Identifying Leaders


By Ken Willard
Director of Discipleship, Leadership and Congregational Vitality
West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

What’s something you purchased recently where you did a lot of research beforehand?

A new home, iPhone, car, computer, major appliance, TV, drone?

How did you know what to look for? What factors influenced your final decision?

When my wife and I take a trip she is great about doing lots of research. She will buy a book on where we are going, check out the hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues. We are both very organized, so we tend to plan out our relaxation.

Just like it is always important to know what you are looking for before making a major purchase, we should take the time to clearly identify what we are looking for in new leaders.

Many of the churches and pastors I have worked with shared with me the challenges of identifying leaders for their ministry positions. They often find themselves in the position of filling a leadership slot and feel pressured to do it quickly. Does this sound familiar to you?

Now is the perfect time to intentionally get ahead of the game by investing a little time and effort in the process of identifying new leaders for your ministry. I would like to encourage you to start with prayer. Ask God to help you see the leaders he has already brought to your church. There may be some people who are on the sidelines just wanting to be seen and asked. Pray also for God to bring new leaders to your ministry.

“For the eyes of the Lord search back and forth across the whole earth, looking for people whose hearts are perfect toward him, so that he can show his great power in helping them.” – 2 Chronicles 16:9

While there are many important traits, skills, competencies, etc. to look for in new leaders, I’d like to share six that I feel are critical:

  • Character: confidence in their walk with Jesus, evidence of honesty, teachability, humility, reliability, a healthy work ethic, willingness to serve (always a red flag for me when a potential leader is not already serving somewhere)
  • Competence: ability to do the job, Spiritual Gifts, experience, education, talents, skills
  • Chemistry: ability to fit into the culture and work with the current team
  • Conviction: passionate about the mission, vision, and values of the church
  • Commitment: devoted to growing as a disciple, demonstrating movement in their own spiritual life
  • Courage: willing to take a chance, push the envelope, challenge the status quo

These are of course areas where every leader can grow too. There are many things we can do to encourage that growth. But when they are absent—it is difficult, if not impossible, to create them in someone.

Some things you can teach—and some things you cannot.

What about you? What do you look for in new leaders? I encourage you to use my list as a starting point, but don’t stop there. Spend a few minutes right now and identify what you should look for in new leaders.

Here are some suggested next steps:

  1. Read the book Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard.
  2. Meet with a church pastor or laity leader in your area who might be a little ahead of you to learn some best practices.
  3. Get involved in the Lay Servant Ministries training for your district.
  4. Attend district, conference, or other types of leadership development events.
  5. Work with a certified coach who can partner with you on the journey.
  6. Pray about who might already be in your church now waiting to be asked for a leadership role, and for God to continue to bring you new leaders.