The most effective leader development efforts are conducted within a living community of people in which the emerging leaders function and participate.
In many traditional systems of education, the individual students arrive at the class, sit at their separate desks, listen to the lectures, participate in whatever group tasks are required of them, then leave and go their own separate ways until the next class time. Whatever relationships and community they do form during their schooling are rarely integrated into the schooling itself.
The best “leadership school” is a transformational, learning community in which all of the participants take responsibility for each other, hold each other accountable, care for each other, pray together, worship and seek God together, work and serve together, struggle together, resolve conflicts, and learn and grow together.
So how do we go about creating a community like this?
First, those emerging leaders who are being trained must be formed into a community themselves, and not be allowed to exist as separate individuals.
It is significant that nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus alone with one of His disciples. Even the interactions that appear to have taken place between Jesus and one person were always conducted with others close by. Certainly there are clear biblical examples of “one-on-one” mentoring such as Moses and Joshua or Elijah and Elisha, but it appears that Jesus always engaged in character building when the “family” was together.
In addition, some of the unhealthy dependencies and transferences of dysfunctionalities that we often see in mentoring relationships would be avoided by a community approach to building disciples and leaders.
Second, the community of emerging leaders must itself be part of a larger spiritual community. The learning community may be distinct but it must not be separate from the overall community. The two communities should not compete but should have one unified and integrated corporate strategy of leader development. This larger community might be a local church or cluster of churches.
Both the learning community and the larger community must take initiative in building the relationship between them. It will help in this regard if there is some overlap of direct leadership between the two communities. It will be particularly effective if the top leader of both is the same person; this will help greatly to create a strong level of ownership of the learning community by the larger, spiritual community.
Roles of Different Learning Communities
The larger community can provide the following:
- Overall leadership of the learning community.
- Shared vision.
- Practical provision (shelter, food, clothing). Significantly, this means the learning community does not need to be dependent upon outsiders for funding. This, in turn, means that church-integrated learning communities can be multiplied almost limitlessly!
- Spiritual care and nurture (pastoring
and shepherding). This spiritual care can occur in both formal and informal
ways. Some possible formal roles might be:
- Pastoral Coaches, who provide accountability, nurture and encouragement as the participant responds to the work of God in his or her heart (Christ, Community, Character).
- Intercessors, who pray regularly for the participant (all 5Cs of Christ, Community, Character, Calling and Competencies).
- Ministry Mentors, who provide ministry examples, practical and experiential guidance, advice, correction and encouragement as the student grows in understanding of his or her calling and in the competencies necessary to fulfill that calling (Calling, Competencies).
- Learning Coaches, who are former participants in their own training who can provide encouragement as well as practical help regarding the process.
- Spiritual Friends, who are peers who can give encouragement, accountability and prayer support.
- Host Families, who provide homes, clothing, food and relationship.
- The spiritual community – spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, role models, mentors, ministry opportunities.
- Teaching and mentoring (both character and ministry).
- Modeling the various gifts and ministries.
- Sharing life stories and life examples.
- Returning missionaries and traveling ministries sharing their stories.
- Encouragement, oversight, and accountability.
- Prayer support.
- Learning materials and resources.
- Ministry opportunities and responsibilities.
- Housing for participants and their families.
- Ministry assignments after the formal learning period is over.
- Ongoing mentoring after the formal learning period is over.
The learning community can take responsibility for:
- Praying for the church.
- Being accountable to the church.
- Being committed to the church and sharing its burdens.
- Submitting to the church’s vision.
- Providing various forms of ministry and service in the church community.
- Being examples and mentors to younger members of the church.
- Visiting the people to build relationships with them and looking for ways to serve – both spiritually and practically.
- Leading special combined meetings on a regular basis.
- Sharing the participants’ visions with the church so there is mutual understanding.
- Providing reports on the participants’ growth.
- Inviting counsel and advice.
Why Learning in Community is Essential
We will also avoid the frequent problems associated with “re-entry” into normal life after the learning experience. For example, after going through an intense learning experience that has lasted for several months or years, participants will frequently experience difficulties in reconnecting with their local spiritual communities. It is not uncommon for them to go into depression, discouragement, confusion, isolation or other forms of emotional and intellectual disequilibrium after the artificial “high” of the learning time is over. This can partly be avoided when they maintain their relationships and responsibilities within their normal community throughout the learning experience.
In addition, the gap between knowledge and practical ministry that can occur in traditional schools will also be avoided. When the emerging leader is placed in a far-away school for training and nurtured in an artificial environment for a long time, he will be too far removed for too long a time from the rugged life and challenges that he is to meet in the ministry.
When young leaders are educated away from their churches for long periods of time, they are sometimes out of touch with their communities upon their return. Their absence and the new ideas and habits they have acquired make it difficult for them to minister to their original community and church. In essence, the community has not grown with them, nor they with the community. If emerging leaders maintain their life, relationships and ministry in the local church while they participate in an intense time of learning, experience and growth, they will be equipped to serve that church community much more effectively.
Ultimately, by making the learning community an integral part of a larger spiritual community, the participants will experience a more holistic learning and growing experience. This is how healthy leaders are built!