March 7, 2023

For the Sake of the Harvest

Developing healthy leaders for a strong gospel witness

by Zach Meerkreebs

A couple of years ago, I walked through the doors of our local Apple® store. As I was speaking to the salesperson, I was suddenly interrupted. Their assistant manager had finished his training and was leaving the store for the last time before launching a new store across town.

As soon as the ceremony began, the salesperson, who I was about to hand lots of money to, totally disengaged and helped form a tunnel from the back room to the front of the store. It was clear that the manager’s development mattered to the store, and sending him off well superseded my purchase of gadgets to the point that they facilitated a send-off just short of a small-town pep rally. In this moment, I was tremendously convicted.

Does Apple outdo us in identifying, developing, and sending off leaders?

Apple and other leading organizations have the development of leaders down to a science. Not only is the system constructed and implemented effectively, but it is also celebrated among their own industries and beyond. The Church doesn’t have a shortage of resources or a lack of clarity on vision; nor do we have to be worried about what we’re “selling.” More than any secular company, we need to prioritize the identification, development, and sending of leaders to cultivate a healthy, growing Church.

Heartbreak That Fuels Passion

The state of leadership in and outside the Church deserves some weeping. One of the most popular podcasts in 2021 was The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, exposing the unhealth and spiritual abuse of an influential evangelical leader. In my own city, we have had four moral failures in local church leadership in the last few years. This is felt not only in U.S. churches but also in brokenness, burnout, and collapse among missionaries and missions agencies around the world.

Lord, break our hearts for the state of Christian leadership. Guard us from gossip, comparison, competition, and slander. Would You raise up men and women who are clearly transformed by Your gospel and continually drawing from the deep well of Your Spirit? Amen.

This failure in the Church should break our hearts and cause us to respond as Christ did in Luke 19. Jesus broke into tears during His triumphal entry. As people were praising “God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest'” (Luke 19:37–38), Jesus was weeping over a city that did not understand. He saw their status and allowed it to wreck Him.

The current state of Church leadership deserves this kind of heartbreak—heartbreak that fuels our passion and leads us to intercession and solutions. The Church is supposed to be a prophetic witness in our communities, so our leaders must stick out with integrity, love, and other Christlike characteristics.

Following possibly the greatest example of leadership spelled out in Philippians 2:5–11, the next five verses, Philippians 2:12–16, call us to stand out as innocent and blameless children, above reproach, in the midst of a corrupt and perverse generation. As we do this, we will shine like stars in the sky (see Philippians 2:15).

Our Christian witness can be strengthened and extended or tripped up and subdued by the health and vibrancy of our leaders, whether they’re stewarding our churches or living boldly as laypeople at your community’s bank, library, hospital, police department, and more. To have this kind of impact, it is necessary for us to lean into the development of holistically healthy, gospel-saturated leaders. This witness will not only bring stability and health to our churches and organizations but also will inevitably produce meaningful presence and gospel impact.

Paying the Leadership Development Tax

Though it might be inconvenient, when a community truly accepts the burden and cost of leadership development, they’ll be positioned to make an impact. Just like a church that is broken and stirred up after a natural disaster to respond with unique outreaches, our congregations must be stirred up and reorient themselves for the sake of emerging and established leaders to expand God’s Kingdom.

In their book Designed to Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck explain the importance of the Church’s role in leadership development:

The center of the Church is the gospel, but the center of leadership development must be the Church—meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church. These leaders carry with them, into all spheres of life and culture, the conviction of a people who are called-out ones, of a people who have been brought from death to life through Jesus.

A church that owns this call might find themselves sacrificing things that other communities feel uncomfortable with. Idols are torn down, and these churches become workshops to build and stir up people who will honor God through their sacrificial leadership. We might idolize the Sunday morning gathering, but it could become a place where people explore their callings. We might idolize a worship night, but it’s also the perfect time for a first-time worship leader to explore their passion. We might idolize teaching in Sunday school classes, but it could be an important opportunity for young people to be trained in preaching.

When I was 19, I preached to a youth group on Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” As I slammed a cinderblock with a sledgehammer to drive home the point, spraying concrete shrapnel into the crowd of on-looking youth, my church paid the leadership development tax.

Thank You, Jesus, that You are still identifying, developing, and deploying men and women to lead your mission. Would You grant us perspective and stir up a posture in us, in our churches, within our denomination, to know where sacrifice for the sake of the harvest? Amen.

Any leader or community that prioritizes the identification, development, and sending of emerging leaders will pay the cost of a less than captivating sermon, a band that’s not on beat, or the loss of a leader once they’ve been raised up and sent out. Despite the sacrifice, this tax creates a platform for gospel expansion that many churches have not experienced and creates space for those who are wondering if they’ll have to watch and wait until they’re perfect to say “yes” to their call.

The funny thing about this tax is when. you establish it and live with it for a while, you almost forget about the cost—it becomes a piece of the culture.

I was honored to be a part of a community that carrie this same burden and established the conviction at the core of its growing church to pay the leadership development tax. Shy individuals, sweating through their first sermon, discovered that God had anointed them to preach His Word. Overconfident seminary students preached sermons that lasted over an hour and made no sense. Worship leaders forgot lyrics, but many of them blossomed and ushered in the presence of God. Lawyers started affordable housing ministries, and college students launched after-school programs.

As our community paid the tax, leaders were developed. Was it costly? Yes! Was it awkward? Often! But was it worth it? 100 percent!

Passing the Ball

No one likes a ball hog—someone who won’t utilize those around them and their unique gifts to accomplish the goal. Many leaders, out of earthly fear or pride, are ball hogs. The secular culture we live in prioritizes climbing the ladder, and this has seeped into our churches. “Do you have a master of divinity?” they might ask. “How long have you been on the field?” Though these questions communicate competency and experience, they can create environments that perpetuate an unattainable expectation of perfection, and emerging leaders may forgo stepping into their call.

Where in your leadership can you “pass the ball?” I understand that some things at this time cannot be passed, but there is something that you are doing that could be handed to an emerging leader. Don’t pass them busywork to prove a point. Pass them something they can take ownership of and apprentice with you. Though it is impressive when you run all the yards, break all the tackles, and score that touchdown, how about doing most of that work and passing the ball so that a humble and hungry leader in your midst can score their first touchdown ever?

Think of Jesus sending His disciples two by two in Mark 6:6–13 or the disciples’ role in feeding the 4,000 in Matthew 15:29–39. Jesus passed the ball, sending them out empowered with authority over impure spirits and as participants to distribute fish and loaves to the hungry onlookers. What if Jesus wanted the press? What if Jesus decided to receive the affirmation that day? What if Jesus was too afraid that they’d mess it up?

Pay attention to their character and be sensitive to their capacity and competency, but take a chance and pass the ball.

Jesus, would You give us supernatural insight into those who we are entrusted with and give us the courage to pass the ball? Would You search our hearts and help us be Christlike, gracious, and gentle as we celebrate their wins or debrief their fumbles? Amen.

Set Your Alarms

There is a small army within your Alliance family that has alarms set for 10:02 every day to pray a simple prayer given to us by Jesus in Luke 10:2. You’ll hear their phones ring at Council, field forums, and other gatherings. Luke 10:2 reads: “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”

These words from Jesus must have been white hot in the heart of A. B. Simpson, our Alliance family’s founder, who had a passion to see the completion of the Great Commission and to bring back the King. I believe that allowing our hearts to break for the state of Church leadership, curating cultures to pay the tax, and boldly passing the ball will have a part in accomplishing our mission.

Our message is substantially more important than an iPad or laptop. The gospel for and from all people will require our investment in all people—even those who are still in development like you and me.

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