It is the responsibility of church leaders to try to develop the potential in every believer under their care.
Women are usually the largest group in a church and the ‘workhorses’ behind the scenes! Often they are the cement which holds the church together and, usually, if the women of the church are happy, the church will be happy!
Christian women, both married and single, give huge prayer support to their churches and encourage others with their wisdom and spiritual insight. This underpins much of what men leaders achieve.
Yet the women are often under-valued. They are not consulted and are excluded from decision-taking, even when decisions directly affect them. But they are a precious resource to be developed for the Lord. Preachers need to remember this in sermon preparation.
Sometimes modern preaching is more like a lecture, with little illustration or application to warm the heart, feed the soul and motivate the will. Women especially need some passion and practical application.
Some women can be trained for children’s or youth work; others for child protection; others taught how to run parenting classes among the saved or Christianity explored courses for women.
Women have a great gift for ministry among the sick and elderly, and the dying and bereaved. It would be of great value for churches to have trained women’s workers who could give a lead in all of this.
Women, like ‘true mothers in Israel’, can nurture the younger women in spiritual and practical ways, for example helping new converts develop their prayer life. In this kind of relationship many pastoral problems can be solved.
Older people are living longer with better health. Some take early retirement, with potentially many years of active life ahead. They can be trained for service at home and abroad. Some may have greater potential than was ever seen during their working life.
Older people also have time to pray together. They are available in the daytime to come together to seek the Lord, and church leaders can inform them of urgent matters requiring prayer.
I believe this is one of the answers to the lack of prayer in our churches: older, experienced Christians, who know the way to the throne of grace, devoting time to upholding the church and its ministry in prayer, to praying down the Lord’s blessing.
On a practical front, older people can organise evangelistic coffee mornings, men’s breakfasts and afternoon teas, and take services in local care homes.
Soon half the population will be over 50 years of age, so older people are now by far our largest mission field. We need to remember that the eternal soul of a frail old person is just as precious as that of a vibrant young person. And who better to evangelise them than their own generation?
The culture of teaching and maturing needs to be embraced by our youth leaders. We want a big vision to reach as many non-church kids as possible and leaders need big hearts to persevere through many highs and lows.
But leaders also need to invest heavily in the young people who are saved and disciple them into maturity. Youth work is often fixated on numbers and not quality, on gimmicks and not the gospel.
But youth work should be focusing on spiritual depth and building fruit that lasts. To this end, where possible, young people should be given leadership responsibility.
It seems that often in university Christian Unions the students from Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are the natural leaders, because they have already been given leadership responsibility in their churches and so are quickly elected on to Christian Union committees.
Young people need to be well grounded before they go away to university or out into the world of work. It is a hostile world and, sadly, the drop-out rate among professing young Christians is high once they leave their home church.
Men with potential
Leaders must focus especially on developing men with potential into Christian service. They should get to know all the men of the church and build relationships with them, because men tend to keep to themselves, unless they are actively drawn in.
They don’t mix as easily as women and often hide their potential; it’s a ‘man thing’! They may be content to pursue their career and home life, and not push themselves forward in church life, unless specifically encouraged and mentored.
They may, therefore, need special activities where men can relax together and build friendships. Then leaders may see a different side to them and recognise surprising potential which wasn’t obvious on the surface.
There are several initiatives churches can take. One such venture is men’s breakfasts, with speakers to tackle subjects such as: being a good husband; fatherhood; spiritual leadership in the home; how to balance home, work and church; apologetics, and how to critique our contemporary culture.
To get such men involved, we have to provide practical opportunities for them to test and develop their gifts and not be alarmed if they make mistakes. Few of us get it right first time!
Some could perhaps be mentored as ‘understudies’ to youth leaders or deacons. We need to develop people with a full range of gifts and not just those with speaking gifts.
Potential leaders can also be encouraged to take initiatives in evangelism. Let them come up with proposals of occasions to which they could invite friends and colleagues — perhaps a meal in an Indian restaurant, coffee in Starbucks, or a round of golf followed by a meal and speaker?
If their idea is good, give them responsibility for organising it, including having a time of special prayer. This will test their gifts of leadership.
Those with speaking gifts could be encouraged to start speaking at old people’s homes, youth meetings, mid-week Bible studies and house groups.
They could lead services and then perhaps Sunday ministry in a small church, accompanied by a leader who will give constructive criticism. Then, eventually, if they show clear gifting, they should be given opportunity to preach in their own church.
Another idea, which we followed at Pontefract, was to invite those working towards eldership or full-time ministry, especially those undertaking theological training, into leaders’ meetings as observers. They would, of course, be excluded from the discussion of sensitive or confidential matters.
Potential leaders need biblical teaching on the church and on principles of leadership. Present leaders could take them through a leadership training course or through a book like Growing leaders in the church by Gareth Crossley (EP Books).
It is important to say that potential leaders may be wary, or even frightened off, by the demands and responsibility of leadership. Though they want to serve the Lord, they may fear that, once committed to it, they will be trapped into demands from which there is no escape; and, under extra pressure from work or family, will not be able to cope, and may even crack up.
It needs to be understood from the outset, therefore, that in a team leadership, when anyone comes under extreme pressure, they will be offered a sabbatical for a few months. We did this on a number of occasions at Pontefract and it worked well.
Partnering other churches
Finally, I believe we should consider partnering with other churches in our area in developing people. We could do far more together by sharing resources and experience.
Pontefract’s musicians attended an excellent training day for musicians run by our local Gospel Partnership. Why not consider developing a leadership training scheme with other churches in your area?
Many groups of churches and Gospel Partnerships are successfully doing this kind of thing. Even groups of small churches are attempting it. A group of churches could run preaching classes and give help to each other in teaching and evangelistic preaching. Potential youth leaders, deacons, elders, or candidates for the ministry could spend time with leaders or activities of another church to widen their experience. They also could observe another church running evangelistic events.
Churches partnering together could organise joint training days for children’s workers, or lay on youth leaders’ and child protection courses. Bible college staff are often willing to share their expertise at these events.
In recent years, Independency has suffered from an unbiblical individualism and isolationism. These are desperately difficult days and we should be doing all we can to help each other by sharing experience and resources in training the next generation of church leaders.