I anticipate I have about one year left in full-time ministry before I transition into another phase of life. The future is uncertain, but God will lead me and my family as he has throughout forty plus years of congregational ministry.
Forty years of ministry have not been easy or smooth. As a young Christian, my desire to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NKJV) drew me to people of the Restoration Movement who appeared to be reaching large numbers of people. However, it was the influence of one man, a leader who didn’t fit a typical ministerial stereotype, that facilitated a fundamental change. I had witnessed most spiritual leaders needing to look and act somewhat alike. This brother broke the mold, and I began a search to discern how God uses the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to every Christian so they can become people of influence, leaders in their area of giftedness.
An important discovery occurred when I was introduced to Robert Clinton’s “Leadership Emergence Theory” during my education at Harding School of Theology (HST). Clinton explores how Christians gain and employ spiritual influence, i.e. leadership. He defines leadership/influence as a function of time coupled with life events (process items) and our personal response to these life events.
Isolation, crisis, and conflict are three major life events (process items) that shape individuals and churches. Moving through these events means we either discern what God is doing and learn, or God will allow us to experience another similar event, sort like getting to retake a test. We get another chance to learn and grow, “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6, NIV).
Clinton’s research shows people transition into different stages or phases of life as they grow. These transition points are called boundary events, which may range in time from a few months to years. A transition, like exiting a long-term ministry, involves both process items and a boundary event with the potential of moving a leader into a different but important stage of ministry.
It is good to remember that big transitions work best if we have practiced small transitions that provide opportunities to experience and reflect upon God’s providential work. One of my mentors at Harding School of Theology, Evertt Huffard, says that we train people to exegete scripture but we do not have a good tool to exegete our lives. I suggest that Clinton’s material provides a framework to exegete one’s life and prepare for the changes/transitions in life.
For me, the practice of transition and developing a greater trust in God began in 2000 when our church initiated a two-year apprenticeship program. During the past twenty-two years, we have invested deeply in seven men and their families. These apprenticeships provided me the opportunity to share ministry responsibilities and take on a role of training and support rather than having to do everything.
This sharing model of ministry began to spill over into my relationship with the rest of the church at Great Falls through team teaching, mentoring, equipping, and intentionally exploring God’s work and calling in members’ lives through what we call Leadership Emergence Teams. The process of applying Clinton’s leadership model to our lives in a safe, confidential environment empowers members to develop new ministries that fit their lives. These ministries are motivated by the personal redemptive work of God in an individual. New leaders, people of influence, are not round pegs put into square holes; they are embracing their gifts and experiences to uniquely bless others.
In my twenty-eight years of ministry in Great Falls we have purposefully sent over 800 souls into churches in the United States and around the world. We have embraced God’s call for us to be an equipping and sending church. As a result, many of these people we have sent are serving as people of spiritual influence–leaders.
The transition toward empowering others to exercise spiritual leadership is the most rewarding aspect of ministry I have experienced. Watching others “succeed” in life is better than personal success. An example that parents can appreciate concerns sports. During my basketball days in high school, I played on a team that won the school’s first state basketball championship. My son later played for the same high school and won the school’s second state championship. It was much more rewarding to watch my son lift the championship trophy than me.
In a similar way the joys of ministry multiply as we make the transition to become equippers and mentors rather than trying to carry all the load. May we as leaders and churches respond to God’s call to disciple the nations and equip the church for works of service according to their giftedness. This is a challenging transition, but it is greatly rewarding. May the Lord bless each of us as we take our next steps of service.
Scott Laird, Minister, Great Falls church of Christ