Developing church leaders with a spiritual gift assessment

Developing church leaders with a spiritual gift assessment is the missing key for many church leadership trainings.

As you know, I believe spiritual gifts are perhaps the most effective ways to find your purpose in life.  

Because of this, spiritual gifts are also a powerful, but often under used, way to develop church leaders.

Most “christian leadership training” tends to focus on the tactics, the methodologies, the frameworks and language. These all can be helpful. But after watching a pastor try them all during his churches decline from 200 when he was appointed to 0, I realized that tactics can be distracting and often ineffective without a clear foundation.  

In this case, something was missing in the overall leadership of the church.  

The absence of a central focus, in this case, resulting in him spinning and flailing, pivoting with no direction.

Ultimately, when a church declines by so much, it means that there aren’t followers. And when there aren’t followers, the person at the head is only a leader in title.

While his blog post about this experience suggested that his confusion is common, I think it’s not that common, but an extreme case. But that most churches don’t try numerous tactics on the way down is actually a far bigger problem. 

The one benefit from this diffuse leadership is that the problem was obvious to most congregants. Other churches could take longer to realize a similar deficiency when there’s a steady ship….but a steady ship without clear focus.

In fact, it is the lukewarm leaders, the fuzzy and mildly lost, that pose the most danger to the overall health and survival of every church. The frog in a kettle of very slowly heating water still ends up in the same state as the one in the boiling pot.

Church leadership training is important, but the foundations matter. This pastor with the defunct church knew all the tactics, read all the books, was often gone (as a solo pastor) attending conferences….but the foundation was missing.

That foundation is clarity in your purpose.

Having a clear, defined purpose in your life matters even more when you are a leader. A fuzzy “love God” — which was sort of his mantra, along with “honor the sabbath Sabbath” — revealed the underlying weakness that ultimately led to his ministry’s demise.

A church body, as a composition of leaders and congregants, is the combination of everyone’s purpose unfolding in unity and harmony. Each individual purpose aligns with the general, shared purpose with the entire Church.

If a leader doesn’t have a well-defined purpose for his life, it’s unlikely he can be an effective leader.

The alternative is just as true.  

If you have found your purpose and you can define them based on the three questions I shared in another post to help you discover your purpose….you are probably going to need to lead.

In fact, whether you want to or not, you will end up being a leader when you have the purpose, power and presence of God all working together.

When your purpose isn’t about the self, you will have to be a leader. You may not have any positional authority. But you will have to lead.

This pastor with the dead church had positional authority. And some people respond to positional authority. But in the end, with the church’s closure, he was not a leader.

On the other hand, there are plenty of genuine leaders who have no official title, yet who are living purposeful lives leading their families, workplace, and communities.

So if you really are serious about developing church leaders, every potential leader should take a spiritual gifts assessment. They should take it because I believe spiritual gifts are one of the best ways to discover your life’s purpose.

Now, a spiritual gifts assessment, alone, doesn’t do much. This pastor with the failed church also took a spiritual gifts assessment and regularly referenced his gift, underscoring that he was applying a gift that he did not have to build the church.

A spiritual gifts assessment is just the very first step. In fact, taking the assessment without a clear leadership development plan based on the learnings is about as good as doing nothing in the first place.  

I’m going to share how you can take what you learn from the assessment to begin building leaders in your church. This could mean strengthening your existing leadership team. Or it could mean identifying and cultivating leaders from the general body.

Check out my free spiritual gifts assessment.

Here are some key steps to building church leaders after taking a spiritual gifts assessment.

#1: Use a spiritual gifts assessment to evaluate your existing team

Effective church leadership training starts with understanding whom God has already placed in your life. This is why cookie-cutter Christian leadership develop programs can often miss the mark. The dynamic of who is already on your team as leaders likely differs from church to church.  

As a result, many tactics and approaches may not fit. They can certainly be applicable. 

But could you imagine Coach Taylor (football coach from Friday Night Lights) creating a playbook without being aware of what his players were capable of? Many of the principles he brings could have worked for East Dillon, for West Dillon, even that college he was recruited for.

But in the end, it’s knowing the individuals, their capabilities, their weaknesses, their personal lives, that helped him put the final shape to his often winning plan.

It’s not just the leadership composition based on the spiritual gifts that matter. The mix of spiritual gifts within your church could affect its cultural DNA, which determines the kind of leadership team that can best resonate with the general body.

Understanding what the gifts are of each leader in the team helps not just determine the mix and balance, but what the potential dynamics could be throughout the rest of the church.

#2: Identify the points of harmony within the team

If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. (1 Corinthians 12:17-18)

Often the instinct when building church leaders is to find the points of similarity. This can devolve to finding commonalities based on trivial things such as whether someone shares hobbies, entertainment, ethnicity or personality.

The much more intentional exercise is to identify how the different gifts interact with each other in complimentary ways for the growth of the church.

This can be hard to do. I did give an overview describing the “big picture” of how spiritual gifts fit the purpose of growing churches which can help illustrate the interdependence

This general model can be applied and made much more specific to your size, state, and space.

It doesn’t need to be complicated. Once each person has an understanding of themselves and of others, the only question you need to answer together is this: “How can our differences compliment each other to achieve our shared purpose of advancing the Gospel?”

#3: Anticipate and surface potential conflicts

Dysfunctional leadership teams will take your church nowhere.

Identifying them in a non-judgmental, redemptive way, however, is difficult to do. Spiritual gifts of the leaders gives a more concrete, less personal, way to anticipate and surface potential conflicts before they become dysfunctions.

#4: Get Clear on the “Why” Collectively and the “How” Individually

The “Why” for your church should be a collective agreement.

Collective agreement on anything is hard. When it comes to the vision, that can be especially difficult.

If you start with understanding the culture of your people and the spiritual gift composition of your leadership, you can begin to talk about the areas you are capable of leaning into because of strengths while being aware of and sensitive to the areas you are weak.

But by framing the discussion around “constraints” — the DNA of whom God has placed in your congregation and in your leadership team — you can specify the uniqueness that you bring to your mission.

That mission can then be evaluated based on the perspective people are bringing together, incorporating differences where possible, but always going back to the inherent “design” of the church based on the gifting.

Things could change as gifts shift and evolve, and that’s okay. That’s actually a sign of a church maturing and evolving.

As long as the True North is grounded in the genuine sharing of the Gospel, the purpose should directionally remain sound.

The “how” then should be specific. It’s defining the position and the strengths based on the leaders spiritual gifts. It presents confusion, redundancy, conflicts, and bureaucracy.

This may take time but it’s an important step, to see how the actual “labor” is done in accordance to gifts and an appreciation for how they all fit together.

#5: Developing leaders based on the Five Fold

A common methodology for developing leaders is through a 360-degree feedback review.

I think this approach is mostly flawed.

The idea, however, of having a “complete view” of oneself for growth, however, is good. I would suggest that every leader, no matter what their current spiritual gifts are, should lean in developing each of the five gifts.

Christ was a perfect model of each of these. And a purpose of the gifts is the maturation of the body into a knowledge of Christ.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11-13)

This sentence is (at least to me) a little clumsy to read, but it starts off with the “for the….” to indicate the purpose and intent of the gifts.

It appears that the gifts assist with bringing believers into unity, but also into a fullness of Christ and an edification. This “building” and fullness suggest spiritual gifts play a role in us becoming more like Christ, more full in Christ and less of ourselves.

I could be wrong in this interpretation, but let’s play it forward: what is the downside?

What is the downside of a l leader lacking the Shepherd gifting and, modeling Christ, tries to develop that within himself.

What is the downside of a leader who has the Evangelist gifting but she needs to strengthen herself as a Teacher of the Word.

In other words, an evaluation of areas to grow based on the spiritual gifts seems to be a clear application that can really develop leaders with clarity and fruitfulness.


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