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Discovering Your Blueprint for Living

Lay Mobilization’s Best “Testing” Ground? 1996

“New Wineskins for New Wine”–Re-Pioneering Local Church Leadership 1996

The Primary Function of Leadership 1999 (multiple publications)

“From My Vision to our Vision: Finding Your Church’s Vision in the People You Already Have” 2000, Leadership Journal

Ten Years After: The Cell is STILL the Best Place to Discover and Use Spiritual Gifts Cell Church Journal, 2001

“The Harvest is Plentiful but the Laborers are Arguing” 1998



Discovering Your Blueprint for Living


Utilizing the new Your Leadership Grip enhanced Birkman resource

It has taken me fifteen years, but I finally have found a way to help Christians and Christian leaders to discover the whole of who they are, from baseline personality to powerful spiritual gifts…from underlying motivational needs even to gift liabilities! But first, the background...


In 1986, I started developing ways for lay Christians to discover and fulfill their God-designed roles in or beyond the local church. The Mobilizing Spiritual Gifts series was the result of that eight-year effort, with the title of one of my workbooks telling the story: “Getting Your Gifts in Gear”. Organic body life began for many Christians and churches, with many believers discovering and playing their God-prepared parts for the first time.


But by the mid 1990’s it was very clear that thousands of Christian leaders were the ones blocking the door to effective lay mobilization. So I started doing teambuilding seminars with ministry teams to help those leaders build strong teams by first understanding the ministry identities of their players. As they first became good stewards of their own gifts, leaders also became more intentional in equipping and releasing others to play their gifted parts. They became good stewards of “who we are.”


Many a leader quit worrying about how to be that “visionary leader” and got back to the biblical business of equipping and releasing the saints for the work of ministry. The workbook “Discovering Your Ministry Identity (DYMI)” has become a strategic resource for helping leaders to assess themselves and their team members in six different areas – from spiritual gifts to ministry burdens or passions – and therein discover how “who I am affects who we are.” Body life functioning realized its dependence upon every person playing his or her part.


But I continued to be incredibly frustrated with leaders beyond training effective lay mobilization and intentional teambuilding. Then, in 1999, I got to the heart of why many leaders were not equipping and releasing others: the majority of leaders (as high as 70%) do not clearly understand who they are in Christ! Many were never trained to be good stewards of their gifts. It was out of this frustration that I developed “Your Leadership Grip” a workbook that gives the Christian leader a chance to identify his or her spiritual gifts from three different angles and five different assessments. In addition, the leader is also able to identify where he is weak and who he needs alongside to make him (and them) stronger as a team. My goal? “Leader, rather than trying to be a visionary leader, a manager by objectives, or a leader who looks just like your mentor, how about first making a sober estimate of who you already are — powerful strengths – and also your weaknesses, which simply reveal who you need.” And many leaders are doing just that.


But one more piece yet needed to be fit into helping people discover their God-designed blueprint for living at the deepest level. In mid 1996, I became a consultant for a personality profiling tool called The Birkman Method.


Based on Psalm 139:13 and developed by a dear Christian friend, Dr. Roger Birkman, this highly sophisticated resource was already well-known to corporations like Microsoft, Ford and Sprint – but not in the Christian community. Its quality was Cadillac, but so was its pricing! [Most churches concerned about identifying personality traits simply used less expensive tools – and with less depth than the Birkman Method.]. It was during this time that I began to use Birkman’s report sets with individual leaders alongside my “spiritual assessments” because I wanted to discover the whole person: personality AND gifting.


It slowly dawned on me, over a seven-year process, that a Christian has two distinctive patterns going on in his or her one life at the same time. That is, every believer has a baseline personality but also functions powerfully with two or three spiritual gifts, with the gifts flowing out from the baseline personality. I used to think that the two – gifting and personality – just blended together into one form. But then I observed scores of leaders whose personality and gifting appeared to be distinctively different in part or in total. And for some, the attempt at understanding gifting was actually confused by certain personality qualities. Which is it: talent or gifting?


But how could I help leaders come to grip with the reality of both worlds colliding within? It was then I realized that the Lord had already given me the two major puzzle pieces to frame things together! I welcome you to the “Your Leadership Grip enhanced BIRKMAN Blueprint”. We saw a chance to help people identify, more deeply and profoundly that ever before, the differences between one’s gifting and personality, one’s supernatural empowering and one’s talents. I saw a chance for each person to discover his/her “blueprint for living” as God has designed from birth, then empowered from conversion.


ChurchSmart worked out the plans to combine my multi-angled gifts resource, an assessment set with ten years of impact, with a personality profiling resource with 45 years of sophistication and depth. And the costs of the resource were brought to several levels that make the resource more fully accessible than the Birkman Method in particular has been previously. And I have trained coaches to come alongside anyone who needs some assistance in going deeper with the Base or Mid levels of the resource. Additional help can also be had through Birkman Consultants at the Priority Level of the resource, also available through ChurchSmart.


As both a gifts specialist of eighteen years and a Birkman consultant of ten years , it is such a privilege to come alongside Dr. Birkman and with him create this resource that will impact both individuals and teams all the way to denominations and mission agencies. Why? To help Christians more intentionally become good stewards of God’s grace and design in their lives, ultimately to further the cause of world evangelization!


Your Leadership Grip workbook. In using this workbook, I was first impressed with the thoroughness of the Heights Spiritual Gifts Survey which is included in that tool. I was also interested with his approach to looking at spiritual gifts: he has you look at them from three different angles (gifts, team styles, and leadership functions), and you don’t just evaluate yourself:. He also has you ask at least three other people to give feedback on how they perceive you to be gifted spiritually.


I am particularly intrigued with Paul’s explanation of the gifts. He gives definitions, gift “characteristics”, and gift “liabilities”. The latter tends to be just as enlightening, if not more so, then the former! It’s important to note that the gifts themselves don’t have liabilities, but human creatures with the gifts often manifest certain patterns of behavior because of their own sinfulness or immaturity. Here’s an example, quoted from Your Leadership Grip, page 15:


Definition: the supernatural ability to encourage, comfort, challenge or rebuke others to action in such a way that they respond.


Gift Characteristics:

1. Encourages and motivates others to practical application of specific biblical truths.

2. Motivates people to apply Scripture, not just learn it.

3. Tells others the truth about themselves with great encouragement and understanding.

4. Encourages people to discover what they can become and sets up opportunities for them to fulfill those possibilities.

5. Committed to offering specific, practical guidance for others’ spiritual growth.

6. May take the form of rebuke, though people will still feel helped by such an approach.

7. Often more effective in short-term encouragement than long-term counseling or support.


Gift Liabilities:

1. May struggle with follow-through with an individual or project because they want to move on and exhort someone else.

2. May offer “quick fixes” and appear insensitive to longer-term needs.

3. May jump to conclusions before listening to the whole story.

4. May offer to director or harsh counsel at one extreme or be insensitive to the real need at the other extreme.

5. May become more vision-centered than person-centered because of desire for the person to take practical steps.


Team Styles. Your Leadership Grip also includes a “Team Style Questionnaire” which helps you understand how your gifts function in the team setting. It also reveals where you are weak and need others to help, often the most difficult things for each of us to see clearly in ourselves. One of my favorite things about Paul’s approach is that he believes God has created us with needs and limitations. One of the places this shows up most pointedly is in these Team Styles, where you not only identify strengths but also weaknesses – since both are a part of who you are!


None of us were meant to have everything that is needed, that is, to be strong in every area. Needs are not only not sinful, they are a part of our original design! As servants of the Lord with influence upon others, leaders in the Christian community often think that they are supposed to “have it all” and be able to “do it all”. But when we understand and acknowledge our needs or limitations, we begin to know who we need within the Body, and we can develop a holy and healthy interdependency in life/ministry.


For your information, here are the four Team Styles:


  • Let’s go!

  • Let’s be careful

  • Let’s stay together


Most of us have a primary team style and an secondary team style, both which clearly portray our combination of spiritual gifts. You might say that the team style reveals our gifts in team language.


Primary Functions of Leadership. The third angle through which people see themselves in this workbook helps you to understand how your spiritual gifts function in leadership language. The Primary Functions of Leadership assessment reveals two important things: where you are strong in your leadership – and who you need in order to be an effective leader.


After studying biblical leadership and watching spiritual gifting in leaders for twenty years, Paul has identified these five primary leadership functions:


  • Equipping Releaser bullet

  • Values Keeper bullet

  • Team Builder bullet

  • Active Listener bullet

  • Vision Sharers


In his work with thousands of leaders, Paul has never discovered an individual leader who leads and functions powerfully in all of five of these ways. Yet all five functions are needed to lead. How can this be? Paul believes this is just one more confirmation that we are designed to be working together – indeed that we need each other for fully effective leadership – in order for us to fulfill the Lord’s purposes for our church or ministry. “Leadership is not a person, though we need a leader so that we all learn how to follow. Rather, leadership is a series of functions fulfilled by a group of people.”


I hope that gives you an idea of his approach and his key elements in Your Leadership Grip.


Add The Birkman Method to Your Leadership Grip

Sometime in the mid 90s, Paul began working with The Birkman Method. He found tremendous value the depth of the multiple reports that the Birkman provided, and it added new and different pieces to understanding the “blueprint for living” of each Christian leader whom Paul trained.


The Birkman Method is the “Cadillac” when it comes to identifying a person’s baseline personality – no other profiling assessment goes deeper and wider than this one. The depth comes from breaking out one’s personality into eleven distinctive categories called Components. No other profiling tool goes to that depth and breadth.


The Birkman Method gives the individual information that I’ve never seen in any other personality assessment. My favorite example of this is how Birkman tracks an individual’s “Strengths and Needs”. The way The Birkman discusses “motivational needs” is unlike any other tool I’ve seen. It helps the individual understand his/her needs, and how he or she will experience stress under circumstances in which these needs are not met. I’ve found it simply fascinating – a great tool for self-understanding. Stuff that had taken me 40 years to understand about myself was right there in black and white. Amazing.


Back to the Process. Paul now had a way to identify both personality and gifting and how – or IF – the two parts fit together. As he put the two major blueprint pieces together, it was now clear. You see, he became convinced that, under the power of the Holy Spirit, new Christians consistently act in ways that a baseline personality instrument neither captures nor predicts. The gifts of the Spirit, which enter the Christian’s life at conversion, are not just natural talents. They are supernatural empowerments. God initially created each person with a baseline personality, and secondly, as each person comes to Christ, out from that baseline personality comes powerful spiritual gifts, the supernatural power of God in specific forms. And those powerful gifts often come out in forms very different than that baseline personality. Rather than the two assessments pulling all the pieces together, they actually provided a way to pull apart gifting from personality and thus understand the whole person much more clearly.


Paul was convinced that putting the tools together, with Birkman International’s permission and support, would be a great thing! And, after eight years of working with The Birkman Method, Paul was able to identify three different levels of reports to provide varying levels of depth for individuals or teams. He determined to use his Your Leadership Grip workbook in tandem with various Birkman Reports at those three different levels.


The movement from natural to supernatural now had a set of assessments to clearly delineate both categories rather than just mashing them together! ChurchSmart, Paul’s publisher, and Birkman International decided to officially combine these tools in such a way that people within the Church could have this multi-approach instrument at hand to help them at a depth ever before possible in one tool.


Ardath’s Opinion? I am not a trained Birkman consultant, so I cannot administer the third level, the Priority Level. However, I have taken the complete Birkman, and I have been trained as a coach for the Base and Mid Levels. Now that I have worked with a number of people, I actually think that the Mid Level is an excellent option, and in fact is the best option for many, if not most, people. What I’ve discovered is that the complete Birkman is so complex for some that it can be overwhelming. Too much information is not necessarily helpful for self-understanding.


You can order Paul Ford’s tools through ChurchSmart Resources. His published works include the “Mobilizing Spiritual Gifts” series and the book Unleash Your Church! ChurchSmart may very well have a brochure just on his works, but I’m not sure of that.


I would be happy to answer any other questions you have, and you can also contact ChurchSmart directly. The name of my contact there is Bob Rummell. If you have e-mail, you may reach him at If you desire to reach Paul Ford, you may reach him at . He is presently just finishing up a sabbatical, however, so you might want to wait until May to contact him.


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Lay Mobilization’s Best “Testing” Ground? 1996


Have you ever driven on lonely Interstate 40 between Kingman, Arizona and Needles, California? Along that quiet and secluded desert stretch is where you will find an unusual testing site. No, there is no nuclear testing facility; rather, there is a less dynamic but more practical proving ground amidst the cactus and sand. It is the Ford Proving Grounds (no relation!), where Ford automobiles and trucks get a major check-up before their release to the general public.


What happens at this testing location? It is a car’s place of ultimate, sober assessment of its true value and worth to the company.. How well does this automobile work and how well does it fit the plan Ford had for it? All working components are checked out and studied. Among other things, there is a test for quality. Is this vehicle really the precision piece that we claim it to be, asks Ford?


Every effort is taken to determine the machine’s durability in various trials under different circumstances. To confirm the merit of their product, many different opportunities are provided for the car to show its significance and value. Different automobiles function in distinctly different ways under the same circumstances. While some show their colors, others do not because the setting does not reveal that particular car’s strengths.


The proving ground also provides the essential covering of the basics. The engineers make certain that all the pieces fit together appropriately in each car! The smallest piece in the wrong place can do great damage to an engine. Everything fitting together assures a smooth running, well-oiled machine ready to move on down the road!


The Small Group as Gifts Mobilizing Testing Ground. In the growing lay mobilization movement, equally well hidden, may well be the very best testing ground for releasing Christians into their God-designed roles. That setting is the small group or cell. This oasis of relationships provides a number of mobilizing dynamics that can bring many Christians out of their present desert of frustration and lack of fulfillment and into significant service in the body of Christ.


The best news about this “confirming ground” is that it is much friendlier than the Arizona desert! Christians are desirous of discovering their role in the body of Christ — there is no longer any doubt about this. Yet sometimes the maze of learning about gifting, assessing one’s strengths, going through an interview process, and discovering meaningful places of service can be a bit nerve-racking for some people. Assessments can appear to some to be cold while others find them “pinholing” in nature. Studying about gifts in a class setting with people whom you may or may not know personally can lead Christians to believe that discovering one’s fit is an individual opportunity and not the corporate, shared process it was designed to be.


What if you were in a cell group of people who knew and cared significantly for each other? What if biblical learning about spiritual gifts and each person’s uniqueness in the body of Christ were done in a setting where a level of commitment were already present?


What if the process of taking assessments tools like a spiritual gifts survey were done in the context of relationship? The shared process of learning about self and others takes on a whole new meaning — it is not a ” lone ranger” process. There is the opportunity to see how I fit in a group, and there is confirmation from those same people with whom I share the process.


A New Approach to Intentional Lay Mobilization. This new concept of mobilizing Christians to discover their ministry identity (i.e. spiritual gifts and ministry burden or passion) through small groups is actually a recent occurrence. In working with several hundred churches throughout the country over the past four years, I can count on two fingers the number of churches that effectively mobilize Christians to discover and use their gifts through small cells. Beyond the Church on Brady in Los Angeles and the Coastlands near San Francisco, the pickings are slim!


There are reasons for this. First, our tendency in western culture is toward traditional educational models. Thus the classroom format became the prototype for beginning a process of discovery and mobilization. Secondly, there is the issue of clashing values. For example, if a group is already committed to multiplying into two new cells every eight months, the mobilizing model must serve that value or the process will not help the group. The process must serve the group, not the group serve a separate mobilizing process that has no relationship to the purpose and values of the cell.


Thirdly, developing a lay mobilizing process as a core part of your cell group ministry is not as “clean” as a classroom/interview/placement model. Who interviews the group members? Does someone come in from the outside or does a group member fill the role of interviewer? Is placement made only within the group? The issues are not as clear as in other models.


The Assets. Consider the small group as our “testing ground” for helping Christians discover their ministry identity of spiritual gifts and ministry burdens/passions. For example, as you study the various spiritual gifts, you begin to notice that Sally looks just like the gift of pastoring and Mike has helps written all over him. As you come to the gift of evangelism, you understand why Susan is so blatantly honest when sharing her faith — and no one had to tell you!


As people develop “spiritual gifts eyes” for watching one another, they provide clear confirmation of each others gifts and talents. The best confirmation of gifts is NOT results from a gifts survey. It is confirmation from people whom know you, a process that happens naturally in a small group. The testing ground of relationships provides the best “check-up” that a Christian can have when it comes to discerning ministry identity.


The group setting also provides a safe testing ground for confirming potential gifts. If Bill thinks he has a teaching gift, then what better environment than the group to do a series of three or four weeks on a chosen biblical topic. Bill gets to test out the joy or lack thereof in the actual teaching while the group members confirm or not the fruit of the teaching. If a cell determines to do a particular service project, role definition could be defined by potential gifting. The results of the project in fruit, joy and team sense will provide helpful confirmation of role for some and assist others in realizing their place may be a bit different than they first thought. Soberly estimating each other’s ministry identity can be a natural part of group life.


Some cells discover that they share a common desire for service. Sample: as a group continues in the process of taking various assessment tools alongside their gifts study, an interesting thing happens when each member takes the assessment tool used to identify ministry burdens, or one’s desire to invest his/her life in a certain type of people, place or activity. This particular group discovers that six of the eight members have a strong desire to support single parent mothers. Eureka! This group ministry burden becomes a focus of service for the whole group, and they begin to invest in single parent mothers by offering to take their children on an overnight campout once a quarter. In doing this in a safe environment, they give these single moms a Friday evening and Saturday morning — free time, the most precious commodity for a single mom.


One other reminder is always present in the cell setting: spiritual gifts and ministry burden or passions are discovered most accurately in the context of relationships. This mobilizing process is about more than individuals finding their individual design. Rather, how I fit is best determined as I see myself in relation to others — and they watch and confirm. Those smooth running automobiles are not made of independently functioning parts, but rather inter working components whose effectiveness is defined by their fit with other parts.


That very process gives all involved the opportunity to find a “fit” that can be confirmed and then used even far beyond the confines of the actual cell. Some group members will find that their opportunities for service will be beyond the group, yet they will still have the group support and encouragement. The group provides sober estimating in the discovery process and then moral support as different members step out into youth ministry or specific outreach opportunities. The cell rejoices with each person’s discovery in OR beyond the group!


Practical Applications. If you determine that you church could effectively utilize small groups as a primary setting for lay mobilization, consider the following guidelines:


1. As you plan your model make certain that those who have a heart or passion to see this ministry developed get the opportunity to offer input in the development of the process. How? One way to determine potential players is to have the vision for mobilizing spiritual gifts through groups shared clearly from the pulpit. Then invite those who have a heart for such a ministry to meet at a specified time sometime that same day.


From the group that responds you will commonly find two to six players who have the gifts and vision to help build your plan of action. This ministry is ultimately a layperson to layperson ministry, and the planning process should reflect that. If God gives a vision for such a ministry, He always prepares the players. After having seen this very thing happen in 35-40 churches with which I have worked, I am confident that you will find people with the heart to “build the ship”! One “plan to fail” model: build your own exclusive design and recruit others to do your model without input from those who already have a vision for this ministry.


2. Who will be your ministry mentors, or key players, in your small group mobilizing design? That is, who will be the laypersons who mobilize the group by teaching the curriculum, interviewing, matching and placing members in significant ministry opportunities in and beyond the group setting? This is the most strategic decision in the small group-based model. Three possibilities are worth considering: a. bring a team of two or three trained mentors alongside the group to fulfill the mobilizing roles; b. train the assistant or apprentice leaders to fulfill the mentoring role; or, c. select a person from each group who has the heart and gifts to be such a specialist for their cell.


One specific example with great potential could be called the mentoring troika, or mentoring team of three. Divide the mentoring responsibilities into three categories and invite mentors to fill the roles: a Bible study facilitator who is a catalyst for building the gifts mobilizing vision, an interview coordinator who sets up the interview process and matches group members with the most appropriate of the mentoring troika, and an ongoing encourager who makes certain that each member finds a place of significance to serve in or beyond the group. Bring such a mentoring troika team alongside each group to carry out the mobilizing process in support of the group leadership.


3. As you develop your biblical curriculum on gifts and select your assessment tools, be sensitive to take advantage of small group dynamics already present. Use a relational Bible study format to facilitate active dialogue about the gifts. Pick or develop assessment tools that give group members the opportunity to affirm the potential gifts and passions of the teammates.


4. Regarding placement, it is crucial to remember that there are two major categories for placement into service opportunities: specific roles within the group and opportunities in and beyond the larger church fellowship. Every group will be different with how this breaks down into serving roles.


5. Remember the tremendous opportunity this model provides to help identify potential new group leaders. Since the recruitment of new leaders is the major challenge of small group ministry, take full advantage of the opportunity to “watch” for those with equipping gifts who are future leaders.


6. If you utilize mentors who come alongside the group, give the group leader opportunity to meet with that team of mentors. It provides great perspective for the leader who will continue on as a primary encourager of each in his or her group.


Consider fine-tuning your your small group engine with a well oiled lay mobilizing process. You might just find yourself down road with many more Christians discovering their significant role in the body of Christ!


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“New Wineskins for New Wine”–Re-Pioneering Local Church Leadership 1996


by Author and Speaker Dr. Paul R. Ford and Pastor Rick Olmstead, Vineyard of Fort Collins, CO


As Paul Ford shares his vision for re-pioneering, consider Pastor Rick Olmstead’s practical applications along the way.


I used to think that the main reason that 20% of evangelical Christians do 80% of the ministry is because the 80% do not want to serve. I have been told for years that motivation is the major problem in mobilizing Christians into meaningful service. Many Christians simply do not want to serve.


It is NOT true. I am discovering Christians everywhere wanting to find their role in the Kingdom. There is a new movement, a new wine, in the active search for significance among believers throughout North American, and it is affecting many churches all across the body of Christ. Christians want to discover how God has prepared them to serve, and so many thousands are ready to move into action! Why do we not see more of these people trained and released to play their strategic part in the body? I have found the enemy, and it is…


As I have traveled from Los Angeles to Moscow over the past four years, working with several thousand leaders from hundreds of churches and dozens of mission agencies, I have discovered some problems I was not interested in finding. The most significant issue that has raised its unsightly head is this: the biggest block to meaningful involvement of the 80% in Christian service is leadership, both pastoral and key lay leaders. The greatest block to a mobilized Church is the people who are in primary leadership!


As an ordained pastor, with ten years of local church ministry experience into the early 1990’s, I want you to know that I did not go looking for this dilemma. But after consulting with 125 churches individually and training leaders from several hundred other churches and mission agencies, this major reality was clear, though. Most churches do not act like the Christian in the pew is designed by God to play an essential, even irreplaceable, role in building and extending the Kingdom of God. Why?


1) Christians leaders are trained to DO ministry rather than equip and release others to play their roles in the body of Christ


This became transparently clear after doing 20 teambuilding seminars with local church leadership teams of all shapes and sizes. While we might give strong verbiage to our commitment to “body life ministry”, the reality is that we are prone to center ourselves in our ministry and to make others dependent upon our vision and skills.


And, for those churches that grow and add part-time or full time staff, the problem is merely multiplied. A “top-down” mentality further develops and is affirmed by hundreds of years of clear pastor-centered expectations from the congregation. The pastor is hired to do the work of ministry, and no matter how hard we try to extend ownership and involvement in service to the body parts, that old model remains a major stumbling block. Worse, though, is this reality: we are feeding that mentality by our very actions in leadership as pastors and key lay leaders.


Rick Olmstead. It had always been my passion to see our people released into ministry. I enjoyed what others would characterize as a very successful history in raising up people in our church to become leaders, pastors, and even church planters. Our church had very significant growth over its first ten years of existence, growing to over 1500 regular participants. Then we plateaued and even began to decline over the last four years. I began questioning everything we were doing but could not see the problem. We had 60 plus small groups, great worship, and a catalytic children’s and youth ministry. Yet we were stuck and could not seem to get moving again.


After a visit from Paul Ford, I came to realize that I had taken a subtle, yet major detour from my original vision and passion of a lay driven church. We had become a top down, staff driven and staff focused church. All of our “grass-roots” ministry which was so crucial to our growth and development in the past had come to an abrupt halt. It seemed that almost all new ministry in the church was initiated by leaders. I discovered that we were limiting our dreams, vision, and activity to the energy level of our pastoral staff! Our structure, which had been successful in releasing people in the early day, had now become a barrier if not a stumbling block to the mobilization of our people into effective ministry.


Additionally, I began to see that our structure did not facilitate anyone succeeding except our vocational staff. We had access to the money, copiers, computers, secretaries, and communication sources. No wonder there was a lack of vision and motivation within our church.


Three reasons appear to be at the heart of this dilemma.


a) Training. First, as already stated, the majority of those trained for full time ministry were trained to DO ministry rather than equip and release others to do ministry. The training received at seminary or Bible school, for the thousands upon thousands of Christian leaders who were trained at such, is focused primarily on training men and women to fulfill certain aspects of local church ministry: teaching the Bible, hospital visitation, leading small groups, preaching. It is quite obvious why the trained Christian leader tends to build ministry around him or herself: that is the how the training is portrayed. “Here’s how to study the Word of God and how to teach it, and here are some practical ministry skills to get you started down the road of ministry.” If there is focus on equipping and releasing others to meaningful service, it is commonly found in one or two academic classes which provide no “hands-on” experience. Add these realities to the way money and other resources are focused on vocational leadership, as Rick spoke of, and it is understandable why we are leader-dominated in most local churches.


In other words, there are reasons why the “priesthood of all believers” vision has never taken hold since the Reformation. Training issues are only part of the issue.


b) Ego Issues. Secondly, there is the issue of pride. It is manifest most clearly in the “expert mentality” that we have established. “I have been trained and I am the leader, so I probably know how to do ministry best.” If a leader believes all or part of this attitude, it will make it much more difficult to step out of the way and enable others to serve in gifted, vision areas of their own.


c) Insecurity inhibits releasing. The final reason for difficulty in releasing others to meaningful service is security — or lack thereof — in the leader. If a pastor or lay leader is insecure or lacks self-confidence, it is simply harder to empower others to serve. “What if they no longer need me after I train and release them. They might not need me anymore. Maybe I had better not train them — or at least release them — if that could happen!” This issue is huge, especially for those of us who have spent thousands of dollars to become spiritual leaders who want to be needed by others. In my experience of working with thousands of Christian leaders, people with gifts of pastoring, mercy, and helps are particularly susceptible here. But the issue permeates the full range of gifted leaders!! While we may be open to equipping other believers, we may have a harder time getting out of their way because or our own fears.


2) “The Double Umbrella Approach” to Equipping and Releasing Christians in Local Church Ministry


New wineskins are needed to carry this wine. If we are to address this issue proactively, we must look first to our understanding of an equipping and releasing leadership style in the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul provides a helpful model with the use of the Greek word “katartidzo”, “to equip, mend, or prepare”, in Ephesians 4:11-12. It appears that he [Christ] gave some with certain gifts (4:11) for the purpose of
equipping, mending and/or preparing others for the work of ministry. I began to understand my role as a leader to be more than just doing ministry. It includes providing others with the necessary tools to equip them for significant participation in Christian body life.


But it was not until I understood the concept of releasing authority with responsibility, shared years ago by Frank Tillapaugh in his book, Unleashing the Church, that the releasing component became reality. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah did more than call out and train God’s people to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem. He also got out of the way so that each of the people could build their part of the wall. He had the vision, but he also released the actual process to the players.


Today, we are focusing a great deal of Christian leadership on the role of the leader in providing vision for the local church. New books are centering more and more responsibility on the leader for communicating vision in such a way that people understand, own and begin to carry that vision. This focus is helpful and certainly true, but what happens if a leader provides wonderful vision but no way is provided for people to carry through on their part of the vision. What if there is clear vision but no clear release?


I suggest the “Double Umbrella Principle” as a starting point for us in re-engineering our thinking on equipping others for significant, God-designed, service. As the top umbrella, consider that God gives primary vision to primary leader or leadership in a local church. What is being said in so many books today is true: clear vision from those whom God has called out to leadership is a must. But now consider a second, inverted umbrella, one which is aimed up toward the top umbrella. If God first gives big picture vision to the leader, then He will embody pieces of that vision in all the players, commonly called the body of Christ by Paul in the New Testament.


Put simply, God gives big picture vision to the leader and then manifests the specifics of that vision in the gifts and burdens or passions of all the players. There is now opportunity for the body of Christ to truly become the body of Christ, with all the members significant, as modeled in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The interaction between visionary leadership and all the players prepared with parts of the vision becomes absolutely essential. Essential, that is, if we are to portray the whole picture of God’s intent in each of our local fellowships or ministries.


Consider the implications of this principle. If I, the leader, believe that God actually embodies a part of the vision he has given me to direct this church in every Christian he brings to this church, paid or unpaid, then all of sudden every player becomes important to the process of God’s vision for our local church! Body life leadership includes actual body life management. Leaders impart vision and then seek out the whole body for how God has prepared the vision in specifics through all the body life members.


If God designed the body to fulfill His purposes, then the leader realizes the strategic nature of every player that God brings and seeks to help each of the players discover their significance. Without the players playing their parts, the body cannot function as the body. If only Nehemiah and a few, select players had set out to build the walls, only a portion of God’s purposes for the whole wall to be built would not have been realized. If we are indeed being built together by the Spirit of God to become a temple holy unto God (Ephesians 2:19-22), then we are all players. How different might this look at the local church level? If all participants are suddenly God-designed wall-builders waiting to develop their portion of the wall, then we had best learn how to invite them to meaningfully play their parts.


Rick: One of my difficulties had to do with my belief that the leaders are the ones with the vision and everyone else serves that vision. I still believe that leaders are the pacesetters and must be guardians over the values and the overall vision (i.e. they see the big picture). What I did not understand was the need for goal ownership of the people and also the need to allow everyone to be able to dream — that is, to see themselves as true players with distinctive roles to play in the body. We are now attempting turn our top-down style of ministry upside-down…which is really right side up if you please! We have reduced our pastoral paid staff from nine to six but have released and empowered 20 new “lay pastors”. We have begun to validate Christians in the pew as strategic players with vision for our ministry as a church.


The role of the remaining staff is not to do the ministry and have all the vision but to serve, resource, equip, and oversee these new lay pastors. These lay pastors now have access to the resources that in the past were available only to staff. They now have money, secretarial support, and a staff pastor who is committed to their success and supporting the lay pastor’s vision. We have put the vision closer to the areas where the ministry is actually being done. The results so far have been encouraging! These newly envisioned and empowered lay pastors are forming their teams, equipping their workers, and initiating ministry with renewed excitement, passion, and fruitfulness throughout the fellowship.


What is it that each player has that makes them significant to body life? I call it ministry identity, that is, not what you do for God, but rather who God has already prepared you to BE. The key components to ministry identity are spiritual gifts and ministry burdens or passions. both modeled clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:15-20. As he talks about his ministry, who he is rises up clearly in the form of the spiritual gifts of evangelism and apostle (see 2 Timothy 1:11 to confirm) and in the burden Paul has for Gentile non-Christians.


Paul’s strategic contribution is tied to how God prepared him for service — his ministry identity. “But in fact God arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be”(1 Corinthians 12;18). If it is true for Paul, it is no less true for every member of the body! “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5). Our multiple functions as body members are essential to the whole of the body. That’s why we each have different gifts, as Paul goes on to say in Romans 12:6, so that our part of body life can be fulfilled. Every player has a strategic part to play, and thus each discovering and fulfilling their ministry identity is a key component for local church ministry — if God’s purposes are to be fulfilled, that is.


3) Two Key Strategies for Re-Engineering Local Church Leadership


Since Rick has already begun the practical application process through the “lay pastor” example, consider key areas where re-design may be necessary in your local fellowship.


a) Our words communicate the importance (or unimportance) of the players. It all starts with language that we use to talk about the body. Do we use language in our churches which reveal a whole church ministry focus where every Christian is strategic to God’s design? For example, did you know that one distinctive reason why many believers to not consider themselves important is because “I am not a pastor but only a layperson.” Even the clergy-laity distinction affirms for many “9 to 5” Christians that they are not that significant. Consider using words that affirm every person’s role in body life. For example, consider using the phrase “Kingdom builder” as a term for all in your fellowship, whether leader or worker.


Consider whether or not you are affirming all workers in your fellowship, or giving higher priority (and validation) to leaders or potential leaders. As I developed and communicated a language of gifts which included gifted “equippers” and gifted “servers” as equal players in the body of Christ, scores of people with serving gifts in our church came to me, many in tears, saying, “Thank you for validating me as a Christian for the first time!” I was shocked.


Rick: In our church I recognized that people we were losing were not our leadership core but those who were not feeling validated and were not finding their place within the life of our church. My emphasis up to that time was strictly on identifying, recruiting, training, and releasing LEADERS. I wrongly assumed that everyone was called to leadership in some manner. We took every successful worker/helper/server and tried to make them into leaders. I was trying to put everyone into my visionary box. We had inadvertently invalidated anyone and everyone who did not have leadership and/or equipping gifts.


Through all this we came up with a new identification that would validate everyone in our church who desired to serve the Lord. Instead of “Leadership Team”, we now call all who serve , lead, or pastor, “Kingdom Builders” and our motto is: “Building People to build the body to build the Kingdom.” Now, whether you are an usher, nursery worker, small group leader, Bible study teacher, or one who mows the church lawn or pastors the church, we are all “Kingdom Builders”!


One of our central strategies is to “mobilize 100-200 new Kingdom Builders into ministry as pastors, teachers, leaders, and workers every 12 months.” Our primary unit of measurement for growth for our church is no longer is worship attendance or number of small groups, but rather the number of people we are training and releasing into significant ministry.


b) An actual lay mobilizing PROCESS. Secondly, establish a distinctive gifts mobilizing process that has as its core purpose to help individual believers discover their ministry identity and how their gifts and burdens or passions fit serving in or beyond their local church. The most effective way to enable this vision is first to train a team of Christians called ministry mentors (or ministry consultants, gift advisors, etc.) who are trained to come alongside other Christians to help them discover their ministry identity and its fit in their local church ministry through already present or new ministry possibilities.


The mentoring team, since they are the ones prepared by God to build this ministry, develops a process which includes classroom or small group Bible study curriculum, assessment tools to confirm potential ministry identity, a personal interview with a mentor, intentional placement in serving opportunities, and follow-up to assure meaningful placement. After working with 125 individual churches on this process, I can confidently say that all seven pieces to this puzzle are crucial, from the calling out of a mentoring team for building the mobilizing process to the follow up on everyone who goes through the process and steps into service to confirm their ministry identity.


Rick: Our core strategy includes the following:


*”To identify, recruit, train and release every person in our church into significant ministry both in our church and throughout Fort Collins, by helping them to discover the spiritual passion, gifts, and talents that God has given to them by his grace.”

*”To awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity and energy that lies dormant in unsuspecting Christians.”


One of our new lay pastors is leading our charge in the gifts mobilizing area, He is developing a team of players who are putting all the pieces in place for our mobilizing process to affect all the groups and other ministry contexts of our church. The gifts study is ready, as are the assessment tools that we are going to use. The team is finishing up its field test of the process and will soon release the process on the whole body.


The gifts mobilizing process ultimately models the reality you desire for the whole body: players equipped and released to be players!


4) The Fruit of Such Vision Re-Engineering and Ministry Transition?


For obvious reasons, Rick will carry the bulk of the content here. Consider what happens when you validate and release people to be who God prepared them to be? What happens when you license people to dream because God has already made them to be significant in the body?


Rick: What has emerged in our church has been somewhat unexpected. Now ministry everywhere is being led by people who are doing the thing they love to do and feel gifted and called to that ministry area. Duty will only take us so far. We need to be serving out of our gifting, passion, and calling. Previously, our pastors had a list of maybe six to ten ministry areas they were in charge of. When they would get to #4 or #5 on the list, they were not very excited or motivated. They were carrying out a role but not fulfilling their own ministry identity. With our lay pastors taking the lead we now have people leading areas who believe that what they are doing is the most important thing in the whole church if not the whole world!


For example, our ushers/hospitality team used to be led by one of my pastors. This area was probably #6 or #7 priority to him. Obviously, the usher/ hospitality team was in a maintenance mode, with little effort and creative focus put forth. This has drastically changed since we have a lay pastor couple who have taken over. The whole ministry has come alive and is expanding to new levels. They have caught not only the vision for greeting and ushering but have moved into developing the whole area of assimilation. This ministry belongs to them. They own it. They are dreaming and leading according to what God has placed on their hearts, while fully supportive of and submitted to leadership. While embracing the vision and values that I have as senior pastor, they have taken this ministry far beyond what I could have desired or envisioned. Letting people dream is a great motivate!


Another example is our new outreach bus ministry where a team of people go out every month to an area of the city where there is great poverty and need. They take food and clothes, give haircuts, give away toys for kids, and practically show God’s love in many other ways. This ministry was not started by anyone on staff and no one on staff has even gone out with the team. Yet the ministry has grown under the leadership of another lay pastor couple who are impassioned, empowered, and gifted for this ministry. This ministry team was recently nominated for major award from the Fort Collins Human Relations Department! All because we found a true champion who was allowed to dream, lead and serve according to what God had placed in their lives to be and do!!


Are you committed to helping people learn to be who they already are? Is your church one that “slots” people where the leadership wants them, or a place that helps people to discover and fulfill their ministry identity?


The biggest change in our local church over the first three-plus years of this re-pioneering vision in action was the people in the church began to risk and try new ministry possibilities. We gave them permission and the tools to dream and discover their ministry identities, and they took us seriously. In other words, God has already prepared the players in your body to BE players!


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The Primary Function of Leadership 1999 (multiple publications)


Over the last twelve years I have been watching leadership trends in both the Christian and secular arenas, from Bennis to Drucker to Senge to DuPree to Maxwell to Barna. Add to that the privilege I have of training Christian leaders and teams in eight different cultures ongoing. This past year I have worked with leaders from four sub Saharan tribal groups in Africa, Kazaks in Central Asia, Russians in and around Moscow, Estonians, several ethnic Chinese groups in southeast Asia, and even Korean pastors in Los Angeles! It has been a rather interesting journey, to say the least — particularly as I reflect on my own culture’s leadership patterns here in the West after returning from any of the training treks.


Out of this process of watching I came up with my own grid for Christian leadership. What functions are really essential to Christian leadership? What activities are strategic for every leader or leadership team to fulfill in a given ministry or church? I call my set the “Primary Functions of Leadership.” It appears in its most updated form in my newest workbook called “Your Leadership Grip, available since May 2001 through ChurchSmart Publishers. An older edition of it appears as “Principle Priorities of Leadership” in my teambuilding workbook, “Discovering Your Ministry Identity.”


The “Primary Functions of Leadership” are my read on what actions are essential to effective Christian leadership in the New Millennium. Since the New Testament does not primarily focus on leadership but rather on equipping and releasing, these five summarize leadership in functional equipping language, all of which are combinations of various spiritual gift sets. No one of the five is valued over another, though each is strategic and essential to the whole process of this activity we call “leadership.” Only 30% of the leaders with whom I work have the gift of leadership (Barna uses an even smaller figure), so there must be other combinations of equipping gifts which empower leading and enable the equipping of the saints.

The five? Values Keeping, Vision Sharing, Teambuilding, Active Listening and Equipping-Releasing. The first two are more content driven, the second two are more relationally driven, while the fifth is really a combination of content and relationship, depending upon the gift mix of the particular leader. Commonly, I have found that leaders are strong at two or three of the five and less so with the other two or three. While some claim that their strengths among the five vary according to situation, the 90% majority clearly identifies two are three as indeed their real power areas. By power I mean what the Kazaks of central Asia understand spiritual gifts to be: where God is powerful in you by His grace.


I offer these three observations from the learning track these past 18 months since first using this simple assessment. First, it seems that in the west we have made leadership into a person instead of a series of functions to be fulfilled by a group of people. While it appears God has designed leadership to be activity where the “I” needs the “we,” we have chosen the model of making the leader into the five-in-one specialist!


Over the past ten years, the emphasis on leaders needing to be that certain kind of visionary leader or powerful upfront presenter appears to have been so strong in Christian media that everybody wants to be a visionary leader. Or they feel guilty that they are not such. This is a new framework of the same old problem that even the Reformation didn’t address effectively…the priesthood of all believers just never quite caught on!


Thus it will not surprise you that “Vision Sharing” is far and away the highest ranked of the five so far for those 600+ who have taken this assessment. This insight did not surprise me, what with Christian literature setting this course so clearly. What struck me was just HOW strong this trend was/is. Thankfully George Barna and others are now backing off things said earlier about the all-encompassing centrality of visionary leadership.


Interestingly, after teambuilding seminars that I do regularly, commonly up to half of the people who came in believing that their strongest Primary Function to be Vision Sharer realizes that they only WANT this to be strongest. Their real power is in other areas – and they are actually relieved! They suddenly realize that God has designed them to lead with other powerful strengths and thus do not have to fit the culturally popular styles.


Add to this the second, and for me the most challenging insight gained. I was expecting that one of the five would be far and away the lowest – that being the Active Listener. I was wrong. Far and away, the lowest rated of the five thus far is… Equipping Releaser. I was shocked!


Of the five this one actually seems closest to the biblical model of leadership. I now believe that we have focused so strongly on the pastor as visionary leader or what I call the “Moses as CEO” concept that leaders seem pre-occupied with the question “Am I a leader?” Or, similarly, “How can I learn to be a visionary leader?” rather than “How can I lead powerfully through who I am?” Everybody wants to be a leader – and one of the fruits of this trend is that many have forgotten about their equipping and releasing of others for ministry! Again, the “I” of leadership in our culture has lost sight of the “we.” Everybody wants to be a leader – THE leader –x and the equipping and releasing of the next generation of leaders has been left wanting. This is why I am releasing the new “Your Leadership Grip” workbook – to help leaders re-focus on who they really are and get off this visionary leader as guru kick and back to an equipping/releasing framework.


Thirdly, we may be asking some wrong questions when it comes to leading ministry and teams. The questions that leaders in the west commonly seem to ask are “Where am I strong?” and “What seminars can I go to strengthen my weaknesses?” We translate this same strong leader mentality into making even my weaknesses stronger. That’s what you do in a culture that focuses on strength and runs from weakness, in a culture that focuses on the strength of the “I” as more important than the power and synergy of the “we” – this in spite of all the teambuilding supposedly going on.


I contend that those earlier questions are not the right biblical ones. The critical questions are “Where am I powerful (i.e. my spiritual gifts)?” and “Who do I Need?” That is, equally important to how God has made me powerful is how God has prepared me to need others!


For Christian Body Life purposes, God has designed every leader with intrinsic strengths and inherent weaknesses. That is, God has designed each of us to be strong and needy at the same time. The “I” again has been designed for the “we.” Our model as leaders is to include how we allow others to come alongside to make our weakness into strength for the leadership team. Commonly, leaders who have taken the Primary Functions assessment experience a new sense of primacy on asking God to raise up those alongside equippers who create more holistic and powerful leadership model. The hoped for result is a re-centering of the principle of body life ministry driven by the leader who now sees him/herself more accurately as one among called to prepare the troops out of his own needs.


I welcome shared insights on this subject as the learning continues.


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“From My Vision to our Vision: Finding Your Church’s Vision in the People You Already Have” 2000, Leadership Journal


Intro – Russian story


A. Pioneering Mindset Shifts from We to I in American Culture

B. Impact on Your Church’s Calling

C. Discovering Vision as Body Life Process for Your Leadership Team

D. Practical Steps for Discovering God’s Calling as Ministry Team

1. Develop an intentional teambuilding process

2. Identify strengths, weaknesses, and needs of team members

3. Discovering Who We Are



Turn your clock back to the mid 1990’s when I had the privilege of training Christian ministry teams from 70 U.S. mission agencies who were preparing to minister in the former Soviet Union. Their task was to train Russian schoolteachers to teach Christian moral ethics in the Russian public schools. During this incredible opportunity came an intriguing comment which would forever change the focus of my ministry with Christian leaders in the West.


One of our team leaders reported the following comment made by a newly converted Russian Christian. After spending time with American team members in his city, the Russian made this gracious but telling comment. “Why doesn’t your team [of American Christians] go home until they like each other and then come back and share the Gospel?” Ouch! It was the old “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear a word that you are saying” proverb coming back to haunt us.


This unfortunately was not an unusual response. Russians in nearly every city where we worked were stunned by the relational struggles on the American teams. We were the ones who came to share the Gospel, but our living out the Gospel left the Russians wondering and disappointed. Why?


Pioneering Mindset Shifts from We to I in American Culture

The culprit in this situation relates directly to the pioneering spirit that is so much a part of American culture. The rugged individualism that has spurred growth and creativity in so many different areas is also the reason that we do not know how to spell the word “team.” While we can boldly go where few others are willing, we do not know how to act when we get there!


Turn the clock back one hundred years to the pioneering homesteaders who risked all to build new lives in the wilderness, or speed ahead to the present and read any newspaper or magazine about the thriving internet start-up companies that are explosively affecting the economics of our culture. Both movements were driven by pioneers who portray American willingness to risk all and step out into new frontiers. But there is one telling difference between the turn of the last century and the turn of this century that is often missed. The world of the early 1900’s was more often driven by the word “we.” The new millennium is driven by the word “I.” From a values standpoint, individualism now has a much more important role than community in culture and in Christian contexts. While Generation X values are encouraging the return to community, it will be a long road back during this century.


Homesteaders in 1900 were committed to setting up new homes for their families in a community setting with other families who shared the same values. They really were in the process together. In 2000, while loyalty to company once dominated work values, it is now spurned in favor of the individual who leaves to make more money, find personal fulfillment, or move up the corporate ladder. This is the ‘short ladder’ described so well by Bill Thrall of Leadership Catalyst in their recently released The Ascent of a Leader.

Companies have become less focused the needs of the whole, and individuals are following the same path. Our world revolves around groups of individuals who happen to work or live in the same context with other individuals, each out to fulfill his or her own personal priorities. In fact, my definition of a new millennium ministry team is a group of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time – each doing his or her own thing!


The ramifications of this values shift are difficult to comprehend and they are profound. Marketing approaches that persist in promoting self-centeredness, entitlement, and dissatisfaction extend the emphasis on the “I” rather than the “we.” Our cultural values training through media continues to move us toward what I need as more important than what we need, toward what is important to me as a higher value than what is important for us. To use Tom Hanks’ words to mission control in the movie Apollo 13,


“Houston, we have a problem.”


Need more convincing? Consider this illustration from the 1980’s. Two mountaineering teams, one American and one Canadian, at the base of K2, the second highest mountain in the world at 28,750 feet. Two men are talking about their respective teams, and the American complains that his team is breaking into cliques — no one is getting along. If it does not improve, he and several others are planning on leaving the team. The Canadian coolly responds, “I don’t know how you individualistic Americans ever get up a mountain together!”


For me, it took extensive leadership training in four other cultures to bring home this reality. And now, after eight years of work with over 500 teams from across Thirty-five denominations and twenty-plus mission agencies in North America, I have found less than five percent of these teams to be healthy. [See the exercise in the box to determine your team’s health.] We do indeed have a serious problem!


How is Your Team Tracking?

Which track is most accurate for your ministry or leadership team at present?

Team on Track Team Off Track

Open, accepting atmosphere. or Bored or stressed atmosphere.

Discussion, with all sharing. or A few dominate discussion.

Vision/Purpose is understood or Vision/purpose unclear or confusing, by all players.

There is a general consensus or Actions are being taken without about the purpose of our team. clear unity of purpose on the team.

Each player knows role and or Players unsure of their roles and. acts accordingly. There is resulting tension.

Players listen to each other. or Players do not listen to each other.

Disagreements are okay and or Disagreements are left unresolved common in team discussion; or are NOT okay.

Leader shares leadership or Leader always the “boss”, with functions according to need. No releasing of leading functions.

Players evaluate team’s work or Criticism is embarrassing and creates without personal attack.  Creates stress. Players fear clobbering.

Team meetings are open for or Creativity or honest expression of ideas and appropriate sharing feelings is off limits. Feelings are of feelings. thus hidden.


9-10 on left column = right on track.
7–8 on left column = time to address issues is now.
5-7 on left column = ask for help!
4 or less = your team is in real trouble. Call your supervisor or shepherd.


The Impact on Your Church’s Calling

In dealing with the impact of individualism in the Church, one of the most affected areas is that of vision and calling. How does a leader discover God’s calling for his/her church or ministry? How does God speak to the church — or to the pastor? Is it a solitary responsibility that the pastor fulfills, or a process revealed through the leadership and even key church members?


Most Christian literature I read today focuses primarily on the sense of calling found in the so-called visionary leader. The leader is to discover the vision or determine a clear sense of calling for the church and then communicate that vision to the leaders and then the church. It is quite similar to the model of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. He went up the mountain, found the vision from God in the form of the Ten Commandments and came back down the mountain. He then communicated the vision and challenged people to take appropriate action. I call it the Moses as C.E.O. model, a model which dominates the leadership landscape as we begin the new millennium.


This is truly a great model – for about 30% of the 2000+ pastors with whom I have worked. I kiddingly say that most pastors with whom I work go up the mountain to find the vision tablets, but the only tablets they can find [need!] are aspirin! The spiritually gifted leader is usually able to gain a clear sense of vision or calling from the Lord and communicate that vision in such a way that the congregation understands the vision. In other words, for the gifted leader, who is designed by God to be vision driven in the way he or she serves, this Moses as C.E.O. model is very effective.


The other 70% struggle in varying degrees with discovering the vision on their own. Though most do not have the spiritual gift of leadership, they are fully prepared by God with one or more equipping spiritual gifts to be able to prepare and release their saints for the work of ministry. But because they are not vision- driven, as is the spiritually-gifted leader, they often balk under the yoke of single-handedly discovering God’s vision for the church or the leadership team. They were not designed by God to carry the whole vision under their thinking caps!


Does this mean that God has made a mistake in designing only 30% of present church leaders to have the gift of leadership? I say no. Consider this important fact. The New Testament actually focuses much more on the issue of equipping and releasing others through one’s spiritual gifts than it does on leading as a visionary. There is very little direct emphasis on the strong visionary leader concept. Ephesians 4:11-16 not only focuses on variously gifted believers’ abilities to equip others, but also on the unity and maturity of the group rather than the individual. The only mention of the individual is that each plays his part (4:16). There is no reference to the leader and the appropriate imparting of the whole vision for the whole church. Maybe there is a reason. Perhaps God has designed this idea of discovering His calling for a church to be a body life process rather than an individual’s role.

I expect the business world will soon release research results affirming that the leader’s ability to effectively train and release a team is far more important to success than the visionary’s micro-management of a project from beginning to end. Maybe we have been majoring on the minors in our vision-driven model for leaders. Or maybe there is more than one way to “skin the cat.”


Discovering Vision as a Body Life Process for Leadership

Kent is a pastor in the Midwest. A pastor-teacher by gifting, he believed that God had called him to shepherd the flock in his mid-sized church in a small city. But Kent was living under the yoke of what I will call the vision block. While neither he nor the vast majority of his congregation (400 in worship) did not question his calling to lead the church, his elders challenged him to develop a more dominant leadership style. They had been reading the contemporary Christian literature on leadership, and thus were expecting their pastor to become that visionary leader portrayed as the premier biblical model.


But Kent did not fit that model. While he had a hard time discovering God’s clear calling for their church, he didn’t have a hard time discerning whether or not visionary ideas from others were from God. He listened well to others in leadership around him – particularly elders and staff – and was able to discern component pieces of God’s vision for their church shared by key players. He then put the pieces together and clearly communicated the vision biblically and sensitively to the congregation.


But Kent did not fit the Moses as C.E.O. model, as his elders often wanted. For years he lived under the yoke of not being adept at going up the mountain like Moses and discovering all of God’s vision. His leaders were saying they wanted more of the Moses model as well – remember, they had read the literature! He needed to lead out with the vision more forcefully. At the same time, Kent knew that he wanted and needed stronger leadership from those same leaders.


Through a pastor’s group of six men that I was leading in his city, Kent tearfully came to the realization that he could never meet the expectations of his leaders. He found new freedom in believing that God had indeed designed him to be just who was needed to lead his church. So Kent went to his board and said two things. First, “I cannot be who you want me to be as a visionary leader. If who I am is not sufficient for your purposes, then I will resign today.” Secondly, “But if you believe that God has called me to be your pastor, then we need to make some changes around here.”


The elders confirmed without question that he was their leader, and together they set out to establish a job description that would free Kent to lead through his primary gifts of pastoring, teaching, and discernment. The new model allowed him to incorporate several gifted leaders alongside to assist in specific leadership functions.


The results were and are astonishing. The church has more than doubled in attendance since that event three years ago, and the reasons relate directly to the change of heart in the senior pastor. No longer does he try to fulfill all the functions of a strong leader. While his leadership authority has not changed, he shares some of the leadership functions, and he continues to discern vision through and with the other key players. God speaks clearly through the players, and he is able to identify God’s direction for their church through the component pieces of the vision revealed through a number of key members in the church along in addition to the direction that God gives him personally.


This is called body life vision, and it is real! I wish you could see the release on the face of hundreds of pastors I have watched who suddenly realized that they did not always have to be the sole originator of God’s calling for their church.


Take note of two distinctive and non-mosaic biblical models. First, Nehemiah is a strong leader who got a clear vision from God for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He received a sense of vision and then worked it out through a participatory, grassroots approach in cooperation with each leader and family along the wall. Second, Acts 6 reveals a different body life model in the raising up of the Stephen and six others to serve tables. No single leader appears to have envisioned who do this. The apostles asked that it prayerfully be done and the seven were identified. No one leader stated God’s vision for raising up leadership nor did one leader prayerfully call out the new deacons. It was a body life process led by the Spirit through a group of key players. Leadership was a shared function through which the Spirit worked.


Which of these models is more biblical? Both are equally valid scriptural models for discerning God’s call for a church or ministry situation. And both strategically incorporate other members of the body of Christ.


The interesting question for our discussion is this: which model do we find ourselves pursuing today in the church? Clearly it is the first modelxx, the strong, visionary leader model. We follow the model that the business world has chosen. It is a great idea – for those 30% of the leaders. Developing a vision for a church is not just a solitary activity, but a responsibility of leadership to discover through the body of Christ. Doing so will not only affirm the importance of more than just the leader but also reveal more profoundly that which God has prepared for a church. As he has prepared a church to fulfill His purposes, he has equally prepared each player to play his or her part in carrying out that vision (1 Corinthians 12:18).


Practical Steps for Discovering God’s Calling as a Ministry Team

How do we pursue God’s vision as a ministry team in the local church? What are the primary tools for discovering God’s calling for your ministry with those people whom God has given you? How do you discover God’s body life plan through a team whose definition is this: a group of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time, doing his or her own thing?


The most strategic plan of action in finding God’s call is to first incorporate the vision discovery process into a larger plan of teambuilding. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust). Team players who think “I” first must discover anew the role of the team concept in their thinking. A team made up of individuals must re-learn that “who I am affects who we are.” This relearning is a process, not an event, and thus teambuilding becomes a priority as leaders search for the vision for the whole church.


Define team and establish a teambuilding process. What is the make-up of your team? A ministry team is defined differently in nearly every ministry setting. Some churches will include pastor and elders or deacons. Other large churches will involve senior pastor and paid program staff. Still others will include pastors, elders, and any church member who leads a ministry. As you define your leadership team, it must include those players who set the course for ministry in your context. It involves those people whose minds and hearts must share the vision to which God has called the church and will likely play a role in fulfilling that calling in their area.


Most ministry teams are driven more by agenda than relationship, so we must intentionally build unity of vision and purpose among team members. Unity is not something that you accidentally find – it is something you actively work toward. Jesus revealed its primacy in John 17:20-24 when he prayed not only for unity among the disciples but also among us who will later believe in His name. This plan for unity in the body of Jesus Christ cost Jesus his life (Philippians 2:1-11). That is why the body of Jesus Christ, with each part a member, is more important than any individual member.


Step 1: Develop an intentional process…to help each player more clearly identify who he or she is in Christ. I use a workbook of assessments I have developed called Discovering Your Ministry Identity, to be completed by each team member. It is a set of seven simple assessments through which each person identifies his spiritual gifts (a three-pronged approach to assessing gifts including input from others), ministry burden or passion, team style, personal values, and “principle priorities” (which of five key leadership functions are strongest in you?). This process begins the deeper sequence of asking “Who am I in Christ?” in a step by step manner.


This multiple assessment approach not only removes the likelihood of oversimplified answers or projecting gifts that a person does not have, but also gives leaders the opportunity to look more deeply at themselves. Having worked with 8000+ Christian leaders over the past ten years, I would estimate that between 60 and 70 per cent of those leaders did not have a clear sense of who they are in Christ. They first believed that God called them to serve and then started carrying out assigned job descriptions. Seldom do leaders go through an intentional process to discover the distinctives of who they are in Christ. I have found a multiple assessment process to be extremely helpful for even the strongest of leaders in identifying who they are and who they are NOT. It also prepares them for the critical team question: “How does who I am affect who we are?”


Step 2: Help each player identify not only their strengths but also their weaknesses and needs. When does Christian community really occur? Does it happen when you realize your strengths and communicate those to your team members? No, community usually happens when your weaknesses are revealed and your teammates have to decide whether or not they will still receive you openly. It happens when you and others have to make a decision to allow grace to be an active part of your relationship.


Because of this, each team member’s understanding and sharing of personal weaknesses is essential. It is not simply a nice thing for Christians to do together. It is the most important step in building a ministry team. The weaknesses are already inherent in each player, so why not provide a safe context where they can be shared? Rather than allowing weaknesses to become the source for sarcastic humor , identify and share them along the way so that grace becomes an active part of the relationships. The sharing of weaknesses identifies neediness in each of us regardless of what we have or how we look or who we know.


I ask three critical questions throughout my assessment process. The first is where are you powerful? Our spiritual gifts reveal more than where we are good at doing certain ministry functions. They identify where we are powerful. While in Kazakhstan last April 1999, I discovered that the Kazaks have 20 words for sheep and but no comparable words for the phrase spiritual gift! In determining a new way to talk about spiritual gifts, I told the Kazaks that spiritual gifts are where God is uniquely powerful in each one of us. God is less interested in our being “good” at something – He desires that we be powerful in the Spirit. Thus spiritual gifts are where the power of God is revealed in our lives.


The second and third questions are the particularly important for American Christians. Question number two is “What are your weaknesses?” When this question is addressed, and deeper, confidential sharing takes place, unity can become real among team members. Without it, your team is unlikely to move beyond functional relationships that complete tasks well. The turning point of nearly every teambuilding seminar is when people begin to share their weaknesses. Real Christian community begins to surface at the point of shared vulnerability, usually modeled first by the leader. When Joe admits one of his glaring weaknesses openly, Sally suddenly realizes that he is human and was indeed aware of that shortcoming that she had already noticed [and even laughed about sarcastically with others]. We take away ammunition from others who are likely to put us down when we are not open about weaknesses.


The third question, “Who do you need?”, is as important as the second. American Christians tend to ask “What am I good at? Where am I weak, and to which seminar can I go to improve in my weak areas? We tend to think individualistically about how we can get better at what we do. We seldom think in terms of how God has designed us to need others.


Three of the assessment exercises in my workbook Discovering Your Ministry Identity raise the above questions as a natural part of the assessing process to reveal that:: 1. Your spiritual gifts make you strong in certain ways, but leave you wanting in other needy areas. 2. Your team style means you are strong here but weak over there. Who do you need to make you stronger overall? 3. Regarding your strong leadership functions, “What are you good?” and “Who do you need?” Each question is equally important, though we seldom ask the second.


When Bill, a senior pastor on the west coast, came to freely admit his weaknesses to his team of 12, it not only allowed Bill to be human for the first time – a revolutionary concept! It also opened the door, through Bill’s modeling, for team members to stop hiding behind their strengths and honestly admit their neediness to one another. Community happened that day for that powerful team (as seen by others) of needy Christians (what was really true) who had never before felt free to acknowledge their weaknesses. They were hired for their ministry expertise, and had learned to play the “impressing game” well. Now the walls came down and a real unity was discovered.


An essential side note: confidentiality is absolutely essential in this type of sharing process, or certain liabilities will become a subject for discussion around the coffee machine. Honoring and cherishing each other in our weaknesses allows grace to dominate and growth to become a shared priority. Secondly, at some point someone will misuse something you share about yourself. I encourage you to accept this as part of the process and to move ahead knowing that such may still happen. It does not give us license to pull back and hide. In your team setting, you may consider to ask people to sign a confidentiality agreement – a way to meaningfully address this serious issue.


Step 3: Discovering who WE are. This step is the pivotal team step for discovering God’s calling. It is the movement from “I” to “we.” It asks the question “Who are we?” and takes into account all that has been shared by the individuals who make up the team. If, as Network International’s Bruce Bugbee says, God has brought the right people to the right place at the right time for the right reasons, then understanding who WE are becomes a central piece of the puzzle for discovering God’s vision for ministry.


Before leading into the vision segment of the teambuilding process, I always introduce a ministry team concept that I call the body life design team. Before we can address vision issues together, we need to make certain that we are committed and called to be together! How does who I am affect who we are?


This four word phrase, body life design team, represents three building blocks that need to be in place for each team member as they approach the team vision. These become the foundation to resolve any significance struggles, role issues or unity problems that may come before the team. If a leadership team is to discover why and for what purposes God has called them together, these building blocks of the team foundation must be firmly in place.


Building Block number One is the concept of body life. Body life for the Christian leader in this context means that he or she is absolutely significant. Jesus’ death on the cross has settled any and all issues of significance – that is, issues of what makes me important or special or unique. In Christ, each of us becomes truly unique — unique is such a way that none of us will ever be more significant than we are right now, at this very moment! There is no ministry role or prestigious award or increase in salary that will make any of us more significant or special. Our significance has been settled at the cross. It is finished!

Building Block number Two is the idea of design. Each member of the team has already been designed by God, with each part of the Trinity actually having a part in that process (Corinthians 12:18, Ephesians 4:7, and 1 Corinthians 12:11). Each of us has a blueprint design within us of how we function most powerfully in ministry, of how we will work most effectively alongside others. Once I understand that my significance has been settled at the cross, then role definition becomes a process of finding my function alongside others on my team.


The problem for many in ministry is that they confuse number one and number two. If the significance issues are not settled in a person’s life, then searching for role usually becomes the place where one searches for their significance. In other words, if our significance issues are settled in Christ, then our team becomes the playground where we discover our primary functions alongside others.


If significance issues are not settled in one or more individuals on your team, then the team context becomes the battleground where those issues are fought out. It becomes the place where Jack tries to prove his worth and value by overworking. Or where he tears down Susan because she has similar skills and he is afraid that she might try to take his position. It is where Lindsay tries to impress others with gifts she does not have so as to gain a position she believes will prove her personal significance and worth to the senior pastor.


If your and my significance is settled at the cross, then finding out where each of us function most powerfully allows for us to even share ministry responsibilities. Why? Because there is nothing left to prove. The only issue remaining is good stewardship of who you are in the context of serving with the other players on your team. Sometimes it means you can release an area of serving to a younger brother or sister in Christ who obviously can share in and even extend your ministry. Other times it means that you purposely equip and release others so that you can give away your role to them. That is a primary way that the body of Christ multiplies its ministry, as each one plays his part (Ephesians 4:16b).


That brings us to Building Block Number Three: “Team” means that each player actively works for unity. Unity is never an accident. It is a choice and a process.

Philippians 2 unity is where I try to speak the truth in love. It is where I actively try to stop gossip about a co-worker, whether I would choose him/her as a personal friend or not. It is where I consider your interests as more important than mine. The model for this unity is Philippians 2:5-11, where Jesus humbled himself and took the form of a man, even to the point of death. He asks us to seek unity, with his own model, so that the Body of Christ might be raised up to fulfill its Kingdom purposes. He knew it would not happen if done on human strength, and so he humbled himself to the point of death. We now have the power – His power in our weakness – t o become one in Him. It is a choice.


If any one of these three building blocks is not set firmly in place, then the resulting conflicts will make it either difficult or impossible to come together. It will make it even more difficult to discover God’s calling for your church or ministry for the short term or the long run.


How do you discover what is on the heart of each of your key players? You might ask them! If you ask a person what is on her heart, and she thinks you really want to know, she will tell you. The problem is that we seldom ask! That is what often happens with a top-down leadership model. The leader shares the vision and then everyone else figures out how they fit into that vision. There is no section in the discussion where everyone gets the chance to share his or her vision. Actually it really is not even a discussion: the leader talks, the people listen and act accordingly. If the leader is not a gifted leader, then the lack of clarity and frustration only increase.


At the eight year mark of working full time with churches and Christian mission agencies, of one thing I am convinced. Too many leaders have too many visions and too few relationships to clearly understand – much less communicate – a clear sense of calling for a specific local church. Most of those same leaders never ask key players what drives their ministry passions, or how they would fulfill God’s call for their church.


What if you asked people what was on their hearts before you shared your heart and vision? One of my assessments, Your Ministry Burdens or Passions, is aimed at that very issue. I have discovered that most Christians, whether in a leadership position or not, have something or someone on their hearts in which they will invest their very lives. But the issue remains that most leaders do not ask others what drives them. Since many think that they are supposed to be the visionary, they go on searching for the answers and seldom consider asking others a part of the process.


In the teambuilding format, each player first shares what he or she listed as their ministry burden or passion. Many times, after several have shared their hearts, one or two will say this. “I wrote down this area, but, after hearing others, I now realize that this is really what drives my heart in ministry. It is this that I live for and to which I would give my life.” Since most Christians are not used to being asked about this, it takes most some time to adapt to thinking in this manner. But when they catch the concept, they really start sharing!


After each player shares his or her ministry burden or passion, then the leader gets to share his/her vision. Doing it in this order is essential. Why? In some situations, if the leader shares first, others will feel constrained to relate their burden to what the leader shares. The real value of this exercise is to hear the heart before the leader shares, because God may speak clearly about the church’s overall vision through the sharing of these unbiased heart callings.


God does indeed give some level of vision and calling to pastors and leaders, but He also speaks to the vision through the hearts of all the players. Often God reveals intricate component pieces of the vision through things shared. Seldom does a leader have all the details worked out. If that leader listens well, he will discover specifics he would have never thought of – and he may even hear strategic pieces of the big picture vision on which he had no previous clarity. Leaders, are you listening?


In Conclusion

I will never forget that Sunday evening. I was working with a church in the Southwest, and we were focusing that evening on this idea of ministry burden or passion. After sharing about Paul’s burden for the Gentiles in Romans 15, I asked people to share what was on each of their hearts. With no warning or preparation time, each of the 42 people present shared one thing –even the more quiet people shared freely! And, as each one shared, the tenor of the room became more and more exciting. People knew I wanted to hear their hearts, and so that is what they shared. Last in the line of sharing was the pastor. I had asked him in advance to prepare something specific to share about his vision for the church. His response after listening the heart visions of the people? He got tears in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to share. You all have just shared every significant piece of the burden God has put on my heart!”


What if you found a way to free your people to share their hearts? What if you validated each of your people as having a ministry burden or passion, and helped them to discover what that might look like in each of their lives? What if you treated your leadership team as players already prepared by God to be strategic in His design for your church? Would you listen better? Would you look for opportunities to listen?


Believe that God has prepared the players to be strategic. Learn to listen to their hearts in addition to searching out your own heart vision. Listen to your leaders and take counsel from the things on their hearts as well as your own. Sometimes God will be speaking.


It is called the body of Christ. In the area of discovering God’ s calling for your church or ministry, treat it as such.


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  2019, Dr. Paul Ford.  All Right Reserved.