't have a seminary degree. I might be able to lead at PTA, but I can't lead at church.

Still, my pastor said he saw gifts in me. He praised me for my dedication. And most importantly, he created a leadership environment where I knew I'd be equipped, encouraged, and given the freedom to fail.

I said yes—not because I thought of myself as a leader, but because I knew other leaders around me would help me grow into what I needed to be.

At the Church of the Resurrection, we're developing leaders by creating the same kind of supportive atmosphere. We want stay-at-home moms, college students, retirees, and even the terminally shy to become leaders in the church.

For years our church's biggest leadership training event was the annual leadership retreat. But as the church grew, and as our need for leaders grew, we found few leadership candidates willing to attend our "Leadership Summit." Too many were intimidated by the word "leadership."

"I'm no leader," they would say, just like I had.

When we changed the name of the retreat to simply "The Summit," attendance boomed.

We've since launched other leadership training initiatives, but we don't refer to them that way. We call them "Coach Camp" and "Up-Word Bound University." These programs teach necessary leadership skills, from developing a vision to pastoral care, but they are presented simply as opportunities for growth. Many who would cringe over "leadership training" participate each year.

Call me "teammate"

Even the most dedicated people often shy from being called into "leadership." So instead, when one of our current leaders (we like to call them "servants" or "coaches") sees someone passionate about a ministry, he or she approaches that person with an invitation:

"Beverly, I've watched you get passionate about God's purposes. And I've seen you display gifts of caring and evangelism. I'd like to invite you to serve with me on this missions project."

First, we affirm their gifts and give specific reasons why we think they might be right for a particular ministry. Then we offer them opportunities to accompany current leaders as apprentices.

Eventually, if a leadership candidate shows continued passion and faithfulness, we invite him or her to join the team that oversees that ministry. At every step, our candidates have someone who has gone before them and who serves as a support system. We never ask new leaders to step out on their own.

Beverly Lopez accepted the invitation. She found fulfillment through serving an urban mission, and she is now on a team that oversees a health care clinic downtown. But don't call her a leader. "I'm not a leader," she would say, "I'm just trying to let God grow me."

Carol Cartmill is director of leadership development at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

* * *

Rousing the Rural Church
Forget programs. Make the most of the moment.
Brad Eakins

Nothing I'd studied about leadership training quite prepared me for my first senior pastorate: Lingle, Wyoming, population 473.

Every program I initiated seemed to fall flat on its face. Some people rejected my leadership. Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction made sense to me for the first time.

But a grass-roots push to build a facility for our youth changed that. Building required our congregation to increase its giving and stewardship maturity. And it required me to cast the vision, one member at a time.

In the end, it wasn't my programs or training that encouraged new leadership development, it was the cup of coffee at the café, a living room conversation about giving faithfully, or riding in a pickup across the pasture and asking, "How's your family doing?" Some of the best opportunities to disciple our men came when we were building the facility. When we put down the hammers, break-time conversations became prime time to disciple.

Discipling people one-on-one, just in the area of stewardship, opened them to growing in other areas, including leadership. Tom, for example, was angry when we first began. "This building is biting off more than we can chew," he said.

But I encouraged him to consider stepping out in faith as vital to godly stewardship. A couple of weeks later, Tom came to me and said, "Thank you for revitalizing my walk. I'd never realized how much I was holding back from God before." Now Tom urges our congregation to single out others for prayer, evangelism, and men's ministries. He isn't "holding back" anymore.

Brad Eakins pastors North Hills Church in Lingle, Wyoming.

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