Church leaders must make critical shifts in focus to prepare leaders for the next generation, speakers told attendees at the inaugural Pipeline conference for church leaders Oct. 13.
The event, hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., emphasized the need to build a pipeline of future leaders at every church. Ten speakers addressed issues ranging from vision to stewardship.
Kicking off the conference, Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, spoke on the importance of building future leaders in the church.
Although many leaders have learned to function without developing others, Scripture shows this practice can destroy a ministry in a single generation, said Geiger, who is also co-author of the new book "Designed to Lead."
Moses invested heavily in the life of his protégé Joshua, and when Moses died, Joshua was ready to take the reins, Geiger said. But when Joshua died without preparing a successor, "another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10).
Developing people is one of the toughest challenges of a leader, Geiger said. He listed three critical traits for building future leaders: a conviction for developing others, a culture that values character above skills and constructs that help train future leaders in the abilities they will need.
"The role of a ministry leader isn't to perform ministry—it's to prepare others for ministry," he said.
Leadership expert and author Jenni Catron talked about helping teams work together and offered three keys to effective collaboration. "Leadership is a sacred calling," Catron said. "But it's not about your success; leadership is about the success of others. It's about helping draw out the individual gifts of your team members and pairing those gifts with the mission of the organization."
Effective leadership requires collaboration and is built on the foundation of humility and honor, Catron said. The keys to unlocking a culture of collaboration are relational connectivity, clear communication and high accountability, she said. "Effective leadership earns influence through relationship rather than through authority."
Catron said one of the most important things leaders do is invite others to work together. "God chose to work with us," she said. "And we have the opportunity to collaboratively work together to accomplish the mission God has called our churches to."
Thom S. Rainer
Churches today face an unprecedented need to change, said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer. Attending church is no longer a cultural imperative. Church practices of the past may no longer be effective.
But many church leaders are not trained in change management, Rainer said, and they often face resistance from within the church ranks.
A study of more than 52,000 churches found leaders who successfully transform their churches go through three phases, Rainer said. They acknowledge the necessity of change, believe God can make it happen and stand strong through the crisis that significant change brings.
"It's reality when you lead change, there will be some kind of crisis. Sometimes it will be major," Rainer said.
He offered a series of practical steps for change, starting with prayer. "I cannot recall ever seeing lasting change in a church that did not begin with a foundation of prayer," he said.
Rainer also advised church leaders to communicate urgency, build a coalition of supporters, offer a vision of hope and begin shifting to an outward focus.
Learning to lead is an essential part of discipleship for every believer, said Mac Lake, a church leadership consultant and lead navigator of the Leadership Pipeline for Auxano.
Lake urged church leaders to help people lead like Jesus, investing in relationships to produce transformed lives.
Too often, he said, church leaders feel pressure to churn out new leaders quickly. "Our motivation is just to equip people to turn our ministry widgets," he said. "We want leadership development to be fast, easy and linear, and it's not."
Filling empty leadership roles in the church isn't the primary reason to develop leaders, he said. Instead, the motivation is seeing potential in other people and wanting to help them grow.
"Your leadership development efforts will have their greatest impact when the people you're training know you're emotionally invested in them," he said.
A strong call to discipleship was Trip Lee's message to leaders. "The best way to make leaders who serve God's world is to develop disciples who love God's Word."
Lee is a Christian hip-hop artist and pastor of Cornerstone Church, a year-old church plant in Atlanta. "We're always looking for new ways to develop leaders," Lee said, "but if we want to see the kind of lasting change Jesus has called us toward, we have to lean on the things He's already given us, and that begins and ends with God's Word."
As a pastor of a new church, Lee said he's learned how important community is in the lives of believers. "Christianity is a team sport," he said. "We aren't meant to follow Jesus alone; we are supposed to follow Him together in unity. There is no such thing as a believer who can follow God in an isolated way."
Other speakers at Pipeline 2016 were Will Mancini, founder of Auxano church vision consulting; Kevin Peck, lead pastor at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas; Carey Nieuwhof, founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto; pastor and author Paul Tripp; and Brian Dodridge, executive pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville. More than 1,000 leaders attended the live event. More than 3,000 participated online.
The conference also offered coaching sessions to help church leadership teams learn practical skills for developing others into leaders.
Next year's Pipeline conference is scheduled for Oct. 11. Speakers will include John Piper, Bob Russell, H.B. Charles Jr., Tami Heim, Léonce Crump and Mark Jobe. For details, visit myleadershippipeline.com.
Lisa Cannon Green is a writer for LifeWay Corporate Communications. Carol Pipes contributed to this story.