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Michael Fletcher: Everyone Can Be a Leader—Part 2

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Michael Fletcher explains the advantage of raising up leaders from within your church culture.

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Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview with Michael Fletcher, leadership consultant, senior pastor of Manna Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina and author of Empowering Leadership: How a Leadership Development Culture Builds Better Leaders Faster (Thomas Nelson, January 2018).

In Part 1, Fletcher talked about his own path to leadership at Manna and the moment he realized the church needed to become a place aimed at developing other leaders. In Part 2, he dives deeper into the specifics of leadership development at Manna.

If leaders are visionaries, does it make sense to have a church full of them? Don’t we also need people who are heads down and focused simply on serving?

Of course it’s OK to have people like that, but it depends on how you define leadership. You’re saying leadership is the person in charge. But I think the leader is the first person to do what’s right. It’s about teaching people to take responsibility. We stole Chick-fil-A’s leadership model, SERVE. When people step up and join a serve team, there’s some measure of leadership. You’re directing and guiding people. We hope you bring other people onto the team. That’s a leadership thing. So yeah, I don’t expect people to be a full-time pastor or CEO. But I guarantee you, if you ask any CEO, “Would you like all of your people to take responsibility, or would you only like half of them to take responsibility?” they’ll tell you, “I wish everyone would.”

Describe “shoulder tapping” and why it’s the only form of volunteer recruitment—and therefore leadership development—your church uses.

When you make mass appeals, you appeal to people’s desire to be significant and to belong. What happens is, you throw out the red carpet to everyone who is struggling with those things, and they show up and say, “I’m here to help you in your ministry.” But they haven’t been developed. They don’t understand their gifting, their calling, any of that. They’re not in the leadership development pipeline.

The second thing that happens is the more spiritually mature people don’t show up. You think, Why aren’t they here? Well, because every mass appeal has at its root an appeal to need, but leaders don’t respond to need. They respond to vision. When you give a mass appeal, people select you. When you shoulder tap, you select them. And if you’re leading something, hopefully you’ve been trained and mentored, and you understand what your ministry is about. You know the best person to recruit. That’s what shoulder tapping is: inviting people into a mentoring relationship that will ultimately, hopefully, lead them to becoming a leader themselves. It’s not that we don’t have a heart for the person who’s struggling. Of course we do. But in our growth track, we want to get them into a small group that leads them toward healing and helps build them in those areas of insecurity.

You distinguish between a leadership development culture and a volunteer culture, which is where you recruit using mass appeals. Is there ever a time when a volunteer culture and more traditional forms of recruitment are appropriate, say, for a smaller church or a new church plant, when you’re just desperate to get work done?

The smaller the church, the easier shoulder tapping is, because you know the people. So it’s a bad idea in a small church to preach a sermon on volunteering when you know those people. You just need to tap them on the shoulder to get them in the right spot. To use Jim Collins’ terminology in Good to Great, we don’t just want them on the bus—we want them in the right seat on the bus. So if I get somebody counting money and doing the back-of-the-house stuff who is sanguine, outgoing and a people person, they won’t last long. They’re going to be frustrated, and their experience of church is going to turn sour. Same if I put somebody who is really introverted at the front door: They dread it. So it’s about getting people into the right seat on the bus.

Now, there are some places where the volunteer thing is helpful. We use mass appeals for short-term projects like outreaches because we’re not inviting you to serve long-term in a ministry or to lead a small group. We have sign-up sheets at the kiosk for those who are interested. This is a great place to go if you’re a leader on a serve team, because you can meet new people to see if they might not fit in your lane.

You’ve created an easily replicated three-step process for leadership development—discover, develop, deploy—that creates what you call a leadership development incubator. Talk a little bit about that.

What normally happens is, you go to a conference, you find a couple of staff members you like, you pull them aside, you develop a relationship and you hire them from somebody else. The bad news with that, of course, is they don’t have your culture. If they’re a strong leader, they’re going to lead out of the culture they brought to you. They become a culture carrier. But it’s not your culture; it’s somebody else’s culture.

The best idea is to raise them up from within because they already carry your culture. That doesn’t mean you can’t go outside for some hires. A lot of people say they hire most of their people from within. Really what they’re saying is that they hire the younger, lower-level staff. But how many pastors are built inside? That’s really the question. What happens is, when a person who is a church member gets on staff and then moves up and becomes pastor, they create what we call an upward draft. There’s this movement, and they open up spaces behind them. In fact, that’s why we have guys right now serving on staff as janitors, because they just want to get a foot in the door and get around ministry while they’re in Bible college.

I think God will send you the people you need, and it’s your job to develop them. They make the best leaders. And then, of course, we send those leaders out. We’re in a military town, where about 70 percent of our church has ties to the military. Leaders in our church are deployed around the world regularly. So right now we’re in the process of planting a version of Manna Church near every U.S. military base in the world.

Anyone in leadership knows the importance of strong vision casting. But you also say that culture is critical. How do culture and vision interact when it comes to developing leaders, and why does that matter?

Oh yeah, culture is more important than vision. And the sad thing is, most people don’t even know they have a culture. Or people say, “Our culture’s fine. We’ve got a good culture. We love people; they love us, so just give us the pipeline.” Now, we’ve given away literally hundreds and hundreds of copies of our pipeline. It’s even in the back of the book. It’s not the pipeline, though, that they need most. The thing is, without pressure, everything reverts to form. So everything will always go back to your culture, and if you don’t have a leadership development culture, then developing a pipeline is not going to work long-term. It’ll never become natural, because culture is the most powerful thing.

What are some of the biggest problems with ineffective leadership development in churches around the country?

You’ve got to have a process to take people off the street, into church and all the way up to leadership. But it has to be simple. There’s got to be an organic side to that process. It’s got to be life on life, person on person, and that’s messy. Now, people who are naturally comfortable with messy don’t like processes. And people who naturally develop processes don’t like messy. But the truth is, it takes a little bit of both. I mean, Jesus went up on a mountain, talked to his Father, came down and chose 12. We know he had a bunch of disciples, but he chose those guys. He’s got this messy part where he’s with these guys, and then he’s got this process. Everything Jesus did was designed to develop the 12. That’s why he didn’t heal this one, but he did heal that one—because there was a lesson in it for the 12. I think it’s tough to find that line and walk it, but I think that’s where the real work is.

What leadership possibilities can be realized when we switch our mindset from building the church to building people?

[They’re] endless. Now there’s a risk involved in this, and it’s a gut-check for a pastor. Because if you train people to develop into their gifting and calling, some or almost all of what they get involved in may not be inside your walls. They may get really burdened about the homeless, and some of your best leaders may walk out the door. Not to leave the church, of course, but to pour themselves into helping homeless people. When that happens, the church the way Jesus intended it really takes over. It becomes organic.

There are ministries at Manna Church that we used to call institutionally driven versus gift-driven. Your passion for the homeless, for example, attracts people, so now you’re the leader of a small group or some ministry that’s spending their extra time ministering to them. And I think, Wow, I really would have loved to have this person as a leader on the serve team. Or, She would have been great on stage playing piano, but she’s given all her time to that. But that’s what church is really supposed to be. We have small groups all over the place doing stuff that has nothing to do with the organization called Manna Church. But it has everything to do with the organization called Manna Church if Manna Church is about empowering people to change the world. But if Manna Church is about getting butts in the seats, then I’ve hurt myself. When you build people instead of building the church, the kingdom possibilities are endless.

People get excited about this. They love their church. I mean, it’s not like we’re the only church on the planet. I’m not trying to boast. But they love their church because they’re discovering themselves and who they’re supposed to be, who they’re called to be. When you’re in the right seat on the bus, you’re happy. When you use your spiritual gifts, it gives you energy. When you’re outside of your spiritual gifts, it wears you out.

How does leadership development intersect with a solid discipleship program? And along the same lines, how does it intersect with church multiplication?

Discipleship, mentoring, leadership development … they’re all the same thing to me. But I don’t use the word discipleship because there are so many books written about what discipleship is, so much disagreement. People have different perspectives on it. Some people say, well discipleship is always one-on-one. Really? Because the greatest disciple maker ever was Jesus, and he did it in a group.

And how it relates to multiplication? What happens is, you develop all these leaders and they want to know where they can serve. On retreats, our lead team discusses some basic stuff, but mostly we discuss four lists of leaders. There are literally four physical lists. The first list is people who are ready to be launched. The second list is those who are ready to move into some kind of full-time or senior-level serve team ministry. The next is people we’re developing. We’re going to see where they’re going. And the fourth list is the ones we see have potential, but they may not even know we’re looking at them. We get these lists from our lanes and from the serve team people who lead different ministries.

We break out the four lists, lean over them like it’s a road map, and talk about people’s lives. Do you think that Riley will fit at the campus at Fort Lewis in Washington? Is it the right personality fit? What about San Antonio? These are the kinds of conversations we have. Many of these leaders we develop go out and share the gospel all over the world.

What difficulties did you encounter when you began putting the pipeline into place?

This is a law: Some people you think will make it won’t, and some you think won’t make it will. I draw huge strength from the fact that Jesus had a Judas. One in 12. And he’s the Son of God. You’re going to be betrayed, you’re going to be disappointed, you’re going to suffer loss. Some people you miscalculate, and they don’t have your culture like you thought they did. You give them some responsibility, and you develop them into a great leader, but there are some character flaws, and they take off with some folks or you get upset because you realized late that you’ve invested in the wrong person. You suffer loss. In those moments you realize you’re still growing yourself. I’ve got to get better at this. I misjudged this situation and now I’m paying for it.

So yeah, it’s safer to just build a volunteer culture and to bring staff members around you. Then you only have to worry about them. But when you start developing people and turning people loose to do ministry, you will suffer loss. I didn’t anticipate it as much as I should have. That’s part of the growth curve though. I’ve been burned, but I’ve developed some discernment. I’ve made a career out of putting people into ministry that other people said wouldn’t make it. It’s like investing. If you want to get great rewards, you’ve got to take great risks. But I think if you’re going to take risks, take them with people. If you’re going to err, err on the side of generosity. Believe too much, think too much, give too much, serve too much. I’d rather miss it there than miss it the other way.

Read more at OutreachMagazine.com/Michael-Fletcher.

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.

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