Are You Mentoring Someone to Do What You Do?

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I watched my grand children playing over Thanksgiving. They are both under five. Whatever the older one did, the younger one tried to do, too. As the older one learned something new, the younger one picked up on it more quickly simply by following big brother’s example. What if we encouraged this normal pattern of learning from those just ahead of us in the church? What if every leader in the church was intentional about helping someone learn to do what they were doing?

The number one request that I hear from congregational leaders is for help in developing more and better leaders. It is sadly common in many congregations to have the same people in leadership for many years – even decades. They move around from position to position, as if playing musical chairs, but pretty much the same people continue in the main leadership roles year after year. They love their church and they invest their time and money and energy into supporting it. At this point, these devoted church leaders usually choose one of two pathways. 

The first and most common pathway is for this group of persons to just keep on faithfully being their congregation’s main leaders. Eventually, however, they begin to get a bit tired – even, slowly, to feel resentful. They wish that there were some other leaders – younger leaders – to help take on some of the leadership burden. Still, they worry about whether these younger leaders would honor the traditions of the congregation and maintain them. They feel caught; it’s a catch 22 situation . . . that is, until there are no younger people left in the congregation to become leaders.  
The second and more natural pathway – demonstrated by my grandchildren – is for the leaders of the congregation to be intentional about teaching other persons how to do what they are doing. In the second and less often taken pathway, the congregation is intentional at all levels about developing their next group of leaders. It becomes part of the culture of the congregation: whatever you are doing, part of your role expectation is to help teach someone else to do it
  • If you are an usher, you are mentoring someone new to be an usher.
  • If you are a small group leader, you have someone as your apprentice
  • If you are visiting in the hospital, you bring along someone to observe and learn from you – and then to try it him or herself while you encourage. 
  • If you operate the sound system, you find someone that you coach to be able to minister in the new worship service.
  • If you are the chairperson of the stewardship committee, you watch for someone who has the gift of giving and you begin to groom them to be your partner.
  • If you play the drums in the praise band, you find someone else that you are teaching to play the drums when you can’t be there. 
  • If you are a Disciple Bible leader, you are praying to discern persons in your class you can train to lead the next session of Disciple Bible classes. 
This doesn’t just happen in a congregation. It only happens when existing leaders choose to expand their congregation’s leadership base deliberately.  But when leaders make this a value in their congregation’s culture four wonderful things occur:
  1. The potential for growth is expanded. You can’t grow past your leadership base. Everybody tops out eventually. You can only do so much and run so fast. Without more leaders a congregation is stuck. 
  2. The leadership load is lightened. Many hands make light work. I’ve talked to Sunday School teachers who are tired. They have been teaching for years with hardly a break. It would be nice to have a week (or a summer) off once and a while. It would be nice to have some depth on the bench. 
  3. The pool of leadership gifts grows. Every person brings a different set of gifts and abilities. The more persons involved as leaders, the greater variety of gifts and experiences are available for the congregation to draw upon. And the more people find fulfillment in blessing others by using their giftedness. 
  4. The congregation’s future is strengthened. By constantly mentoring new leaders at all levels of a congregation, the congregation’s leadership base is constantly being renewed. When current leaders train up persons to follow them, it also frees current leaders then to learn from someone else how to minister in new ways. Rather than being locked into doing the same thing year after year, they are released to grow in their own ministry. 
Which path are most of the leaders in your congregation taking? Think about your own leadership role. Are you mentoring someone to do what you are doing? Are you handing on to someone else what you have learned about leading or serving? If not, I encourage you to begin praying – right now -- for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the person God is preparing for you to help learn to do what you do. Your life will be enriched. That person will be blessed. Your congregation will be strengthened. And the Kingdom of God will be well service. 
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins              
The Center for Congregational Excellence


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