A pastor of many years experience asked me today "why does so little training of Christian leaders concentrate on character, servanthood and grace? Specifically where in the UK is the training for young preachers that deals with matters such as their prayer life, their humility and their pastoral hearts rather than just their skills?"
The question goes right to the heart of the emerging crisis in leadership in the UK evangelical church. We are not developing enough leaders, we are losing too many that we do bring on prematurely. And too many of our training courses concentrate only on skill and omit character, which can lead to the terrible danger of leaders who have skill but lack love and knowledge but lack wisdom.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I think there is a larger problem, however. Which is that many churches still fail to understand that it is their responsibility to identify, encourage and train fresh leaders. It isn't the responsibility of college or seminary. It is ours, and we need to take it deadly seriously.
Here is a test for you. What percentage of your church has been commissioned for full time church leading or church planting in the last decade. If your answer is much over 1% your church is really unusual. When you have your answer to this question you should ask your church leaders why this is the case. (By the way 1% isn't even self-sustaining)
Over the last two years I have asked individual church leaders and group of leaders what stops their church being a natural place where leaders emerge and are trained. Here are the top answers, all genuine, but some make me want to scream:
1. When we were trained as leaders in college or seminary nobody told us it was our responsibility to do it. It was just absent. I have heard this enough that I really believe it, incredible though it seems
2. Linked to 1, therefore nobody has ever taught us how to be a leader-maker and leader-trainer
3. We work 65-75 hours a week. Please don't ask us to also take on the huge extra task of training new leaders. This is a chicken and egg situation. That crazy workload will never be dealt with if you don't
4. Our church doesn't want us to. They are unprepared to put up with juniors taking their first faltering steps and getting it wrong. Too often people say "we only want you, you're the person we have paid to do it". Some privately admit that they also don't want to see juniors who are too good, lest their own position is threatened
5. Our church doesn't want to give up some other activity that it thinks is crucial in order to allow time for the pastor to develop leaders, the benefit of which is medium to long term and may never be seen in our church
In addition leaders have told me that even though they recognise their church will be dead in half a generation or less for lack of developing new leaders, that they don't intend to act because the necessary changes would be to complex or difficult to get the church to accept. "We know the problems" said one "but we won't change anything for two reasons: (a) because we are much better at analysing the problem than suggesting solutions and (b) because we don't want to try anything new until we have prior cast-iron guarantees of success."
All I can say to this latter is that it is the opposite of walking by faith. The Lord almost NEVER give cast-iron guarantees of success in individual initiatives first, because he wants us to trust him. But he does say to make the most of every opportunity.
So here is the challenge: if you church has no mechanism for producing home group leaders, no way of normalising the emerging of junior preachers, no training for lay leaders in any category, you have to start asking why not. Ask your church leaders. Insist that time is given in the church to think it through. If you are the church leader you have to start asking the congregation to free you up to do it. If we fail to produce new leaders now because all our time goes into other ministries it is a completely false economy. If, in 15 years time, you church is unable to find leaders at all (as the trends suggest will be the case) all those other ministries are going to fail as well. If we get there to discover that reality waiting for us, at least let it not be because you didn't start shouting as loudly about it as you can right now.