Blessed to be a Blessing

The Leadership Baton – Forman, Jones, and Miller

The Leadership Baton by Rowland Forman, Jeff Jones, and Bruce Miller is a practical guide to leadership development.  There are many different leadership development programs out there but what makes The Leadership Baton unique is the “Church Based” approach that they take.  The authors have a strong believe that, “the church has a God-given capacity to engage in whole-life leadership development (25).”  They agree with many others who have stated that, “the church is only one generation away from extinction (22)” and the solution to this problem comes not from outside sources such as seminary and training groups but from an in-house leadership development culture at every local church.  Their book is divided into three parts; Vision for Church based training, Process, and Implementation.

The most important part of Church-Based training is the culture of the church itself.  “Leadership development has more to do with who they are as a church than what particular things they do (30).”  This culture is prepared from the top down with any church’s current leadership.  The elders of a church must be willing to grow and develop and most importantly, always be looking for potential new leaders to empower and raise up to release into ministry.  The Leadership Baton gets its title from this constant searching mentality.  Their idea is that they give each leader a relay baton, and it is that leader’s responsibility to pass it off to someone else.  Then when that individual completes the church-based training for leadership they are given a baton to pass off to someone else.  This system is effective because it recognizes leaders, encourages them, rewards them, and challenges them all at the same time.    The authors believe that this mirrors the structure that Jesus and the early Church used.  They trace this “apprenticeship” method from the first century on and show that our current form of leadership development (seminary) is a product of the enlightenment and birth of the university.  They do not believe that seminary training is bad but that “Local churches have both neglected the training of leaders within the congregation and largely abdicated to professional schools for the responsibility for training pastoral leaders – and this has had profound consequences for the church (48).”  Because the leadership responsibility is placed on another intuition there are usually insufficient numbers of godly leaders for local churches, many local churches are often pragmatically driven without deep theological understanding, and governing board member are unequipped to shepherd.  The solution presented in The Leadership Baton is their leadership development curriculum and philosophy of leadership development.  In some places the book starts to read like an advertisement but their system seems to be well-suited for the local church development model.

Their process involves starting with the end in mind.  The best place to begin leadership development is to ask, “What kind of leaders do we want to create?”  They state their goal, “By God’s grace, we want to produce wise leaders who are sound in their knowledge of God’s Word and his world, strong in character and compassion, and skillful in ministry and mission (62).”  The Church-Based training focuses not just on knowledge but on creating wise leaders, Godly leaders, and skilled leaders.  The key is to not just get leaders full of Bible knowledge but Biblical wisdom.  They want leaders with Godly character and believe that this is the key to successful leadership.  Finally they want to create leaders that have the hands to equip others.  The authors strongly believe, “We don’t develop leaders; God does (65).”  But we can create a strategy that provides an avenue for God’s development.  The Church-Based program basically revolves around a combination of graduated courses, a biblical community approach, and purposeful spiritual mentoring.  They discuss each of these in individual chapters that have a very practical, step by step approach.

The implementation section is very practical as well; including surveys, discussion questions, and readiness inventories.  The implementation phase begins with the church eldership.  “A key responsibility of a pastor is to spearhead efforts to equip board member to be effective in their role as church leaders (134).”  They believe that this kind of training will do away with the “lobbying” that happens in church leadership by creating leaders that can prayerfully discern spiritual issues at work in a congregation and break the cycle of the board functioning as an “approved” or “denied” stamp on a pastor’s idea.  To effectively empower a church board the process must be intentional, regular, and communal.  Have goals of what you want the board to become and measure progress.  Make it a regular ongoing time (it must be more frequent than monthly or community is lost).  Most importantly, take training out of the business meeting; it will always get pushed aside by budget or other agenda items.  “Developing and unifying your board is one of the best possible investments of a pastor’s time (144).”  Developing emerging leaders takes a similar approach.  It is best led by the church leaders and elders because the leaders that have gone through the program can now develop others and “pass the baton” off to future generations.  There are many different approaches to designing a strategy for implementing this at a local church level and that will take a different shape in each local church.  The authors offer an important reminder; “It’s easy to get so busy in doing ministry that we fail to devote attention to developing others.  Yet, the development of people is our real job – even more important than accomplishing the tasks (155)…. If we are not doing this, then what are we doing?  Developing people always has been and always will be the church’s most important job (156).”

In the final sections of The Leadership Baton the authors propose that Church based training could take the place of seminary in a post-modern society where formal education does not hold as much power.  I am skeptical of this approach but see their point.  The Church-Based training philosophy helps the church operate in the way that God intended it to; making disciples who make disciples.  I still believe that there will always be a need for the highly trained specialists that seminaries can train.  The church based approach (not necessarily curriculum) has already seen much success in the “mega-church” world as evidenced churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback that predominantly hire from within.  The Leadership Baton would be an excellent read for any church leader that wants to see what a leadership development program could look like.  Its focus on practicality and implementation makes it an attractive choice for a program that a local church can build off of to become more effective in disciple making.

Rowland Foreman is the director of curriculum development for the Center for Church-Based Training.

Jeff Jones is the Executive director of the Center for Church-Based Training

Bruce Miller is the chairman of the board of directors of the Center for Church-Based Training and senior pastor of McKinney Fellowship Bible Church.


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