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Are Leaders Born or Made?

Some years back I had lunch with a young man who had immigrated to America at fifteen to escape an abusive father and a broken family system.

He worked the orange groves of Florida—“the hardest work I’d ever done”, he said—from sunrise to sundown, paid pennies per ninety-pound boxes. He knew no one there and spoke no English. He eventually found his way to Cincinnati to work at a relative’s restaurant, married a young girl, working two jobs while his new wife went to school to finish her degree. They eventually stumbled into our church where he discovered Jesus…and she recovered a lost faith. Not long after, she baptized him, tears mingling with the water. He now loves sharing his faith and helping others grow. As we talked, I marveled at his poise, his spiritual insight, his drive tempered with a Jesus-focused humility. When he left the table to refill his Coke, his young wife beamed and said, “It’s hard to believe he only has a fifth-grade education, isn’t it?” I smiled and replied, “Your husband has leadership dripping off him. One day he’ll lead a church.” I don’t know if it was encouragement or the Spirit’s prompting, but it seemed there was something special about this young man. But is leadership really an inherent gift, showered on us by God…and if so, does that mean there are the “haves” and the “have nots”? Let me lay my cards on the table first: I believe that church leaders aren’t born, they’re made and developed…as long as they get good tools, skills modeled for them, and are open to the whispers of God. I would find myself in agreement with leadership gurus like Bennis, Kouzes and Posner, Collins and others. What’s more, if there are not learned leadership behaviors, then what’s the sense of discipling others? If we’re not about developing people who become reproducers of the life of Christ in others, then we’ve got to throw out any notion of the “priesthood of all believers”, because priests are by definition leaders: people who lead others into the presence of God. But let’s be honest: the famous passage in Romans regarding leadership seems to imply the opposite: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ROMANS 12:4-8 (ESV) It reads as though we each have a specific Holy Spirit-imbued gift for a particular use in the Body. But without taking the time to unpack this and the classic chapters in 1 Corinthians, there are potential caveats. Whether you take this to mean residential or primary giftings…or Spittler’s “dancing-hand-of-God”-gracelets model connected with the “when-you-come-together”-interpretive key of 1 Corinthians (any gift could be exercised by anyone at any time when we’re together)…or simply hard-wired gifts for specific purposes, it deserves a little more thought. For instance, if I don’t have the gift of serving, does that mean I’m off the hook of having to serve others? Or if I don’t have the gift of contribution, does that imply I don’t have to be generous? Or am I exempt from showing mercy? I would think these are rhetorical questions. At some level, we’re all called to lead, as in leading lost children back to the Father. We live in such a way to model a life that will lead others into a rich dependency in Jesus. We’re always leading in some way. And it may be that these scriptures are more about scope or range.

Do you have a leadership philosophy? And even more importantly, do you have a clear leadership development process in your church?

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches

Check out our new comprehensive leadership development pathway to church effectiveness and health: the revolutionary Elemental Pathway.


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