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king solomonThousands of years ago the wise man Solomon spoke an eternal principle: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18). While Solomon had in mind words from God to His spokesman known as prophets, it calls our attention to the broader subject of vision for God’s work in the church. Vision among church leaders. In their book, Death of the Church, Mike Regele and Mark Schultz wrote these sobering words: “The most important problem in the church today is a fundamental lack of clear, heart-grabbing vision. The church in America has no vision. It has programs and institutions and property and ministers and politically correct hymnals, but no vision” (p. 229, Zondervan, 1995). While these authors may be painting with broad denominational brush strokes, they are touching on a point that the twenty-first century Restoration Movement cannot ignore.

Vision has become a hype word in the last twenty or so years. Corporate American has spent thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars honing out vision statements. Other institutions such as sports teams, clubs and even churches have gotten on the bandwagon. Many of these vision statements hang in prominent places to be read by employees and customers, but little or nothing is accomplished by them. They are just words; another fad sold in the marketplace of success principles.

Jesus was no doubt thinking about vision when he uttered these words about the Pharisees: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14). These leaders couldn’t see the real mission of the Law; they failed to see the plight of humanity; they were blind to their own corruption; they were leading people away from God instead of to Him (cf. Matthew 23:1-12).

Webster defines vision as: “The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be…a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation of something in the future.” There was a time when most church leaders were describes by these words. They looked out on the harvest fields of lost humanity and sent froth missionaries (John 4:34-38). They responded to the cry of the orphans and widows (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). There was a time when leaders were serious about training leaders and teachers (Ephesians 4;11-16; 2 Timothy 2:1-3). In the last few years, however, these visionary leaders have dropped drastically in numbers. Peter may well have described them in these words: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9).

As today’s leaders clean their spiritual lens for God’s work and launch new efforts to empower the church with a vision, they must recast it in harmony with God’s eternal vision for the church. A vision that was cast before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:3-7). It is a vision articulated by Isaiah in these words: And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1,2).

We understand this vision was launched in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and blazed a path into all the world (Colossians 1:23), just as Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). What did those first century visionary leaders have that leaders don’t seem to have today in the twenty-first century? It wasn’t money. We have more than they had. It wasn’t education. We have better education than they had (Acts 4:12,13). It wasn’t church buildings and programs. They had none. It wasn’t better transportation. We can circle the globe in a matter of hours. It wasn’t printed materials or media. They had none. It wasn’t approval by the government. They were persecuted for their faith. They didn’t propagate a politically correct religion. They preached there was only one way (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:11-13).

They weren’t interested in Christianity for what they could financially get out of it; they gave up what they had to help others (cf. Acts 4:31-37). It was “more blessed to give than to receive” (cf. Acts 20:35). First century visionary leaders were sold on being bold. Note these verses in the Book of Acts: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John…that with all boldness they may speak thy word…they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:13, 29, 31). The common thread of boldness runs throughout the book of Acts and concludes with this statement about the apostle Paul: “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, not man forbidding him” (Acts 28:31). The righteous are bold as lions (cf. Proverbs 28:1). Jesus set the example of boldness (cf. John 7:26). It takes bold leaders to proclaim and support a bold vision for God’s work. The boldness of visionary leaders is driven by faith. They know that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (cf. Hebrews 11:16). Visionary leaders “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). They believe with Christ’s blessings and strength they can “do all things” (Philippians 4:13). The faith of visionary leaders is larger than the balance on their checkbooks; it is more powerful than their own feeble efforts; it trusts in God and His power regardless of circumstances (cf. Ephesians 3:20).

In a day of declining church growth, post modernism, divisions of ever shade, a loss of interest in leadership, and much more; it is time for God’s leadership team to make His vision our vision. It is time to revision what the church in the first century saw and carried out as their mission. We don’t need a “new vision”, we just need to recommit ourselves to the one prepared by God before the foundation of the world. It will be alright to add our personal dreams and ways of carrying out this vision. God expects us to use commonsense and methods in harmony with Scriptural principles. The three-fold mission of the church is to (1) edify, (2) equip, and (3) evangelize. This is the job of leadership (Ephesians 4:11-16). Therefore, since we have our vision statement and mission objectives given by God, it behooves us to be about our Father’s business. We will not have missionaries until we have visionaries.

Dr Turner’s leadership books may be purchased through the Dr. J.J. Turner Publications link at the top of this page.

Every person or committee given the job of selecting potential leaders comes to the task with an agenda; a specific set of beliefs about leadership. There is usually a list of qualifications and a clear job description, plus other essential leadership qualities. Leadership is too serious to be left to chance.
I have seen job descriptions for selecting preachers that neither Jesus, Paul nor Timothy could qualify as candidates; neither could prophets like Jeremiah, Amos or Jonah measure up the standards dreamed up by persons or committees given the job of selecting leaders.
The church in many places has fallen into the trap of using standards for selecting leaders that aren’t Bible based or in harmony with the tenor of Scripture. And few are trying to follow the example of Christ in selecting and training leaders.
In my opinion Jesus was the greatest leader ever to walk on the earth created by His Father. We have no record of Him having completed a leadership training course; yet, He not only was a great leader but a great trainer of leaders. He and His leadership team changed the course of history for time and eternity.
A casual reading of the Gospels reveals His leadership training techniques. He was a teacher come from God (John 3:1-3), which obviously gave Him an advantage no other leader had ever had, or has had since. Here is a brief listing of some of His methods in selecting and training leaders for a global mission:
1. He obviously knew He needed a leadership team; even as the Son of God He knew He could not do the work alone.
2. He knew what a leader needed in order to be effective and trainable for a global mission. He was concerned not so much with proven skills as with potential.
3. He selected men many would have overlooked as candidates for change agents in a worldwide movement.
4. Jesus went to where the men were engaged in work. He never approached a lazy or idle man to be on His leadership team (Mark 1:16).
5. He issued potential followers a personal invitation; He didn’t work through an agency or committee recommendation list (Mark 1:17).
6. Jesus made the followers a clear promise: “I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). There was no doubt on the part of those who followed: they were going to have to change.
7. Jesus taught and trained His men chosen for leadership, not in a classroom or out of a manual; He trained them via the “discipling” process. He was continually with them and educated them out of a personal relationship.
8. Jesus’ training method included the following qualities:
a. He demonstrated His love for them in word and deed.
b. He treated them as friends.
c. He obviously trusted them.
d. He took them into His confidence.
e. He opened His heart and soul to them.
f. He accepted their weaknesses.
g. He let them “rebuke” Him.
h. He challenged their thinking with parables.
i. He demonstrated ministry to them by the way He lived and served others.
j. He taught them numerous vital lessons.
k. He sent them on trial runs to practice what they had been taught by word and example.
l. Jesus practiced what He taught others to do.
m. He taught them how to pray.
n. He told them about the cross and suffering.
o. He served them—He washed their feet.
p. He taught them about the “secrets of the Kingdom of heaven.”
q. He inspired them with heaven and warned them about hell.
r. He warned them about false teachers and even called some by name: scribes and Pharisees.
s. He asked them many questions on a variety of subjects.
t. He promised them hard times, suffering and even death if they followed Him.
u. He allowed them to fail—loved them anyway.
v. He assured them of success in the Father’s eyes.
w. He taught them in order to be great you had to serve one another.
x. He died for them (and all people).
y. He gave them a global mission.
z. He promised to be with them forever.
aa. He sent them out in pairs.
bb. He delegated authority to them.
cc. He taught them about the importance of the church.
dd. He taught them the importance of stewardship and handling money.
ee. He taught them to deny self.
ff. He taught them the urgency of the harvest.
gg. He taught them, as He was doing, to do the Father’s will.
What do we learn from this brief review of some of the methods Jesus used to train His leadership team? How can we apply them today? What are some of the challenges presented by Jesus’ method of training leaders?

1. Leaders are made, not born.
2. All leadership is tied to influence: what you say and what you do.
3. Leaders are never satisfied with status quo—it must go.
4. Leaders are positive change agents.
5. Poor leadership creates chaos, confusion, lack of progress, and frustration
6. Leaders are motivated by results, not talking points.
7. Leaders can’t stand apathy, procrastination, or laziness.
8. Trust is the heart of leadership; without it there is no leadership.
9. Mediocre leadership produces mediocre followers.
10. Leaders are mission and vision driven; always moving forward.
11. Leaders are servants and encouragers.
12. A leader can’t lead beyond his character.
13. There are no “perfect” leaders; they are works in progress.
14. Church leaders are spiritual persons—Christlike.
15. Anybody can grow in leadership ability.
16. You can’t lead from the rear—you lead from the front.
17. What you DO is more powerful than what you say.
18. God’s cause deserves the best leadership possible.
19. Great leaders were once great followers.
20. Leadership development is a deliberate process.

22. Positive leaders demand feedback and accountability.
23. People are more important than people.
24. Leadership is a function designed to glorify God (Eph. 3:21).
25. The test of leadership is the RESULTS it generates.

21. Leadership continually changes because situations change.

As I travel around the brotherhood I am asked more and more frequently, “Whatever happened to leadership training?” This question is relevant in light of the decline of leadership in the church; especially the training and equipping of men to serve as elders and deacons. I recently came across these phrases by an unknown author:

“When the ship is sinking, it not the time to train the crew in abandon ship drills.”

“When the last inning is played, it’s not time to call for a pinch hitter.”

“When the sheep have been scattered, lost their way, or eaten by wolves, it is not time to ask for volunteers to be shepherds.”

The best time to take out fire insurance is before there is a fire. The best time to learn how to swim is before you are going down for the third or last time. The best time to train competent leaders is before there is a crisis. Most congregations are in their present state because it is where past leadership decisions and actions have brought them. Where the church will be tomorrow and years from now depends on leadership training, decisions and actions of today.

Why Aren’t We Training Leaders?

Back to the question: Whatever happened to leadership training? Here are some of my answers to this vital question:

1. Some congregations have never engaged in a regular, curriculum based, and advanced training for all levels of church leadership.

2. Some congregations have failed, for whatever reason, to see the need for the ongoing training of leaders. They seem to be blinded to this need.

3. Some have given up the training of leaders because it didn’t accomplish what they thought it should accomplish.

4. Some gave up training future leaders because they didn’t have an “expert” or competent person to do the training.

5. Some congregational leaders don’t want to admit that they have a need for additional training. Some don’t want their own weaknesses to be exposed.

6. Some haven’t had a leadership training program for years because they are not aware of the outstanding materials, workshops and lectureship being conducted in this field.

7. Some, sadly, have shifted from the biblical emphasis of church organization and leadership to a “majority” rule approach.

Congregational Leadership School

Training leaders in the local church is a needed work. Pursuing a leadership role in the church is also an honorable desire. It is not by accident that the first qualification of an elder is “desire” (1 Timothy 3:1). Desire is not limited to elders. All church leadership must stem from a desire to follow Christ. This attitude is one of humility (Philippians 2:4-9). It takes time to develop leaders. The Hebrews’ writer affirmed that “by reason of time one becomes a teacher” (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The local congregation should be an ongoing leadership training school. This school equips all members for ministry (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). It trains members in how to be “workers with God” (2 Corinthians 6:1, 2). This leadership school equips leaders to pursue the eternal mission given by God to the church (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Mark 16:15, 16). This school is committed to bringing glory to God through the church (Ephesians 3:21). This leadership school will commit the work of the church to faithful men who shall in turn pass it on to others (2 Timothy 2:1-3).

Basic Curriculum for Leadership School

Imagine the curriculum for a congregational leadership training school as a stool with three legs. Each leg represents a major subject that is essential to properly and biblically training leaders in the church. These three legs are: (1) knowledge, (2) character, and (3) skill. Let’s take a brief look at each subject:

KNOWLEDGE is essential in the leader’s preparation. He must first know God’s word. The Bible is his guide and safe manual for leading himself and others. Knowledge of basic people differences and needs will help a leader do his work more effectively. Successful leaders must know the times and challenges in which they are leading. This means that the congregational leadership school will have a curriculum that teaches the basic subjects leaders need to know.

CHARACTER is the heart and soul of a leader. A leader may have knowledge and many other things but without character he will not be effective as a leader. Sadly, some leaders are “characters” instead of having character. The Bible has numerous character traits that will equip the leaders in this needs area. The traits of love in 1 Corinthians 13; the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26; the thinking agenda of Philippians 4:6-9; and of course the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-13). Character is displayed in behavior and is molded through behavior disciplines.

SKILL is needed for a leader to use his knowledge and character properly in leading God’s people. Many times a man is given a leadership role he does not posses the skill to perform. Some are assigned leadership roles, not because they have the skill, but because it will “help him be faithful.” This is putting the cart before the horse. Jesus spent approximately thee-and-a-half years in training his Apostles for the leadership roles they would later perform in the church. The Holy Spirit came and continued their training. We must not ask a leader to perform something he does not have the skill to do. The church is an equipping school.

Think of the three legged stool model. Imagine a stool with only one strong leg, say for example a leader has good knowledge but is weak in character and skills. Perhaps he is strong in character but lacks in knowledge and skills. Maybe he is the “Jack of all trades” skills wise but is lacking in knowledge and character. The challenge of the congregational leadership school is to equip each leader in all three areas. This takes planning, time and dedicated effort in an ongoing school of leadership.

Whatever happened to leadership training in your congregation?

“Our elders like to throw cold water on our suggestions.” “I wanted to train to become a preacher but the church leaders said it was a bad idea.” “For some reason our elders seem to enjoy throwing cold water on ideas from the pews.” Most of us have heard all our lives various usages of the idiom “Throwing cold water.” It related to discouragement or negativism about something; a disapproval or misgiving about a stated idea. There are several ways cold water may be thrown on a suggestion or idea: (1) mocking, (2) dishearten, (3) put down, (4) ridicule, (5) scorn, (6) weaken, (7) oppress, (8) upset, (9) torment, and (10) fearfulness. In all my years in church ministry I have observed 12 major buckets of cold water leaders throw on suggestions and ideas. Here they are:

  1. We tried that once and it didn’t work.
  2. We don’t have the money.
  3. It is not time yet.
  4. What will people think about this?
  5. What if we fail or fall on our face?
  6. Nobody will participate.
  7. It is not our tradition.
  8. We will look foolish if we don’t succeed.
  9. It costs too much.
  10. We’ll check it out and get back with you (but don’t).
  11. It is too demanding of our time.
  12. It is a waste of time and effort.

While it is true that church leaders can’t give thumbs up to every suggestion or idea they have presented to them; they can, however, give careful thought and prayer to them before throwing cold water on them. This is where open and honest communication becomes imperative in a congregation.

Leadership, like most subjects, has gone through a lot scrutiny, study, adjustment and change in the last three decades. These studies have included the traits, styles, character, integrity and theories of leadership. Models of both effective and negative leadership have been featured in articles, books, and seminars. Most local congregations have also, at one time or another, during recent years given attention to leadership.

     Over the past 30 years several new leadership models have been presented in the business sector of America. Some have found acceptance and application in congregations. These include transformational, transactional, charismatic, situational, managerial, and servant leadership. Examples from Hitler to Churchill have been used as models of leadership. Even the leadership traits of Jesus, Moses, Paul, and Nehemiah have been presented as models.

     Back in 2007, Lee Iacocca asked in the title of his bestselling book, “Where Have All The Leaders Gone?” (Simon & Shuster, N.Y., N.Y.). On page five he asked: “Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all these leaders gone?” While the author is referencing his remarks to business and political leaders, there is a principle application for church leaders.

     Whatever happened to leadership in the church? Yes, I know we have restored the titles of elder, deacon, preacher, teacher, and minister. But have we restored the leadership practices we observe in first century church leaders? After writing 20 books, numerous articles and teaching leadership on the undergraduate and graduate levels, I know I have now taken a step onto sensitive, controversial, and avoidable ground. Speaking for myself, most of us who lead in the church don’t want the spotlight directed on us and our performance. Why? Two reasons. We know we aren’t perfect but keep our hands to the plough anyway. Second, so many requirements and expectations based on business and sports models have been added to the servant model God requires. We have created a model for failure, discord, and abuse of the biblical model of being a servant leader.

     I know that leadership in congregations’ today face cultural, economic, moral, educational, media, and spiritual challenges no other generation of leaders has faced. There is the necessity for using commonsense, expediencies, and allowing changes in traditions in order for the Body of Christ to carry out her mission in the world. However, all processes addressing these challenges must be based on the solid leadership principles in God’s word.

     In order to restore biblical leadership we must begin with the realization that all leadership begins with self-leadership. It is in leading self that we learn what leadership is and how it works. If I can’t lead myself how can I lead others? Whether as an elder, deacon, preacher, teacher, or minister, your work is based on your ability to lead yourself. The apostle Paul addressed this principle in his Romans letter: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Romans 2:21, 22).

     In order to restore biblical leadership we must understand and practice servant leadership. This is in contrast to the dictator, boss, or owner mentality of leadership. Jesus set the example (cf. Mark 10:45; Philippines 2:4-9). When the disciples of Christ were seeking prominent positions of leadership, Jesus rebuked them and gave them this reminder: “… You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:35-45).

     In order to restore biblical leadership we must remember that a leader’s influence is the major catalysis for effectively leading followers. It’s the old adage “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” In giving the Philippian brethren a thinking agenda, Paul reminded them it wasn’t just words but it was his example: “The things which you have learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Every Christian is influencing someone else; this is especially true of leaders.

     In order to restore biblical leadership it is essential that leaders be bold, not cowards. Boldness was one of the obvious traits others saw in the early church leaders. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Boldness is not rudeness, pushiness, or aggressiveness. It is having the faith and convictions to do the right things regardless of the opposition. It is saying “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). It is knowing that fearfulness is not from God (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7).

     In order to restore biblical leadership it requires knowing and practicing every attitude and action with a view of glorifying God, not self or anything or anyone else. “[T]o Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21). “For to Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

     In the world of what we call executive leadership there is a continual quest trying to find a test or evaluation that will quickly identify and determine an executive’s leadership ability. This quest has produced a plethora of diagnostic profiles, tests, forms, assessments, and evaluations that offer insight into leadership ability, or a lack thereof. In some congregations these diagnostic tools are being used with Bible passages tacked on. This may help us answer the question: Whatever happened to leadership? Biblical leadership has been absorbed, diluted, and replaced by a worldly approach. We must prayerfully and biblically ask and answer, What is the biblical test for real leadership that glorifies God?

     This brief article has been written with the intention and need to draw our attention to the question, Whatever happened to leadership? How visible and successful is it in our congregations? Every institution from the home to the White House; from the local church to a military unit, is where it is because of leadership yesterday and tomorrow will be where leadership is today. We close with these clarion words by Jesus relative to following the leaders in His day: “Let them alone. They are leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Remember the leadership approved by Jesus involves serving, caring, sharing, loving, selflessness, and courage, all based on the word of God. All Christian leadership has a spiritual dimension, which affirms that every kind of church leadership centers in the spiritual.

     Whatever happened to leadership?


J.J. Turner presently serves as an elder and preacher for the Lord’s church in McDonough, GA.

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