I recently committed career suicide—at least the worship pastor equivalent of it. On Easter Sunday, the biggest Sunday of the year, I let my volunteers lead. In fact, I wasn’t even on the platform. Why? I outlined several reasons why on my blog, but one big reason was this: I want to get serious about developing leaders.

Let’s face it, we worship and music types just aren’t known for developing leaders. Instead, we produce substitutes: “I’m on vacation next month. Can you cover me?”

So, what’s the alternative to just stringing along second-class, substitute song leaders? Real leadership development – the kind of thing that not only challenges potential leaders to step up but also requires us “professionals” to step down.

Let’s get practical about how to do this. Here’s the process…

Phase 1: Identify/Invite
Phase 2: Develop/Deploy
Phase 3: Review/Repeat
Phase 4: Release/Replace

Let’s dig into each one.

While we don’t have time to go into it here, the two big factors you want to look for at first are character and competency. Character is about the heart. Competency is about their talent and gifting.

Ask God to give you a fresh lens through which to see your team members. You might realize one or two potential leaders have been there the whole time. Let’s say one of those is Kayla, a BGV who’s served on your team for about a year. How do you invite Kayla into a leadership process?

Take it from someone who’s invited people into leadership too quickly: Don’t! The leadership development process is messy enough – inviting someone in too soon guarantees bedlam. I recommend using a two-stage invitation process. (1 Timothy 2:2)

Stage 1:
A Series of Informal Invitations
Invite Kayla to take small steps towards leadership formation. That might include asking her to take the lead on a small section of the song. Over time, increase the amount you offer her to lead, up to a full song. Kayla will think you’re just sharing the lead vocals. But these small series of informal invitations let you gauge her willingness and ability.

Stage 2:
A Formal Invitation to Leadership Development
Before long, you’ll have a sense for if Kayla is a good fit for more formal leadership development process. If she is, what are you inviting her to? You’ll need to fill in the smaller steps and expectations, but Develop/Deploy and Review/Repeat Phases essentially are the leadership equipping process. They’re the broad strokes strategy to build leaders.

Develop/Deploy & Review/Repeat
Develop refers to anything you (and/or other leaders) do to teach, encourage, correct, coach, mentor, etc. But don’t let a potential leader like Kayla remain in download-mode. She needs to work out what she’s been taking in. With leadership, most of the real learning happens OTJ (on the job).

And that’s Deploy. Again, just like the Invite phase, deployment is incremental. Essentially what you did in the Invite stage was low-level development and deployment:

“Kayla, I’d like you to take the lead on this bridge. When you do, take your mic off the stand, move the stand to the side, and take two steps up toward the front of the stage as you begin that bridge. Here’s why…” That was development. You taught Kayla how to take visual ownership of the song. Her next step is deployment—that is, she does it. After that comes the next phase of the process, Review and Repeat.

Whenever you give someone a chance to lead but don’t follow up, you undermine her development. Kayla’s left wondering, “Did I do OK?” Take a moment soon after the service to encourage her. Be positive, but don’t shy away from constructive feedback. When you take time to intentionally develop, deploy, and review, you set up the emerging leader for more success the next time. And that’s where Repeat comes in. Simply repeat that process of develop, deploy, and review. For each go-around, work on something that will stretch her a little more.

Before you know it, Develop, Deploy, Review, Repeat will become this upward climbing spiral towards fully equipped leaders on your team.

Now, one of the real measures of a “leader of leaders” is the next phase.

At some point, you need to release Kayla to the next level of leadership autonomy. That might be to lead a full song, then a full set, then a full service. Eventually, she might lead her own team. A growing leader requires growing responsibility.

Replacing is a process too. As a leader-in-training like Kayla gets deeper into your development pipeline, you need to be identifying and inviting new potential leaders into that process. Why? Because at some point, you’ll probably experience the bittersweet part of this phase: releasing Kayla to lead elsewhere—at a new campus, or a church plant, or some other church that needs a worship leader.

Now, as that leadership development spiral continues to climb upward, the pinnacle of this process is when you and I fully replace ourselves as the leader. Giving our leadership away is not a natural thing to do. But Jesus did it—he gave the leadership reins to his followers. You remember them, right? Those followers Jesus identified and invited (Matt. 4:18-22), then developed, deployed, and reviewed with – repeatedly – over three years (Matt. 10 & Luke 10). Eventually, he released them to go (Matt. 28) and he replaced himself as the physical, in-person leader. And those same followers took on that leadership role and started identifying and inviting, developing and deploying, and…well, you get the picture.


*By the way, my team did a crazy-fantastic job on Easter Sunday. And I’m still employed. Bonus.

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