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3 reasons why it may be time to punt leadership development

| by Gerry Lewis


Having just experienced another season of football, it’s easy to think of football metaphors in talking about our churches and organizations. What will it take to make our next first down?  How will we score? How can we win? Who’s our quarterback? Do we need a new coach?

Is it time to punt? Does that mean it’s time to give up? Not yet.

The strategic use of a punt is often overlooked. When the team has lost momentum, a skilled punter can back up the opposition while our defense holds the line and our offense comes to the sideline to regroup and clarify new strategy.

Thirty years ago, I was a young pastor trying to figure out how to lead a church. I was fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who introduced me to the necessity of leadership development.  It became one of my passions over 20 years as a senior pastor and for the past 10 years leading a regional network of churches.

However, I think it may be time to strategically punt the concept of “leadership development” and get some clarity before we put our offense back on the field.  

Here are three areas of clarity we need.

1. We need to clarify the reason for leadership development.  I fear that we emphasize “leadership development” because somebody told us we should. But for what purpose? Is it to be sure that we have leaders for our programs? Is it to be sure that senior leaders are not overburdened by the necessity of leading everything?

It seems that part of where we may have lost momentum is in forgetting to first develop followers (disciples) of Jesus. In our efforts to develop leaders, have we neglected to disciple everyone where they are? Have we sought to put leaders in vacant slots in our programming rather than raising up followers who have learned to walk in step with Jesus according to their unique God-given design? Are we discipling them into their natural places of influence?

Leadership development that bypasses a disciple-making culture will be short-sighted.

2. We need to clarify our role in “development.” In the network I attempt to lead, we changed our terminology when it comes to the leadership focus. Instead of leadership “development,” we emphasize “cultivation.” It may seem like semantics, but there is an intentional focus in the terminology.  

Our regional network is predominantly comprised of small town and rural churches, so an agricultural metaphor fits our context. The terminology reminds us of our calling as workers in God’s harvest. The fields do not belong to us. We do not control the weather. We have absolutely no power to make anything grow (develop). What we can do is cultivate the fields, watch for and attempt to remove weeds that would choke out the plants, and nurture the plants along their path to maturity and usefulness.

“Cultivation” may not fit your context as well. Work toward developing more clarity in your own terminology.

3. We need to clarify the intended result of leadership development.  Too often we don’t look beyond the horizon when we think of leaders. We are thinking of how we become more effective in doing what we do. We think of installing developing leaders as assistants alongside current seasoned leaders. We think of the necessary team that we must put in place to accomplish our immediate and long-term goals and objectives.

How much do we think about the viability and vitality of the church (or other organization) when we are no longer present? What part does “leadership development” play in planning transitions and successions in ministry?  

I’ve begun thinking about “cultivating leaders” in terms of “cultivating legacy.” At the age of 57, I believe I have several effective leadership years remaining. However, I undermine the effectiveness of the organization if I give no thought to how I want to leave it when the time comes. Legacy is not simply what they will remember, but what they will carry forward into the next chapter.

Until we understand why we do it, how we’ll do it and how it will outlast us, let’s punt and regroup.

Photo source: istock 

Gerry Lewis

Dr. Gerry Lewis serves as Executive Director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur, Texas. He is also Founder and CEO of YLM Resources, which includes Next Step Coach-Sulting and Life Matters Publications. He is also an author of four books, including Why “Bible Study” Doesn't Work. He and his wife live in Azle, Texas and have two grown children and three (so far) grandchildren. His weekly Life Matters blog and Your Church Matters podcast can be found at

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