Healthy Leaders


Leadership Development and Ministry Effectiveness

Samuel VoorhiesSamuel Voorhies

There is little debate these days about developing leaders in ministry and non-profit organizations, especially in two-thirds world countries.  Jesus modeled investing in leaders and it is good business.  Peter Drucker observed, “Competent management of the NGO nonprofit sector is the most important and most urgent need of the developing country.” (emphasis his)

While living in southern Africa, my role in World Vision International, a Christian NGO, was working with senior management teams in national offices to improve the quality of ministry in their countries.  An assessment of ministry shortcomings revealed that poor quality and accountability were not technical problems, but were related to leadership and management effectiveness and directly associated with leadership competencies.

As we began to focus our efforts on these leaders, I was amazed at the difference the investment made in the quality of their efforts.  Ministry effectiveness and long-term impact were greatly improved.  I saw this region progress from being one of the worst in the World Vision global partnership to being one of the best, in a few short years.  What began in southern Africa as a pilot leadership development initiative was adopted as part of a global leadership-training program for World Vision called Pathways to Leadership.

Three key observations emerged as we took the issue of leadership development seriously.

  1. The gap between ministry demands and leadership capacity is growing.

During the 1980s and 1990s, many global and two-thirds world ministries grew from small, single sector programs to large, non-profit corporations in many countries.  As western based ministries decentralized their efforts, local indigenous organizations became larger and more complex.  This trend will continue as mission efforts seek to be locally established and sustainable.

World Vision national leaders, like many indigenous ministries, now manage several million dollars in programs, including directing multi-disciplined interventions, working with hundreds of communities, and employing several hundred staff.  Leaders deal with the highest level of authority in both government and the Church, locally, and also in bilateral relationships with 10-15 other countries.  They are required to be effective in their own country and context, as well as compete for funding and demonstrate quality planning, program, and decision-making skills in a global market among multiple countries and cultures.  An additional complication is the unstable political and economic environments where many function.  While many leaders possess the potential to shoulder these responsibilities, they must have adequate training to do it well.

  1. National leaders need training that is relevant, practical, affordable, and delivered in their own context.

While there is a plethora of training opportunities for leaders living in the West, this is not true for those living in developing countries. The old system of bringing nationals to the West for two- or four-year graduate programs no longer works. Time away from family and ministry, the expense, and the time of some trained leaders not returning to their home countries are just some of the problems with this approach. The challenge is not transferring western management techniques, but providing biblically based leadership and management training that is relevant in two-thirds world contexts.

A better option is a field-based curriculum, combining character and competency, developed with a biblical model of leadership and using the latest management research and experience, with a global application. Strategic thinking and planning, organizational change, management and innovation, marketing and communication, financial and human resource management, and team leadership, combined with the spiritual formation of the leaders, are basic areas for leading and managing effectively. An innovative approach to leadership development training, one combining rigorous learning with on-the-job coaching and mentoring relevant in the two-thirds world context, is the first step in meeting this need.

  1. Leadership development is a good investment.

To continue investing millions of dollars into good ministry programs, without having staff equipped to lead and manage the program is shortsighted. It also results in frustration for the donor and the ministry. But building the capacity of national leaders to ensure life-changing ministry as a result of necessary funding is a win-win for both parties. Funding ministry programs without addressing the need for building the organizational and human infrastructure to best manage and sustain these programs is poor stewardship.

Not investing in leadership development is costly. Leading businesses invest an average of four percent of payroll in staff for leadership development. Isn’t it even more prudent for those of us in ministry to make a similar, sound investment? Warren Bennis, business professor in leadership at USC, notes, “An organization short on capital can go out and borrow or raise more, but an organization short on leadership has little chance of survival.”

One national leader in India explains the results of such an investment. He notes, “We as two-thirds world leaders need new knowledge, skills, and tools – we need a new way of thinking to solve tomorrow’s problems. We need more than passion or people full of human energies. We need spiritual wisdom and practical skills to face a changing world and facilitate creative solutions involving local people. By contributing to my development, you contribute to the development of the community. What I learn will be multiplied many times over among the staff and in the communities where we work.”

First published at The Good Steward.Com, 2004

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