The task of leadership development and deployment is a vital catalyst in reaching the vast harvest set before the Church. Jesus himself demonstrates the importance of leadership when, after lamenting over the brokenness of the city of Jerusalem, he exhorts his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest field.
Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ (Matt. 9:37-38, ESV)
Laborers were the essential means by which Jesus sought to minister to a sin-saturated world.
The modern church looks out over a similarly vast harvest field, and it may squander this stewardship without fervent prayers for God to raise up leaders and active engagement in the process of leadership development. Chuck Lawless notes that the lack of evangelistic fruitfulness of the modern church can be traced to a number of causes, but “at the core of most concerns is a singular pressing issue: a failure in leadership.” This failure of leadership can be traced to the fact that many current leaders do not have an intentional plan for training future leaders. As a result, the church is increasingly dependent on fewer and fewer leaders, without a clear process by which new leaders are sent into strategic ministry.
This lack of leadership is not only true in North America. Around the world, missionaries are noting a “critical shortage of biblically trained leaders.” James Engel and William Dryness write that “leadership development is today’s greatest priority.” Addressing this priority will require great care and intentionality since the duties of leaders in the church “are so exacting and complex as to demand for their accomplishment men possessed of the highest qualities of mind and spirit, who also have received a technical training for their special work.”
The void of leaders and the complexity of the task requires that the church act. Benjamin Merkle, writing about the need for leadership development, argues that it is “perhaps the most neglected [task] and therefore one that must be emphasized in the local church.” Pastors should labor to do the hard work of equipping others to do the work of the ministry in order to cause the body to grow (Eph. 4:11). Amidst the host of other matters that consume a pastor’s attention, it is easy to lose sight of the vital work that is involved in discipling future pastors.
Merkle laments the reality that many pastors undertake vital kingdom work year after year “but, when all is said and done, they have effectively trained and equipped nobody to take their place. It is a sign of an unhealthy church if there is no one in the congregation who can step in the gap and fill the pulpit whenever the pastor is gone.”
This task must drive the church to God’s authoritative Word for timeless principles of leadership development, rather than simply consulting a host of pragmatic tools designed toward this end.
Other than Jesus Himself, the apostle Paul serves as the exemplar of leadership development recorded in Scripture. As a towering figure in the Scripture, his life provides the natural context for an analysis of the process of developing future leaders. While the entire Pauline corpus provides evidence of his work of developing leaders, the Pastoral Epistles demonstrate a heightened focus on this task. They speak not only to the process of mentoring Christians in general, but more specifically to the task of mentoring future leaders for the church.
For more on how new leaders can be trained and sent by churches today, download the free e-book Deep Bench by Matt Rogers.
1 Charles Lawless, “Paul and Leadership Development” in Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours (eds. Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry; Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2012), 216.
2 Paul McKaughan, Dellana O’Brien and William O’Brien, Choosing a Future for U.S. Missions (Monrovia: MARC, 1998), 65.
3 James F. Engel and William A. Dryness. Changing the Mind of Missions: Where have we Gone Wrong? (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2000), 105.
4 Charles R. Erdman, The Work of the Pastor (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1924), 4.
5 Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 94.
6 Merkle, 40 Questions, 93-94.
Published October 19, 2022