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Blog » Ministry leaders: Mac Lake on Leadership Development

Ministry leaders: Mac Lake on Leadership Development

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We respect the real thought leaders in ministry who are doing ministry day in and day out. Because of that, we’re bringing you different voices with real ministry perspective to aid, challenge and inspire you. It’s not about what we think, it’s about helping you learn from your peers. And in that, we’ll all growing together.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

I recently had a great chat with Mac Lake, where we talked about leadership development, and why it’s such an important issue to him. He’s the chief launch officer at The Launch Network,  and he has decades of experience in church leadership development, including many years at one of our client churches, Seacoast Church. Mac shared some of his passion with me, and starting next week, we’ll share some of his wisdom about leadership development with a series of posts.

Awhile back, I went to visit a church planter on his opening Sunday. He was a great young man, it was a growing area, they were meeting in a nice school, there was a high traffic count in that location – he had a lot going for him. My wife Cindy and I went to visit his first Sunday service, his grand opening, where he was expecting about 250 people.

We pulled up in the parking lot two minutes before the service started, and there were about 10-15 cars in the parking lot. We walked up, and there was one greeter. We walked down a lonely, quiet hallway, and walked into a beautiful auditorium that could have seated 250 people.

He had 22 people there at his opening service. It was just a tragic experience.
When the service ended, we waited until everybody left, and we talked to him, and what should have been one of the greatest days of his life was one of the worst days of his life. Cindy and I left after trying to encourage him and do a little emotional CPR on him. We went and got in the car and I looked at Cindy and I said “That should never happen.”

“It’s not a spiritual issue … it’s a leadership issue.”

Because you know what? It’s not a spiritual issue, because this is a godly young man, and it’s not a contextual issue, because it’s a growing community – he knew the community well. It was ripe for a new church. It’s a leadership issue. He made too many leadership mistakes. At the heart of The Launch Network, and in most of the work I’ve done over the years, my mission is to help inspire and equip next-generation leaders, including church planters.

It’s not just church plants that can benefit from leadership training. The fact is, a lot of the churches that are shutting down, it really isn’t due to spiritual issues. These are godly men and they’re in areas where the need is great, but for a lot of them, it’s just a clumsy execution of their calling. Some of them are making too many leadership mistakes and they’re paying the price for it.

When I graduated seminary and went to my first ministry position at Pawley’s Island Community Church in Pawley’s Island, SC, the lead pastor at the time, Bob Barrows, was just a wonderful mentor. He gave me really broad experience, he let me do everything in that church. It was there that my passion for developing leaders started.

“If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to surround yourself with leaders.”

That’s because, what I discovered after a year and a half was that I was doing everything. So everything was getting ready to fall apart because everything pointed back to me. 88 volunteers reported directly to me, but I just couldn’t do it all. That’s when I really began to recognize the need for developing leaders. If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to surround yourself with leaders.

“I’m going to pour into you as leaders.”

I restructured the ministry and chose 7 leaders to begin to lead through, and I told them: “My job is to make you successful; your job is to make those under you successful. I’m going to pour into you as leaders.” That just really changed the trajectory of my ministry at that point.

After serving there for 7 years, I felt called to plant a church, and did that, and my last couple of years the church was growing well, and my hunger to be more and more involved in leader development was just growing. Through a series of circumstances, I ended up in a lunch with Greg Surratt, and he just all the sudden offered me a job at Seacoast, and I said, “what would you want me to do?” and he said “what do you wan to do?” What I wanted to do was leadership development, and that’s what I did there for years. I’m just passionate about it.

What Is Leadership Development

We talk about it a lot.  We know we need it.  We look for it.  But what is Leadership Development?  When I want to understand something I usually turn to a dictionary to get a definition. Well last night I was thinking about leadership development and it hit me – I’ve never defined it.  Since I couldn’t find a definition in my dictionary I decided to take a swing at it myself.  So here you go Mr. Webster, this one’s for you:   Leadership development is an intentional process in which one interacts with an experienced leader in order to grow in the character and competencies that increase their effectiveness in influencing people, culture and outcomes.

Each phrase is important…

Intentional Process

too often we try to develop leaders without having a well thought out process.  We say, “our leadership development is organic.”  Another way to put it is “our leadership development is accidental.”

Interacts With

Leadership development must be relational.  It’s a two way not a one way relationship.  Learning requires interaction, questioning, challenging and sharing.

Experienced Leader

Leaders are produced by leaders.  You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.  This doesn’t mean the trainer needs to be an expert but they do need to have experience in leading.

Grow in Character & Competencies

Leadership is a balance between being and doing, between spirit and skill.  In order to become a more effective leader you must grow in character and competency.

Increase Effectiveness

Leadership development is all about improving; becoming better today than you were yesterday.  It’s about growing so you can increase your impact.

Influencing People, Culture, & Outcomes

As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”  Our development efforts must help leaders be more effective at influencing the attitudes, thoughts and behavior patterns of people.  But it goes beyond that, a leader is also responsible for the corporate culture of his organization or team.  So every leader must learn how to influence the corporate personality and values of the organization.  And finally leaders are responsible for results, so every leader must increase their ability to influence the results of their organization.

So if this is the definition the question is:  Are we actually doing leadership development?

Self Assessment: Ingraining Leadership Development in Your Culture

One of the most important things a leader can do for his or her organization is build a leadership development culture.  How well has your church or organization done with making leadership development a part of your culture?  Take the following assessment, then discuss your next steps for making necessary changes.


  1. Not true of us at all
  2. Rarely true of us
  3. True of us
  4. Very true of us
  5. We are models in this area

Rank Each Statement 1-5

  1. _____ The senior leaders are supportive and involved in the leadership development of our church.
  2. _____ Leaders at every level are expected to be involved in developing new leaders.
  3. _____ We have a specific leadership development strategy we are promoting consistently in our culture.
  4. _____ We cast vision for leadership development on a regular basis.
  5. _____ We have developed a language around our leadership development efforts that has found its way into our culture.
  6. _____ We are using simple and specific systems in our leadership development efforts.
  7. _____ We are providing accountability by measuring the results of our leadership development efforts.
  8. _____ We celebrate the successes of our leadership development efforts on a consistent basis.
  9. _____ We have one central person championing the cause of leadership development at our church.
  10. _____ We have a mentality that “we are in this for the long haul”.

TOTAL SCORE: ___________



You already have a very strong leadership development culture. You need to focus on fine tuning the details and consider doing some outside the box thinking for the future of leadership development at your church. You also need to consider how you can help other churches improve their leadership development processes.


Your church is close to having a leadership development culture. You’re doing a good job in some areas of leadership development but are likely to have some weak spots that are keeping it from truly being engrained in your culture. It is likely that some people in your organization have bought in, while others still do not see “leadership development” as a part of their job.  You need to choose the one or two areas that are lagging and find ways to maximize your efforts there.


Don’t be discouraged, you have some strengths you can build on. While it may be important to you, others in the organization dont’t see leadership development as a priority.  Make sure everyone in the organization understands what is going well in the area of leadership development and then cast a vision for taking it to a new level. The fact that you are doing some things well will help your current leaders easily get excited about improving leadership development in your culture. Choose one or two areas you feel are most important to begin improving, gather a team of people who can help you make the necessary changes.


While your church or organization may be growing and doing good things, it may be in danger of losing effectiveness in the future unless you raise your leadership development efforts. It will be important that senior leadership begin to emphasize leadership development as a priority. Leadership development has not been a part of your culture and it is going to take some hard work and patience to begin to build it into your culture.


This is a strong indication that your church may be in decline or is built upon a dynamic-charismatic leader. You are facing an uncertain future and the senior leadership team needs to begin to have some serious talks about the future of the church. You may need to bring someone in from the outside to coach you in the initial steps of building a leadership development foundation in your church. Top leadership need to begin to study the importance of leadership development and begin to make it a priority in their own day to day practices.

5 Non-Negotiable Actions to Help Build a Culture of Leadership

One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is the development of other leaders. Too often we’re guilty of expecting our team members to grow, but we do little to help them in the developmental process.  If those on my team aren’t developing their leadership capacity then I have to ask myself, “What do I need to do differently?”  I must assume the proper stewardship of my team and do my part to contribute to their growth.  But unfortunately many team leaders neglect getting involved in their team members development.

Here are 5 Non-Negotiable actions I would require as a team leader that will help build a culture of leadership development among your team.

Require Written Goals

Have the individuals on your team turn in a one page written summary of their goals for the next 4 months.  This lays the ground work for shared expectations and gives you a basis from which to coach their performance.

Require Regular 1-1′s

Meet with each person on your team at least once a month if  not twice a month.  During those meetings review their goals, ask what problems they are encountering and use it as a time for individual coaching.

Require Reading

A team that reads together learns together.  Reading a leadership book and discussing it during team meetings creates an atmosphere of shared learning and development.

Require Reproduction

Leaders should be producing leaders.  Ram Charan in his book Leaders at All Levels recommends that everyone in your organization have “raising up new leaders” as a part of their job description.  When someone is teaching others to lead it reinforces those principles in their own life.

Require Dvaluation

Have times of regular evaluation as a team.  Ask them:  What have we been doing well?  What can we learn from that?  Where do we need to improve?  What can we learn from that?

Remember leadership development is a discipline that we must exercise everyday.

Defining Your Leadership Pathway

When someone first steps into leadership, what should they focus on learning? There are dozens of possibilities. As a mentor I don’t want to frustrate a new leader by having them focus on things that are too advanced or even too simple. However, it’s important that I provide a Learning Pathway that makes sense and helps them progress in their ability to lead at the next level. One of the exercises we did as a leadership team while I was at Seacoast was to identify the competencies we felt were most important at each level of our leadership pipeline. Below you will find what we came up with.

The list for your organization will be different than ours, so I encourage you to gather your Lead team, identify the levels of your leadership pipeline and then define the competencies that are most important to you for each level.

This is a great exercise that will force your team to decide what leadership behaviors are most important in your origination.  You’ll also discover this list will provide a framework not only for training but for hiring, promoting and evaluating employees.  Just remember when you sit down to develop the list it will take more than one meeting.

Don’t rush it, going through the process is just as valuable as having the final list of core competencies.

Leading Yourself

  • Managing Your Time
  • Setting Personal Goals
  • Improving Personal Communication
  • Managing Your Personal Resources
  • Dealing with Conflict
  • Leading with Your Strengths
  • Submitting to Authority

Leading Others

  • Casting Vision
  • Managing Others’ Goals
  • Recruiting Volunteers
  • Giving Soul Care
  • Practicing 360 Communication
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Aligning People

Leading Leaders

  • Evaluating
  • Motivating Others
  • Managing Budgets
  • Team Building
  • Decision Making
  • Leading Meetings
  • Applying Situational Leadership

Leading Departments

  • Persevering in Difficulties
  • Evaluating Systems
  • Building Morale
  • Employee Engagement
  • Hiring, Firing and Repositioning Talent
  • Mentoring Leaders
  • Focusing

Leading Organizations

  • Establishing Organizational Value
  • Forecasting the Future
  • Managing the Leadership Pipeline
  • Taking Risks
  • Inspiring Others
  • Succession Planning
  • Practicing Execution

Say it with me: “Developing leaders is what we do!”  It has to be stated that clearly for people to get it. But stating it clearly is still not enough; you have to make decisions that give evidence that leadership development is a high value in your organization.

I remember a key volunteer walked into my office one day and informed me that he wanted to apply for one of our staff positions. Treating this opportunity as an informal interview I began to ask what he would do if he were to get the position. He described how he would care, serve and love the people in that area of ministry. What he said was good. But the one thing I didn’t hear was how he would work through leaders and develop leaders for the expansion of the ministry. It was obvious he had the mentality (and skills) of a doer rather than a developer. So being straightforward with him I told him that his gifts and strengths added great value to our ministry, however for staff positions in our church we only hire people who are leader developers. Leadership development will not stand strong as a value in your organization unless you take a strong stand for it in your organization.

Take Ram Charan’s counsel and write leadership development into the job description of every leader on your staff and key volunteer positions.  This type of clear expectations will begin to shape a culture of leadership development.

Here Are a Few Development Ideas You Can Use When Dollars Are Tight

In the face of this tough economy I find that many churches are cutting their development dollars. As they take a magnifying glass and a scalpel to their budget it’s the conferences fees, travel expenses and  book allowance that are among the first being cut. I understand, things are tight, but just because you cut your development budget doesn’t mean you need to cut leadership development.

Bring In

Bring in a speaker for a day.  You get the advantage of more time, personalized attention, up close and personal Q & A, and many times the benefit of an ongoing relationship where you can pick up the phone and call them.  A few I would recommend: Tony Morgan, Alan Danielson, Mark Howell, Bill Donahue, Geoff Surratt, Sherry Surratt, Mindy Caliguire.

Peer to Peer Rather than Expert to Novice

Take advantage of the collective wisdom of your leaders.  Take a leadership subject, gather your leaders in a room and let them learn from each other.  Here is a simple format you can follow: (1) Introduce the Leadership Topic, for example: Decision Making, Innovation, etc.  (2) Brainstorm a list of challenges or struggles typically associated with that topic. (3) Ask the group to brainstorm key principles for leading well in regard to that particular leadership subject. (4) Rank the ideas according to priority. (5) Develop an action plan

Leadership Lunch & Learn

Announce that you are doing a once a month Leadership Lunch and Learn for the next six months. Tell everyone to bring a brown bag lunch (once again saving your organizations budget). Have everyone read a chapter or two of a book and come prepared to discuss what they learned.

10 Minute Trainings

Use 10 minutes of your weekly team meeting to focus on a leadership competency. Have different members of your team lead this portion of the meeting. Here is a real simple four part agenda you can use that will keep it short but beneficial. TOPIC- Introduce the leadership topic. TROUBLE – Share the typical problems or mistakes associated with that leadership topic  TIPS- Share 3-4 tips to help your team lead better in that area. TAKE AWAY – Challenge everyone to identify one way they can make application in their personal leadership.


While there may be a shortage of dollars in your organization, it’s likely there’s not a shortage of wisdom and experience. Approach your more seasoned and experienced leaders and challenge them (I say require them) to begin mentoring 1-3 less experienced individuals in your organization. This is a great chance to teach your people not to rely on conferences or outside resources for leadership development. And this will be a huge step in helping your organization begin to build a leadership development culture. Not sure how to mentor check out the following posts: Guidelines for Establishing a Mentoring Relationship, Mentoring Made Easy.

Leverage Your Business People

If you’re leading a church look around your congregation or community for well respected business leaders and invite them to come and lead a session with your team. I’ve found that in most cases they are honored that you would ask and feel it’s a significant way to use their gifts and experience to benefit the church.

What are other things you’ve done at your church or organization to ensure development is continuing despite a tight budget?

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