Pastors typically design leadership development for the leaders who are doing the work today. They also need to make plans to identify the people who will do the work in the future.

Often, we do not think about who the next leader will be until the current leader decides to relinquish the role, which can happen unexpectedly. A leader may take a new job in a new city, be pulled away to care for a relative or become energized about serving in a different position. Regardless of how the change happens, the result is the same: We urgently need someone to step into a vacant position.

One way to assess your church’s leadership culture is to review the last few church directories. Do the faces in the pictures of your leadership groups change over time, or do you see mostly the same names and faces in each edition? If you don’t see much change, chances are you need help with leadership succession.

Intentionally preparing leaders helps us do more than just meet current needs, however. When we develop “leaders in training,” we multiply the pool of leaders prepared to serve across the congregation. We deepen the shared sense of ownership for the church’s vision. We move beyond emergency and contingency planning.

Preparing emerging leaders helps the church to transfer valuable institutional knowledge from one year to the next, and actively mentoring future leaders is a vital part of sustaining the church’s ministry. One of the keys to doing this well is to assign developmentally appropriate work. Ask someone to assist with a project. Provide clear guidance, check in often and take time to explore together the learning that happens in the process.

My own church will soon start a process like this one. At the beginning of 2022, I will begin meeting with a group of congregants. A few members of the group currently hold church leadership positions. Most of them do not. We will meet bi-monthly to pray, build relationships, study Scripture, reflect on the church’s mission and vision and collaborate on small, meaningful projects. After a year, we’ll discern where God might be calling people to serve. One or two people in the group may be asked to lead their own group of emerging leaders. We hope that this modest approach will help the church begin to notice and nurture more of the gifts and talents God has prepared for our future. What’s your plan to discover and develop leaders for tomorrow?


How to keep your leadership pipeline full

By Ken Willard and Kelly Brown

Before you go…

In Matthew 9:37, Jesus tells his disciples to pray for God to send more workers into the field because the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. Does your church find it difficult to persuade people to serve? Maybe by developing a process to cultivate future leaders, you and your church will be more prepared for wherever God is leading you. I encourage you to make a plan, start small and start this year.

As always, feel free to email me and the Alban Weekly team at to share your ideas about church ministry and leadership. May the love and grace of God keep you and sustain you. Peace and blessings!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity