Discerning Potential

As a church leader, you must develop other leaders. That's a simple church growth fact. If you don't, your church will hit a growth lid. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much you love God, no matter how great a communicator you are, your church will reach its natural limit. The ability to develop other leaders is the lid lifter that allows your church to reach its God given potential - a spirit-filled potential far beyond the limits of natural gifts and talents.

Selecting the right people to develop is at the very epicenter of fruitful leadership development.

 We all know what it's like to invest in the wrong person and feel the disappointment of lost time, effort, and energy. This causes us to become reserved and overcautious in attempting to seek out other potential leaders.

In some ways, the selection process feels subjective and swayed by emotion. In other ways, the selection process seems limited according to the people who are currently part of your flock. Yet when you let God in on the process, human limitations are stretched to fulfill what God has in mind.

Jesus chose twelve apprentices, and most of them did not seem to be such promising prospects. You may argue, "Well, Jesus was divine, and He knew what He was doing." Yes, He had a substantial advantage, but focus on the primary insight: not that Jesus was God, not that He chose from a natural crowd, not for perfection, but rather potential.

I must confess I don't think I would have selected half of the crew Jesus did. What an unlikely bunch! He was purposeful in His selection, but His choices were not only about the mission, but also about their personal development. Jesus invested just as much time, if not more, teaching them and preparing them to minister as He did in ministry Himself.

The lesson I pull from Jesus' life is that we must become discerners of potential. All too often, church leaders' instinctive action is to spot reasons to take someone off the list of potential leadership. I believe that when you do that, you remove the Holy Spirit's ability to add a supernatural element to the developmental process. I urge you to look for reasons to add people to a list of potential leaders as your first response towards them, not eliminate them from consideration. If your process of leadership development is solid, those whom God has not intended to lead will be eliminated in a natural and redemptive way. This usually occurs by their own accord, and the investment that was made is not a waste of time.

So why is it that we hold back in our selection of apprentices? I mentioned earlier that being disappointed is one reason. Whether we chose poorly or the apprentice made some questionable choices isn't the issue. The bottom line is that it seems like the investment was wasted. It's understandable why we can become gun shy, but that doesn't let us off the hook. We must continue to find leaders and develop them.

The following are some of the common mistakes in selecting apprentice leaders that squelch the discernment of potential.

 Avoiding them will help you increase your harvest of leaders.

Underestimating their capacity.

I already commented on this one when I said that leaders often look for reasons to eliminate potential leaders rather than accept them. In other words, if we look first for flaws, no one will make the cut. If, however, we first look for strengths, many more people will be included.

There is a risk when you include more people on the front end, but the risk is worth it. For those who may want to lead but are not gifted to lead, this gives you an opportunity to help them find the right spot of service for them. Ultimately, they will be happier and more fulfilled.

Focusing on production prematurely.

This occurs when you first look for what they have done or ask "What can they do?" It's something like looking for a resume of experience before you give them a chance and invest in them. I don't imagine that many of us would ever have risen in leadership responsibility if someone didn't give us a chance when we had little to no experience. Start by asking the question: "What can they become?"

It's clear to me 21 years later that John Maxwell didn't see much production or experience in me when I came out of Asbury Seminary. He couldn't have--I hadn't done anything except read books and take tests. Yet he saw something. I believe he discerned my potential.

Judging the book by its cover.

This is a mistake I must confess I have made far too many times. For example, I will size up a good-looking couple and give them far more credit than they deserve. Conversely, I might be prone to quickly pass over a couple that presents themselves more modestly with less polish or relational skill. This is almost always a mistake. Discerners of potential are able to look at the interior, not the exterior. Assumptions of any kind are unwise.

Choosing in haste.

As a church leader, there are times you find yourself under pressure. You need a body. If the body is warm and shows up, it qualifies. Don't give in to the pressure. An empty spot is far better than the wrong person in a place of leadership. Take your time. Pray and get to know them first. If you, like many, feel like you are not good at discerning, then give yourself even more time. Time always reveals character.

Making decisions based on politics, fear, guilt or any other wrong motive.

Don't let anyone pressure or bully you into a people decision you are not comfortable with. On occasion, I have given into relational pressure. Each time I let a friend take advantage of our relationship to get someone else included on a particular team or leadership training process was a mistake I regretted. Focus on hearing God's voice. Be tough and courageous. Make your decisions based upon the results of your prayer time, not other people's desires.

Discerning potential in others is not a purely mystical exercise. God does speak and reveal, but there are things you can look for as you listen to God's voice.

When discerning potential, look for:

* A willingness to follow - This reveals their attitude
* A willingness to sacrifice - This reveals their perspective on life
* A willingness to learn - This reveals the condition of their ego
* A willingness to serve - This reveals their heart
* A willingness to be honest - This reveals their maturity

Discerners know how to find a person's heart and what lies within it. Invest time and energy into uncovering latent leadership abilities. Discipline yourself to look for and develop these qualities of a leader after you have discerned the heart. These qualities are things such as:

* Capacity or untapped ability
* Intelligence
* Energy or drive
* Willingness to pay the price
* Competence
* Relational intuition/a general understanding of people

You won't choose perfectly every time. Jesus chose perfectly, and even He had at least one major flameout. Not every apprentice will become a leader, but it's important to look with God's eyes and heart to find those leaders, and then pour into them. You will lose some along the way, that's part of the process. It's better to risk the potential of inclusion than exclusion.

Good discerners:

* Ask God to open their eyes to Kingdom potential
* Connect with a heart before reading a resume
* Look for character before competence
* Understand that with the Holy Spirit's power, an ordinary person can achieve extraordinary ministry
* Study Jesus' method of selection and training I hope this helps you develop leaders!

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com. I hope this is helpful to you, the next edition of The Pastor's Coach will cover the topic of ministry values.