Choosing leadership for a church ministry is a tricky business. Pastoral search committees and hiring new staff members can be one of the most sanctifying experiences for churches. As you wade through dozens of resumes piled up on your desk, you feel overwhelmed by the sea of potential candidates for the job. You wonder if the person will possess the skills necessary for the ministry or be a “good fit” for the family, and you pray you do not hire a clown who simply knew how to interview well.

All these fears could be avoided if you could choose leadership from within your church. What if it wasn’t necessary to look outside for leaders because you sufficiently discipled and grew leaders from within your congregation?

A Lesson from Geneva       

Calvin’s Reformation is an example of a failure to raise up local leaders. Scott M. Manetsch, in his fantastic book Calvin’s Company of Pastors, records Geneva’s failure to train native-born pastors from the years 1536-1595. He writes, “Supervision of religious life in Geneva fell almost exclusively to foreign-born ministers during the first generations after Calvin’s death – a fact that many townspeople in Geneva were acutely aware of and resented deeply.” He then offers four reasons why Geneva failed to produce local pastors:

            1. Unrealistic expectations and requirements of candidates for academic training.

            2. No monetary support from churches for young men showing good ministerial potential.

            3. Only pastors from the outside are set over the most influential churches.

            4. The Company of Pastors favoring personalities similar to their own.  

Nearly six decades passed before Geneva’s churches saw local men as their pastors, and that was only because the magistrates mandated that the Company of Pastors begin training local men. Finally, by 1609, eleven Genevan men found pastoral positions in Geneva. Geneva had good things going for them, but raising up pastors was a blind-spot that I fear many churches today share with them. If our current leadership is solid, we are tempted to not worry about growing more leaders among us.

Why Grow Your Own Leaders?

It is the duty of every local church to disciple their own people, and through discipleship pastors and leaders are created. It is a wonderful grace of God when you can select leaders from your own congregation because they already know the people and culture better than someone hired from the outside. They gain respect from the community, avoid the awkward “get to know you” period that most leaders face early in their new ministry, and dive right into leading and shepherding in a state of familiarity.

The church in the New Testament would have known nothing of hiring pastors from the outside. There was no outside! They were totally dependent on God to raise up qualified men from within their own body. They did not have the convenience to wait for the truly extraordinary, dynamic leader with great charisma and academic credentials. They were quite content to settle for the ordinary, godly, knowledgeable, and wise men among them to be their shepherds and teachers.

To grow your own leaders is nothing more than to replicate Scripture. Pastors and ministerial leaders are shaped and fashioned only in the context of a local church, and nowhere else. And, what’s more, it is a delight to see someone from your own church family grow into a leader. It’s a wonderful privilege to see God bless your church’s efforts in discipling your people into leaders.

How to Grow Your Own Leaders

1. Pray for leaders to be raised up. Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Maybe the fact that you do not see leaders come forth from your church is because you do not pray for it. Sounds obvious, but we certainly don’t pray like it is. God loves to give to those who ask of him. So, let’s ask!

2. Keep an eye on your young people. Do you notice any teenagers or 20-somethings who seem to be uniquely interested in God’s Word and exceptionally devout for their age? Ask them if they’ve ever considered going into vocational ministry. Offer them small and appropriate opportunities to lead within the church. Encourage them in specific and meaningful ways as they use their gifts and grow in their faith.

3. Train those with the necessary qualifications. The Pastoral Epistles very helpfully lay out what sort of character elders should possess. If you see men within your congregation who possess those characteristics, ask if they would be willing to be trained to be leaders within your church.

4. Let go of your preferences. With the rise of the celebrity-cult in evangelical circles, we all secretly (or not so secretly) want the leaders of our churches to be successful authors and dynamic speakers. The beauty of the Church is that there is room for all kinds to exercise leadership, even the average no-name. As long as they meet the biblical qualifications, shouldn’t they be qualified?

5. Support those you disciple and train. Some churches will not be able to pay those who they are training, but those who can, should. “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). Perhaps you cannot pay them or maybe the amount of time they are putting in does not qualify monetary support – that’s fine; there are other ways to support them! Praise their efforts publically, offer to take them out to dinner, or maybe even muster up your people to consider giving a little extra in order to get them a little gift. Give them a reason to stick around. Be generous and thankful for their ministry!

Before you go through that pile of resumes or post that ministry position, take a moment to ponder if there might be someone among your congregation who, by God’s grace, would make a worthy leader. What might it look like for your church pastors and ministry staff to work themselves out of a job? “Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).