Grow Your Ministry By Growing Your Leaders

Leaders are Built not Found

I first heard that quote from Craig Groeschel, lead pastor of LifeChurch. He brought it up in the context of turning the congregation into leaders for Christ in the community. Like so many other great nuggets we get from pastors like Craig, Rick Warren and more, I immediately applied it to my lens and the ever-present need for more small group leaders. 

Before that key moment, my radar was always set to detect the born-leaders. The sort of take charge, on fire for Christ types that are often all too few and far between in the church lobby between services. 

Once I applied the leader building lens, however, I found myself in a very target rich environment, as hunters often say. 

To quote another leadership guru, John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence, nothing more.” So, who was influencing those around them? Who, through conversation, did I discover held influence in other areas of their life? The answer was pretty simple: just about everyone. 

Growing a follower into a leader

I first met Tony through a mutual youth sporting event where both of our sons wound up on the same team. After some quick get to know each other discussion, we found out not only did we go to the same church, but our boys were already friends – our wives were as well. 

Small world. 

As we got to know one another better, I quickly saw the influence Tony held – and was acutely aware of the fact that not only did he not see it in himself, he rejected the very notion it was there. And, this became a theme I would encounter again and again and again with others. 

Like so many of us, Tony had been the victim of negative talk from people in his life. Those who had influence on him at a young age failed to build him up, but instead tore him down. I’m sure you can either think of someone you know who had the same experience, or maybe you did yourself. Once those negative voices speak into our lives, we often allow them to navigate our future – erecting road blocks between us and the good deeds God prepared in advance for us to do. 

Once this became apparent, I felt a nudge in my spirit. An irresistible urge to speak life and encouragement into Tony’s world. I didn’t have any illusions that I could overcome the years of negative reinforcement he’d endured, but I promised God I would, at very least, be a conversational light for him. 

At the time, Tony worked at what he described as a dead-end job. He’d been passed over for promotions and simply accepted his lot in life – since it aligned with the negativity he’d been fed about himself. 

It was then that I challenged him to start a small group. To take the lead. To be the man God designed him to be, not the failure so many humans told him he was. 

At first he pushed back, but I continued pouring encouragement into him. After a few lunches spent discussing youth sports, the church and a few strategic moments of telling him about the leader I saw in him, he finally said yes. 

Tony had all the worries so many of us hear from new leaders:

“What if no one shows up?” 

“I’m not a pastor, what will I say?”

And so on. 

Well, not only did Tony’s group fill up quickly, within a few months he’d done so well he was promoted to a role where he led a group of other small group leaders. And he poured faithfully into those souls until some of them rose up to lead other leaders as well. 

Through all this, his amazing wife was by his side. One Sunday, she came up to me in the lobby after service and told me what a huge change she’d seen in Tony and how proud of him she was. He’d not only become a leader at church, but a better husband, father and neighbor. With eyes watering in gratitude, she went on to say how thankful she was that he stepped into this role and how grateful she was that God was doing this work in him. We took a moment to pray, thanking the Lord for creating Tony and empowering him for this life he was now leading. 

It’s been a few years since this journey began and Tony is no longer the self-doubting guy I met, but a great leader in the church, in his home and in his community. Oh, and he quit that dead end job and started his own business, which is a raging success. And, along the way, he and his family have blessed us in ways I will never forget. 

During that time, my team of pastors and I discovered dozens and dozens of Tony’s in the lobbies of our churches. Each of them with a unique story, unique strengths and unique giftings. But they’re all leading the way God designed them to lead. 

Grow Your Ministry By Growing Your Leaders

If I had continued simply trying to find existing leaders, who knows what Tony’s life might look like. Who knows what my life would look like. But, since that fateful paradigm shift in looking to grow instead of harvest, Tony has positively impacted the lives of dozens of families through his small group. And, he’s directly impacted dozens of other leaders as well. 

Now, go find the Tonys in your church – build them up and watch God go!


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Daniel Thomas

Connections Director


Daniel serves as Executive Pastor at Community Church of Mountain City, TN.  Daniel and his family are on a mission to establish roots within their community, fight for peace and serve well.  He serves as our Connections Director in laying the groundwork for Circles. He loves great coffee and traveling with his wife Tia and two children, Deklan and Aden



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