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leadership pipeline

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

In my work with both Slingshot and Leadership Pathway I get to talk to college seniors and seminary grads a lot. Here are six comments I tend to talk about over and over.

// YOU ARE NEEDED. Church leaders at advancing churches (those where the Gospel is being advanced - they’re not just getting bigger in size) They are looking for a version of you 6 years from now. Seems like every day I hear a version of,  “We are looking for someone who is 29-32 with 6 or 7 years of experience having built a ministry and led some stuff…”

This could be you someday!

// YOU NEED A VISION for what your contribution might be in the Kingdom in six or seven years. What do you guess that your life will look like once you get to the point where you are the rare leader who is twenty nine with six or seven years of experience?

// HOW CAN YOU GET THERE FROM HERE? Let’s work backward from your vision of you at age 29 or 30. My sense is you are going to do something out of the ordinary the next couple of years.

// YOUR BEST/NEXT STEP is a two-year experience on staff at a church that is advancing.  

No matter the denomination, theological viewpoint, or area of the country, you need to be serving in and around the type of ministry that interests you. You need to be barely in over your head, but within arms-reach of a gifted leader who is willing to coach you and/or has a track record of developing leaders. I don’t mean a gap-year program where you are figuring out what you want to do. I mean a developmental plan to land you full time in ministry when your two years is up.

// AT THE END OF THOSE TWO YEARS you will be hirable and potentially will be employed by that same church.  It’s vital to choose wisely where you’d want to do this two-year experience. More than likely, this church won’t let you walk if they can avoid it. You are one of them; they’ve already deeply invested in you. 

// SPEND 4-5 YEARS in full-time ministry.  So, whether you stay at the church where you did your residency, or you choose to move on with a great reference from people who wish you weren’t leaving them, it is your decision. At this point you are approximately 6 years in. You have become the rare leader who is very difficult to find.

There are not many, and The Kingdom needs you to do this.

I really hope you could give God a  couple of decades of servant leadership in the local church. That seems like stewarding back the gift of the amazing education, mentoring, prayer, coaching, and counseling that you’ve received from the Kingdom.  We’re all in this. We’re all rooting for you.

You may begin this as an undergraduate, online college student, post-seminary graduate, or one with no education at all. I’m less and less confident that it matters. What does matter is that you submit to someone who can develop leaders, and who wants to see you become this for the Kingdom. And give it two years.

My experience has been that anyone who wants to do this with his or her life is going to have opportunities if he/she walks this road. There are thousands of churches looking right now for a version of you six years from now.  They could be big, small, urban, rural, plants, mega-churches, progressive, stuck, reformed, charismatic, uptight—but if they are advancing…they are looking for you.

From what we read, there are about 20,000 churches that are advancing amongst the other quarter million that are in decline.  I sure hope you choose to give a couple decades to one that is advancing.  That’s where we need the best leaders we can find in the Kingdom.

I’ve also seen many allow student debt, life experiences, hardheadedness, parental pressure, zip code, and poor advice from those that don’t fully understand this scenario drive potential church leaders toward a different path. These are the ones who leak out of the pipeline on their way to becoming a church leader with 6 to 7 years of experience.

They went to the wrong place and quit, or they got fired, hate the church, and think it’s useless. I have friends like this, and I’ll bet you already do, as well. Just last week a pastor told me he was the only one left from his class of 60+ in 2005. No wonder seasoned leaders are as rare as an endangered species.

Might your phone ring in the next 37 seconds with the perfect God-ordained opportunity? Yes. And might he choose to do all sorts of things to guide your path in a miraculous way?  Yes. From where I sit that is exactly what He’s doing, because the journey of my last 25 years around this stuff is a miracle, and I’d love to help in any way I can..

If this resonates with you,  hit our website and complete the application, and let’s see where it takes us together.





I Was 22 Once...

I Was 22 Once...

I was reminded today that I was age 21 - 28 once.
I was in Church leadership. 
I was sitting at the exec table (although we didn't call it that at the time).
I was making all sorts of decisions about the direction and the future.
I was within arms reach of older and wiser leaders who didn't let me die.

So everybody knocks millennials, but it makes me wonder do we have a shortage of millennial leaders or do we have a shortage of older and wiser ones allowing them to sit at the table?

Probably both.





If blogs, conferences, books, and tweets were the answer to leadership development I think we’d be in good shape.  What’s made the difference in my personal life and development over the years is coaching. It takes a “real person” sitting across the table, on the phone, or looking through a video camera from across the country, reminding me of what I said I was going to do, and asking me how it’s going.

It’s with that in mind that Leadership Pathway offers a second year of Coaching Huddles designed especially for those who’ve been in ministry less than three years. The emphasis of these gatherings focus on how to begin the habits and actions to be a life-long learner. They are limited to ten or fewer, and are delivered over zoom video conferencing.

Click below to get more information. Space is limited we kick off again in July.


Six Core Principles of Residency

Six Core Principles of Residency

I recently sat down with Andy Dykhouse for yet another cup off coffee in Omaha to pick his brain on what makes residency work well at some churches. Andy coaches youth pastors, is on the leadership team of the Youth Leader Network in Omaha, and oversees the residency program at Nebraska Christian College.

Here is the first half of our conversation:

Me: You and I have both seen churches begin residency programs in the last couple of years. Some do well, and some struggle. What do you think are two or three core elements a church must commit to doing in order to do residency well?

Andy: Residency is a hot topic. Churches are seeing this need to own the conversation in terms of leadership development. This is a good thing.

I tell churches often, though, that if they don’t have some simple things in place, they will struggle in developing an effective residency program. 

First, your lead pastor must champion residency in order for a residency program to be well worth the time, energy, and resources. This may be an obvious statement, but reality is that a resident is going to cost more than the cash he is paid. There will be times, too, when a staff member is moving more slowly on a project or an action item, because he or she is in a coaching moment with a resident. A lead pastor (or an executive pastor, if one’s in place) has to be committed to this.  They have to see that this is an investment in that student. Will the church get pay off? Maybe. Maybe not.

Me: What happens when this is not in place?

Andy: Well, if a church doesn’t begin with endorsement from senior leadership, getting to the next level is nearly impossible. It’s essential to move forward with the second core principle, which is you want more for them than from them.

Me: This isn’t just cheap labor.

Andy: Absolutely! When churches can’t afford a “real worship leader” but instead want to sign up for residency, I have to lovingly tell them that what they actually need is either a high capacity volunteer or a part-time employee.  There is a huge difference between a developmental process –- a residency. And an opportunity.

Thirdly, this one gets a little controversial at times for me, but your church must be healthy. A healthy church is one that has meaningful evangelism, discipleship, and good staff relationships all in place.

Me: Will residents see best practices at healthy churches?

Andy: Exactly. They have to begin some place in their ministry lives with a church that is doing this. We want to start them on the right footing. This leads to a better shot at longevity in ministry.  Where you start in ministry matters. 

Read the 2nd Half of this conversation here.

Six Core Principles of Residency (part two)

Six Core Principles of Residency (part two)

This is part two of a conversation with Andy Dykhouse from Nebraska Christian College on six core principles of residency at a local church.

Andy: The fourth marker I’m looking for at a residency location is a commitment from the actual staff supervisor. Can this ministry leader develop a resident? If he has never done it, then I need to know if he or she is committed to leaning in for coaching and conversations.

Me: “Just follow me around, and you’ll get it,” doesn’t work anymore.

Andy: Correct. It’s not 1978, right? This is complex. Most of the students I’m pushing on are just juniors or seniors in college. We are accelerating their experiences. So there has to be some willingness there, and this brings me to number five—a commitment for a weekly one-on-one.

For staff members who’ve never had a resident or managed paid staff, a weekly one-on-one sounds easy, until you do it. We ask for an hour of developmental conversations weekly.

Me: Beyond the work.

Andy: Correct. Beyond evaluation of events, to-do lists, what’s coming up next week, etc. This is about that student—character issues, work issues, competency learning and coaching. It’s not easy, and it takes solid commitment.

Finally, the sixth element I’m looking for is for some sort of compensation and housing. Churches are all over the map on this one, but there has to be something there that demonstrates value.  The housing piece is tricky. So far, it’s all worked out and students wind up in good places with supportive families who view this similarly to having an exchange student living with them.  This becomes another coaching opportunity and growth edge for the resident, the staff member, and even the family.

Me: Hey, where you going? Am I buying again?

Andy: Umm...yeh I forgot my wallet again.

Pipelines and Pathways

Pipelines and Pathways

Much is being written and talked about concerning pipelines in church leadership circles. I hear it in my staffing consulting work from senior leaders, “One of the things we need is someone who could join our team and build pipelines of leaders for the future.”  I see it tweeted, posted, pinned,  I talk about it often, and there was even an entire conference recently about the topic of Pipelines.

Yet the words of a friend who has spent much of their adult life working with college students, and is now an Executive Pastor at a large church out east, keep ringing in my mind. At a recent strategy meeting he said:

“The next generation isn’t looking for a pipe to slide through.
They are looking for a path on which to start a journey”

So convicting. Who wants to be someone else’s commodity?

Three ways a journey into ministry is like a path…

1. We need a guide. We need someone who has walked this path before, and knows how to navigate it. They know where the great views are, and they know where the fallen tree is we can sit down on to rest. They’ve taken others down this path, and while some have turned back in years past, no one has ever died (not yet anyway).

2. It’s hard work the first time. For those of us who are not avid hikers, the first time out on a trail with an experienced person will take your breath away (and I’m not talking about just the views!). Paths get steep, the soil gets loose, and we have to work harder than we thought.

3. It’s a path for a good reason. What sometimes looks like a short cut to the newbie, winds up being a dead end. Many have come through here before and that’s why this path is worn, and its obvious. A great guide will make sure you stay on the path. Just walking the path is hard enough.

A pipeline implies that there’s pressure, and we are all moving at the same speed (hopefully fast). Reality in leadership development is that no one size fits all, and there’s very little that is predictable in the development of the skills that really matter.

While the path is the same tried and true, the time it takes to get to the destination will vary.


The Voice of God Sounded Like My Youth Pastor

I’ll never forget riding home from a weekend leadership event with my youth pastor. It was 1983 and I was bouncing along in the church van looking at the back of his head as the miles clicked off in the middle of the night thinking ”someday I want to be like that guy.” Little did I know that seminal moment as a goofy 13 year old would shape the trajectory of my life.

I don’t remember the theme, the games, if there was music, where we ate, or what we even did. But I remember every detail of the moment when he looked at me and said, “I see ministry in you.” Call it a calling, call it influence, call it what you want, but I never looked back after that comment from him. I stepped into whatever volunteer and leadership roles that I could at the local church. That moment would propel me into the next 3 decades til today.

My youth pastor intuitively knew what the people I’m around and I have come to live and breath just about every day: finding the next generation of church leadership is on us. Those of us in influential roles at the local church level have to identify the ones who have the potential to be the next generation of influencers. Carey Nieuwhof said it best recently on our campus that the Church needs more influential entrepreneurs and not just pastors. These traits begin early in life.

It is true that we must teach, train, educate, and coach new leaders in radically different ways for the future health of the church. We are tweaking it all, but we have to start with a different type of raw material to wind up with a different result.

What does an entrepreneurial influencer look like in 8th grade or 11th grade or as a 24 year-old? Those of us in leadership at the local church have to find these key moments to look them in the eye and say “I see ministry in you.”

 I guess I went all-in back in ’92 when I first sat in the balcony of the Lakeside Auditorium and heard Hybles say “the church is the hope of the world and nothing can transform communities like the church when it is lead well.”

I’m still all in.

My youth pastor didn’t take all one hundred of us on a leadership retreat. He tapped the short list. He looked beyond our awkwardness. I’m sure there were sure-bets that didn’t pan out, and long-shots that turned out awesome, but he was the mouth-piece of God into my life.

Thirty years later now, I always carry a name in my wallet of a student that I’m praying would answer the call. I get these names from current church leaders. They know best. We know who can recognize future ministry material. It’s youth pastors like the one I was blessed to grow up under, and it’s campus ministry, and next generation leaders.

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to the fields.” From my perspective of where I’m embedded in the Kingdom leadership pipeline, the fields have never been whiter.