3 Ways to Grow Leaders

It was one of the best days I'd ever had in ministry. I was walking on clouds. All of my hard work, hours of leading, giving, investing, listening, coaching, and directing came to fruition. There was a wash of relief over me. I didn't lay awake at night wondering how things would succeed or what would happen. Quite the opposite in fact, I knew things would be fine. They would be better than fine actually. I was so happy and excited I don't think you could pull the smile from off of my face. No, it wasn't the day I graduated from seminary. It wasn't the day I started a new ministry or planted a church or launched a regional training center. It wasn't even the day my first book was published.

It was the day I quit my job.

Now, lest you think I was quitting a position that was emotionally horrific and destructive it was quite the opposite. I was quitting a fantastic position. For several years I had been working with a large church as the junior high pastor. Week-in and week-out I had the joy of teaching these students the Bible, loving them and their families, doing fun and crazy student ministry things, going on mission trips, and enjoying the grace of God in watch teens grow up in the Lord. It was a great job at a great church. So why was I so happy to quit?

Partner—GCD—450x300I was happy to quit because I realized there were strong, capable, gifted, godly leaders developed who could continue the work pastoring those junior high students and their families without me. I was thrilled because the intern I worked long and hard with was ready and able to step into my role and move the mission forward without the ministry missing a step. I could move on to doing other things that would allow the church to cover new ground and grow in new ways while not neglecting the shepherding work that had already been established.

I learned that "growing a garden" is one of the most enjoyable and fruitful things that you can do in planting a church. In fact, I might be so bold as to say that unless you are working to train up and develop leaders in your church plant you probably aren't being faithful to the biblical calling you have as a planter.

Paul exhorts Timothy, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

For church-planting ministry there has to be an eye towards growing a garden of faithful leaders who will be able to pass on what they have been taught so that the stream of gospel growth goes forward. Leadership training and development is one of the greatest joys in ministry. It's also one of the most essential works of the ministry.

What does that look like in the context of a church plant? Let me suggest a practical ways to develop leaders within your context.

1. Sow For What You Want To Reap

I want to warn you about assuming this point or placing it on the back burner of how you develop leaders. Whether we intend it or not sometimes the thing we long to develop in others is the thing that is missed most. They get caught up in our technique, our style, our delivery, and sometimes our appearance. By our practice alone the people that we are developing can assume that what they see externally is the focal point of what we want to develop in them.

But developing leaders is more than just replicating clones of ourselves who do ministry like we do ministry or who give sermons the way we give sermons. The development of leaders is the development of a culture, and to develop a culture we have to think with the end in mind.

My hope is that you want to develop a gospel culture in a place. I hope that your leadership development is fundamentally about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for us. That his good news of liberation from sin, Satan, and death by mean of his life, death, and resurrection stand at the core of what you do. I long to see people that would come and encounter the grace and love and hope and transformation of Christ through the work of church planting.

If that's the goal then you must begin sowing that sort of culture in the leadership that you seek to develop. They must know, see, and experience a gospel-saturated leader. Their development must be means of development in the gospel. It should not be a development merely in technique or style but in the reality of what it means to be a dead person brought to life by the grace of Jesus.

Sure it's possible to develop leaders that will emulate your style or approach or technique. Just be sure that you will reap the kind of leaders that you sow for. If you want theological strong, gospel-saturated, wise, missionary-minded leaders, then sow for that.

2. Water Frequently

Leadership development is never done in a vacuum. You can't just toss a text book at a guy and say, "Read up on this and then we will plop you in ministry here." He might assimilate information, but he won't grow as a leader.

Developing leaders requires investment on your part. You have to nourish and help them as if you were watering your garden on a regular basis. It requires life-on-life relationship. Where will the struggle as a leader? Having them read a book and then regurgitating the information back to you won't cut it. You have to see them in the field. What's their predominate gifting? You won't know unless you're laboring alongside them. Where are they anxious, struggling or worried? You can't know that if you aren't with them.

All of this to say you, as the planting leader, have to be the one to nourish them as well. Don't leave this work up to others. Come along side those you long to develop, give them access far beyond what you would give others, let them see the way you've walked through the hardship of ministry and family and life. Nourish them with encouragement, affirmation, and involvement. Give them roles that are just above their head and then cheer them on when they succeed. As a leader do all you can to nourish and water the leaders you are hoping to develop.

3. Give Up Control

So much of growing a garden is out of the gardeners control. They can sow, water, weed, fertilize, and cultivate. But that doesn't automatically mean that growth will happen. Growth is in the hands of God.

So it is with leadership development. You can spend years pouring into others and never see the development that you desired in their life. On the other hand, you can put in a few weeks and find someone ready to take your job already in hand.

The point I want to make is that you have to give up the control-complex that often surrounds church planting.

Leadership development requires losing control of the timeline. It means that you have to be patient with people, continue to pour in the nourishment of God's Word and wise counsel, but it will take time. A two-year program might not be long enough to develop some leaders. Matter of fact a four-year program might not do it either. The point is sometimes you have to give up controlling the "when" of leadership development.

It also means you have to give up control of the role that you hold firmly in your hands. If you've developed leaders well there will be others that will be better suited for some (if not all) of the tasks you have. Give up control of those tasks. If God gives growth to another leader who is a superior preacher, let the man preach! If a better counselor, administrator, servant, or even entrepreneurial church-planter arises from your garden then give up control of them and deploy them further for the sake of the gospel.

Survival Is About Development

Surviving in church planting isn't about getting off the launch pad. It's about getting a church to the next generation. It's about the hand-off of what has been entrusted to you being entrusted to faithful leaders who will in turn hand-off the gospel to faithful leaders. Church planting isn't successful if it doesn't endure past the first generation. This is why leadership development is so essential. It's also why leadership development is so enjoyable.

As I have watched over the years nothing is more enjoyable and exciting to me in ministry than seeing the people I've spent time grow into the leadership roles I've held. It's let me grow into new spaces, and it's allowed the gospel to move forward in the church in new and vibrant ways. Go and grow a garden!

Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.

Used with permission from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s publication The Church Planting Survival Guide. For more information visit www.mbts.edu or to obtain a copy contact The Center for Church Planting at 800-944-MBTS (6287).

Flee Youthful Passions, Pursue Christ


Blowing on the gospel embers of young Timothy’s heart, the Apostle Paul fans into flame the grace-producing calling on the Ephesus disciple-maker. After laying down gospel thundering truths—the Word that is not bound (2:9), the Jesus who is not dead (2:8), the truth of the gospel that must be guarded (1:14), and the grace of God that strengthens (2:1)—Paul exhorts Timothy to “[cleanse] himself from what is dishonorable.”

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

No one wants to be the dishonorable vessel in God’s house, right? In essence Paul is saying, “Your leadership ceiling is capped by your character.” This logic is incontrovertible with the number of texts claiming that discipleship is both a sharing of our doctrine and our lives:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3).

So how does Paul want us to cleanse ourselves? How do we move from the cardboard toilet paper roll in God’s house to the fine china?


“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).

The church I pastor is full of twenty-somethings. We are 75% single! Although I’m on the wrong side of thirty now, I am still young in this wonderful vocation called “pastor” (Timothy was around 36 or so when Paul wrote this letter to him).

Youth carries a sidearm called “passion.” This is a good thing. It’s easier to redirect passion than to have to ignite it. Paul postulates a portrait of two youths for us: one pursues youthful passions and the other pursues Christ-likeness. He wants Timothy to flee the one and pursue the other—this is how he “cleanses himself.”

It is putting off the old self and putting on the new; it is mortification and vivification; it is Matt Chandler’s “what stirs your affections for Jesus and what robs you of your affections for Jesus?”

What are these “youthful passions” we must flee from?


1. Flee unrighteousness; pursue righteousness

Our generation, specifically those of us that grew up in the church, railed against some of the legalistic teachings where Christianity had less to do with enjoying and worshiping God and more to do with obeying all the rules—even some that were made up. What happens, typically, is the pendulum swings too far and all of a sudden we are on the other side where there are no rules. Any church or authority that tells me I can’t do something gets labeled “fundamentalist” and we just go to the next one or leave the church altogether.

So now alcohol use, sex outside of marriage, what we do, where we go, and what kind of entertainment we enjoy have little to no boundaries even though biblically some lines are drawn.

The disciple and disciple-maker pursues righteousness in both our teaching and our lives, whether its in season or out.

2. Flee skepticism; pursue faith

We are easily skeptical of authority, of church, of anything institutional although it is God who created these institutions. Whereas doubt is a natural effect of a pursuit of truth—of a sincere faith—skepticism is the youthful passion of someone who just doesn’t want to commit to anything or submit to anything other than their own desires.

Where biblical love “believes all things [and] hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), youthful passion judges all things and scoffs at all things. Under the guise of pursuing truth the skeptic is skeptical; always blurred by the periphery and never fixing faithful eyes on Jesus—the Author and Perfector and object of our faith (Heb 12:2).

3. Flee lust; pursue love

Not necessarily sexual lust, but idealized relationships. We get on social media and see how great everyone’s marriage is, or boyfriend is, or church community is, and never hear about any of the problems. We think our relationships should look that way. Our kids should always be smiling and “super cute”; our spouse should always look “date night ready”; our small group should always be “so much fun!”

We lust after what we don’t have and covet everyone else’s experiences.

Youthful lust is transient, flakey, and surface-level; ready to move on when it takes some work, but the pursuit of biblical love is committed, raw, gritty, rock-solid, immovable. Lust takes, love gives. Lust is impatient and passive; love is patient and kind (1 Cor 13:4), long-suffering with one another as we all follow Jesus.

4. Flee debate; pursue peace

This becomes the natural outflow of the previous three. If we are relativistic on moral issues and never concerning ourselves with obedience, and if we aren’t pursuing a sincere faith but easily skeptical, then we have things we can debate.

Rules are in place to foster peace, but if there are no rules than you don’t have peace. If we aren’t unified in our humble, faithful pursuit of Jesus together, but always questioning one another’s motives, there is division, not peace.

The youthful passion of debate rages, especially in the church, but “he himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14), and he makes both those far from God and those near, one new peaceful people. Iron sharpening iron is one thing; humble communication and confrontation sharpens, it makes mature disciples. However, continual and perpetual divisive debate flowing out of a lustful, skeptical heart is just a dishonorable vessel in the church that should be stuck in the junk drawer somewhere never to be brought out.

Do you want to be the gold honorable vessel in God’s house? Remember then, again—the Word is not bound (2 Tim 2:9), Jesus is not dead (2:8), the truth of the Gospel must be guarded (1:14)—and the grace of God strengthens (2:1)! Flee youthful passions, and pursue your Christ.

Jim Essian planted The Paradox Church in 2011 and serves as Lead Pastor. The Paradox is an Acts 29 Network church in Downtown Fort Worth, TX. Jim played eight years of professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers organizations prior to planting a church. Jim and his wife, Heather, have two girls, Harper and Hollis.

Sacrificing for Our Idols


In his early years, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Europe with his family. On one trip, they went hunting for a few days, but Roosevelt couldn’t hit a thing. He later wrote:

One day they read aloud an advertisement in huge letters on a distant billboard, and I then realized that something was the matter, for not only was I unable to read the sign but I could not even see the letters. I spoke of this to my father, and soon afterwards got my first pair of spectacles, which literally opened an entirely new world to me. I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles. I had been a clumsy and awkward little boy, and while much of my clumsiness and awkwardness was doubtless due to general characteristics, a good deal of it was due to the fact that I could not see and yet was wholly ignorant that I was not seeing1

Idols make us blind. They not only make us blind, but also make us blind to our blindness. As many have noted, idolatry often turns good things into god things, where we seek ultimate satisfaction or security. I am not saying that every pastor who reads this is, right now, committing idolatry. I am saying, alongside men like Calvin, who said that our hearts are idol-making factories, that ministry idols can be and are a regular temptation for those in vocational ministry.

Colossians 3:1–10 is a great passage of Scripture to give us new “spectacles” to understand what is going on inside our hearts. To the extent that Christ is not supreme and preeminent in our hearts and lives, and to the extent that we are not seeking the things that are above, something else will be preeminent and our hearts will seek things here below. This is why it is so crucial for ministry leaders not only to feed others with the glory of Christ and the wonder of grace, but also to nourish their own souls at the feet of him who is the fountain of life. This is one of the reasons why Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (3:5). We are seeking life and fullness in someone or something other than God.

Keep this in mind: covetousness always says “more!” and never says “enough!” However, when the gospel of Christ and the glory of God capture our hearts, and when we see the supremacy of Christ and rest in his sufficiency, hearts that are content in the gospel will always say “enough!” and never say “more!”

Because I struggle with this idolatry in my heart, and I venture you do too, I am often tempted and often succumb to thinking like this: “I know I have Jesus, but I’d be happier if more people were sitting in the pews, if more people were grateful for what I do, if more people gave so we could have a larger budget or build a larger building, so that I could have more of a reputation and be known and admired by more people.” More. More. More. During the times when I am not sinking my heart deep into the “It is finished” of the gospel, I long for more, am never satisfied, and never say “enough.” What is the “I’d be happier if . . .” of your heart? Seriously. Take a moment and reflect on that question.

Partner—GCD—450x300Reflection is important because ministry leaders make such enormous sacrifices for their idols, whatever they may be. All idols demand that we sacrifice in order that they will bless us, so in order to experience the blessing of recognition, power, comfort, control, acceptance, or any other idol, we sacrifice our health, our families, our relationships, and even our own walk with Christ. This is why, I believe, when we are pursuing the idols that promise more and always deliver less, we will be filled with the anger and lying and bad-mouthing of others that Paul describes in verses 8–9.

The consequences of this idol worship are that, deep down, leaders may be filled with anger or constant disappointment with others because they are not able to deliver what the leader is looking for. The consequences for the leader are a dry and hard heart toward the Lord and often wrecked health and strained relationships with other leaders, with other people in the congregation or ministry, and even with his own wife and children. Idols subtly bring death into practically every sphere of life.

If the idols we are pursuing are blessing us, we will feel alive and successful—and prideful. If the idols we are pursuing are cursing us, we will feel despair and death. In the moments (and there have been way too many) when I have thought about leaving the ministry, the Lord has usually been quick to point out that I have been building my own kingdom and pursuing false gods. The disappointment and discouragement that I have felt has been more about my reputation being hurt and my selfish kingdom being crushed than about genuinely feeling I wasn’t called to ministry. I have realized that I have needed to repent for acting like some kind of Pharaoh and forcing the lambs under my watch and care to work hard to build Clay Werner’s kingdom, rather than prayerfully advance God’s. It’s as if God has been saying, “Clay, let my people go!”

Here’s what I want to say: when you realize that your internal idolatry is driving your heart and ministry, you don’t change by mere willpower. Moving forward isn’t about sin management, but about worship realignment. Deep down, at your core, Christ must become more satisfying than anything and everything else. Thankfully, the Spirit is eager and willing to help reveal Christ to your heart in such a way that you’ll treasure Christ above all things and endure even when the kingdom of God around you seems so weak and slow.2


Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but the kingdom of God will remain forever. The danger of ministry is that pursuing our own kingdom can be easily disguised by using language from the kingdom of God.3 Too often, leaders themselves are blind to the reality that they are making ministry “their world” rather than a place of nourishment for God’s people and equipping for God’s mission. However, once the little kingdom is forsaken and repented of, the kingdom of God that is invisible yet inevitable, seemingly insignificant but yet incomprehensible in its power and breadth, will provide the deepest joy and the greatest security, especially as the eyes of our hearts remain fixed on its King.

1. Quoted by Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 2001), 34 (emphasis added). 2. Some helpful material for diagnosing idolatry are David Powlison’s “X-Ray Questions” in Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 129–44; Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994). I have also found John Owen’s books Communion with God, Meditations on the Glory of Christ, and On Being Spiritually Minded very helpful in cultivating a heart of worship and adoration. 3. See Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 72–82.

Clay Werner (MDiv, Westminster Seminary in California) is senior pastor at Lexington Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Liz, and their five children.

From On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner. Used by permission of P&R Publishing, http://www.prpbooks.com/.