There are many reasons for needing new field leaders on a regular basis, in addition to the regular emergencies that demand an immediate replacement: expansion of ministry, illness of field leaders or their immediate or extended family, change of family needs, leader burn-out, and sensing a misalignment of one’s personal call with field role. These are just a few reasons. The need for “field leaders in waiting” was confirmed by IMPACT research data: 57% of the 277 field leaders who participated in the research had been in their positions three years or less.
Before an organization creates a strategy to develop prospective field leaders, developmental needs of a field leader must be identified, for it is only then that targeted planning can be initiated. Some developmental needs will require a long-term development strategy while others can be handled through “just-in-time” training. Developing a leadership reservoir within the organization is the first stewardship practice to have effective field leaders.
A. Developmental Needs: Let’s look at a few categories of developmental requirements. Use these six categories as starting places and then create your own list. In my mind, each of these areas has a critical spiritual dimension which you will want to explore.
1. Personal Holistic Health: This includes such things as spiritual, emotional, marriage and family health, including work-life balance.
A cross-cultural ministry assignment exposes everyone to many new things: new stressors, new temptations, new opportunities and new resources. The challenge is to maintain spiritual and emotional health as well as life balance in the midst of the new. Often our spiritual rhythms have been upset, or our former favored spiritual health help (e.g. a key person, worship style) is absent. In addition, the language and cultural learning demands that continually force us into a “child-like” ignorance and dependence can weaken our spiritual, emotional and marital health. Developing holistic resilience in these areas is a critical foundation for effective field leaders, as the role will add new stressors and challenges. Unhealthy facets of a missionary’s life do not become healthy through an appointment to a field leader role. And Satan will be sure to test fragile areas early and often.
2. Self-Understanding: This area includes the self-awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses and how these realities relate to leader behaviors, relationships, and ministry
An unanticipated benefit of serving cross-culturally can be a deeper understanding of oneself, one’s heritage, and one’s view of God. The familiar is replaced with the confusing and unfamiliar, requiring new responses, understandings and even values. With the right colleagues and coaches, these experiences provide a great opportunity to develop a greater awareness of one’s God-given DNA and preferences. This awareness also can become a starting place for in-depth growth and change, including the understanding and experiencing of God.
Another source for growth is found in one’s family of origin. This can be a great asset or a major source of weakness if issues are unexamined. For most it is a mixture of both. But this self-awareness of one’s design and family background are great foundational tools for field leaders, providing a basis for understanding one’s own limits/liabilities and appreciating the vast array of gifts/assets in others.
3. Cross-cultural effectiveness and credibility: This area includes language and cultural competence within organizational and ministry cultures.
While cross-cultural competence is foundational for a long-term effective ministry, it is absolutely vital for the field leader. It provides the bedrock for earning credibility from colleagues, both missionary and national. It establishes a foundation for developmental ministry oversight. In addition, it provides the cement for engaging with local partners that results in long-term Kingdom impact. This is even more vital for those who lead multi-cultural teams. Effective field leadership is very closely tied to the local cultural context and corresponding competence.
4. People and relationship formation: This category includes the ability to understand and work with an array of people so community is developed and individuals can grow and be released.
Developing relationships in a cross-cultural context is different than in one’s home context. It requires greater intentionality to build solid relationships and avoid pitfalls. The Western task orientation, useful for setting and accomplishing goals, often interferes with deep relationship building, the foundation for long-lasting spiritual and church community fruit. The credibility that comes from robust cross-cultural relationships is a stepping stone for many thorny discussions with local partners, a consistent duty of field leaders.
Additionally, the 21st Century reality of multi-cultural teams requires a robust ability to develop inter-cultural relationships and manage the inevitable misunderstandings and conflicts. In all field leaders’ demands the ability to develop relationships and maintain open communication is a key asset. Relationships are often the crucible in which in-depth spiritual change happens for missionaries as well as local believers.
5. Followership: This sphere focuses on the ability of a person to effectively work with others and thrive within an organizational framework.
Some leadership authorities believe that great leaders first learn to be great followers. But great followership is not automatic; it is developed. Missionaries are often self-motivated people with a heightened sense of calling. Many are driven by that calling, believing that human leaders have little to contribute to their ministry. Such autonomous individuals seldom become effective leaders who can develop and engage others. They often increase the conflict within the group, without ever perceiving their own cultural baggage and personal blind spots.
Effective followership is nurtured by caring steward-leaders, who help individuals find their God-given passion, help turn it into focused practical service and assist in evaluating the efficacy of such service. Such caring steward-leaders encourage the followers, but also hold them accountable. In such a process, the follower’s heart and gifts are revealed. In many ways such oversight is the best preparation for field leadership as the developmental needs #1-4 become part of relational dialogue, resulting in holistic health, practical wisdom, competent service and robust relationships.
6. Organizational leadership: The issues here are helping the new field leader be an effective steward of the mission and values, as well as the people, partners and other resources.
Being an effective missionary doesn’t automatically translate into becoming an effective field leader. Having a position of organizational leadership, whether at team, country, regional, or global level, requires additional understandings and competencies to be effective and sustain holistic health and balance. These challenges range from supervising people and overseeing legal and financial processes, to leading teams and facilitating strategic thinking, just to name a few. They require additional training and coaching. To neglect offering such tools for success is to hand-cuff new field leaders and reduce their capacity to be effective and avoid burn out.
B. Leader Preparation Strategies:
The core principle for creating a field leader reservoir is this: use development strategies that match the prospective leaders’ developmental needs. Short-cut or expedient development strategies do not bring the fruit required for effectual development of prospective field leaders.
Today, the most frequently used strategy for field leader development is training courses. While a training course is a helpful developmental tool, one time input has substantial limits for long-term character development.
Many skills for field leadership can be taught and coached just before a field leader is placed in the job through an onboarding process. Such efforts can be done in a brief time if the first five developmental needs, listed above, have been developed over a longer period. The organizational leadership component (Need #6) is really the frosting on the cake. “Developmental Needs #1-5” are the cake. The organizational leadership development process can be accomplished through onboarding (see onboarding posts for details).
“Needs #1-5” require a different approach. These areas are character-based and require prior long-term input, dialogue, reflection and accountability. Meeting these developmental needs of all staff require careful nurturing through intentional oversight from present field leaders at the team, country or regional levels.
A team leader who provides thoughtful and consistent oversight of “Needs #1-5” is preparing people for the next step in organizational leadership or ministry. Most field leaders cannot provide the full range of growth needs by themselves, but will need to use other people within and outside the organization to provide coaching, mentoring and training in the identified growth areas. But the team leader cannot delegate the developmental accountability.
A tried and true long-term strategy is “stretch assignments”. Once a mission leader sees potential for a field leadership role in a person, the leader can use work assignments (short-term or one-time) for a potential leader to demonstrate his or her ability. This can allow the person to have a go at a field leadership task. The task might be leading a prayer time, directing a task group or coaching another team member. This helps the prospective person to gain a sense of ministry through the field leader role and clarify one’s sense of calling to such a role.
So building a leader reservoir within an organization is more complex than having a leader training program, especially if we are concerned about character issues. It is a multifaceted process, but not beyond the resources of a mission organization. It does require the thoughtful development of present field leaders so they can provide developmental oversight to the missionaries in their stewardship. If this stewardship is effectively implemented, the organization will have individuals waiting in reserve, ready to become field leaders and willing to begin an onboarding process towards immediate effectiveness and balance.
Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership said the following:
Perhaps the most strategic and fruitful work of modern missionaries is to help leaders of tomorrow develop their spiritual potential. This task requires careful thought, wise planning, endless patience, and genuine Christian love. It cannot be haphazard, hurried, or ill conceived. Our Lord devoted the greater part of His three years of ministry to molding the characters and spirits of His disciples.
Comments: Whether this post took a different approach than you expected or not, write a response on your thoughts and experience in developing a leader reservoir. A short post like this cannot go into the details of such a complex process, but it can get the dialogue started. Please join.