Ten Lessons From 45 Years Training Leaders

Training leaders is one of the primary tasks of any local church. How do we train leaders that last for the long haul?


Steve Nicholson

Senior Pastor, Vineyard Christian Church, Evanston, IL

In this article, long-term Vineyard leader Steve Nicholson of the Evanston Vineyard in Illinois talks about the real-world lessons he’s learned training diverse leaders for over 45 years. See Steve’s video on the topic here.

1. It’s a war.

Not everyone survives. You have to deal with your stuff and stay in close relationship. Isolation is death. Those you are training must learn this.

2. Those who are constant learners and who ask everyone lots of questions do well and are fruitful.

They read books, they call up mentors and leaders, they evaluate their progress and learn from their mistakes. Those who don’t do these things, for whatever reason, don’t do well.

3. You have to keep leaders on a learning curve by giving them regular increases in responsibility or new challenges.

When they are feeling a little stretched is when they learn the most. Give them room to grow. If you don’t they’ll either leave or get bored and make trouble.

4. People learn most by doing.

They learn a bit by seeing something new. And they learn the least by merely hearing a talk.

5. The first step in training leaders is to make a thorough evaluation of their giftings, personality, and character as well as their callings or goals.

You can’t effectively train people for a gift they don’t have. But you can train and enhance what they do have if their character and availability are good. This often requires some serious prayer and sometimes a formal testing process can be helpful.

6. In a formal training relationship it is necessary to make all expectations clear – on and from both sides.

The lack of clearly communicated expectations leads to frustration, disappointment and conflict.

7. If you’re going to train leaders from other cultures than your own you have to study how leadership works in their cultural and make intentional efforts to bridge the gap between their culture and yours.

The natural tendency is to look for and train leaders who are the easiest and most accessible who will turn out to be those who are a part of your own culture. If we’re going to have diverse churches we need to have diverse leadership, and it’s going to take extra effort, wisdom and intentionality.

8. You can only effectively train leaders for whom you have faith.

You have to really believe in them and in their potential. When this is communicated and demonstrated it is powerful. When this kind of faith is present hidden or suppressed potential can be unlocked in a life-changing way.

9. Leadership training can start in the early teen years.

Let the youth group have some of their own leaders. Invest in those who have initiative, commitment and character. Over time these folks will likely become the pillars of the church.

10. One of the best ways to train leaders is to take them with you.

Take them with you to pastoral calls, to speaking engagements, to strategy meetings, to board meetings or whatever you can. Then you can discuss it all afterwards to great benefit.

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