Stewardship of Field Leaders: Foundational practices for mission organizations

In our work with mission leaders, a common concern is that too few team, country or area leaders are available to meet the requests for help.  They ask, “Has anyone found a way to sustain a leaders’ reserve for the unexpected opportunities?”

What we have learned is that current practices in most mission organizations are inadequate.  Selecting gifted leaders without giving effective onboarding, oversight and development is a recipe for high attrition and limited effectiveness.

I wish that the answer to sustaining a leader’s reserve was a simple one, a magic pill of sorts.  As we have looked at our IMPACT data and dialogued with mission leaders, a pattern of stewardship has emerged which may be helpful to us.  Warren Jansen, SEND’s International Director, says,

The most powerful ministries are performed by Spirit-directed missionaries making great decisions in real-time on the front lines. To do so they need empowering leaders who themselves are practicing what Peter reminds us to do:  be self-controlled and sober-minded so that we can pray and apply the grace of God to each situation (I Peter 4:7-10). These types of leaders do not grow on trees. They need to be nurtured and intentionally raised up.

The Army understands the reality of how arduous leader development is.

The longest development process we have in the United States Army is the development of a commander.  It takes less time to develop a tank - less time to develop an Apache helicopter - than it does to develop a commander. It takes anywhere from twenty-two to twenty-five years before we entrust a division of soldiers to a commander… [leaders] must continue to grow and to learn and to study [their] profession, to learn by [their] own experience, to learn by study, school, reading and from others… It [requires] total professional involvement. (Quoted in Janssen 2011)

The following is a brief overview of the five practices.  In-depth blog posts of each practice will follow with support from IMPACT data and effective leadership practices.   To view a chart of the five practices that enhance a mission organization’s ability to grow and sustain healthy and effective leaders, click here.

Stewardship Practice #1:  Leader Reservoir - Intentionally developing missionaries so that they are ready to become field leaders.  

Having a pool of qualified leaders ready to assume new leader roles is not “rocket science.”   But it does require hard work over time to see results.  There is no short-cut or magic process.

One approach is to have cohort training for a select group of potential leaders.  The use of this approach requires significant financial resources and available teaching staff. The results have been mixed.  Often such courses, even if sustainable, have not produced practically competent leaders, unless a great amount of personal follow-up is implemented.

A second approach, much more in favor today, is a coaching/mentoring approach.   This approach demands the development of supervisors who can understand each person and bring her/his passion to bear in the demands of daily life.   At first this is a time intensive process.  But as the supervisor owns the approach and practices it consistently in daily interactions, it becomes part of leadership practices. And it won’t work unless each supervisor is held accountable through reviews with his/her supervisor.  (For more details, see “Managing Those Called, April 11, 2011” under Resources and Tools for Field Leaders.)

Stewardship Practice #2: Selection - Finding a quality fit between a leader position and an individual.

Selecting the right person for a field leader opening is foundational. While organizations might believe that they have limited options, the discipline of “putting the right person in the right seat on the bus” is the starting point.  A clear understanding of each field leader position is a beginning point.  This includes not only responsibilities but roles.  Does the person have the right strengths for this specific situation and group/team?   Does he/she have a sense of calling to an indirect ministry, thriving by facilitating and developing people who directly serve?  Does the person have the spiritual maturity and resilience for this demanding role?

Stewardship Practice #3: Onboarding - Intentionally helping new leaders become effective quickly in the basics of their new roles and responsibilities. 

Onboarding is an intentional process to help new field leaders transition quickly into quality field leaders.  It is a practical process to help new field leaders promptly get “on board” in an effective and credible manner.  From our dialogues and reading, we would recommend a developmental plan from the day of leader selection until the end of the first year.  While training events can be useful, the real life, practical growth will come when the process is individualized to the needs of each person and his or her specific context.   (See other IMPACT posts for more details.)

Stewardship Practice #4:  Empowering Oversight - Managing a field leader over time for effectiveness and health.

The need for support does not end with onboarding.  Field leaders need continuous encouragement and support if they are to keep work-life balance, effectiveness, and sustainable joy.   Every year will bring new challenges, but the intentional and regular communication and support with the supervisor can provide a critical source for long-term effectiveness and a sense of fulfillment.   And the issues of spiritual resilience and family health need constant attention. Such a holistic connection allows the passion of the field leader to find fulfillment in an indirect ministry.

Stewardship Practice #5: Ongoing Development - Intentionally developing leaders holistically so that they continually increase their effective stewardship of people, impact, opportunity and themselves.  Effective field leaders require consistent ongoing development.  Build spiritually mature and wise leaders who can withstand the pressure of the roles take time.  Onboarding of field leaders can address only the basic skills and perspectives.  The need for supervisory stewardship skills of a multi-national missionary force demands great dexterity.  Keeping a self-directed team with a relevant, reproducing focus and intentional activities keeps the best of the field leaders hopping.  All of this requires character, attitude and skill development.  And don’t forget spiritual development and family life.  All types of development will be required: coaching, group training as well as self-directed learning.  The need for an integrated, continual effort was a call from the leaders participating in the IMPACT study.


Each of the above five practices requires intentional, unique action.   While the practices interact with each other, each is distinct, and not one can be omitted.  To begin your work, focus on one practice for a year.  Next year add another one.  Such organizational initiatives will require training for all mission leaders, including mission executives who are key to affirming and modeling each practice.

Feedback:  Do you agree with each of the five practices?   What is your insight and experience – good or bad?  Give your ideas by commenting.

2 thoughts on “Stewardship of Field Leaders: Foundational practices for mission organizations

  1. Pingback: Selection* of Field Leaders, Part I (*Third Stewardship Practice) | Impact Field Leader

  2. Pingback: Onboarding Overview* ( *Third Stewardship Practice) | Impact Field Leader

Leave a Reply