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The numbers tell the story. The North American (and indeed the western) church is in decline and the CRCNA is no exception. For a plethora of reasons, the church (as we commonly refer to it) is not growing at the same rate it used to 50 years ago. One way to interpret this is that fewer people are being added to the body of Christ than before (relatively speaking). North America has changed from being a “missionary sending” nation to a “missionary accepting” one. I haven’t done the research but I’d be curious to find out what the ratio is, of missionaries to and from North America/the west.

What has this to do with leadership anyway? Well, everything. God’s narrative or story as found in the Bible or History itself (still His story) is marked by certain significant events. Tied to these events are names of leaders who have been instrumental in making this history. Moses was raised as a leader in a particular time of the redemptive history of the Jewish nation. Paul was commissioned at a significant time of the birthing of the early church. In contemporary history Nelson Mandela was the leader associated with the dismantling of apartheid. That’s how important leaders are. They define how history is made.

Leadership has context. Our denomination (together with others) finds itself in a very particular context. Overall, strategies that “grew” the church in the past are seemingly irrelevant, outdated and ineffective. We need new approaches, new paradigms and indeed, new ways of thinking about church. What these are would be the subject of another discussion and an important one at that. And it would take intentionality and a lot of work to move from discussion to action. But to get us there we need leaders; leaders (lay and laity) at every level of our system including the Board of Trustees, Synod, ministry agencies and boards, Classes and local councils and the denominational offices.

It’s not that we don’t have leaders; we just don’t have enough of them with the mind and skills sets to lead us through this particular phase of our church’s life and challenges. In the past we have produced a certain kind of leader. But leadership needs have changed. The outcome (product) needs to be different if we are to grow and flourish. So, what kind of leader do we need? Here’s my “unfinished” list. It’s a blend of heart and hands, the former trumping the latter always:

  • Active disciple with a servant heart
  • Kingdom minded
  • Missionally focused
  • Equipper and mobilizer of people
  • Cross-culturally sensitive
  • Lead and manage change
  • Reproducer and mentor
  • Collaborator
  • Courageous and committed

There are other (obvious and generally accepted) characteristics I haven’t mentioned for sake of brevity. What’s your list? I’ll be happy and interested to see what you have to say. As the Leadership Exchange we want to be tuned in to the right frequencies and this is one way of doing that.

So is developing Christian leaders an absolute necessity or an afterthought? What’s your take? 


Thank you Chris.  I think you are right on the money.  It is time that the current leaders focus their energy into reproducing new leaders by equipping God's people, empowering them for kingdom ministry, and then releasing to follow God's call in their spheres of influence (family, friends, neighbors, etc.).  Too often leaders today are asked to be chaplains for God's people rather than equippers.  If the church is going to regain its strength and relevance in the world today that has to change!

Amen, Chris. Very excited about the LXC and it's future impact on the CRC.

Just a curious question. You point out that your list is "a blend of heart and hands" while also including "kingdom minded" - is the "head" intentionally or unintentionally left out?

I ask given my concerns with the current draft of the LXC manifesto which specifically describes lobbying Calvin Seminary to make it's curriculum more "relational." I realize that buzzwords can be simply that (just buzzwords), but what would your comments be on the importance of theological education?

Tks Mark, it's a good question and I'm glad you asked. The reason it wasn't mentioned is because there is an underlying assumption that our Christian character and competence is informed and guided by our theological premise.  Theological education is important but I would insert a caveat here; it must not just remain in the "head"; a mere academic pursuit. And this education may be gained from different sources at various levels, depending on how it isto be used. Hope that sheds some light. Glad to have a further conversation.

Mark Hofman on August 19, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


I've been thinking a lot about what many of my peers said in the video from the LXC website. One major theme was simply: being asked to be involved. As a "Minister of Discipleship" here at Bethel CRC (Manhattan, MT) this is one of my main job descriptions - asking about felt needs and equipping leaders to step into those roles. My experience growing up in the CRC was that while many in the church were often busied with too many leadership roles, they would coincidentally claim they were not gifted or trained enough to take on other, similar tasks (worship leading, mentoring, teaching - as they would say, things requiring theological "training").

Prof. Carl Bosma from Calvin Seminary came to my ordination last summer and preached on Ephesians 4, explaining the need for leaders who train leaders. He talked about the crisis of leadership in many churches where the pastor is seen as the only qualified person. But what was so helpful (and what left the biggest impact on our congregation) was that he said we needed to multiply - both in terms of literal churches but also in terms of educating leaders. I've been a fan of the LDN model since 2004 when I ment Jerry Holleman down in Texas. Bethel, MT is also the "home" church Dave Feddes from CLI. These men represent a direction that I fully support in terms of where the future leaders of the CRC might be trained. But what I appreciate most about what Jerry, Carl and Dave have all said in different ways, is that head knowledge is still an important factor in the process.

I've studied the "C's" and I agree that they are informed and guided by our theological premise. But for so many who are potential leaders in the CRC, these premises are all too often assumed instead of articulated. Many pastors lament the loss of confessional knowledge/awareness in our congreations. We don't catechise just to cram Q&A's into our youth's heads. Our prayer is that such knowledge is a factor in the creation of competence and character. This was why I felt that my theological training was worth the pain; and I think for many leaders, the same is often true.

I hope that in the future I will have a chance to talk with you and others in the LXC about this issue. I'm sure these same sentiments are shared by many of you and I look forward to learning from your experiences and theirs.

I've found the distinction between management and leadership to be useful: management as working with the hands and leadership as leading or helping to reach a destination. My worry is that we have lost the vision of what it means to be a church and because their is no vision, pastors are not leading. Or, perhaps we have not allowed ourselves to be tethered to Christ who would lead us, if we would.

Here is my take.   Leadership begins with discipleship.  And discipleship begins in the home (Deut 6).   So often we focus on leadership development, but I strongly believe that we must begin with discipleship.   Throughout my years of ministry, and especially during the latter half of my work among CRC churches, I have come to appreciate the importance of discipleship.   For example, when we moved to take up work about the CRC churches in Australia, one of the first questions I asked our senior pastor in the CRC church we are part of was:  "What program of discipleship do you have in the church?"   I was not asking about the educational program, since the Sunday School and Catechism instruction we provide for our children is for the most part simply focused on imparting knowledge and not focused on transformation.  I was refering to 1-1 discipling of immature believers and new converts.   Well, there was no intentional discipling going on. 

So I started.   I began with a couple young men and spent a year discipling them in leadership essentials.   After a year, they started to do the same with other young men and youth.  I then began discipling two other young men.   Both were in leadership in the church so I thought I would disciple them in the essentials of leadership.   We followed material published by Greg Ogden, a book entitled Leadership Essentials.  This book deals with the character, convictions, and competence of a leader, spending about 1/3 of the material on each area.  But it soon became apparent that both of them needed much more basic discipling.  The one young man, a father of three, was in a de-facto or common law relationship.  The other was in a marriage that was on the verge of separation.  Bible knowledge was minimal with both, and one did not know how to pray.   So we soon went to Ogden's other book, Discipleship Essentials.  We are now in our third year.   And I have noticed such growth in both of these men.  They understand God's Word better, they pray regularly, they have memorised scores of Bible passages, and we rejoiced in the one man being convicted that he needed to get married -- and were there for the marriage celebration.   But it all began with intentional discipling.

I am convinced that discipling must begin in the home.   Parents must not simply do devotions or read the Bible, a common and good tradition with in the CRC.   But they must train up their children in the things of God.   They must pass on to their children the practices of the Christian faith, so that their children know how to pray, how to read and study the Bible, how to share their faith, how to practice the various disciplines of the Christian life, how to be good stewards, etc.   This requires more than observation.  It requires teaching, demonstration, accountability, practice -- all the stuff of discipleship.   I am very pleased that the  CRCNA will continue this discussion on discipleship, as reported at Synod 2011.

One of my deepest joys this past year has been the discipling of my 7 year old grandson.   We utilise the wonder of technology, and even though he is North Carolina, USA and I am in Australia, each week he gets up early and I stay up late and we spend an hour in going over Scripture, talking about spiritual disciplines, and learning heaps from the Bible and church history.  We use a VOIP video phone; Skype would work just as well. This past July I took him to the Jaars Centre in Waxhaw, NC, the aviation arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators.  We made this road trip since he had done a study on John Wycliffe and the importance of Bible translation during the years pre-Reformation.   I hope to continue discipling not just this one grandchildm, but also my other grandchildren, as the opportunity arises.  There is no better heritage to pass on than this -- our faith.

But discipleship must continue in our churches.  Every believer ought to meet regularly with other believers in a 1-1 relationship, where we continue to disciple one another in the way, the truth, and the life which is found only in Christ.  I am appaled that so few ministers of the Word actually do this -- that is, disciple weak or new believers.   It is essential for the health and growth of the body.   When church leaders engage in discipleship, this is when they recognise those who have the gift of leadership.   Once those gifts are discovered, then as leaders it behooves us that we engage in leadership development (Ephesians 4) -- equipping the saints for ministry.   Leaders need to be developed in their character, convictions, and competence.   They need to grow in spiritual integrity, in knowledge, and in ministry competence -- knowing the how-tos of ministry.  

So this is my take:  churches must engage in both discipleship and leadership development.   You can't have one without the other.   It begins in the home with parents and grandparents.  It continues in the church.  If we are serious about discipleship, then leaders will surface, and the church will become healthy.   And healthy churches grow.

God bless you Chris as you raise the bar in your work of leadership development.

Dear Jack, I'm so glad you mentioned this and took the time to write. this is exactly our position and philosophy and if you see our web site.(  you'll see a special section dedicated to disciple making and what we have termed the 1:1 challenge. So Amen and amen. We need more p[eople and especially pastors like you to talk and walk this talk. Then we will see change; the kind we so desire.


First, let me say that I agree whole heartedly with Jack DeVries about role of disciple-making in the creation of leaders.  As Paul said to Timothy, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and the things you have seen in me teach to realiable men, so that they may teach others.  Every pastor should be living this teaching.   From the beginning of pastoral ministry I set out to disciple various individuals--always trying to have a personal, face-to-face regular impact on 12 individuals. There is nothing in my ministry that has had a greater impact than this commitment to always be discipling a handful of men and women on a regular basis.  

I once noted a CRC pastor who requested prayer for his spiritual great grandchildren.  As I began to pastor, I asked God to give me spiritual great-grandchildren.  He has given them to me in bunches.  Many of the people I have discipled have become pastors, and pastors of pastors multiplied several fold.  God is indeed good.

On the missing qualities in your list for leadership I would add.  1) An ability to listen  to God and follow his lead, 2) An ability to listen to the hearts and desires of those who are following, 3)  An understanding of authority and an ability to live under authority.

The strategy that will always grow the church is disciple-making and leadership development.  In the CRC we generally ignore seriouus lay leadership development. Our CRC paradigm of an educated, seminary trained clergy-- restricts us, so we don't grow.  

We ignore the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16 as if it meant nothing.  Paul said that Jesus gave leadership gifts to men--to the church.  Some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers."  Jesus gave these leadership gifts to every Christian community.   We pretend that he gave only the office of pastor (and evangelist--a non-seminary trained pastor).   If we as a church really tried to understand  these gifted roles and at the local level tried to discover who these gifted people are and bring them to full exxpression in the church's life---the passage says the result will be growth.  Let's receive all the gifts that Jesus gave to the chuch.  

Finally, In Reformed churches we acknowledge, and equip elders and deacons, but we fill the slots to meet the needs of our council or consistory chairs and stop.  The NT idea of leadership development was always expansive.  Keep training all the potential elders, and disciple them one-on-one and then the church will grow.  We could use 20 shepherding elders in every church not just six.

John Zylstra on August 22, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Daniel, you have hit on a very pertinent relevant point.  And I totally agree. 

Recently I have read a book called Silas Diaries, written about Paul and Barnabas in Galatia, establishing the four churches there.  Although the book is an extrapolation, it is based on what we know about his trip there, and the thesis is that he left those churches without official  leaders.   Without appointed pastors.   Yet those churches grew.  People who were there filled those roles, and everyone participated in teaching, shepherding,  evangelizing.  

They were not worried about term appointments, nor were they sitting on their hands waiting for a "pastor" so that they would not be "vacant".  Rather, they were being pastors and teachers and evangelists.   We need to train and be trained not just in job descriptions, or techniques, but to change our attitudes.    These gifts are not just given to a seminary trained doctor of divinity.   These gifts are given to many ordinary people, who can put these gifts to immediate use. 

Dear John,


Hope you see my response to Daniel. Your comments are spot on too and like I asked Daniel, would you send me your contact details pls? Tks

Daniel, tks for your comments and contribution. Right on, I say. You (and others in this thread) have brought up two critical areas of leadership dev, those we are actively trying to establish as a practice and grow as a culture. Disciple-making and equipping the laity. These are paradigm shifts that need to happen for our denom to grow, flourish and break the shackles that bind it. One of our strategies is to develop a data base of people like you so that we can begin to develop a groundswell of like minded persons who would speak into this (and live it of course). Would you mind sending me your contact details so we can keep it on record? You may email me at [email protected].

Joy Engelsman on August 24, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, Daniel and others.  You are right on target with ideas for leadership in the CRC.  Our congregation has appreciated help from two sources.  First,  the Leadership Development Network, also known as Leadership Development Institute in some places.  Several of our staff members and other ministry leaders received training and discipleship from the Denver LDI (which unfortunately is no longer in existence.)  I don't know where the rest of the LDNs are located, but if there is one near you, check it out. 

The other resource is a program called Ascending Leaders, developed by CRC pastor Mike Johnson.  It presumes that every person has a sphere of influence, and thus is a "leader" of sorts.   The program provides detailed discipleship training in groups and in more intimate triads.  Our church has had over 60 people participate in one or more of the Ascending Leader modules and the result is many more trained and mature leaders for ministries of outreach, worship and discipleship.

Does anyone know more about the Leadership Exchange?  It is a ministry of the CRC whose mission states, in part, "To catalyze and create environments that nurture and grow a culture of Christ-centered, Kingdom-minded leadership in the Christian Reformed Church and beyond."  Target groups are youth, ethnic leaders and marketplace leaders.  Seems to be related to the LDNs mentioned above, but to be honest, I'd never heard of this CRCNA ministry until poking around the web looking for a URL to connect y'all to LDN.   

Inspiration and Administration seem to be two qualities needed in leadership.  Inspiration involves personality and presence, the ability to assess and articulate the setting, the need, the hoped for outcomes and the preferred path toward the future.  Administration is far broader than this simple suggestion, but in some regards, administration is the ability to demonstrate competence in the actual activities that move an organization along.  Without some competencies, the inspirational leader becomes just another "talking head." 

Joy Engelsman on August 24, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great article.  Wish I had written it.  Funny--while you were able to find that article, I was wondering what the Leadership Exchange was all about.  Did I miss something?  You called it "our" web site?  

Joy Engelsman on August 24, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

oops.  Egg on face!  You ARE Leadership Exchange.  I guess you know a bit about it, eh?


Below is a suggested path to TRAINING LEADERS using Ephesians 4:11-16 :

1)      Pastor of the congregation take a Sunday morning off and have someone else preach.

2)      Sit near the back of the church and note the names of the 12-15-25 people to invite to a special training for leaders.   

3)      Jot next to each name whether you think their gift is prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher.   All believers have within them a portion of  the 4 giftings, as the H.S. has approtioned.  These areas of giftedness can be nurtured and grown.

4)      Invite everyone via the bulletin.  But Invite personally, each individual on your list.

5)      At the first meeting do a teaching on Ephesians 1:11 and explain the use of each area of giftedness.  Include overview of the elder and deacon leaders, and acknowledge the role of program and ministry leaders—intend to spend time training them as well.

6)      Here is a brief suggestion of the essential nature of each of these gifted leadership types.

a.       Apostle:  Is a person who has a broader ministry than just a local congregation.  A person to whom God has given cities and regions to encourage the church.  We have them by other names Superintendent, District supervisors, Bishop-- the different names often cause us confusion to the real task of an apostle--to  pastor and encourage other pastors and ministry leaders. 

b.      Prophet: Is  a person who spends time in prayer—listening to God.   Their intercession  for specific people of leads them to speak words of  “strengthening, encouragement, and comfort—(I Cor 14:3).  Prophetic  insight may be spoken more broadly at times to the whole congregation.

c.       Evangelist- A person who has a passion for lost people, and invites them to hear the voice of Jesus and follow him.”  Billy Graham was an evangelist, but most people with this gift carry out their calling in a one-on-one relationship that leads to disciple-making (but we don’t often equip or train these lower key evangelists).

d.      Pastor,  A shepherd of a flock of believers, one who knows and cares for the sheep in the body—small group leaders, pastoral elders fulfill this function.  To really fulfill this call one must learn how to personal disciple/mentor other leaders and believers, and understand the stages of disciple ship found in I Thes. 2:7-13

e.      Teacher:  A person who helps other people understand and apply God’s word to their lives.  We do not open up enough opportunities for this role to function.  A body of 200 believers will easily have 30-40 people strong with this gift.  Teaching points should be created to expand the use of this gift.

7)      As leaders determine their area of giftedness from the 4 leader ship types,  a short series of 3 sessions  should be taught on each gift.  As a person defines their specific gifting, help them develop it so that it flows into ministry.   Each participant should be set up with a mentor.

8)      The art of disciple making should be integrated into the training for each gifting.  Discipling like Paul (see I Thes 2:7-13), or Jesus  has the greatest long term potential for bringing light to a lost world (see II Tim 2:1-2).

John Zylstra on September 9, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The article by Alan Hirsch is a good one.  Thought provoking and well written. 

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