Multiplying when you’re not mega: Leadership pipeline

By Jackie Allen

Valley Life Church has a robust leadership pipeline, but we didn’t mean to. We stumbled into the idea.

Seven years ago when I moved from Oklahoma to Phoenix, I had barely heard of churches creating leadership pipelines. I had seen Ram Charan’s book about leadership pipelines for businesses, and I wasn’t interested. But I did want to see our church help other church planters. Soon it became obvious that not only should we be training another church planter, but we should be training people to serve in each ministry position a church plant needs. Our pipeline was born the day we understood that, through discipleship, every person who walks into Valley Life Church has the potential to lead in either our church or one we plant.

In order to make our pipeline work I had to let go of three misconceptions:

1. I thought leadership pipelines were primarily about building skills.

This is because I was still stuck thinking that leaders were the people who either did a lot for the church or who did important things for the church. My leadership pipeline breakthrough came when someone told me that 85% of what is discussed in the pipeline meetings was usable in any leadership role. I discovered that an effective leader in one ministry should be an effective leader at another ministry, even if they have no previous experience in that position.

2. I thought the idea was for everyone to be a leader.

There is no need for a church-wide leadership pipeline. There are people who serve on teams, teach classes, or fill a single role for the church who have no desire to lead other adults to accomplish a task. There is no reason for them to feel they are less important to the church by not being part of the pipeline meetings. One of the most important predictors of the success of your leadership pipeline is how passionate your potential leaders are about developing these skills. If a few people are in the pipeline only because they feel they are expected, they will hinder the rest of the group.

3. I thought the leadership pipeline basically delivered leadership content.

Actually the books, podcasts, and blogs our potential leaders work through are simply the vehicle that delivers the real product: accountability. One of our pipeline participants told me, “It’s basically someone asking us if we are doing what we know a good leader does, and none of us are doing it. Then next week he holds us accountable to do what we weren’t doing last week.” The fact is your leaders likely already know how to lead well, but they need accountability and maybe some reminders. The staff member that currently runs our pipeline told me it is 35% content and 65% accountability.

There is a lot of great material out there about starting your leadership pipeline. It is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Here are three musts we have learned about getting started:

Must be a conviction. Our first step to committing to the process was to define “leadership” as an adult leading a group of adults to accomplish a task. By doing this, we moved away from valuing the high capacity of “doers” who will do anything for the church. We learned that people who will do anything you ask, must continually be asked. Leaders take on a responsibility and work through others to get it accomplished.

Must be driven by the pastor. A leadership pipeline takes time. Very often pastors can get results much faster by making a few phone calls, leveraging some high-capacity “doers” to get the job done. But developing leaders is slow work. The process of holding people accountable for investing in their team doesn’t feel like it’s moving the needle. But over time, there is more fruit from developing a group of leaders than the pastor calling in favors every time something needs to get done.

Must be adopted by each level of staff. Our desire was that our leadership pipeline create the leadership for future church plants. We dreamed of an entire church staff being trained in the same cohort. Since 85% of leadership skills are transferable across departments, it’s not necessary to train kids team leaders separate from hospitality team leaders. But what is necessary is that each department or team understand the value of sending potential leaders through the pipeline. It is a simple matter of slowing down in order to speed up.

Published June 27, 2018

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