Leadership is a high calling and an incredibly rewarding experience. Good leaders are important to the mission, and we have to be careful and intentional when recruiting and training them.
But it doesn't stop there because leadership is also challenging. Leaders can far too easily burn out or feel frustrated, lonely, insecure, or just plain empty. One of the most important things we can do to help further God's mission is to invest in our leaders after we have recruited and empowered them. This keeps them from ineffective leadership and protects them from falling into the negative traps of leadership. Loving on our leaders is always worth our time. We need to take the extra time to care for them.
I'm extremely grateful to have had great leaders in my life who have modeled this for me by consistently investing and pouring into me. I've never felt like I was recruited and then sent out on my own. There have been many great leaders over me who have intentionally invested in my leadership development, and in me personally. Because of their efforts, I've grown in my leadership, felt cared for, and, honestly, had a lot more fun on God's mission.
Intentionally investing in leaders is both an art and a science. Let's start with the science. Investing in leaders is really our opportunity to disciple them as Christ-followers, which is great news because that's the charge Jesus gave us each to do: go and make disciples. As we look at Jesus' life, we see lots of ways that he grew in his spiritual journey and helped others grow in theirs. One of my favorite references to this is Luke 2:52, where Luke says this about Jesus: He grew in wisdom and in stature, and grew in favor with God and with men. Jesus grew in four ways—mentally (wisdom), physically (stature), spiritually (favor with God), and relationally (favor with men). In order to remember these four types of growth, we can rearrange them to spell out RPMS. Checking in with your leaders about their RPMS is a great way to invest in them.
To check in with a leader relationally, I like to ask about his or her personal relationships. How's your marriage? How's it going with your kids? How are your friendships: Are you staying connected to others who know the real you? Which relationships are most life-giving to you right now? Which are currently most challenging? These questions help us discern and develop the relational side of a leader's life, a part that's extremely important to any leadership role.
Checking in with a leader physically is all about making sure he or she is staying healthy. Now this might sound odd at first, and maybe even a bit too personal, but consider how our health affects our lives. It can actually hinder their leadership and spiritual growth! And realize this—you might be the only person in their life who's asking these questions. So ask your leaders about their physical health. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Do you ever get opportunities to exercise? Do you generally feel energized or tired? Then you get the opportunity to encourage and challenge your leaders in this area. Discussing physical health is a great way to spot oncoming burn out.
It's not just the physical health that's important for leaders to keep going strong; it's their mental health too. Are they getting enough mental breaks? What helps them "turn off" and really relax? Are they plagued with worry and stress? The other important way to invest in a leader mentally is to make sure they're growing mentally. I like to ask leaders what they're reading and whether they're learning anything new. Sometimes I encourage leaders to take special classes or attend conferences. I also love to recommend blogs, websites, and books to read, including SmallGroups.com.
The final part of RPMS is spiritual growth. This is perhaps the most obvious thing to discuss with your leaders, but unfortunately it's easy to overlook. I can think of at least one situation where I didn't check in regularly about spiritual growth with a leader under my care. He ended up very spiritually dry, and the demands of leadership really took a toll on his personal relationship with God. That's a huge regret of mine, and I hope never to make that mistake again. Pray with your leaders every time you meet together. Check in regularly on whether they're spending time with God. Even consider having a devotional book or a passage of Scripture you're reading together when you meet. It will keep you both focused on the most important aspect of leadership health: an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.
The other science part of investing in leaders is in leadership skill development. This is a huge part of the fun, and of the reward: seeing someone accomplish things they never thought possible! But it's important to understand that everyone learns differently, so we can't assume that what works for us will work for all the leaders in our care.
There are at least four different styles of learning, so it's important to discern a leader's best learning style. Sometimes I'll even just explain the four styles to a leader and ask how he or she prefers to learn.
Some leaders do best with classroom learning, meaning they love to be in the environment of listening to speakers, taking notes, and processing what's being taught. When I have a leader like this, I do whatever I can to bring them with me to leadership conferences and training events. I have also helped them find online training to watch and take notes on.
Some leaders are real self-learners—just give them stuff to read or study, and they'll run with it on their own. I'm a self-learner, so I love sharing books, blogs, magazine articles, and other great resources with other self-learning leaders. It's important to feed self-learners, and, if you do it well, they'll keep coming back for more.
Other leaders learn best by doing. They're experiential learners, and they don't want to spend too much time in the classroom or reading books. Instead, they just want to jump in and learn as they go. You can easily frustrate an experiential learner by taking too long to get them started. Of course we have to use discernment in this, and we can't constantly let leaders jump in to things before they're ready. But we can find ways to let experiential learners lead in small ways to get them going earlier than later. Then we can follow up those experiences with feedback.
The final style is those who learn best through mentoring. They crave the one-on-one investment, and if they can shadow you or have you walk them through a process, they thrive. With this learning style, you don't want to send them off on their own. Instead, spend individual time with them and allow them to tag along as you lead. Show them first, and then let them get their feet wet.
Loving Leaders Well
Developing leaders is only part science, though. There's also an art, and that involves loving our leaders, serving them, and relationally connecting with them. We see this a lot in Jesus' life—from washing his disciples' feet, to regular meals with them, to lengthy conversations about life.
Leaders need to know they're not just working for you. They need to know they're worth more to you than just the sum of their leadership skills or the results they produce. At the end of the day, leaders need to know that we love and care for them because they're God's creation, and he deeply loves them. Truth be told, the art of investing in our leaders—spending time connecting with them—is important for the science part to work.
So love your leaders. Find ways to serve them. Know their kids' names and even birthdays. Value their spouse. Know their favorite sports teams and hobbies. Occasionally give them gifts and write them encouraging notes. We certainly don't have fame or fortune to offer our leaders—but we can offer them ourselves, our lives. And that means far more.
It's always tragic when a leader is forced to lead on empty and ends up burning out, fading away, quitting on bad terms, and being hurt. While so much is out of our control when it comes to our leaders, we can control how much time we spend investing in them. We can develop their leadership skills, disciple them, and love and care for them as people. By doing so, we'll do our part in ensuring that they'll never lead on empty.
—Carter Moss is a Campus Pastor and Life Groups Director for Newbreak Church, a large multi-site church in San Diego; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.