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Creating Mountains that Matter: Leadership Retention

October 29, 2018

The success of every organization hinges on its ability to keep its leaders.

Anytime I notice a thriving company, church or college ministry, I also notice an inevitable ability to not just win leaders, but retain them as well.

To have a greater impact on our college campuses, we must retain leaders. To retain leaders, we must create greater buy-in and “stickiness.”

Who Are the Leaders?

Over the past ten years, I’ve helped start a parachurch ministry on two different college campuses.

One campus was a smaller college in Oklahoma, the other is one of the largest colleges in Texas.

Both had unique challenges, but one personal challenge was consistent: I lost sight of the vision to develop the leaders God had given us.

Sounds ridiculous, right? You’re probably thinking, “Of course you develop your leaders!”

However, over the years, I’ve struggled to develop my primary leaders (staff team) in order to develop our student leaders in order to bring in the next generation of leaders.

I have often felt like I’ve failed at the most important thing because I lose track of what is most important.

The Great Tension

If your ministry is outreach focused, the balance between “bringing in the next generation” and “the retention of leaders” can be tough to navigate.

I feel the tension every Sunday when I plan my weekly schedule.

I know my staff team is my number one priority, but I love sowing and pioneering in the grassroots.

How do I decide between spending time with a freshman student or meeting up with a key student leader?

I’ve also too often looked around and noticed I’m completely consumed with the tasks of creating strategy, systems and events to work towards my personal vision for this ministry. It leaves me exhausted, and it hinders the development of my leaders.

The tension is real, and instead of enlisting leaders to bear the load, I can try to take it all on my own shoulders.

Giving Leaders Mountains to Climb

Craig Groeschel, pastor of Life.Church, a multi campus church that is one of the fastest growing in America, discussed on his leadership podcast how the YouVersion Bible app got started.

Eleven years ago he had a leader within his church who had a passion to use technology for God’s glory and for the edification of members of Life.Church. Craig told him he should use his passion to create…and create he did! Boom! He developed one of the most downloaded and daily used apps of all time, which is on most of our phones right now.

Groeschel took a leader’s passion and gave him the ability to define and climb that mountain.

That leader, Bobby Gruenewald, has impacted hundreds of millions of people’s lives. He still runs YouVersion and works alongside Craig today.

How Does This Fit With College Ministry

Leaders stick around when we give them mountains to climb custom fit for them and their passions.

Much of my staff and student leaders’ weekly schedules look the exact same: time meeting new students in cafeterias, leading Bible studies on campus, and meeting with students to share the gospel or disciple them.

However if we don’t help them define their specific God given passions – and give them margin in their schedule to pursue those passions – we could lose the very talent that can take the ministry to the next level.

Encouraging your leaders in their passions will create buy-in, long-term commitment, and will tap into unique skills, fervor, and ownership of the overall ministry vision, resulting in unprecedented growth.

Discovering Leaders’ Passions

So what makes your individual staff members and key students come alive?

Are they passionate about marketing, outreach, building community within the ministry, prayer, serving?

What would it look like to throw your arms around them and encourage them to spend 15-20% of their time creating something they design and lead?

For some that might sound scary, but if we want to build a multiplying gospel movement we must be willing to let go of complete control.

The only thing more scary for an organizational leader than losing control is losing their staff and student leaders because they found another mountain to climb–one we were unwilling to create.

With locked-in, on-board, unleashed leaders, the growth of your ministry will be incomparable.

Jesus Did It

I imagine Jesus giving mountains to his disciples intentionally.

Peter was the rock who was called to build the church.

John was the apostle Jesus loved who was challenged to care for Jesus’s mother.

Two disciples were sent by Jesus to get the colt for the triumphal entry, while others were sent to prepare the Last Supper feast.

I’m sure not all disciples had the same passions, but they all had experiences that produced greater buy-in for the mission Jesus eventually commissioned them to.

And you know what? They stayed with Him until their death, even in the face of some of the most grim circumstances.

Jesus retained his leaders.

How have you created niche roles for your staff and key student leaders?

Did it hinder or help their discipleship and buy-in to the overall movement?

I would love to hear your experiences and what’s worked for you.