How God Makes a Leader
by Dave Ferguson
“Wow, so that’s how leadership happens?” was my first reaction to reading Robert Clinton’s book The Making of a Leader. For me, Clinton was the very first to explain some of the predictable lessons every leader must learn and some consistent developmental stages every leader will go thru. Since reproducing leaders is so important I want to build on the foundation that Clinton gave us and spend some time on this topic of how God makes a leader.
For those of you who are brand new to leadership and ready to do whatever God wants, this will be helpful, because it will give you some insight and direction into what you can expect as you grow in leadership. Others of you who are veteran leaders and have been leading for a few years, I believe what I’m about to share will be an affirmation of your leadership journey and a tool you can use for developing more leaders. Finally, some of you are emerging leaders. What God wants is to expand your influence and difference-making capacity, and my hope is that I will give you the courage to take the next step.
As a preface to this conversation, know this—long before we ever say “yes” to a leadership role God has been at work! He is at work preparing you for leadership and influence. In Ephesians 2:10 it tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Did you catch that? There is a “good work” that God prepared in advance for you to do! And here is the first of five phases that emerging leaders go through as God prepares them for leadership and the good work they are to do.
PHASE 1: THE SOVEREIGN FOUNDATION
When I was in sixth grade, I ran for President of the student council. And I knew that in order for me to win, I had to get the majority of the votes of all the fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Hickory Elementary School. I began to strategize my campaign: Since I was in sixth grade, I would make sure I got the sixth grade vote, but who could I get to be my fourth grade campaign manager? Jon (my brother) was in fourth grade!
When I started my first “business” as a kid, it was a lawn mowing business called D & J Lawn Mowing. D & J stood for Dave and Jon. As I look back now, I can see that God was already at work laying sovereign foundations for the “good work” he wanted to do in my life. And a big part of my leadership would come in partnership with my brother Jon. When we started Community Christian Church, it was in partnership with Jon. When we started the NewThing Network, it was in partnership with Jon.
Often it is the bad stuff of life or what appears to be a total disaster that God uses as a sovereign foundation for the leadership he is developing in you. It was about mid-way through my senior year of college that I got into a relational nightmare with the college administration. I was not only a student but also the Director of Recruitment for this small college. We were setting all kinds of records for new student recruitment, and I was totally loving it. But when I came to an impasse with the administration, it was clear that I would lose a job that I loved and leave a school that was like home to me. It felt like a total disaster. But God was at work. If it had not been for that disaster, I would have never learned some very important lessons. I never would have gone to southern California, where I met Tim Sutherland 20 years ago, who is now the point-person on the CCC teaching team. I might never have started a church in Chicagoland.
Some of you come from broken homes where some really bad stuff happened. Others of you have survived struggling marriages or been through the disaster of divorce and some of us live “one day at a time” as we recover from addictions. All this stuff will be used and redeemed by God as part of His sovereign foundations for the “good work He prepared in advance for you to do.”
PHASE 2: SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
For many, this occurs when you find your way back to God. Long before he was the apostle Paul, he was known as Saul, and God was at work laying the sovereign foundations for his leadership. He grew up as a kid being taught the scriptures and all the Jewish traditions. He also had an incredible education including the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic & Latin languages. This prepared him to write such scholarly works as the book of Romans and become the most influential theologian in the history of Christianity. But after the sovereign foundations came the spiritual awakening on the Damascus Road. It was there that Jesus spoke to him in a great light saying, “Saul, Saul…why are you persecuting me?” It was then that Saul became Paul and joins the mission of Jesus. Many times the spiritual awakening occurs when you find your way back to God and make commitment to be a Christ-follower. It was almost immediately after I baptized a new believer that they came to me and said, “Dave, now what do I do?” He was asking because he knew that God has a mission and he had an influential role to play. For me, I had a been a Christ-follower for a few years when in college it just became clear to me that the best thing I could trade my life for was to help people find their way back to God. And the best way to accomplish this is to plant a church! That was a spiritual awakening for me.
So, the spiritual awakening can happen at conversion or it can be an eye-opening experience of your purpose in the mission of Jesus long after conversion. And then comes the risk…
PHASE 3: “THE RISK”
When we started Community Christian Church I was 25; Jon was 23, and basically it was just a huge risk! We had no money, no people, no facility and no sense! We just wanted to help people find their way back to God!
In the making of a leader there will always be a point in time when God will ask you to take a risk. Risk is what faith feels like. And God will ask you to begin serving; start contributing financially; to say “yes” to becoming an apprentice leader of a group or a team. And you will not be sure. You will feel un-confident. It will feel risky!
In the last year, I have seen my small group develop and release two new leaders to start new groups. First, John said “yes” to leading at CCC for the first time after a brief apprenticeship. Then John brought on Brian as his apprentice, who said “yes” to leading at CCC for the first time. Both of these guys are amazingly gifted, but I’m sure that it felt a little risky saying “yes”.
One more example is Beth. She is one of the amazing leaders in CCC’s Community 4:12 ministry that partners with Brady Elementary School in East Aurora. Over the past 24 months, she has continually taken more and more risks for Jesus. During that time she moved from volunteer to apprentice leader to leader to coach. And talk about risk: Beth quit her job to serve as a full-time volunteer leader to oversee all of the major events of Community 4:12. Community 4:12 Director Kirsten says “She is the most remarkable recruiter and people-developer I have ever seen. I just can’t say enough great things about her and how she has grown as a leader in the past year!!!”
As I look around our office (we have an open office concept), I see person after person who took huge paycuts to join our team and/or raised part of their support or chose to work for free for awhile. I think almost everyone on our staff has taken a risk to be here.
PHASE 4: AFFIRMATION
If you start a group and it grows into a real community of people who do life together, find their way back to God and experience real life change—that is affirmation.
If you serve in an area and you can tell that you are making a difference—that is affirmation. Affirmation might come from the simple observation that what you are leading is growing and accomplishing the mission, or it might come as a compliment from someone else.
I remember a conversation I had with Wayne Cordeiro a few years ago. I went along with Dave Richa (who is a good friend and pastor of a NewThing Church in the Denver area—Jacobs Well Community Church) to a New Hope Practicum, where we got to follow Wayne around for about a week. We just did whatever he did. By the end of the week, I felt like I really knew him and his ministry. And I also felt like he knew me. It was a very positive experience. But at the end of the week, Wayne took me aside, placed his hand on shoulder and said, “Dave, I believe that there is a real anointing on your life as Christian leader!” Wow! For me to receive that kind of affirmation from someone who knew all about Christian leadership was big. That affirmation gave me new kind of confidence that God was making me into a leader.
PHASE 5: CONVERGENCE
The last phase that all leaders-in-the-making hope to experience I call convergence. This is the phase where everything from your past (good and bad), your gift-mix and the passions that God has placed within you all come together, and you realize, “I’m in the right place, at the right time, doing the right work.” A leader knows they are entering this phase when there is a growing awareness that they are doing “the good work God prepared in advance for them to do.” I recently had a CCC leader remark, “If ever there were a time I was 100% sure of being right where God wants me, now is it.” That sounds like a leader who is experiencing convergence.
How about you? The Bible promises us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Are you allowing God to accomplish the good work He prepared for you to do? Do you believe God can use your past to set a sovereign foundation for your future? Have you had that spiritual awakening that when God birthed you He birthed you with a dream? Are you willing to take that risk to expand your influence? Are you acknowledging the affirmation from others or the results of your service? Maybe God is making a leader in you.
Dave’s role at Community is Lead pastor, which means he is responsible for providing the visionary leadership for both the church and NewThing, a network of reproducing churches. He loves working with the remarkable group of leaders and artists that make up his staff. He is married to an amazing woman and friend, Sue, and is crazy about his three kids – Amy, Josh & Caleb. With his extra time, he loves coaching the kids’ sports teams, running, reading and writing.