Neil Cole’s book Organic Leadership came at a good time for me. We have been wading through some leadership conundrums and are on the cusp of the next wave of new house churches, so leadership is on my mind.
Section four of Organic Leadership, “The Side by Side Kingdom”, includes Cole’s best practices for leadership development in his ministry. I found these chapters extremely helpful as I prepare to make the transition from on-the-ground house church leadership to coaching on-the-ground house church planters / leaders.
Let me mention a few takeaways:
- Holistic development: Most leadership training models I’ve been exposed to and participated in are “head heavy.” In other words, they operate out of the assumption that if you just increase the knowledge base of a leader, through classes and books, then he/she will become a better leader. Cole confronts this idea, declaring that many of the church’s leaders are “educated beyond obedience.” Cole doesn’t deny the cognitive or knowledge element of leadership development but instead wants to expand the emphasis of development to character and skills. Knowing must be accompanied by being and doing. Perhaps the most neglected in terms of my own formal education is the character element. How are we learning to be better people? What intentional processes are in place to fashion leaders into people of integrity? Storyline’s formation groups and formation retreats are part of our attempt to develop character in leaders.
- One-on-one mentoring: Ever since reading Greg Ogden’s Transforming Discipleship, I’ve moved toward thinking of leadership development in groups of 3-4 rather than one-on-one. Cole, however, makes a good case for one-on-one mentoring. Every leader is at a different place in their leadership journey; every leader has a different learning style. As I thought about it, I’m benefiting immensely from one-one-one mentoring in my coaching relationship with Harold Shank. At the same time, I have very formative experiences with other leaders every month at the Mission Alive Church Planters’ Forum. I’m beginning to think that coaching structures for leadership development in the Storyline Community should include both a one-on-one and a forum element. Perhaps leaders gather monthly with other leaders for sharpening sessions, and between those times, as needed, they meet one-on-one with a coach.
- Mentoring skills: Cole says there are two indispensable tools for one-on-one mentoring. And, surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – they are not a Master’s degree and a minimum of 10 years of experience in ministry. They are: 1) active listening; and 2) asking good questions. I’ve learned a lot from Tod Vogt at Mission Alive in this regard. Coaching is not telling someone what to do and how to do it. It is rather listening and asking good questions in such a way that the developing leader learns to think for him/herself. Active listening and question-asking assume that leaders have all the resources they need within themselves (especially the presence of the Holy Spirit) to take the next step forward in their own development. I enjoy Cole’s coaching worksheet in the book that has three columns and three rows to facilitate mentoring. The three columns are: 1) active listening; 2) asking questions; and 3) action items. The three rows align his values for ministry with the three columns: 1) divine truth; 2) nurturing relationships; and 3) apostolic mission.
- Mentoring principles: Cole lists several mentoring gold nuggets that I’ll just list here. You can buy the book and read more if you’d like.
- Start with the most obvious area of challenge in a leader’s life (rather than following a curriculum).
- Focus on one development item at a time.
- Look ahead and anticipate what the next step in development is for the leader.
- Never coach a new skill until the previous skill has been learned.
- Mentor according to the learning style of the leader (e.g., visual, audio, kinetic, or verbal).
- A skill is never truly learned until it is taught to another – which assumes the developing leader is mentoring another developing leader.
- Mentoring process: a) Model (I do; you watch); b) Assist (we do together); c) Watch (you do; I watch); d) Leave (you do; someone new watches – the process begins again).
- Leadership cannot be learned in a classroom. Leadership is learned as one leads.
Given #8, I’m excited to put some of these skills to practice in the context of coaching others. I’ll be learning leadership myself at a new level.
By the way, my review of Organic Leadership for the Christian Chronicle should be posted soon to this link.