When Jesus had his final face-to-face conversation with Peter (John 21:15–23), He asked him the same question three times. He pushed beyond Peter’s first and second responses, and asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Jesus saw Peter, and He knew it was important for Peter to see himself. Peter was going to lead, and stakes were high.
If you were asked to lead a “Develop Leaders” team in preparation for General Conference 2015, where would you begin? As a fourth generation son of the Free Methodist family, I know the stakes are high. Following an honest conversation with God, I know I have to start with my experience. I know that being a leader requires a willingness to change, that we have a responsibility to see leaders for who they really are, and that leaders develop leaders.
Being a leader requires courage and humility, and that’s easier said than done. Leaders go first and bear a burden that others do not have to bear. They do courageous things in the face of tremendous opposition, get some credit when things go well and take the blame when they don’t. At the same time, leaders are editable and willing to have the backspace key pushed on their decisions. They are aware of their strengths and areas that need further refining, are willing to consider personal sacrifices for those in need around them, and are convicted and clear.
Identifying and developing leaders with this capacity is key. As our team’s Kelly Soifer — the director of recruiting and leadership development for the Free Methodist Church in Southern California — and Keith Cowart — the lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Columbus, Georgia — have expressed so clearly, we are talking about leaders who develop an entirely different level of self-awareness. These are leaders who know themselves, understand how others see them, and are willing to change if necessary.
Seeing a leader takes guts, and guts are messy. We think about what we want people to become but may fail to see them for who they are already becoming. Leaders are people whose character, competence and calling have not only been impacted by successes and the right education, but also by failures and complicated life experiences. We have an opportunity to get beyond conversations about the right theological training and the appropriate ways to describe calling. We can have genuine conversations about aspirations, hesitations, strengths, weaknesses and places where leaders can honestly respond with “I don’t know” as the right answer.
Developing a leader requires sacrifice, and that means there’s a cost. The leaders many of us want to follow are willing to invest in developing the leadership capacity of others around them. Great leaders create environments where ministries thrive and leaders are built up and supported. For that reason, developing leaders includes developing ourselves and taking an honest inventory of what price we are willing to pay to put the development of other leaders right alongside the mission of our ministry.
As team member Jason Morriss, the Free Methodist Church’s national ministerial education and guidance director, says so well, “Seeing leaders is about identifying the leadership DNA in the people around us and simply unleashing that potential.”
As we look toward General Conference 2015 and beyond, our goal is to provide a space where we can get real about what it means to be a leader, to see others with the capacity to lead, and to highlight simple tools, adaptable processes and people who can help us get it done. Like Jesus, we have the opportunity to move the conversation from shallow first responses to the real conversations necessary to prepare leaders for the road ahead.
Rob McKenna is the Develop Leaders strategy team facilitator for General Conference 2015, the chair of the industrial/organizational psychology department at Seattle Pacific University and the executive director of the university’s Center for Leadership Research & Development.