Two Ways to Identify Leaders

In this series of posts, I am going to unpack the strategy and structure of leadership development we have implemented at The Austin Stone for missional communities.  I’ll be looking at:



Identifying Leaders

One of the biggest challenges that most pastors face is finding new leaders.

There are the traditional church answers of “faithful, available, teachable”, there are the current business models based on skill competency, there are those with the simple intuition of identification who would say, “it isn’t that hard!”, and there are the organic/movement types who argue “anyone can be a leader”.

That’s a sea of ideas to sift through, but most are primarily rooted in theory rather than practice. Those things are hard to apply when you’re having a conversation with someone at a lunch.

I want to help you understand how we think through leadership identification, how we consider those leaders and whether they are a fit, and finally, what are the steps we have in place for leaders to move forward in ministry.

Two Ways To Identify Leaders

The two predominant means of identifying new leaders are based off selection or self-identification.


Identifying leaders through selection is typically a high-bar form of leadership.  It hinges on a previous leader looking for a new leader, and typically there are a set of criteria that a leader is being evaluated against.  Churches who typically practice this kind of leadership identification have fairly involved training processes, and often practice a form of apprenticeship before someone is permitted to lead.

I practice this kind of leadership identification in my personal discipleship, and I have found there are some pros and cons to it:

  • Pros – alignment with your ministry convictions and philosophy, establishes a relationship based on mutual submission.
  • Cons – slower rate of leaders developed, contingent on the individual capacity of a leader


The other system for leadership identification is a willing person letting you know they would like to lead.  Typically, these are low-bar environments for leadership, and the focus is on developing someone into a role over time.  Generally speaking, churches who practice this have a low bar of entry for leadership and tend to have lower expectations for the kind of ministry or group that is being led.

I utilize this form of leadership as well, but I have a different set of expectations and process for it.  There are benefits and challenges of utilizing this kind of system:

  • Pros – higher rate of leaders, identification of those “in the cracks”
  • Cons – no guarantee of quality, leaders outside the bounds of orthodoxy

Synthesizing the Two

I’ve landed on a philosophy that utilizes both kinds of identification, but in different contexts. For my personal discipleship, I focus entirely on selection. I spend the best of my time and energy on folks whom I have personally selected, and who desire to learn from my life and ministry.

For our ministry, I want to ensure that we give people interested in leadership the opportunity to step up, as well as a clear process to follow to become a leader.  We extend an open invitation often for leadership, and then do some training and basic steps of leadership before we deploy someone into ministry.

I’ll spend the rest of my time in this series unpacking the “self-identification” method we employ.

Which method do you primarily employ as you identify and train leaders for ministry?


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