Developing key leadership is a vital process in the missionary task, whether it is working with the International Mission Board (IMB), as a multihousing missionary in a U.S. city, or as a pastor of a church plant.  Our success lies in our ability to develop as many leaders as possible, so we can turn the ministry over to them, multiplying our efforts.

We develop local leaders to do ministry for a lot of reasons. They add a level of understanding of the culture that we do not have without them, and our ministries are more sustainable. We expand our effectiveness and add legitimacy to our work. And ideally, we create a leader-rich environment that will attract even more leaders to our ministries. It is exciting to think about how our ministries can expand if we invest in multiplication of the leaders.

Consider the apostle Paul’s work in Philippi. In just a short time, he engaged a woman named Lydia and a man who came to Christ after he was in jail. Paul took time to encourage and build them up (Acts 16:40) before he left town.  Because of it, a great church emerged, we have one of the most unique books of the Bible, and Philippi became a hub for Paul’s missionary effort to the furthest reaches. The entire ministry could have been a complete failure if Paul had not invested time with those two leaders.

As a missionary, how do we accomplish this strategically? How do we develop indigenous leaders — men and women from within our communities — to be key leaders in our ministries? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

It is exciting to think about how our ministries can expand if we invest in multiplication of the leaders.

  1. Pray for them.
    This has to be a very intentional part of what we do. I remember hearing the story of a Canadian church planter several years ago. His work had grown, and he had seen great success in reaching his city. An interviewer asked him, “What is your prayer strategy?” He quickly responded, “We don’t have a prayer strategy. Prayer is our strategy.” I love that response. Prayer was the heart and soul behind all he did. I have heard missionaries for years talk about the “10/2 prayer,” referring to Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” Make praying for key leaders your missionary strategy.
  2. Identify them.
    If you are not looking, you are not finding. In John 4, we read about the “woman at the well.” Jesus had engaged her with the good news of the kingdom. This woman turned out to be a great influencer. After she met Jesus, she went into her town and influenced all the people to come out and meet Jesus. Wouldn’t we all like to have a few people like that in our ministries? After everything had happened, the disciples walked up. You wonder what He’s going to teach them. His response is one of the great statements in Scripture: “Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white for harvest” (John 4:35a). If we are going to have strong leaders around us, we have to have be looking for them.
  3. Invest time with them.
    There are no shortcuts to developing key leaders. I love John Maxwell’s strategy for “on the job” training. He says we give them “the big three” — responsibility, authority and accountability. Give them something to do that fits their readiness, the authority and freedom to do it, and the necessary oversight to grow through the experience. Along the way, share your heart, your dream and your experiences. Cast a big vision that will excite their heart and drive the work. Help them accomplish their goals. And in the end, your investment will bear much fruit.
  4. Trust them.
    The greatest temptation will be to feel the pull to just do the task yourself. In the short term, you may be able to do it better, quicker and with fewer mistakes, but such is the pathway to growth.  Allow them make mistakes so they can learn from them. Trusting leaders and giving them the freedom to fail, learn, grow and improve is long-term thinking. It is only when we allow leaders the opportunity to fail that they can truly succeed.
  5. Reward them.
    Give them the feedback they need to learn. Rewarding is more than complimenting.  For someone who is hungry to be effective, the greatest reward is feedback. Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” So whatever the fruit of their work is, give them something constructive that will help them continue to grow and develop. Sometimes that is a simple word of encouragement, while at other times, it’s quality time. With every person, it is different.  

We have to decide how we want our ministries to count. Is it in the momentary applause of people who value the crowds and attention, or will it be in the leaders we develop who will make a long term impact for the kingdom of God.

I love the words of author Robert Coleman. Jesus spent the greatest part of his time during the three-and-a-half years of His ministry with 12 ordinary men. “They were fishermen, farmers and tax collectors. Ordinary men, full of flaws, but hungry to be used by the Master.”

Let your greatest work be the development of the leaders around you, and God will bless your ministry beyond imagination.