Literally every ministry in the history of the Church has had struggles raising up good leadership. Jesus Himself founded His church on twelve highly-flawed men (Ephesians 3:20-21). And with all of our weaknesses and shortcomings we have a great commission to carry out (Matthew 28:18-20).
So with the tough question of, “How do we raise up people, specifically men, to accomplish this task?” You might first ask, “Where do we start?” Many of the men in our church are currently going through a course together called Yokefellows. In this course we can begin our attempt to answer the question in essentially three words: finding, training, and sending.
• Change the culture. The first step to raising up men in the church is finding them. In a culture that has commercialized church and stupefied manhood, many men have simply never been told (let alone had it explained) that they were created to lead. Many come to churches as consumers and to their relationships as passive participants.
Raising up men in the church means reclaiming the Bible’s radically barbaric, countercultural view of manhood. We first have to model, teach, preach, and celebrate a picture of the God-man who sacrificially, patiently, passionately led and laid His life down for His bride.
This will involve the intimidating task of gently but strongly stating and explaining the biblical view of manhood that our culture and many of our churches simply don’t want to hear.
• Change your expectations. Church leaders too often are guilty of having unrealistic expectations. God uses different means to nurture His Church, and one of the most surprising means is His use of fallen people (after all, Numbers 22:22-41). If you’re raising up leaders it often means the men you’re looking for aren’t yet in leadership.
If the story of David’s anointing teaches us anything it shows us that our external judgments of leadership are often flawed. Look for men who are teachable instead of impressive (Proverbs 12:1), spiritual and unpretentious rather than notable (John 1:47). Don’t ignore people’s gifting, but don’t overlook people because their gifting isn’t readily apparent. We’re all broken vessels that God uses for His great purposes.
• Make the time. The bane of any church leader’s existence is the clock. Between our multiplicity of responsibilities it feels impossible to fit in the time to raise up leadership. Here we are tempted to make a fatal error. Training up men isn’t outside of the work of ministry; it is the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).
Christ, while ministering at times to thousands, gave surprising priority to training twelve men. In the midst of enormous pressure, He still withdrew to explain His ministry to a few. In addition to being crushed by the clock, we are often duped by our own pride.
Let’s face it. We’re given to a perfectionistic savior complex. We feel that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right. I certainly struggle with that, to the point of absurdity at times. Part of raising up leaders means being willing to let inexperienced, as yet untested, men take certain leadership roles, and doing so means loosening up a bit on the reins. It also means giving them a little leeway to fail at times or not always do certain tasks exactly how you think they should be done.
• Seize the time. The training of leaders will take a plethora of innovative and varying forms. To change the culture you’ll need teaching time. Places to start are incorporating biblical thinking on male leadership into your preaching. Start a men’s Bible study. Meet with a few men weekly for coffee. Join a city Rec league and play some ball together. Whatever works.
In order to understand their role they’ll need to see it in Scripture. But scheduled meetings, while essential, are not enough. This is where creativity is critical. Bring men along. Involve potential leaders in visitation, sermon prep, evangelism, and meetings. Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it can’t… and so ministry training shouldn’t either.
• Give them a high call. As leaders start to distinguish themselves by their spirituality and teachability, it’s time to start giving them real responsibility. On this point we’re often tempted to be timid, but the Bible is not so. The Bible calls real men to real challenges. Give potential leaders tasks that are large, that they can use their skills to rise to.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint
Give them the grace to make mistakes, but give them goals that will stretch them and cause them to grow. Provide them with gentle, but honest feedback. Don’t sugar coat the task of ministry. We don’t want to create men who put their hand to the plow and then look back (Luke 9:62). The way is hard, but the reward is amazing.
• Pray, Pray, Pray. This should occur before and during the process, but we end with it to keep it fresh on our minds. No process or program will bring spiritual change in the hearts of the men in our ministries; only God can do that. Start and finish your task with prayer. Pray that God would bring you men, give you the wisdom to see it, and then give you the grace to raise them up. The Church is His bride; let’s go to Him in prayer, asking for the Spirit to raise its leaders.