I’m hopeful that the days of expecting a congregation’s ministry staff to do everything are coming to an end.

Volunteers in the congregation are more willing to take on roles within the church, especially when they are encouraged to do so.

So, how can a church leader ensure that all the gifts of the congregation are used well and effectively?

In reflecting on what church leadership might need to look like in the 21st century, pastor and author Brian McLaren uses Alison King’s theory: People are not looking for a “sage on the stage, but a guide on the side.” A guide who will enable and equip people to move forward and develop to their full God-given potential.

This means that ministers need to focus much more on enabling others than doing the work themselves.

It requires leaders to empower and release others in their ministry rather than to focus on themselves, and to be someone who will walk alongside people as they develop.

John Adair writes in “The Inspirational Leader” about the importance of a leader keeping a balance between team, individual and task. As church leaders we need to ask whether we focus on one of these to the detriment of the other two.

As a church leader myself, I want all the work that is set up within the church to be sustainable for the long haul.

In order for that to happen, those in both salaried and voluntary roles need to be managed well and developed in their gifting.

I certainly need to focus on getting the task done but also on recognizing the needs of the individuals in the church and building good team morale.

In my experience of working with ministers, there is a strong desire to fix things when people come to them with an issue: It’s more natural to tell people what to do to solve their problem.

However, this is not the attitude of an enabling leader; it’s much better to listen and help people to work out their own ways forward to resolve it.

This way of helping people takes time and allows people to make their own mistakes but is vital if we want people in the congregation to develop into maturity (Colossians 1:28-29).

Jesus constantly challenged people to think for themselves and work out their ways forward (Matthew 16:13-20). He gave them choices and let them make their own decisions (John 6:66).

This will mean the church has a culture of developing individuals, so that everyone wants to see others develop, although the minister needs to lead the way.

Having led in mainly small churches, it is very important to develop the gifts of everyone as this helps the body to work better together.

The professionalization in some churches can work against this enabling ethos. They expect to have everything done in an excellent way, but where is the space for people to learn by making mistakes?

We all need safe places where we can work out our gifting. So how can a leader encourage the church to develop an enabling culture?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Develop an expectation that everyone in church will offer their gifts to the work of the church and community.
  • Help people to identify the gifts and skills that they can offer.
  • Give opportunities for people to try out things that they have not tried before to test their gifting.
  • Evaluation is crucial and people need to have others who will give them feedback on what they have done and how they might improve; this needs to be intentional as it will not just happen by itself.
  • Develop a mentoring culture within the church so everyone is in an intentional, accountable relationship for their own spiritual development.

All this starts with the leader, and it is important we decide what kind of leader we want to be.

Sharon Prior is a senior tutor at Moorlands College and church leader at Iford Baptist Church. A version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Baptists Together magazine, which focused on leadership and the local church, and is used with permission.

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