Developing leaders

Monday, 19 April, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

What happens when the founding leader of a fresh expression, or a key member of the original team moves on? This is the point of transition when fresh expressions and church plants are particularly vulnerable.

Leaders move on for a variety of reasons. I have known volunteer lay leaders to move on because of anything from changes to their family circumstances, their employers redeploying them out of the area, exhaustion or even a call to ordination. Ordained or other stipendiary lay leaders may move because of a clear call of God to a new ministry, because they are running out of steam or money, or because their gifting is initial pioneering rather than nurturing a fresh expression to maturity.

Whatever the reason, one day most fresh expressions will have to face changes in leadership. There is never an ideal moment for a key person to leave, it is always disruptive and inconvenient, but much more so if no one has thought about it in advance. There are three main ways of going about it.

1. Recruit a new leader from outside.

For larger projects this may be essential and there are a growing number of recognised pioneers trained or in training. A new leader from outside can bring renewed vision, if, perhaps, the fresh expression has lost its missional edge. The danger, on the other hand, is that they may arrive with their own clear vision and pay insufficient attention to the DNA of what God has already been doing there. The listening process at the birth of a fresh expression is equally important at key points of transition.

2. An existing team member becomes the leader.

Ideally the founding team will have been established with the potential for this in mind. A fresh expression started by a team is less vulnerable to the loss of one leader. But this will only help if the ethos of the team is to help its members increase their leadership capacity.

3. Develop indigenous leadership from among the people for whom the fresh expression was established.

This is not always possible in time, if a leader moves on quickly, but it is essential to the DNA of a healthy fresh expression. If fresh expressions are to be sustainable they have to develop the capacity to grow leaders. Indigenous leadership is one of the keys to ongoing mission. So even those pioneers whose gifting is to initiate a project, and then move on quickly, still have a responsibility to develop or apprentice potential leaders, from the beginning of their work.

All of this is much easier if it has been the deliberate intention of the fresh expression from the beginning. Leadership development is directly related to disciple making and is an essential part of it. Disciples are best formed, and leadership potential identified, by involving people in mission from an early stage. Draw people into what you are doing and allow them to flourish.

A leadership crisis might raise important questions about that fresh expression. If it is primarily a gathering or an event, rather than a community with a mission, which is served by the gathering or event, it will tend to gather consumers rather than grow disciples. Be a fledgling community on mission with God and disciple making and leadership development may prove (a little) easier!


You can explore more about what happens when leaders move on in Ailsa Wright's blog post and there's more about sustaining leadership in the Guide: sustaining a fresh expression section of Share.


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