By Daniel Im
William Wallace, Melinda Gates, Hitler, Elvis Presley, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela, Bono, and Jeff Bezos.
What’s your off-the-cuff reaction when you hear those names? Do you think of similarities or differences? If you could group them together with one word, which one would you use?
Would the word “leader” come to mind?
Now you may or may not agree on how effective each one of those individuals were (or are) as leaders, but it’s clear that when they acted, people followed. They led and history is different because of it.
While William Wallace led with passion to secure Scottish freedom from the English, Melinda Gates has led with compassion to give away more money than most people can even begin to fathom. While Hitler led the Germans with an authoritarian grip, Elvis Presley led with his charisma and rolling tunes.
Haven’t you ever noticed that as quickly as you can name leaders, you are able to name different attributes that make each of them uniquely effective? This is because there is no silver bullet to leadership. There is no common set of characteristics that—when put together—produce the end result of a leader.
In fact, just consider the weight of these words from Donald Clifton, the father of Strengths-Based Psychology, the grandfather of Positive Psychology, and the creator of the StrengthsFinder assessment. He was asked, just a few months before his death in 2003, what his greatest discovery was from three decades of leadership research. Here was his response,
A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders. 
Is every pew sitter a leader?
I guess that depends on your definition of a leader. If you agree with the often-quoted phrase, which I believe is originally attributed to John Maxwell, that “leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less,” then yes. Every pew sitter is a leader.
- That stay-at-home mom is a leader because she is influencing her children
- That auto-mechanic is a leader because he is influencing the customers he encounters
- That single dad is a leader because he is influencing those at work and his children at home
- And that 85-year-old retired marine is a leader because he can influence the next generation by discipling them and displaying what a life well lived looks like
When you realize that everyone in your congregation is a leader in their everyday life, it’s not a big leap to also see them as potential leaders in your church. In fact, I would even advocate that seeing them as potential leaders is incredibly biblical and the very first step to live out Ephesians 4:11-16, so that you can equip them for the work of ministry that God has set apart for them to do.
Your role is not to lead and do everything.
Instead, it’s to equip others so that they can lead and do the work of ministry, so that the body of Christ can be built up, so that the church can reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, so that we can grow into maturity, and so that we can go and make disciples of all nations because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few (Eph 4:11-16; Matt 28:18-20; Matt 9:37-38).
Why isn’t the next step a spiritual gift assessment?
At this point, many church leaders often turn to a spiritual gift assessment so that they can help their congregation figure out how they’re gifted and where they should serve. And to that, I say no! Don’t do it.
I’m not saying no to spiritual gifts, and I’m not saying no to assessments. What I am saying no to is a spiritual gift assessment being the very first step to equip your congregation to lead and serve.
After all, let’s say you complete a spiritual gift assessment and your top three gifts are administration, discernment, and mercy. What in the world are you supposed to do with that? Does your awareness of having these spiritual gifts move you one step closer to serving? To know where to serve, in what capacity to serve, and how to serve effectively? Likely not.
While identifying your spiritual gifts is a beneficial exercise, there isn’t always a direct link from identification to getting plugged into the right ministry area.
So instead of starting with a spiritual gift assessment, what if you started with passion? What if you started by helping your congregants identify which ministry area excited them the most? After placing them in that ministry, you could then match them up with a role where their gifts and talents could be utilized and invested for kingdom work.
Do you see how I’m not ignoring their gifting and talents? But instead reprioritizing the order in which we approach them?
In today’s freelance economy (or gig economy) where our congregants are likely juggling more than one job, in addition to managing extra-curricular activities for children, and fighting traffic like never before, people aren’t going to serve in your church in a long-term role simply because they know their gifts (here’s an easter egg: this is the topic of my next book).
To serve, they need to have a deep conviction for the “why.”
Why does your ministry matter? What difference will they make as a result of serving in your ministry? Why is this more important than Netflix, sports, and other activities that they could be doing?
Uncovering the “why” that drives the heart and soul of your people always begins by uncovering and identifying their area of passion. And there’s no quick way to get there. There’s no silver bullet. You need to simply sit down and listen. So what processes do you have in place to do that? To listen?
Endnotes: Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow (New York: Gallup Press), 13
Daniel Im is Director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay Christian Resources.