The Most Common Leadership Problem

A colleague of mine who works as a consultant with church groups often asks people to make a list of all of their leadership development problems and challenges. Almost all groups are able to generate a long list quickly.  Then he asks, “Now which of these are actually discipleship issues, not leadership issues?”  He has found that between 70% and 90% of the issues initially identified as leadership problems are actually discipleship problems.

In a similar exercise, he draws a line down the middle of the board and asks people to identify the characteristics of a disciple on the left-hand side.  When they are finished, he asks them to list the distinct characteristics of a leader on the right-hand side—only those characteristics that aren’t already mentioned under the “disciple” heading. That list is invariably short.   Almost all of the qualities of an effective leader are founded on the fact that they’re a disciple.

Disciples are people who engage in sacrificial service, authentic relationships, and spiritual transformation. Our character is shaped as we lovingly obey Jesus, listening to the Spirit and stepping forward into the challenges of missional living.  It’s from this pool of people—disciples—that we are to draw our leaders.

Leadership problems usually aren’t leadership problems at all. They’re discipleship problems. We are trying to make leaders out of people who aren’t disciples. It doesn’t work. Without the foundation of discipleship, we end up with all kinds of problems.

The good news for church planters is this:  you don’t need to go down this road at all. Start with a philosophy that focuses on multiplying disciples first, then on developing leaders only from those who are already fruitful disciples. You will avoid the most common leadership problem—trying to make leaders out of people who aren’t disciples.