Developing Leadership Pipelines

By Andy Addis

I can identify a rural church in three statements or less by talking to its members:

  • What are you bringing to the potluck?
  • We were late for church ‘cause we had a cow down.
  • Huh, we’ve never done that before.

I bet you could add several more to this list without much thought. It’s a pretty fun game to play!

But here’s another one: I bet I can identify a rural church in one line or less talking to pastors.

Ready? Here we go: I need leaders.

I know that the language most are using these days is about starting a “leadership pipeline,” but most rural pastors I know would be more than happy with a leadership garden hose.

The truth is, there are all kinds of models and sources of leadership development to model classroom settings, mentorship relationships and residencies. These different programs have all kinds of potential, and most are scalable to the rural church’s size and needs. I don’t even think accessibility is the primary issue, since they’ve run those interweb cables all the way out to Podunk, USA.

The truth is, I think next-generation leadership in the rural church has a different and even bigger obstacle. Fortunately, it’s one we have complete access to and have the ability to move.

It’s us.

I’ve led and pastored in rural Kansas since 1989, and here is what I know: There are good people in our churches who are full to the top with gospel potential but they sit in the pews year after year like grain stored in the silo.

We may need to establish some kind of leadership pipeline, but then we need a field to irrigate – or the trained and educated will go back to sitting, soaking and souring in the pews.

This can be a difficult part of the process for ministry leaders who are used to doing it all. So, as you lay down your leadership pipeline, get ready to open the release valve in these ways.

You need to step out so others can step up

If you do everything and make sure the bases are always covered, the incorrect assumption is formed that “others” are not needed. You and I know that is not the case! For example, if we want young preachers to emerge, we can’t expect them to do that if we fill our own pulpits 52 weeks a year.

Stepping out so others can step up has major benefits:

  1.  It creates space for young leaders to emerge, grow and eventually take a role.
  2. It creates margin for the pastor to do something beyond sermon prep.
  3. It opens the door for family time, as a pastor and his family now have the ability to get away, or at least sit together in church (novel idea, right?)
  4. It encourages your church! Sure they won’t preach with your skill or relationship, but the congregation will love to encourage that new young leader as one of their own.

Celebrate all leadership

Several places of leadership may never be seen but need to be acknowledged: administration/finances, student ministry, children’s ministry, greeters, visitation, deacons, etc. Taking these out-of-the-way ministries and showcasing them as celebrated examples – from the pulpit, in the newsletter and on your social media feeds – gets attention. Remember, what gets celebrated gets replicated, so, what you need more of, you should consider celebrating immediately.

Embrace the culture of sending

Yes, this is risky business. We know that focusing on our seating capacity is not the metric we should be measured by, yet we continue to play that game of “How many you running?” Remember this little formula when you start feeling that temptation: # ≠ >.

Yet, even if we do resist the urge to take our own census from time to time, most of struggle with the other end of the spectrum. Not our seating capacity, but our sending capacity. If we do create a good leadership pipeline and give them room to develop as we step out so they can step up, there is no doubt a risk of some of them “moving on.”

But, what’s the real risk?

— That we added to the gospel solution, rather than the problem?

— That we honored the God-ordained calling of people we were entrusted with to equip for works of ministry?

— That we were part of the answer to the prayer for His church to send workers into the field?

I know it feels like a loss, I am a pastor, too. But let me remind you what a good friend and co-laborer of mine told me while they were loading their moving van: “If this is what God wants for us, then this what He wants for this church.”

God doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul and we have to believe (and celebrate) when God shows us He has new plans for us!

The rural church does need leaders and how you get them is your choice: residencies, mentorship, cohorts and classes. But what you do with them next determines whether they become leaders or overtrained members.

Ephesians 4:11–12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

Published March 27, 2024

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per month full of articles from a variety of Replanting voices.