October 10, 2011

The Best Thing I Do As A Leader

There are a lot of people that think they are leaders, but here's a defining trait that sets true leaders apart: Leaders Replicate Their Vision In Others. If you want to be a leader, you have to lead people & not just a big group of people. If a leader wants to truly lead, he or she has to invest himself or herself directly into a small group of people. I believe this is true in any area of leadership whether it be coaching, parenting, business, or ministry. When you're a coach you need to replicate your vision for the team in your assistants & in some key players so that it trickles down to the 3rd string punter & the waterboy. If you're a parent, it should be obvious who you need to be investing yourself in. Parents need to have a clear vision for their families. Then it needs to be communicated & demonstrated to your children so that they will eventually understand & adopt it themselves. In ministry you have to invest in a small group of people who can help you implement & achieve the vision God's given you as the leader.

As a leader, I don't know that there has been anything I've done that has paid off more than investing in a small group of my students & replicating the vision in them. Then I just unleash them to pursue it with their lives. I've been asked a lot how I do it, so here it is, & it's incredibly simple.

1) Make It Available To Anyone
When putting a group together, I always make it available to anyone who wants to explore the opportunity. This does two things. First, it might draw in someone that I may not have recruited myself. Secondly, it defuses any accusation of favoritism because in the end the student decides whether they will be in the group, not me.

2) Create High Expectations
Even though I make this small group available to anyone, I know it's not for everyone. I intentionally set the bar high for the group I'll be working with. They know upfront what's expected of them, & some simply won't want to do it or aren't ready. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'd rather someone realize this isn't for them than for them to commit to something that they won't be able to complete. Also, contrary to what some may think, teenagers want to be challenged & rarely are. Challenge your group to go farther than they ever have.

3) Focus On Discipleship First, & Leadership Naturally Develops
I have said for years that discipleship is leadership. If a person is growing as a follower of Jesus, she will become a leader because she will begin to use whatever influence she has in order to lead people toward Jesus & to bring Him glory. Every follower of Jesus has the potential to lead. They may not lead a church or a ministry, but they can influence & lead those they interact with everyday outside the walls of the church. Yes, I create leadership projects for my group, but the overwhelming content of our time together is focused on growing as a disciple. So utilize the classic spiritual disciplines: Bible study, prayer, Scripture memory, & fellowship among believers.

4) Don't Give Everyone Everything All At Once
One of my mentors told me that the quickest way to kill a ministry is to "give everyone everything all the time." What that means is that if there is no levels to your ministry, a 7th grader & a 12th grader are treated exactly the same & have access to the same things. As a result that 7th grader who has had access to everything from Day 1 will likely drop out around 10th or 11th grade because they've "been there & done that". On top of that, would any of us really argue that you should develop a 7th grader boy the same way that you would 11th grade boy? My small group is open to both middle school & high school students, but the specific leadership track is only available to high school students.  In the end the students who have been in the group as middle schoolers will be better prepared to handle the leadership track than they would be if I had let them have it from the beginning.

5) Turn Them Loose
You can't hang on to a group forever. In fact, you probably can't hang on to them until you think they are "ready". You have to unleash them to do ministry. It may be small but you have to turn over responsibilities & appropriate authority to them. A group that stays in training too long usually stagnates & isn't as useful as one who is trained & then released, even if they might be a little rough around the edges. Look at Jesus' disciples. They weren't really "ready", but it was time for them to lead, so Jesus unleashed them.

That's pretty much it. That's what I have done with my student leadership groups over the years, & over & over again, I've seen God use these students to do some amazing stuff. I wish there was a way that I could invest like that in every individual student, but it's not just not realistic. No leader can individually invest in every person under their leadership, but they have to be investing individually in someone.

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