The One Constant Need
I read many prayer letters from International Workers from different parts of the globe. They (and mine!) contain reports of God’s working, the challenges the workers face on the field, and, inevitably, prayer needs. Prayer requests can be for spiritual breakthroughs in people groups and in individuals. Often there are projects that require God’s financial provision. Sometimes there are time-sensitive requests focused on specific events that must be bathed in prayer.
But the one constant request coming from all over the world is for more pastors and leaders. It is the call to cry out to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers for the harvest (Lk. 10:2). Leadership development programs are often put into place, Bible Institutes and seminaries are formed, personnel are assigned specifically to meet this need. Yet the need is never completely filled.
In part, this is to be expected. The task of evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development will continue until Jesus comes again. As the gospel goes forth and the church grows, the need increases for leaders to guide this ongoing task. I know of no local church, whether in the US or in any other country, where the pastor would say there are enough leaders.
But it is not only an issue of the quantity of leaders needed in the Kingdom of God, it is also a matter of quality of leaders. Too often gifted leaders who have seen much fruit in their ministries end up shipwrecked due to pride, spiritual shallowness, and sinful attitudes and actions. This can happen to leaders at every level, but Satan takes special delight in bringing down pastors and denominational leaders whose testimony ends up bringing disrepute on the gospel and shame to the church. What do we do with this leadership crisis?
God’s Plan to Meet the Need
Paul writes to the Ephesian church, “And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ef. 4:10-11a). Church planters, pastors, missionaries, disciplers, evangelists, preachers, and teachers are all included in this list of gifts to the church. Entire paradigms of ministry have been developed around these gifts. But we easily overlook the reason why Jesus gave these gifts to the church: to equip the saints for the work of ministry. No one in leadership in the church is called to fulfill his or her role without this emphasis on preparing others for the work of the ministry.
This makes sense in that the work is so broad and the need is so great, that leaders by themselves cannot accomplish all that needs to be done. Yet many leaders are so intent oin accomplishing their goals, whether that is to build a church or to establish a program or even to train leaders; that ultimately everything depends on them and their gifts and their charisma. So that, when they move on, the church or programs often limp along or even collapse lamenting the lack of leaders. So how do we address this constant need?
Typically, we have developed programs to meet the leadership need. These programs can be effective, whether they are formal educational institutions or more informal seminars and classes. Often we rely on institutions to produce the pastors needed for the work. Sometimes this is especially fruitful. But across the globe in the church of Christ, formal educational institutions simply cannot keep pace with the need for godly leaders. Just think about it, what percentage of church members in your country have a Bible College or seminary degree? If we only rely on these institutions—institutions that, indeed, have a role in meeting the need—we will remain with a deficit of leaders that will adversely affect the expansion of the gospel and the healthy growth of the church. Will we remain content with that reality?
A Call to Mentor
I call on my fellow IW’s, pastors, and denominational leaders to foment in their lives a developmental mentality that is always on the lookout for potential leaders and that is biased toward intentionally investing in leaders in personal mentoring. If you’re sent to establish a church, from the very beginning bring others alongside you who can grow into leaders and pastors. If you’re presently pastoring a church, organize your schedule to allow for informal interactions with leaders in order to mutually edify each other and to pray with one another around the Scriptures. If you’re teaching, look for individuals in whom to specifically invest time so that they, too, may become teachers. The need for Christ-like leadership is constant, but each one of us should contribute to meeting this need by including leadership development at the top of our respective agendas.