Jesus’ Model for Developing Effective Leaders

Rick Franklin - Arrow Leadership

“What’s the hallmark of an effective leader?”

I’m often asked this question, especially by young, aspiring leaders. My response is simple: Leave the ministry better than you found it and raise up a cadre of leaders who could step into your role at any moment.

On one hand, this is simply common sense. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders, especially in ministry, need to be intentional and proactive in developing others to grow as leaders. And today the need for new, emerging leaders in ministry is greater than ever.

Complexity and pace of change today amplifies the need for equipped, effective leaders today.

According to researchers, nearly a half-million leaders will retire from ministry leadership roles in North America over the next decade. That’s a stunning shift in leadership! And this trend will be echoed globally as baby-boomers around the world transition into retirement in coming years.

This fact coupled with the challenges, complexity and pace of change today amplifies the need for equipped, effective leaders today.

However, many ministries are unclear and unsure how to raise up and develop new leaders. Each year, in my role with Arrow Leadership Ministries, I have the privilege of serving and interacting with over 80 different ministries, churches and denominations serving locally and globally. Though they’re quite diverse in their focus, they all share a common voice concerned about how to train and equip leaders locally and cross-culturally.

The need to develop leaders is real and urgent! It’s also biblical. Let’s look at Jesus: the Leader of leaders, he not only demonstrated servant leadership, he also recognized the strategic need to raise up and develop others in order to fulfill God’s plans and purposes.

What can we learn by looking at Jesus’ model of leadership development? What principles and practices can we glean from his relationship with the disciples? I’m convinced that as we look to Jesus, we’ll find a compelling way for us to raise up and develop leaders ready for today’s challenges and who could step into our own roles and accomplish even greater things for the Lord. The following three principles taken from Jesus’ example are crucial in developing leaders.

Be Intentional: Raise Up Others

Jesus was never rushed or caught off guard. Rather, he was exceptionally intentional in all he did. And part of his intentionality was in developing others who would “do even greater works” than he did (Jn. 14:12). Jesus prayed, he chose specific people to invest in and he intentionally developed them.

For us as leaders, we need to first have an intentional developmental mindset—a personal commitment to raising up and pouring into others so that they would grow in their leadership skills and capacity. This applies to both formal and informal avenues of developing people.

Does your ministry have an intentional leadership pipeline process whereby everyone in the ministry is being resourced and developed to lead themselves, lead others and lead leaders well? I am surprised at the number of both large and small ministries that have no intentional leadership development taking place. We’re regularly asked to come alongside ministries to help them design their own leadership development programs or to utilize our programs and resources.

Some of the most impactful development flows from life-on-life interaction in the course of ministry.

But leadership development is not limited to formalized training! Some of the most impactful development flows from life-on-life interaction in the course of ministry. So let me ask you, who are you praying for and asking God for that you could develop as God’s chosen leader for tomorrow?

In over 30 years of ministry, I’ve had countless opportunities to develop others, both formally and informally. But on each occasion, I intentionally chose specific men and women to come alongside, to invest in, to challenge and to ultimately develop into Jesus-centered leaders who are now effective leaders in their own, unique, God-empowered ways.

Be Comprehensive: Training + Development

In developing his followers, Jesus modeled effective leadership and used every-day experiences as his classroom. He trained his disciples and he developed them. This is an important distinction. Training focuses on the specific skills needed to accomplish a particular task. For example, the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ practical training lesson when the disciples asked him how to pray (Mt. 6:6-18; Lk. 11:1-4).

Development goes beyond training by creating the capacity to face challenges and to excel in new circumstances and opportunities. Because Jesus had trained and developed his disciples, they were able, with the Spirit’s empowering, to give leadership to the birth of the Church after Pentecost.

How can you incorporate both training and development into building leaders? First, focus on the specific skills needed to succeed. Provide specific training and resourcing that equips leaders to fulfill their roles well.

Then consider the capacity and ability to handle change. These leadership qualities are better developed than trained. For example, give opportunities for emerging leaders to explore and solve problems. Help them try new things, to learn by doing and to experience failure. Yes, failure! Failure instructs and also motivates. Jesus used Peter’s failure in a powerful way to not only restore him, but also to launch his leadership (Jn. 21:15-19).

Jesus wasn’t limited in his approach to building leaders. Rather he was consistently comprehensive. How are you doing? Do you focus more on training or development? What one shift could you make today that would improve how you develop others?

Be Kingdom-Focused: Overcome Distractions  

Jesus was singularly focused. He knew the Father’s will and set about fulfilling it. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted or driven off course. Even when he was disturbed by others, he turned those occasions into opportunities to heal and restore—all in alignment with God’s ultimate plan.

As we develop others, we need to remain laser-focused in the midst of daily distractions. Focus flows from clear priorities and goals. When priorities and goals are specific and crystal clear, they provide anchor points that hold firm when the “winds of distractions” blow across life and leadership.

Are you focused on developing others? Or do your intentions to pour into others get sidetracked quickly and overtaken by other needs or opportunities?

What the world needs today is leaders—leaders who will lead differently for Kingdom impact, reflecting Jesus in who they are and how they lead. But who’s developing these Jesus-centered leaders? Let me encourage you to look to Jesus’ example and to intentionally lean into raising up and pouring into new emerging leaders, equipping and developing them to meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities!

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