10 Things I Learned in New York City (Part 5)

In October 2021 I was fortunate to have a month-long sabbatical. I am grateful for the grace that my church gave to me to allow me this time to step away. Part of that time was spent in New York City as part of the pursuit of my Doctor of Ministry. This sabbatical time allowed me to make significant progress, and I am deeply grateful.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

“Declare His glory among the nations, His wondrous works among all peoples.” – Psalm 96:3

#7 – The church in the south needs a farm teampart 2. I know my next statement goes against conventional wisdom, but I will assert it regardless. Leadership expectations need to be lowered…and raised…at the same time. Let me break that assertion down a bit.

Leadership expectations need to be lowered. Since the formal study of leadership began in the early 1900s, leadership has often been associated with particular personalities that stand out in visible ways (see the survey of leadership studies in Irving and Strauss, Leadership in Christian Perspective, 2019). Leaders stand out because of success in military, political, economic, or organizational arenas. The evangelical church has followed this pattern and even developed “celebrity” leaders known for the size of their church, the reach of their teaching ministry, and/or the multiplication of their ministry through multiple venues, sites, and/or church plants. There is much to be celebrated and appreciated from these leaders and ministries, but identifying a successful leader based on these metrics has an unintended negative impact. Those who are not gifted to lead in such contexts are given the impression that they are not measuring up.

The problem is not limited to “celebrity” leadership. Even in a church the size of Columbus Avenue, there is an unstated assumption that “ministry” looks like preparing to speak to large groups of people, administering a complex and multi-faceted organization, and caring for people with trained counseling skills. The reality is that very few people need to be able to speak to hundreds, much less to thousands. Very few people need to be able to administer a complex network of people and groups. Few people need advanced training in counseling.

Most leaders don’t need to be trained to speak to a group of one or two hundred but rather to a group of ten or twenty. Most leaders don’t need to administer a complex organization but rather a simple relational network like a small group or Sunday school class. Most leaders don’t need advanced counseling skills but rather instruction in biblical wisdom that they can share in a variety of contexts. We need an army of leaders like these, but many very capable people disqualify themselves from leadership because they assume “real leaders” carry a certain numerical quota. Leadership expectations need to be lowered as we aim not at reproducing a few highly visible exceptions but instead an army of effective leaders to reach and serve the millions who need to know how to follow Jesus.

Leadership expectations need to be raised. Freeing people from an unrealistic vision of leadership also frees people to envision themselves leading in ways they could not imagine before. A church member who has received basic discipleship and is passionate about Jesus can and should be mobilized to reach people in a particular neighborhood, apartment complex, or workplace and then to form a new group of Christ-followers who reach others. Eventually, that small group of believers can form another group and multiply for kingdom impact. By raising the expectation that an ordinary, Jesus-follower can and should reach others, launch a group, and multiply mobilizes church attenders into church starters and church strengtheners. How do we get there? Great question! Training will be necessary, but that is the point of “the church in the south needs a farm teampart 1.”

Columbus Avenue Impact: I envision that by 2023 we have deployed 5 teams of church starters and strengtheners to 5 different neighborhoods or apartment complexes across Waco. These trained, resilient leaders are deployed not with the vision of leading thousands, but tens, and multiplying their leadership across the region. These teams partner together for prayer and encouragement, especially if their work takes them away from Columbus Avenue.

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