How To Create A Church Leadership Pipeline

This post has been adapted from episode 14 of our podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast here or read the transcript below.

Kevin Fontenot: Hey there, I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdalein. We’re the host of the Thriving Ministry Teams Podcast, where we talk about all things related to truth, leadership, discipleship, and training. On today’s episode we’re talking about how to develop a leadership pipeline in your church. Leadership development and creating pipelines become very popular in the last few years. I mean there are books, conferences, webinars, workshops, anything you can imagine, it’s been produced on the subject. So you may be there thinking why are we covering it too? At TrainedUp, we’ve helped thousands of pastors develop tens of thousands of volunteers and leaders through our easy to use software platform, and so we’ve developed hundreds of resources. We’ve spent countless hours coaching churches and pastors that we serve and it’s been a really fun and fulfilling thing for me to do in the last year and a half that I’ve been at TrainedUp. So we’re really excited to dive into this topic just because we have so much experience with it.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, we do have a ton of experience with it. We’ve trained a lot of people, or helped a lot of people train a lot of people, rather. And a lot of the stuff that we’ve learned, we’ve learned a lot of ways that training doesn’t work, especially online training. We’ve learned a lot of the pain points that churches face, all different types of churches in different parts of the world when it comes to training. A lot of times people think of leadership development as less about training and more about mentoring, or like an organizational version of discipleship, but there is a lot of just straight training that happens in the leadership development, like concept and perspective. If you’re trying to build leaders in your church so you’re not always having to put together a hiring committee to hire for a new staff member, then you’re thinking about leadership development and training is a big part of that.

Scott Magdalein: The other thing I wanna say before we jump into this is that this is not going to be a conversation about a deep dive into the intricacies of leadership pipeline. One of the things I want to acknowledge is while there’s a ton of leadership pipeline content out there, a lot of it is deep dives. A lot of it makes an assumption that you know what leadership pipeline is generally, and how it works, generally, and how it can be applied in ministry, generally. I don’t want to make that assumption. I wanna assume that maybe you don’t know the intricacies of leadership pipeline or you’re not already familiar with leadership pipeline and so we’re going to talk a little bit of a higher level about leadership pipeline, because honestly most of the pastors that I’ve talked to, they don’t know what leadership pipeline is. They’ve heard the phrase, they understand that it has something to do with leadership development, but they don’t understand why it’s not just you need to develop church people in your church to become leaders one day.

Scott Magdalein: They don’t understand that it’s a specific format of leadership development that has a specific way of it, you know, executed. So while you can go to a workshop with Mac Lake or sign up with Tuning Organ, any one of these consulting companies and they’ll help you with, and they really will, they’re legitimately helpful, how to help you with developing leadership pipeline. I want to introduce you to the idea of leadership pipeline in a way that helps you to maybe make the most of some of that other deep dive content in the future. So, that’s where we’re going to be today in today’s conversation.

Scott Magdalein: Now with TrainedUp specifically, we’ve seen TrainedUp used in a lot of ways. We’ve seen it used to train volunteers, we’ve seen it used for vision training. I’ve seen it used for churches where they’ll do pre-training for a mission trip to train people on how to understand cross culture missions and understanding what to do and what not to do in another country. We’ve even seen it for churches build an informal localized Bible school, but one of the things that’s really popular to use TrainedUp for is leadership training. Now in TrainedUp, this is not meant to be a pitch for TrainedUp, this is just basing what churches are doing with it, and so how we’ve accommodated some of that, is that we’ve formatted some of our courses into the three general levels of the leadership pipeline.

Scott Magdalein: So pipeline is kind of a levels based thing and we have some categories in our library of video courses that are broken up into the three high level levels of leadership pipeline, which are leading self, leading others or teams, and then leading organizations and so the churches that are using TrainedUp are also being able to use pre-built courses as part of their training, as part of their sort of what we call of basic training, the stuff that doesn’t happen in mentoring sessions or in modeling ministry. We have those in TrainedUp ready to use already, and so what my next question then is how can we help churches, not just with training content, but also how to approach that leadership development pipeline that they think they might want. They’ve heard about it and they might want to take a next step in it. So, if we can have that conversation and be helpful today, then I think today’s conversation will be a win for a lot of people.

Kevin Fontenot: Absolutely. I’m excited to dive into this, because like you said, there is a lot of really good content that goes really deep into the subject. That’s not something we’re trying to do today. We’re trying to give that great general overview. To help you get started, to see if this is something that is right for your church. If it is something that you want to explore further, we’re definitely here to help and there’s also those great companies like Scott mentioned already that can help you go further into that. Scott, you’ve actually had some experience doing some consulting around this topic, right?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve done some. And it’s almost always been a mixture of leadership pipeline with some other vision establishment stuff, but I’ve done some.

Kevin Fontenot: Okay, can you talk a little bit about what that experience has been like with the churches that you’ve worked with?

Scott Magdalein: Sure, yeah. Honestly, most of my consulting around the this topic has been sort of an introduction to leadership pipeline as like I said part of a vision establishment thing. So a lot of times churches have this challenge of maybe our church doesn’t have a clear understanding of our vision and then it has that problem trickle into leadership development, we’re having a hard time identifying and then building up the right people to take leadership roles in our church as we grow. Or maybe we’re not growing because we don’t have leaders to grow. The challenge is moving from the traditional understanding of leadership in churches, especially the churches that I mostly work with. I mostly work with traditional churches that, maybe they wouldn’t call it revitalization, maybe they would just call it moving past a plateau, but essentially an older established church that’s wanting to figure out what’s next for the life of their church.

Scott Magdalein: Almost always they’re struggling to cope with moving from a pastor staff volunteer kind of leadership structure where it’s very much top down, and you hire at the top and then you hire staff and then you recruit volunteers. Switching that to a kind of upside down model where you’re recruiting volunteers, developing those volunteers into leaders, developing those leaders into staff people and then either developing those staff people into a senior pastor, or sending those people out, you know those senior leaders out, to lead other organizations, plant churches, move into senior pastor roles in other churches, that sort of thing. That is a very difficult mental jump for established church leaders to make. Because it’s very different, it changes everything about how they think of their own role, what they’re supposed to be doing, and also what expectations they’re supposed to have of their people.

Kevin Fontenot: So one of the things you mentioned is kind of flipping that funnel upside down, where it’s not top down, but it’s kind of bottom up. From now on, one of the most important aspects of developing a leadership pipeline is defining those different levels of leadership in the church. So what does that typically look like in the average church?

Scott Magdalein: The way that it’s supposed to … in the average church it looks completely old school based. Honestly in the old school church, it’s very much based on the Rockefeller style of management, where you have senior leaders that are responsible over areas and those areas are then managed by committees and so that’s where you get the committee led church and I know that’s probably old, but there’s a lot of churches that still very much committee led and they may not call them committees, they may call them teams, or they may call them groups, or whatever, but those committees, that model, that early mid-century 1900s model of church leadership structure is very much based on a Rockefeller concept, that he developed at Standard Oil, and was really successful in the 1800s and early 1900s, but of course we’re not in the early 1800s, or 1800s and early 1900s, we’re way past that now and so not only are we past the structure of committees and the structure of scalable leadership in that concept, but we’re into the idea, the concept, the culture where people want to own and need to own their own role in ministry.

Scott Magdalein: So the hierarchy of church leadership has been, and needs to, shift from pastor to staff to volunteers and maybe there’s a volunteer committee in between the staff and volunteers to where you’re developing people from the bottom up. Where you start with helping people to learn how to lead themselves, so there’s a level of this hierarchy, if you wanna call it a hierarchy, maybe a step or level of leadership. That first level of leadership, I’m using finger quotes, since you can’t see me. That first level of leadership is leading yourself. So that means how are you leading yourself to be responsible for your own spiritual growth, how are you leading your family if you’re a parent, how are you leading yourself as a single. So if you’re single, are you responsible for your own bills, are you taking steps towards independence to save money to move from renting to owning. Are you managing your own debt. Those simple little things that are related to leading self are really important because those are the kind of things that are indicators, not only indicators of future leadership health, but also future indicators of future leadership stability, and so someone who can lead themself can generally lead others pretty well as well.

Scott Magdalein: The next level, again finger quotes, because it’s not really levels. Honestly I’d to think of this as sort of, instead of a pipeline or a funnel, more like a rung ladder because you start at the bottom and you work your way up, sort of, and not like through promotions or whatever, but it’s more like being able to step yourself up this ladder. The next step up would be leading others, or leading teams. Some leadership pipeline models separate leading others and leading teams. I like to keep them together because it’s kind of a blurry line between leading others and leading teams.

Scott Magdalein: However, there could be a role in your church where somebody that is leading others and other people as a volunteer, but they’re not leading a whole team or defined team or a ministry. So, for example maybe you started as a volunteer would start as a room helper in children’s ministry. And so they show up and they are the ones who put out the toys, they’re the ones who put out the crayons, and then … you know, they keep the peace, and then afterwards they pick up, they clean up the room at the end of the day, but they’re not leading the lesson. They’re not choosing times to move to the playground or whatever. They’re just there to be a room helper. So that person who is a room leader is then a person who is leading someone else, so they’re leading the room helper. And so that person would be leading someone else, but they’re not a team leader, so I get that there’s different phases, but I like to keep it as leading self, leading others and teams, and then the last one being leading organizations.

Scott Magdalein: Now this level of leading teams, I’m trying to talk fast because there’s a lot here just to introduce the topic. The level of leading others or leading teams is really important to very clearly define someone who has already shown consistency, already shown commitment to the ministry, already shown that they can just show up. I mean that’s a big one, just showing up. If you have a person that’s a volunteer, that’s a low level volunteer, they don’t show up, it’s not that big a deal, not the end of the world, but if you have a leader that doesn’t show up and calls out on a Saturday night or early on a Sunday morning, then you’re really in a bind. So somebody that just shows up and then also somebody who is in understanding of the vision and mission of the church and somebody who’s humble. So you don’t want somebody who’s got this big ego starting to move into leading others, ’cause then that causes all sorts of strife and heartache in other areas.

Scott Magdalein: So after someone’s leading others and they show they can do that well, and they do that for a certain time, maybe you have a certain time period that’s kind of a minimum amount of time they can lead a team or lead other people as a volunteer, they move toward leading whole ministries and even maybe leading whole organizations. So they would maybe start moving toward a paid staff position, or maybe even into a church planting role where they would be sent out as a organizational leader of a church plant, or maybe into a ministerial training program where they would be sent out as a pastor to another established church. And so those levels, leading self, leading others and teams, and then leading organizations is the general idea behind the pipeline and it’s sliced and diced a little differently based on who’s doing the training.

Scott Magdalein: And again, this is one of those things where the reason it’s a little different between different people who do the leadership pipeline training or the consulting, if you go to Mac Lake, it’ll be a little bit different than if you go to a Matt Adair or if you go a Tony Morgan or if you go through somebody else in the Auxano consulting world. They’re all gonna have a slightly different kind of structure to this leadership pipeline steps, but the reason it’s a little bit different is because this whole thing, leadership pipeline concept in churches, is fully and completely adapted from the business world.

Scott Magdalein: Leadership pipeline existed and launched from the business world, which is the same thing as the whole concept of a vision statement or a mission statement. Those are things that are adapted from the business world that were … again that’s the same thing as the Rockefeller. All this organizational leadership stuff in churches, at least the specifics of how it’s organized is almost all of it is adapted from the business world, where they’ve seen fruit in the business world and it’s adapted and fit into and made biblical, made sure it lines up with biblical principles and then modernized to the twenty-first century church. But it will look different in every church, which is okay, as long as it flows with the same principles of developing people from leading self toward leading organizations.

Kevin Fontenot: Can you distinguish a little bit between what levels would be volunteer driven in kind of that hierarchy or ladder that you laid out there and which part would be staff driven?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, sure. So, generally I would say that when you’re leading others, or when you’re leading teams, that’s where the line blurs between a volunteer leader, so somebody who’s not paid but shows up early, gets things ready before other volunteers show up, and then they also lead those volunteers when they do show up. They may have some responsibilities mid-week to be able to do some organization to recruit and to schedule volunteers, to prepare lessons or to prepare curriculum, so those are all things that are very much fit into a volunteer role. But honestly there’s a blur there because depending on the size of the church, that same exact role would be a staff role.

Scott Magdalein: And so, my church is a good example, for a long time the children’s leader, children’s director, was a volunteer leadership role. The church hit sort of this tipping point of children in the children’s ministry, where it’s very clear that we needed that same person, same exact role, needed to go from a volunteer position to a part time paid position, and then my church is now we’ve grown to the point where it’s at that next step where it’s just on the precipice of that person needs to be a full time children’s director. And so it’s really the same job description, it’s just a matter of scale and how big is the weight on that person’s shoulders. From how could they go from a volunteer to a staff person. Essentially do we need more of their time so that we eat up a lot of their time during the week, we need to pay them a salary. We need to cover their expenses because they’re not gonna have another job somewhere else. That to me is the tipping point from a high capacity volunteer to a paid staff person, is do we need to compensate them for their time because they’re not gonna have another job.

Kevin Fontenot: I’m really glad that you brought up that specific example in your church because I think that’s basically the quintessential idea of what leadership pipeline should be. It’s not just we have a volunteer in this role, a part time staff member in this role, then a full time staff member at certain points. Ideally when you embrace a leadership pipeline philosophy, you’re moving that person from the volunteer to that part time staff to that paid staff, and I think that’s really great that you were able to share that.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah. I mean, honestly, that’s the same exact kind of thing that’s happened at other churches I’ve been involved at that are smaller and growing. What’s funny is in the very, very beginning, it’s most common for the pastor’s wife to be the children’s director because the pastor’s getting paid probably, and then the pastor’s wife is sort of swept along into that weekly role of children’s director, which is the other kind of big time commitment role. Because they’re helping and they’re already having the conversation with the senior pastor, you know, ’cause they sleep in the same bed together. But eventually that pastor’s wife will hand it off to another high capacity volunteer, and then the next step in the pipeline would be developing that high capacity volunteer into a staff person. I’ve seen that at three different churches that I’ve been a part of and the other fourth church that I’ve been a part of was too … was already large by the time I joined that church.

Kevin Fontenot: I think overall that’s one of the hardest aspects of implementing a pipeline like this, is knowing when someone is ready to move up a level. Can you share some insight on what that process typically looks like? Or what it should look like?

Scott Magdalein: Oh, this is the hardest part, for me, for everybody. So, as a volunteer, I’ve seen my leaders have a difficult time evaluating am I ready, when I was younger. And then as a leader, it’s one of the hardest things is evaluating is somebody else ready for more responsibility, ’cause that’s what you’re asking. The question you’re asking isn’t are they ready for a new job title, or are they ready to get paid, or whatever. You’re asking are they ready for more responsibility on their shoulders. Can I trust them to do, to take more things and carry more things without having to be hand held, without having to be micromanaged. Can they just take this initiative and run with it.

Scott Magdalein: And so, the reason that’s difficult is because you’ve never seen them in that role, typically. Like a volunteer children’s director is gonna be moving toward maybe a paid staff position, but that also means that they’re gonna be the one solely organizing VBS in the summer, and that’s a big job step. I mean, of course, that’s not a big promotion, some people might consider a demotion, if they don’t enjoy VBS. It’s a big responsibility step to go from you’re managing curriculum and you’re scheduling volunteers and you’re making sure that the volunteers show up on Sunday morning to now you’re responsible for a central significant summertime event that’s a week long. But you’ve never seen them of course, you’ve never seen them organize a VBS.

Scott Magdalein: So making that step is difficult for me. So there’s some things that I lean on for this kind of decision and let me also say with a big ole caveat, I’ve done this wrong at least once in a big way and I moved a volunteer director to a staff director role and it was my decision to do it, ultimately, it was on my shoulders, and it was the wrong decision. They should’ve stayed as a volunteer director managing week to week stuff and not ministry-wide, ministry level decision making stuff. So this is me saying with a big caveat of I’ve done this wrong in the past, but this is what I do to lean on. I pray and ask God for wisdom.

Scott Magdalein: The Bible’s very clear, James is very clear, if you pray and ask God for wisdom, he’ll give it to you. Now when you ask God for wisdom, it’s one of those things where you can just expect it because the Bible says it’s one of those promises where you can just say, “God, I need wisdom for this decision, I’m going to lean on your wisdom, I’m going to read scripture and glean wisdom from scripture,” and then just trust God that he’ll help you to make the right decision. It doesn’t help me generally worry less about a big decision like that, I tend to still kind of overanalyze things, but that doesn’t mean that God’s not also giving me wisdom. I trust that God does that sort of thing.

Scott Magdalein: We also can use practical tools, like personality assessments, leadership assessments, maturity assessments, emotional intelligence assessments, that kind of stuff. That helps to give indicators, that’s not the final answer. If somebody is a children’s director and they have an enneagram of nine, but they’re really a perfect person would have an enneagram of six, or maybe they’re an ENTJ like me, but in my head maybe a perfect children’s director is an ISFJ, or something like that, so that doesn’t make the decision different, it just changes my understanding of how they might approach that role, and then there’s other markers that I would set.

Scott Magdalein: So, maybe some basic minimums like have they been consistent in showing up as a volunteer leader, have they had x number of years, maybe two years in the role as a volunteer leader before we move them to a staff leader. Or maybe it’s one year, or maybe it’s six months if you’re growing faster and you’re in need to promote somebody, and you say, “Suzie’s the one who’s been around the longest,” so that’s a check box or a plus one in her column. And also is it somebody that’s concretely demonstrated initiative. So can you point to a situation where something went wrong or a decision had to be made and that person just made the decision, not that it turned out well, that it was the right decision, but they made the decision and took initiative, and then they took responsibility for that decision that they made. Did they take initiative and then take responsibility for it, those are big markers to me that somebody’s ready for the next level. They can still be developed to make better decisions, they can still be coached to understand how to do better problem solving or process through decision making before they make decisions, but are they an initiative taker and a responsibility taker. Those are big markers for me.

Scott Magdalein: There are some biblical markers I think that you can point to. There’s markers for, in Timothy and Titus, where you can point to specific spiritual markers for specific types of leadership roles in your church that are related to character and related to spiritual maturity. I think you should take those into various serious consideration as well. And of course, there’s also the marker of do they love Jesus. Are they consistent church people, do they show up and just worship when they’re not on the role, things like that are important as well.

Kevin Fontenot: The thing I think of is the choosing of the seven in Acts six when basically everyone’s coming up to the apostles like, “Hey, there’s this issue that we’re having,” and they’re like, “Hey, we have to find someone else to do this, we can’t keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing and also worry about this as well, so I need you to choose seven people from among you that are full of the spirit and full of wisdom,” and they choose those seven men and as we see them go into that role of becoming really the first deacons in the church. Being able to wait on the tables, being able to make sure that everything’s going well for the daily distribution to the widows. We see that they end up getting promoted.

Kevin Fontenot: So reading through Acts six through eight we see that Stephen goes on to be this great evangelist that suffers greatly for the Lord, and then we also see Philip doing the exact same thing, being an evangelist and going out. So there’s definitely different steps that we can see explicitly taken between going from this idea of just being a faithful servant inside the church, being full of the spirit, full of wisdom to having that title, doing these specific things, and then again being promoted to a very kind of in depth ministry role of even winning people to the Lord. And so I think that’s a great place to kind of go head and study of how that works through Acts six through eight as well.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah. That’s a perfect example of it. What’s funny about it is it’s a really early example with guys who’ve been fishermen and tax collectors who’ve not been organizational leaders, but they understand on a spiritual level that the Holy Spirit’s giving them wisdom and they also understand through their experience with learning with Jesus, that there needs to be some sort of organization to and qualifications for people who are leading. And so you see very early, like the very beginning of the church that there’s organization happening and some accountability things put in place for those people that are chosen to serve and to lead.

Scott Magdalein: And of course, those fishermen, let me step back a little bit and just say those fishermen were not just fishermen, they also had other aspects of their lives. They were Jewish, they were part of the Temple world, they were part of the synagogue world, if they’re outside of Jerusalem. And so there is a picture of hierarchy and spiritual or faith family organization that they were modeling, but what they were doing in the New Testament was something new. They were already not meeting on Saturdays, they were already starting to meet on Sundays instead of Saturdays. They were understanding they were a different kind of faith community, and this is even before Paul steps into the realm and says this is Christian faith thing is for everyone and not just the Jews in Jerusalem. So they’re seeing that there’s the budding idea of something new is happening and it needs to be organized and managed in a new, fresh way in Acts that we see that stuff happen.

Kevin Fontenot: So let’s shift a little, and I’d love for you to kind of talk about what it looks like as the training portion of leadership pipeline.

Scott Magdalein: Well, I’ll be real honest, the training portion of leadership pipeline is pretty small. Most of the leadership pipeline experience for both leaders and for those being developed is based on a kind of amalgamation, this mixture of modeling, mentoring, and practice, so leaders modeling the type of leaders that they want to develop. Then mentoring, so actually talking through what that looks like as leaders. What they want their developing leaders to look like, so they actually sit down and mentor in conversations about it. And then practice, so now that you’ve seen me do it as a leader, you and I have talked about it, now you as a budding leader, as a developing leader, I want you to actually do it. So if that’s problem solving, or if that’s decision making or if that’s interpersonal conflict or whatever it is, handling those things. We’ve already talked about it, you’ve seen me do it, I want you to do it, I want to see that you’ve understood and internalized what we’ve been doing.

Kevin Fontenot: What I really love about this and what we do at TrainedUp and really about this podcast especially is that we’re not gonna say that training is the end all solution to everything inside the church. In fact, we know that training does help in a lot of places, there’s places for training in every aspect of church leadership. There’s training in every aspect of each volunteer role, there’s mission training, leadership training, problem solving, project management, all those things are things that you can be trained for. There’s skills and knowledge areas that you can learn about, but really when we’re talking about leadership development, it’s not a quick switch where you can put something online, put some training in place, and hope that it comes together. It really does involve modeling and making sure that people can see it in your life first, then you mentor them in those areas that you want them to be built up in. And then really it’s about the practice. It’s making sure that they go in and are putting into practice the things that you’re modeling to them, the things that you’ve mentored them on, and ultimately things that you want them to be better at. So you can teach some of those things through practical training, through skills development, but ultimately it comes from that idea of that one on one relationship between someone and someone else.

Scott Magdalein: Yep. To get the sense every once in awhile that we talk about training so much that it feels like we think that training is the only way that things work in developing people, but we both, we all believe that training is only a piece of the bigger picture in mentoring, modeling, practicing, all that kind of stuff is a big part of it as well. I do believe though, I mean we wouldn’t be building this if I didn’t think that training, just straight up knowledge transfer where someone gets specific instruction, is not only effective, but it’s also biblical. The words like training and TrainedUp and equipping and instruction are very biblical terms in the context of not just Bible teaching and instruction, but also developing people to be leaders and other ministers. So, training is a big part of it, but we know that training isn’t the only format that development happens. Which is why we’re really bought into helping churches not just learn how to do online training better and train their volunteers and leaders in a really efficient information transfer way, but we also want them to be better developers, better mentors, better interpersonal leaders, and all that kind of stuff.

Kevin Fontenot: That does it for today’s episode of the Thriving Ministry Teams Podcast, and if you’re interested in developing a leadership pipeline for your church, that’s something that we’d love to help with. Like Scott said, we have tons of training that we’ve already created, and the great thing about it is by being able to offload some of that training, that low level stuff, towards volunteer training specifically, it gives you more time, more freedom to really focus on building up leaders. And so, if you are interested in that, you can get 50% off your first month of TrainedUp, but we’re also throwing in a free one hour coaching call with us to help you get started. So, if you want to talk about how to develop this personally inside of your church, we’d love to help you do that. Just use the coupon code and we’ll see you guys next week.

Scott Magdalein

Scott is the founder of ServeHQ and has over a decade of experience as an Executive Pastor, Worship Pastor, and College Pastor. You can chat with him directly using the widget at the bottom of this page.

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