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By Joyce Mitchell
Finding leaders is an ongoing church exercise that can cause unnecessary anxiety attacks. In essence, the task is a nitty-gritty one. It affects both ministerial staff and lay missions leaders. Finding leaders rears its head with seasonal predictability, whenever nominating committees and leadership groups move into their enlistment mode.
Where We Begin
Our human tendency is to take action quickly: initiate a leader search ASAP. Twist a few arms or deliver a guilt-inducing message. Draft a plan to develop leaders. Make a plea for individuals to “step up” and take leadership responsibility, and publish it in the church newsletter this week! In fact, several of these steps may be useful and appropriate.
An equally viable approach to finding leaders is to take a step back from the urgent, “we need seven people to fill our current vacancies,” and think about what we are asking these leaders to do. Ideally, such reflection is not postponed until the 11th hour (i.e., our nominating report is due tonight!). As missions leaders, discuss the scope of leadership needs that exist: if you had additional leaders, would new, age-level organizations be desirable? Is there a shared vision for growth to an underserved audience? Would it be likely to have missions involvement, which is hindered only by a lack of leaders?
Once the gaps, or opportunities, in missions leadership are clear, create a summary of what is expected of each leadership role. For example, a description of what the WMU® director does is spelled out in the How to Involve Your Church in Missions. Often, being reminded of what the role consists of can spark creative thinking about who might be a likely candidate for the position.
If multiple positions that are open or need to be created have surfaced, prioritize the positions. Occasionally your leadership canvas may reveal a person who is underutilized, good-hearted, and willing to do whatever you need the most. Be ready to articulate that priority need!
Begin with Prayer
Armed with a list of potential positions, consider making a personal commitment to pray for a specific length of time, such as 30 days. Invite your leadership group to join you in this time of personal, focused, and specific prayer that God would reveal to you individuals who are not involved currently but who might have a contribution to make.
Reconvene your leadership group to share who God has brought to your minds during this process. Often this time of sharing is enhanced by creating an opportunity to weave in “your stories”: how you became involved in missions or lessons you have learned since becoming a leader. How is your life richer because of your involvement in missions? In a sense, you are telling one another your mission stories. You are sharing individual missions testimonies. One person’s story, based on a life experience, is a compelling way to captivate individuals and influence them to become involved.
If you have been successful in surfacing the identities of several individuals who possess leadership skill sets, create your enlistment strategy. It may be that a particular missions testimony is exactly what the group feels would be effective in the invitation to this person to serve. Could that individual be the one to visit a prospective leader? Determine whether the enlistment should best be done singly or in pairs and who should state the case.
A Solid Foundation
Once a potential leader is considering the possibility of service, there are several options that may be attractive to the prospective leader. These options will often spell success for the new leader.
First is the offer to mentor the new leader. This is a valuable experience for both the prospective leader and the seasoned veteran. During the mentoring stage, the inexperienced leader may not actually be fulfilling a leadership role, rather learning from standing alongside an experienced leader.
A second option is that of coaching the new leader. The new leader is officially the leader, but she serves with the understanding that someone will meet regularly with her to debrief, advise on leadership issues, affirm, and support her.
A third option is that of providing training for the new leader. This may occur incrementally over a period of time; in a one-on-one session led by the experienced missions leader; or at associational, state, or national leadership training events.
If your prayer effort has failed to reveal a sufficient number of individuals who might be likely leaders, cast the net a little further. Solicit the input of pastor, church staff, and other church leaders. Is an activity feasible, such as a dessert reception to which all members are welcome, during which opportunities for service are presented?
During the journey of enlisting new leaders, there are several conversational potholes that one should avoid. One of these takes the form of the noble leader, already juggling multiple jobs, who laments, “Nobody else will do it, so I guess I will.”
I am fond of recalling the leadership style of Mickey, a down-to-earth WMU leader, who frequently enlisted leaders to serve in missions-related roles. She would make a telephone call to the prospective leader and engage in a few minutes of informal chitchat. Then Mickey cut to the chase. She invited the woman to perform the leadership role. Whenever the leader hesitated, saying she needed to pray about the opportunity, Mickey’s response seldom varied: “Why, that will be fine. I’m happy to wait.” She enlisted many people using the “I’ll wait while you pray” tactic. I am a leader she enlisted.
You will have to decide whether Mickey’s style is the best fit for you. There are other models. The sound lessons that undergird Mickey’s plan include: she couched the leadership opportunity as a way to serve God; she described what was required in the job and provided the necessary information; she answered questions. Each of these elements are essential as potential leaders are involved in missions.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Winter 2004–2005 issue of Missions Leader® magazine. Used by permission.
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