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10 Truths about Leadership Development with Brent Dolfo

August 19, 2014


            At Leadership Network, Brent Dolfo gives oversight to all Leadership Development communities.  He’s worked with churches of all sizes and most denominations—Anglican, Lutheran, Independent Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Assembly of God, to name a few.  Brent has been exposed, through this work, to hundreds of churches with healthy and effective leadership development cultures and processes.  In these churches’ commonalities is a lesson for all churches struggling to strengthen their own leadership development.  On July 21, 2014, Brent shared that lesson with the eleven parish teams of our first cohort.

The Top Ten Things True of Large Protestant Churches with Great Leadership Development

1.      Each church has a crisis of scope—a vision so large that it cannot be realized with the paid staff. 

In the Evangelical world, many of these churches are planting other churches or developing multiple sites.  Others are looking to broaden and deepen their impact on the city around them—such that their “fingerprints” are all over the community.  In the Catholic world, Brent suggests, the shortage of priests might be construed as a positive thing; the only way our churches will realize their vision is through the development of volunteer leaders.

2.      Each constantly prioritizes the development of news leaders.

Often, the passion for leadership development resides in the head pastor, who has considerable influence on the overall church culture.  The passion could also come from the “second-in-command,” the “Executive Pastor” in Evangelical speak—but whoever assumes responsibility for leadership development cannot share that responsibility.  “Someone has to drive it everyday,” Brent told the teams. “There needs to be someone pounding the table to see leaders developed.”

3.      Each has embraced the idea that building multiplying leaders for the kingdom is their kingdom work.

“Sundays come along with alarming frequency,” Brent joked—but the work we do for worship should not distract us from developing leaders.  He cites Jesus and the Apostle Paul as examples.  Even in the midst of many other “things to do”, Jesus constantly developed leaders, and those following Him were ready to carry on the ministry after his death.  Paul, similarly, was never without an apprentice (the scripture often reads “Paul and…”).  Simply put, Brent said, “If we don’t build disciples and leaders, we lose.” 

He encouraged the teams to pay special attention to what they rewarded and what they tolerated—both of which become part of the church culture.  It’s one thing to aspire to value leadership development, and another to really do it.  The teams should ask themselves, “Do we have a value of leadership development?  Are we rewarding it?  Or is its absence something we are tolerating?”

4.      Each senior leader and his/her team have agreed on a single definition of “leadership”.

“Leadership”, Brent said, has many different definitions, and a team needs to know it is defining leadership in a single, consistent way.  That definition, in turn, must match the DNA of the parish; in each of our churches, we develop a culture of what a leader knows, what a leader does, and who these leaders are as people.  To aid the teams in developing or refining their own definitions, Brent offered two examples.

·         Chik-fil-A uses an acronym: SERVE.  Leaders should See and shape the future, Engage and develop others, Reinvent continually, Value results and relationships, and Embody the values. 

·         Manna Church of Fayetteville, NC has a “red light/green light” model.  The green light is something Manna’s leaders to be about (e.g. figure out how to develop kids who love Jesus).  The red light identifies behavior leaders should never do (e.g. redo curriculum until you’ve checked with someone).  This system gives leaders a bit of a guideline.

5.      Each church builds and hires staff teams that are evaluated not on their individual contributions alone, but on their ability to develop and produce leaders.

We all love great performers, Brent said, but we need to remind ourselves that our greatest performers are the ones who have developed future leaders.

6.      Each builds leaders from within.  

Brent shares an old mantra, one Manna Church has adopted: Everything you need to reach your city is already in your church.  In the Catholic context, not many pastors come from within the parish, but the basic idea will still translate.  If parishes reoriented themselves to look within—at the skilled and willing men and women in the pews—they’d find many of their leadership needs already met.

7.      Each understands that apprenticing the right people is more important than the right curriculum.

In developing leaders, Brent said, content plays a much smaller role than learning, experience, and apprenticeship.  Each member of staff should ask, “Who is my Timothy?”—and be able to identify at least 3 of them.

8.   Each creates an environment in which failure is not fatal.  The question may not be what is “excellent” but what is “good enough.”  Brent introduced a process for invitation to leadership based on discernment and encouragement.  Staff should pray and look for leaders of the group—sometimes seeing in these men and women what they do not see in themselves.  The actual invitation, called an “I see in you” moment, should highlight the spiritual gifts staff have seen in this person and connect them to a mission of the church. 

9.     Each uses an apprenticing model.

Brent shares the Canadian slogan for Home Depot: “You can do it.  We can help.”  This same basic principle is at work in any kind of apprenticeship.  In one model of apprenticeship, used by Community Christian Church of Naperville, IL, has five steps:

  • I do, you watch, we talk.
  • I do, you help, we talk.
  • You do, I help, we talk.
  • You do, I watch, we talk.
  • The new leader assumes his/her own apprentice and repeated the process.

10.  Each church has thought through—and implemented—a specific process.

Culture will trump system every time, Brent says.  Even if you have a great system in place, it will not be effective in developing leaders unless the underlying culture is hospitable.  Brent advised the teams to build processes that a) support a culture of leadership development and b) begin with the end in mind.  If a parish determines how many leaders it needs at each level of leadership, it can design a process to get those leaders.

Perhaps in response to the expressions on our faces, Brent reassured the teams: leadership development culture and processes do not take root overnight.  Their design and implementation happen carefully, sometimes over a period of years. 



Our scribe, Keith Young, graphically summarizes Brent’s talk.


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