Ordering a search of “leadership development” from Google currently yields 29 million menu options. Both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations invest billions of dollars each year on strategies intended to develop leaders. The pervasive need for better leaders in all spheres of private and public life teases our appetite for solutions.
But has all our investment of time, energy, and money paid off? What is the “return on investment (ROI)” for developing leaders? Do our efforts to develop leaders really work? And if so, what kind of leadership development works?
I grappled with these questions for many years. Hopefully this article contributes to the discussion.
A Colossal Disruption
As a starting point, I share a part of my own development as a leader – it started with a colossal disruption.
During seminary, I was eager to prove just how much I had learned in my theology and ministry classes. I couldn’t wait until graduation to begin preaching. So in my second year of seminary I convinced a small rural church that they needed me as their weekend pastor. They succumbed, and I began with great expectations. Every Sunday, I delivered my biblical treatises sprinkled with sufficient references to Hebrew and Greek. I was very proud of my sermons. But they weren’t impressed. And the congregation dwindled. In retrospect I realize that I was preaching, but not communicating; talking, but not listening; driving, but not leading.
During my second year as pastor, the people of the church decided to host a revival – without telling me. They invited an evangelist for their special series of meetings. The evangelist was uneducated and unsophisticated, but he attracted record numbers to the services. Some of the most resistant made decisions to follow Christ. The revival was the talk of their small town, and it extended from one week to three.
The revival was humiliating for me. At the end of the revival, I resigned. And the evangelist became their pastor. Under his leadership during the next few years, the church grew steadily. I learned an important lesson: dispensing knowledge is not the same as leading well. I deeply value my seminary education, but it was inadequate in itself to develop me as a leader.
This church experience made me reluctant to enter church ministry. My wife and I had decided that we would pursue another career path after completing our studies. However, two weeks before graduation day, a pastor named David Muir phoned me from Pennsylvania. He needed an assistant pastor.
I responded, “Thank you, but I’m NOT interested.”
He insisted, “Why don’t you just come to visit for the weekend? ”
So I went for a visit. As soon as we met, I realized that this pastor and I were very different. But that weekend he said to me, “I know you’ve been through a tough experience, and you seem teachable now. If you’ll come to be the assistant pastor, it won’t be for what you can do for this church, but we want you to come for what we can do for you.” That was like music to my ears. So for the next few years, I served as his assistant while he poured his life into me. He shared wisdom and life lessons, and he believed in me. And it profoundly changed me. My life’s passion to develop leaders is a debt of love and gratitude to this one who invested in me.
David Muir never studied leadership. He never called what he did “leadership development” or “mentoring.” But he was very effective. He knew that the outcome of authentic Christ-centered leadership is life transformation. David did not use me to benefit his church; rather, he prepared me to my highest potential to serve others. Combined with the years of seminary training, David’s relational investment changed my life.
Following my mentoring experience with David Muir, I have held various ministry roles, years that included teaching in a seminary and pastoring a local church. During those years, my interest and participation in developing leaders grew steadily. But the questions persisted: Does leadership development work? And if so, what works? How do seeds flourish?
This is one excerpt of a complete article that has been circling around some missions circles recently. Read the entire article and to learn of the results of the research.