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I was meeting with a young pastor who wants to grow as a leader. He lives in small town. He is young, but his staff is even younger. There are not a lot of seasoned leaders in his church – or at least not that he has discovered. (I usually think there are leaders who simply haven’t been tapped, but I understood his dilemma.)

The church looks to him to lead and, wisely, he knows he needs to develop his leadership skills.

His question was simple.

Who invests in me?

He recognizes the need to grow as a leader, but he’s not sure where to find it. His church is in a recovery mode financially, so he doesn’t feel he can afford (or doesn’t think it can) to send him to conferences or hire a coach.

(Side note – when I arrived at my last church we were in a very difficult financial condition. Budgets had been cut, but in my opinion we had cut some things we shouldn’t have cut  – such as marketing and staff development. But I understand this is a natural reaction in difficult times; especially in the church. Churches notoriously will keep people on payroll who shouldn’t be and cut funding for items which would actually fuel growth. But that’s another blog post.)

So, what could my pastor friend do? How can he develop as a leader inexpensively and maybe even free?

Here are 3 suggestions I gave him:

Form a peer leadership group

There are people in the community who own small businesses. They meet a payroll. They have guided an organization to success. Even in the smallest communities, someone owns (or manages) the local grocery store or serves as the bank brach manager. For a group like this, I like to keep it relatively small with no more than 12 people. And 6 might even be a better number.

The group would share stories, talk about experiences, and learn from each other. You’ll have to spend time getting to know each other and developing trust, but it will be mutually beneficial. I have had such groups numerous times in my career. These groups are usually comprised of believers – although not professional ministers. By the way, in these meetings, I’m trying to learn leadership and management practices – not theology.

Start a book club

Recruit leaders in the community to read a leadership book together. These can be mid-level managers or senior executives. The learning is from the book being studied and the reflection of the group based on personal experiences. In this type group, the size can be as any size between 2 and 25 people. The larger groups often provide the broader range of perspective.

The only cost is the book. Everyone buys their own. You can assign one person to lead each session. They guide discussion on what they learned from the book in that chapter or section and open the group for discussion. With a good enough book people will discuss it and the learning experience is rich. For this group, you might use a Christian leadership book (such as a John Maxwell book), but I wouldn’t limit the group to believers only – or even dictate a Christian book. It’s a great way to interact with the community in a non-threatening way, while gaining valuable leadership and management insights.

Ask a community leader to mentor you

There are leaders in every community (usually multiple leaders) who are further along than you are in the process of leadership. There will always be leaders in the community from whom you can learn. Always. While some may disagree with me, this usually is a believer for me, but doesn’t have to be. I want them to be honest, moral and have a good reputation, but knowing in advance their specific walk with Christ is not a prerequisite for this type mentor. (I have multiples in my life, depending on the need.) Again, I’m seeking development in the areas of leadership and management – and, I think my presence with them actually influences them for good. I have other spiritual mentors.

You don’t have to live in a large town or spend a lot of money to develop as a leader. You simply have to possess a desire to grow and be intentional.

What you’re looking for is people skills – how to handle conflict – how to delegate and how to motivate and cast a vision. You can learn those things hearing from other leaders’ experiences. Leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive. The key is to be intentional.

Do my suggestions trigger others you have?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Jim Duggan says:

    Three excellent suggestion as always, Ron. I have participated in all three and found them to be immensely helpful.

    Mentoring is a lost art. I never had the blessings of having a formal mentoring relationship in my early ministry years and had to learn a lot "the hard way." I have also discovered that a mentor can also be an online source. I gain much help, encouragement, and direction from online sources. While these may lack the "personal" investment, these men and women have proven to be a tremendous resource in helping me grow personally and professionally.

    Your blog is one of the most beneficial I have found. Thank you for taking the time to expand your ministry by sharing with those of us who may never have the opportunity to meet you personally. You are a blessing to The Kingdom.

  • 3dsemulator says:

    Admiring the persistence you put into your site and detailed information you provide. It's awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same outdated rehashed material. Excellent read!

  • stevecuss says:

    I love the peer group suggestion. A few of us gathered once a month around the basic questions of "where are you stuck" and "what recurring challenges do you face" and it was a huge encouragement to us.

    Also, I gotta say, podcasts have been a game changer for leadership development. They turn any commute into an educational opportunity

  • Eric Scott says:

    I see your points and agree with everything but I believe leaders need to experience real life problems and get the chance to develop solutions—they need to be in the drivers seat. For instance, one can read about surfing night and day for ten years, but when they actually get on a surfboard they'll most likely fall and realize their formal training was only half of their education.

  • Jody says:

    These points are great Ron. Those of us in ministry often forget the wealth of knowledge we can gain from leaders in our community. I have served in a couple smaller churches with little or no budget. For me reading has always been a huge source of growth. Now I always recommend to younger leaders to follow blogs and listen to Podcasts of those who are great leaders. Much of what can be heard at conferences/trainings can be found in these avenues as well (not to minimize the other benefits of a conference). Technology and media have come so far since I began in ministry. The possibilities for learning and growing from being somewhat mentored by leaders through available media outlets are endless.

  • kmac4him

    We led people who led other people. This kind of looked like a pyramid of accountability! When you are leading people who are leading, it is always really good to strengthen the bottom of the pyramid and the best way to do that is through encouragement. Nothing encourages people more than those at the top of the accountability pyramid listening to those at the bottom, because basically they are bearing a huge burden of upholding and carrying out the vision and they matter. So you huddle up and you take the pyramid that is shaped like a triangle by layers of title and you make it a circle where everyone is equal and there are no titles! Huddling up really helps because if you consistently add value to those you are leading, they naturally add value to those they are leading. No better way to be contagious. So we Huddle Up as a family and set an atmosphere of humility and servanthood and we ask questions and we listen, we actively listen: How can we better serve you? What are we doing so right by your perspective? What are we doing so wrong by your perspective? What helps you? What hurts you? You matter to us, so how can we show that more? What can we do to better help you hold up your part of the commitment to this vision?