A New Paradigm
Our ConneXions model is a new – in reality, old – approach to leader development.
Here are brief descriptions of our foundational ConneXions models. These models inform and direct everything we do in leadership development. They are comprehensively examined in our Building Healthy Leaders Course.
The Goal of Leader Development – The 5C Model of Healthy Leadership
According to our ConneXions “5C” model, a healthy Christian leader knows God (Christ), was formed and lives in supportive and accountable community (Community), has integrity (Character), knows the purpose of God and presents it with credibility, clarity and passion (Calling), and has the necessary gifts, skills and knowledge to lead the people in the accomplishment of this purpose (Competencies) – and he is continually growing in all five areas. These five elements are dealt with in detail in Healthy Leaders: SpiritBuilt Leadership #2 by Dr. Malcolm Webber.
Too often, in leader development, we only focus on the last of these “Cs.” When a young man or woman goes to Bible school to become a leader, what is addressed? Competencies! Perhaps some attention is paid to the other four elements, but for the most part, our attention to “leader development” is given in the area of competencies such as biblical knowledge, how to preach, how to counsel, etc. Competencies are essential but not sufficient in developing healthy leaders. Consequently, we have many “disconnections” in our leaders today.
As necessary as competency development is, it is not sufficient to ensure that the leader’s life will result in truly positive influence or an enduring legacy. Many leaders may accomplish much but never amount to much! According to Robert Clinton, over 70 percent of leaders who successfully climb the ladder of leadership influence do not finish well. Some dramatically fail, precipitating public scandal, while the majority of leaders who lose their influence just fade quietly into obscurity. They fall short because in their outwardly successful lives there is a disconnection between the development of leadership competencies and the development of leadership character. The lack of character is a frequent cause for leaders failing to fulfill their true potential; and this lack of character can be traced to a lack of Christ and community in the lives of the leaders.
Significantly, a recent 14-nation research project found that the prime reasons for early and painful return from missionary service (in both older and younger sending countries) were not related to inadequate formal training in missions. The project found that the prime causes were clustered around issues related to spirituality, character and relationships in the life of the missionary. In other words, it is usually not a lack of competencies that undermines missionaries; it is inadequacies that occur in the other areas that are to blame. These are areas frequently not addressed in preparation – Christ, community and character (no doubt calling was not specifically addressed by the research or else we suspect it would have shown up, too).
In the ConneXions model, we deal with the whole leader, not just his head. Our ultimate goal is the holistic transformation of the Christian leader into the mature image of Jesus Christ.
How Leaders Are Built – The 4D Process of Healthy Leader Development
If we accept that healthy Christian leadership includes all 5Cs, and not only academic capacity, it is immediately clear that building such a leader is easier said than done. It is not sufficient merely to send someone to a seminar or to give him a book on leadership to read. Leader development is highly complex and very little understood. Consequently, in many (perhaps most) organizations, it is essentially left up to chance. We pay lip service to it, but devote little time to this endeavor. The small efforts at leader development that are made are often haphazard and not part of any overall cohesive strategy. Apart from sending young people to Bible school, usually we simply hope that the leaders will somehow raise themselves up! When asked what his leader development strategy was, one leader said, “You just have to let the cream rise to the top.” In other words, “We have no intentional strategy for leader development; we’re just hoping for the best!”
As a result, many times, efforts at leadership building focus on courses and curriculum – the content. Not much time is spent on developing an appropriate process of development, which includes context as well as content.
Jesus’ method of building leaders is summarized in Mark 3:
He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)
In this simple but profound statement, we have a distillation of how Jesus built leaders. In short, Jesus created a transformational context around His emerging leaders:
- A spiritual environment, involving relationship with God (with Himself, as well as with the Father through prayer).
- A relational web, involving relationship with a mature leader (Himself), and relationships with others (the community of the disciples).
- An experiential context, involving challenging assignments and a diversity of learning opportunities.
Then, in that transformational context, He instructed them – the content of development.
In a nutshell, that was how Jesus built leaders. Thus, context + content = the process of leader development.
Traditionally, we are more likely to seat our emerging leaders in neat rows behind desks and lecture them interminably in our attempts to build them. We are often very strong in our content but weak in the context we create for leader development.
Usually, in leader development design we have focused mostly on instruction. However, we must give significant attention to all four of the “dynamics of transformation”:
This is how lives are changed! When all four dynamics (the “4Ds”) are strongly present in a design, spiritual life is nurtured, relational capacities are strengthened, character is developed, calling is clarified and deep leadership capacities are built.
The author has asked hundreds of Christian leaders around the world, from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, these questions, “How were you built? What were the influences that formed and molded you as a leader? What made you the leader you are today?” Almost invariably, the answers emphasize such things as parents, role models, examples, mentors, sufferings, responsibilities, rejections, failures, challenging assignments, etc. Usually someone will mention a course, and when they do, it is often the teacher who personally impacted their lives as well as the content that they remember.
This should not surprise us, since a study of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus did exactly this with His disciples. His strategy was not only instructional; He also created a transformational context of leader development, including spiritual, relational and experiential elements.
This is not to devalue content. We must have strong content; indeed, instruction is one of the four key dynamics of transformation in the ConneXions model. However, by itself, content is not sufficient. To build lives we must design transformational contexts that are strong spiritually, relationally and experientially.
To illustrate this, consider the following example. Suppose we want to build evangelists. We could begin with an experiential component by simply sending them out to share the Gospel with unbelievers. “Just go and do it!” Will that work? Will they learn anything about evangelism? Certainly they will!
Now let’s include a relational dimension by sending them out with experienced evangelists who they can watch and who will watch them and encourage and correct them. Clearly this will work even better.
Now let’s add a strong spiritual element by having our emerging evangelists join with intercessors before going out. They will pray and cry for the lost, entering into God’s burden for those without Christ. Then, when they go out to evangelize they are also to look to God for help, asking Him who to go to, and waiting upon Him inwardly for the right words to speak. This will work better still!
Finally, let’s give them some instruction – a good course on the meaning and nature of evangelism, studying God’s plan of salvation, a simple way to share the Gospel and one’s own testimony, some common objections to the Gospel and how to respond, etc. Now we’re building strong evangelists!
This simple example demonstrates the power of designing learning experiences that give strong attention to all four dynamics of transformation – the 4Ds. This is how lives are changed; this is how leaders are built!
Just as we must intentionally build all of the 5Cs (Christ, Community, Character, Calling and Competencies) in the leader’s life, so we must design processes of leader development that include all four dynamics of transformation (Spiritual, Relational, Experiential and Instructional). None can be neglected!
This is a brief summary of the ConneXions model of healthy Christian leader development – building the 5Cs through the 4Ds!
The 18 Principles of Leader Development
Within that framework, we use 18 principles of leader development, in six groups. These principles are discussed in detail in Building Leaders: SpiritBuilt Leadership #4 by Dr. Malcolm Webber. Here is a summary. Effective leader development will be:
- The church needs healthy leaders.
The healthy Christian leader will be strong in the five areas of Christ, Community, Character, Calling and Competencies. Therefore, an effective process of leader development will include and integrate all five focuses.
- Ultimately, God is the One who builds leaders.
Therefore, ConneXions strives to allow the Holy Spirit to always have His way. We must never allow our agenda to prevent Him from accomplishing His. In addition, since God uses everything in life to change us, the ConneXions process helps the emerging leader (a) understand the past work of God in his life, (b) respond to God’s present dealings, and (c) prepare for the future work of God in his life and ministry.
- Prayer must saturate leadership development.
Jesus consistently prayed for, with and over His emerging leaders. Moreover, Jesus revealed the Father to His disciples; they saw God, heard His voice and touched Him (1 John 1:1-3)! The primary characteristic of an effective Christian leader is that he knows God and that he lives and ministers out of his inward union with Christ. And our primary responsibility in building new leaders is to lead them to know God – we must teach them to pray!
- Healthy leaders are built in community.
Therefore, the entire local church community must take responsibility for and actively participate in building leaders. By moving from the disconnected “factory” approach to the “family,” we will achieve:
- Multiplication. The inherent limitations of the centralized factory will be lifted, the family approach providing a model that can be multiplied virtually endlessly with every local church or group of churches providing a learning environment for their emerging leaders.
- Flexibility. When it comes to leader development, “one size” does not fit all. Around the world, leaders from a vast variety of cultures, backgrounds, experiences, education levels, etc. need to be built. Our approaches must be flexible and customizable. In addition, in many countries the environment is rapidly changing around the church, again requiring flexibility in our approaches to leader development.
- Self-support. The local church provides the financial support for the learning process, thus maintaining both responsibility for and control of the development of its own emerging leaders. To be truly self-governing, the community must be self-supporting.
- Holistic development. The learning process becomes considerably more effective since the local church provides the spiritual, relational and practical context for the development of the whole person.
- Security in restricted countries. In restricted countries, large leader development programs are obviously not viable due to their size, visibility and the ease with which they can be closed down. Church-integrated learning communities, on the other hand, can be small, easily-hidden and pervasive.
- The right people receive training. The emerging and existing leaders who need training the most are those who are already engaged in ministry and cannot leave their work for years at a time to go and study in a distant Bible school. In the factory approach we consistently train the wrong people.
- Ongoing, lifelong leader development. The training is not limited to a certain period of time, but continues throughout the emerging leaders’ lives. Leaders are built over lifetimes!
- Effective evaluation. Members of the local community who know the emerging leader and who work with him on a daily basis are the best ones to help him both establish goals for his development and evaluate his growth toward those goals.
Because of the importance of this principle we've included one entire chapter from Building Leaders: SpiritBuilt Leadership #4 in this PDF file: Healthy Leaders Are Built in Community.
- Leaders build leaders.
By themselves, teachers and courses don’t build leaders, although they are an important part of the process. But it takes a leader to impart the vision, passion, courage and strategic perspectives of leadership. Therefore, we should not seek the perfect “package” that will work “all-by-itself.” Packages don’t build leaders; leaders build leaders. The very best package will only be a tool in the hands of a mature and qualified leader. Additionally, we should expect each leader to take the tool and use it differently. The tool must not rule.
- Leaders who build leaders should themselves be involved in the daily responsibilities of leadership.
They should not teach in an artificial environment removed from the real world. Jesus and Paul (e.g., Acts 19:9-11) both conducted extensive and fruitful personal ministries while concurrently building new leaders. This practice maintains integrity and reality, brings credibility and empathy, and dramatically increases effectiveness.
- Leaders are built a few at a time.
Since leaders personally build leaders, one leader can build only a few other leaders – if he wants to do it properly. Jesus built only a few main leaders to head His entire church that would change the world! Paul and other biblical leaders pursued leader development the same way. The idea of personally and quickly raising up “thousands of leaders” is not a biblical one. The biblical model is this: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). In other words, build a few good leaders, who each will build a few good leaders, who each will do the same, and so on. In a relatively short time, we will have the multiplication of leaders we need. The difference is: they will be good leaders.
- We must build the right ones!
Our process focuses on a few, so they must be the right ones.
- Leaders learn by doing.
Jesus built leaders “on the job” where they dealt with real problems and opportunities and faced real consequences. Therefore, we must balance “classroom” instruction time with practical “in the field” “hands on” ministry. One tragedy of the traditional approach to Christian leader development is that we remove emerging leaders from their normal context of life and ministry and put them in an artificial environment (for years at a time), the nature of which they will never again be in for the rest of their lives, and then we teach them things, much of which they may never use!
- Leaders are built through fire.
Like steel is made hard in the fire, like gold is purified in the furnace, like coal is formed under pressure into diamonds, leaders are built through fire. It is far better to put the emerging leader under pressure before he is given significant responsibility and authority than to wait until the time when failure under pressure will destroy both the leader and those with him. Therefore, ConneXions intentionally, but carefully and responsibly, puts the emerging leader under pressure to squeeze deep heart issues to the surface where they can be revealed and resolved – in the context of supportive, accountable community.
- Challenging assignments stretch and mature the emerging leader.
These assignments need to be a little bit above their present perceived capacity. Not too far above or else they will fail, be discouraged and give up; but not below or equal. The assignments must stretch them.
- The Word of God is the foundation and the means for building healthy leaders.
The teaching of the Word of God was central in Jesus’ method of building leaders, and it must be in ours. For the Word to be properly taught:
- There must be both the teaching of the Word and personal relationship with the leader.
- There must be engagement. Teaching is not necessarily learning. Teaching involves what you know; learning involves what you actually do. Nothing has been effectively taught until the behavior has changed.
- The best teaching will often be an interactive dialogue between learner and teacher; not an endless monologue to which the learner passively listens. Lecturing is rarely the best way for learning to occur. Listening is not learning. Learning requires activity.
- We must teach the Word and not merely about the Word.
- Our teaching should be practical, relevant and appropriate for the emerging leaders we’re building.
- Emerging leaders must be engaged in the process. They must be active. They cannot be passive recipients. They must actively take responsibility for their own learning and be engaged in their hearts (broken and accountable before God and the community); in their heads (the various learning opportunities) and in their hands (actively doing ministry). We must design transformational experiences that will help them to learn, to do and to be.
- Responsibility for learning and growing is shared by the emerging leader and the church community.
Leader development is not something you do “to” someone or “for” someone. Fundamentally, building leaders involves providing opportunities for growth: opportunities for learning, experiences, responsibilities, relationships, observing, suffering, etc. These opportunities will not magically produce growth and there is no guarantee that specific individuals will take advantage of them, but if we do not intentionally provide opportunities there will be little growth.
- Building leaders takes time.
We should not be unrealistic about the amount of transformation that is possible in a short period of time. It takes a lifetime to build a mature and seasoned leader. Thus, our goal in short-term training is not to achieve final and complete maturity, but to lay a sound and comprehensive foundation in the emerging leader’s life. Moreover, our goal is to help him become a lifelong learner who will properly build on the foundation for the rest of his life.
- People grow in different ways and their callings are different.
Therefore, we must use a variety of learning experiences to assist emerging leaders’ transformation, and their learning goals should reflect their unique callings.
- Both team and individual learning contexts must be provided.
The most effective leader has learned to integrate the discipline required for working in teams with the discipline of individual initiative. Therefore, our design must balance individual and team contexts for learning.
- Effective leadership development is a complex, experiential collage.
Even though we can identify certain of its elements, leader development is not a simple and orderly step-by-step procedure of moving through a series of predictable and successive points. In reality, leader development is a complex and multifaceted experiential collage. It is an experiential collage of diverse people, relationships, influences, assignments, tasks, responsibilities, duties, deadlines, opportunities, pressures, crises, blessings, sufferings, rejections, successes, mistakes, etc., that all work together to build the emerging leader.
Thus, an effective leader development process will be a fiery immersion in real-life, real-time experiences, reflecting the complicated and fundamentally difficult nature of Christian leadership, bringing deep heart issues to the surface to be dealt with, and compelling the participant to look utterly to God for success.
Leader development will look different from nation to nation, from culture to culture, from situation to situation, from time to time; but these 18 biblical principles will be effective anywhere.
Moreover, these principles can be applied in various situations:
- For those establishing new residential learning communities for emerging leaders.
- For those seeking to improve existing seminaries or Bible schools.
- For those who do short-term trainings for existing leaders.
- For those involved in teaching or mentoring emerging or existing leaders in any formal, non-formal or informal environment.
These principles will work as you apply them in the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives you as you join Him in this great task of building leaders.
We recognize that there is a wide variety of quality in today’s theological and ministerial training, and we are not asking you to discard anything that you are doing now that is working well.
We are asking you to imagine...
What would happen if we transformed the way Christian leaders are built?
What would happen if we transformed these three things:
- THE GOAL.
- from focusing on academics to building the whole person,
- from grades to capacities,
- from degrees to maturity,
- from outputs (graduates) to outcomes (changed lives and effective ministry capacities).
- THE PROCESS.
- from the factory to the family,
- from a list of courses to a collage of learning opportunities in a relational web,
- from telling to learning,
- from “understand and remember” to “think and act,”
- from monologue to dialogue,
- from covering content to testing ideas,
- from classroom instruction by appropriately-degreed and full-time teachers, to personal in-the-field interaction with experienced and full-time ministry leaders.
- THE DESIGN.
- from starting at the beginning with what we need the course to cover, to starting at the end with what the leader needs to become,
- from teaching courses to designing learning opportunities and relational contexts,
- from crowding courses together (“pasted pieces”) to cohesive integration (“shaped wholes”),
- from marketing franchises to working with national leaders to create truly indigenous designs for leadership development.
Imagine: what would happen if we transformed the way Christian leaders are built?
Malcolm Webber, Ph.D.