Home Pastors Pastor How To's Even Small Churches Can Build Awesome Leaders. Here's How.

Even Small Churches Can Build Awesome Leaders. Here's How.

The #1 calling of a pastor is not to do the work of the ministry. And it’s not to fill people’s heads with Bible information.

According to no less an authority than the Apostle Paul, it is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12).

Believers want to be discipled—despite what it may look like at times. They always have, they always will. This generation is no exception.

When we put those truths together, it adds up to good news for Small Churches. Let’s find willing hearts. Train disciples. And build teams.

No, not every person we disciple will develop into a church leader. Not all of them are supposed to. Many of them won’t even stay in our church but will be called to minister at other churches or (even better) in their neighborhoods. But some will be called to lead in their local church. And they can make great church leadership teams.

That’s what we’ve done in our Small Church. We don’t hire from the outside. We train from the inside. We fell into it because we couldn’t afford to pay “professionals,” but now we’d do it even if we could afford it.

No, it isn’t easy. I’ve been pastoring my current church for almost 22 years and it’s only been in the last 10 years or so that we feel like we’re doing it well.

My hope is that you can learn from our mistakes so it won’t take you nearly as long to do this well. 


This is the second post in a three-part series. Click here for the first post, Great Small Church Leadership Teams Aren’t Hired, They’re Built, or here for the third post, Some Advantages and Challenges of Building Your Own Small Church Leadership Team.


Start Discipling Before You Have Someone to Disciple

The hardest part of training believers to be leaders is finding willing disciples. So, if you’re looking out at a small group of passive believers every Sunday, here’s my first piece of advice to get the leadership training going.

Preach and Teach With a “Go and Do” Mindset, not a “sit and listen” attitude.

No, don’t try to guilt people into action. That never works. But always give people something they can take home and apply in their personal lives and in their Christian growth.

I’m naturally a teacher, not a preacher or a trainer. My default is to fill people with Bible knowledge so they leave church with a full set of notes, but no idea what to do with those notes. Over the years, I’ve learned to teach and preach through the filter of “how can they apply this to their real lives today?”

When we teach head knowledge, we attract sit-and-learn students. When we teach active discipleship, we attract “go and do” disciples.

Look for Diamonds in the Rough

When I came to my current church, I was told I had to do one thing if I accepted the position. Keep the youth pastor on.

The church had lost their old youth pastor in a nasty church split a few months before that. One of the college students, named Gary Garcia, had stepped into the vacuum and started leading. He was green. Very green. But he was one of theirs. And they wanted to see him blossom.

So I took him to lunch and we talked. For hours. At the end of lunch, I thought, This can work. He’s got great ideas and lots of enthusiasm. Besides, the average youth pastor lasts about seven months, so how bad could it be?

That was 22 years ago. We’re still working together.

What looked like an obligation was actually an opportunity.

Later, I found out that the church had interviewed two other potential pastors. Each had been told the same thing about keeping the youth pastor, but I was the only pastoral candidate who even said “hello” to Gary, let alone had a long talk over lunch. Because of that, they missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Not just to work at this amazing church, but to work with, train and ultimately see the blossoming of one of the best youth pastors in the world.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.