"Nobody cares enough to step forward and lead."

Those eight words, shared by a friend over lunch, tore through the air like the sound of fabric ripping when I reach down to tie my shoes—definitely not what anyone wants to hear.

He offered this conclusion as we discussed the low interest level people in his church seem to have in accepting leadership roles. They typically rally just enough volunteers willing to help, but only with a clear limit to involvement—a line typically far short of serving as point person. So their small staff ends up doing most everything themselves, and—I pointed out—highly likely to burn out. "What's up with people these days; what's their problem?" he asked.

"Maybe you are?" I asked, theorized, and indicted him with just three simple words and an eyebrow raise.

Ah, that ripping sound again.

"What do you mean?" he countered, challenged, and foreshadowed not paying for lunch—all with just four words and a glare.

"Try asking." Got him with only two words!

"Do what?"

Okay, he tied me on the word count challenge. Let's move on.

These days, nearly everyone seems overworked, overscheduled, and overcommitted. Or at least that's a common assumption. And in a subtle way, it also seems that a growing number of church and organizational leaders feel the need to challenge people less, lest they leave.

In my friend's church, more people attend than ever before. So they develop more opportunities for people to contribute time and talent. Some roles support the larger Sunday services. Others seek to reach the community. The church wants to deploy more people—and that's a good thing.

Yet their budget can't stretch to add staff, so more "opportunities" create greater needs for project-oriented leadership—roles that must be filled by someone. This is not an uncommon scenario for churches today. Others feel a similar pinch from losing staff to the still-sluggish economy.

If this sounds completely foreign to you, then please stop reading this column and spend time in a rich prayer of thanksgiving to God for your situation. But for the rest of us, and we are many…

An answer, a real answer, is closer than one might think.

Ask. (Yes, just one word!)

More descriptively: Ask people to step forward and lead prior to committing to a project, program, or other venture.

The organization I serve works directly with, and exclusively through, local churches—nearly 1,000 of them. And the program we offer requires each church to appoint a director to lead that program. Sometimes the church has enough budget to pay a person. But often that's not the case. So every pastor deploys the same strategy, one that has worked 100 percent of the time. They think about who attends their church, inquire with others if needed, then they ask someone to serve as the director. They ask directly, equipped with a clear job description and the passion they feel about the opportunity to change lives. They ask this person not to help but to own the ministry.

And it works.


Because they worry less about how people seem overworked, overscheduled, and overcommitted—and they focus more on a kingdom opportunity. I'm sure many have to ask more than one person. But mix discernment and persistence, add passion, and the leadership shortage will quickly shrink.

Just remember the secret ingredient: belief that people still exist who want to make a substantial Kingdom play in their lives to change the lives of others. To lead people, to use any measure of status and influence, is a sacred trust that unleashes passion because relatively few people receive the opportunity.

Yet, our culture fuels desire for such a chance. For example, consider the words of author J.K. Rowling as she delivered a Harvard University commencement address now viewed by millions via a TED video:

"If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice, if you choose to identify not only with the powerful but with the powerless, if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already."

Few people graduate from Harvard. Fewer still change millions of lives. But many potential leaders will sit in church this weekend, wondering if God will ever do something through them. People who need only a tap on the shoulder and a well-articulated description of something that needs leading to see something worth doing well.

Finding these folks is as simple as a few right words over lunch.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

David Staal, senior editor for Building Church Leaders and a mentor to a first grader, serves as the president of Kids Hope USA, a national non-profit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. David is the author of Lessons Kids Need to Learn (Zondervan, 2012) and Words Kids Need to Hear (Zondervan, 2008). He lives in Grand Haven, MI, with his wife Becky, son Scott, and daughter Erin.