Dr. Bill Donahue – Developing Leaders – NCC Spring 2011 Leadership Summit

At NCC we have three leadership summits each year.  They’re 3-4 hour events for our small group and ministry leaders where we cast vision, provide training, worship, and celebrate wins.  We typically produce them entirely in-house, but this year we decided to bring in some outside voices who could speak to our leaders in a fresh way.

For our spring summit we brought in Dr. Bill Donahue, former head of group life for Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Assocation.  Dr. Donahue has a BA from Princeton, an MA from Dallas Seminary, and a PhD from the University of North Texas.  Prior to joining the ministry he worked for Proctor and Gamble and PNC Bank.

He spoke to our leaders on the need to raise up others into leadership.  Here are my unedited notes from his talk:

There is a crying need for ongoing leadership.  It’s not an arrogant thing or we need to be the leaders, but it seems that God has prioritized leadership/shepherding.

But what happens is, people begin to say, wow, this is hard.  So I began to brainstorm, what keeps leaders from sharing their leadership.


What begins to happen if I give up control?  If I give up control, it might stop working.  There’s fear of a loss of control, sometimes that’s for right reasons and sometimes it’s a control issue.  There’s a risk there.  But if anyone should have held onto control was Jesus, but he passed it on even though he knew they were going to bumble around a bit.

If I give away leadership, what if they’re better than me.  It’s an insecurity issue.  I love John 14:12 – Greater things than this will you do because I go.  Think about that for a moment.  Greater things? Than Jesus? Dead-raising, it doesn’t have to be a long list.  Maybe it’s greater in scope.  Maybe Jesus is like a boulder dropped into a lake.  He made a huge impact, but we’re the ripples that reach the shore.

Ego gets in the way.   John Vanye – Community is the place where ego comes to die.  You have John the Baptist, he must increase, but I must decrease.  It is fun to be in the spotlight.  I played football at Princeton, not very well, injured most of the time.  My training regimen of late nights and beer probably didn’t help.  Sometimes when you want to shine, you end up failing in front of a lot of people.  And then you don’t want to step back out.  So you ask someone, and they don’t want to step back out because of insecurity.

Sometimes you think you don’t have anything to teach.  But Gerald May says how you view yourself really has very little to do with who you are.  It’s God who makes you adequate

Fear of failure, what if I pick the wrong person?

A sense of short supply or shortsightedness.  I’d pick somebody, but I don’t see anyone around.  I don’t think that’s true, but there’s this perception that they’re just not ready yet.

A plain old unwillingness, we say, there are people out there, but they just aren’t willing to step up.

The list could go on, but there are afew things that hold us back.

When the how doesn’t work or the what isn’t clear, I can come back to the why.  Why do we share leadership?

There’s a pattern of it in Scripture.  Jethro tells Moses in Exodus 18 to setup a leadership structure to allow others to share in the responsibility.  There’s Elijah and Elisha.  Jesus chose the twelve to be with him and send them out.  The twelve raised up people to serve the widows.

It’s essential for the health of any community.  When leadership resides in a lone person, there’s danger to it.  We’re weak and broken people, and we can mess up.  David Gergen when reflecting on the four presidents he served under said that a leader with character without capacity is weak but a leader with capacity without character is dangerous.

It shifts a focus off the few to the many.  It’s a flatter church, a flatter organization.  Heirarchy can have a role in places, but it’s dangerous if it’s very narrow.

If you begin to share leadership in your culture, this is not an assistant.  An apprentice does what you do.  An assistant does what you don’t want to do.  It takes away that hierarchical you’re helping me get my leadership done to I’m helping you get your leadership done.

Go back to one of your first leadership experiences.  Doesn’t have to be church.  What was the first time you were in a leadership role and you were conscious of it.  How did that feel to you?  How did it go?

One of the things that I do when someone has some hesitancy to step into leadership is go back to when I was there, when I wasn’t sure I would do well or when I failed.

Identifying and engaging emerging leaders is work and skill.

What are you looking for?

A learner, someone who wants to grow.  Every now and again I’ll ask someone to be a leader, and they’re like, it’s about time.  Suddenly we have a lot more hesitancy about their leadership.  This versus someone who is hesitant and unsure.  Don’t worry about the person who says no the first time.  They could be the next Moses.  It might not be the right time.  They might not be ready yet.  You need the courage to grow in your leadership to make another ask.  How many asks was that?  One?  You’re done?  Pray, stay connected, you’ll see another opportunity to ask.

Where do you find leaders?  I really don’t know.  I would look for leaders and not find them.  I’m not good at looking for leaders.  People are easy.  I can find them.  If you’re looking for a leader, it may be hard to find one.

But if you’re looking for some people who might be open to leading, you can find them.  I don’t even ask them to lead.  I just ask them to help me, maybe help me brainstorm some ideas.  It’s not hidden necessarily, but it is a bit subtle and subterranean.  This person may find some joy in beginning to help lead.  Can you help me?  We will plan together.

The first time I saw a leader when I hadn’t seen one was a really quiet guy in one of our groups.  Whenever he spoke, everyone would listen.  He had great insights.  But I didn’t think “leader.”  We had coffee and he told me he sometimes thought about the group.  I broached the subject of “leader,” and he withdrew.  I went to promise keepers with some guys, and he was one of them.  We started a mens group, but there was no “leader.”  But suddenly Steve was asking probing questions, directing the group to pray.  What I realized was it’s about getting alongside of people in a process.

Some of you may have great discernment gifts and can figure this out easier, but me and I think a lot of others do it by trial and error.  Some people may need a bolder ask.  Maybe that guy doesn’t need to be in three softball leagues.

Invite people into a relationship, not a role.  Join me, let’s do something together.

You’re looking for people who are willing to learn, not people who see autonomy as the ultimate goal.  Becoming autonomous is not the ultimate goal.  The Bible says that interdependence is when you’ve arrived.  When the hand needs the eye.  You don’t want people who feel like they’re all of it.

Love – When I’ve worked with people, the first thing, especially in a group, is I want the apprentice or the aspiring leader, even if they don’t know it, is give them someone to love.  Henry Nouwen says service is love.  The main problem of service is to be the way without being in the way.  I there are skills to be learned, they are primarily to serve getting out of the way.

Learn – Give them something to learn.  Ask them to stay five minutes after the group and to give me feedback on my leadership.  Then when they start to lead, I’ll give them feedback.  Experience plus feedback is the best way to learn.

Lead – Give them time to lead.  It’s okay if they fail.  Learn to give leadership away.  Don’t hold it tight  Early on in the apprenticing process is to give them the value of passing things on.  Say to them: Hey, why don’t you start praying about a shared leadership experience?  Who can you pass things on to?

I want to ask you a couple of questions.  We’ve been talking about government shutdown in our culture.  We don’t have to worry about shutdown, except… but we’ll come to that.  We have a great policy manual in Scripture.  We know our values.

Jesus says to his followers that the harvest is there, we need laborers.  So pray, beseech, ask, the Lord of the harvest to go out.  God will create in you a Romans 16 legacy where Paul describes his ministry relationships: Pheobe, a deacon; Priscilla and Aquilla, who risked their lives for Paul; Appenitus, the first follower of Christ in Asia; Mary who worked for your benefit; Adronicus and Judica who were in prison with him…

It’s not a prideful thing.  It’s just that one day you get to write a Romans 16 list.  It’s not a prideful thing.  My impact is limited by the number of people I can touch and invest in.

Henrietta Meers started a Bible study at 6 AM on UCLA’s campus, some people on her Romans 16 list: Bill Brighton, Campus Crusade for Christ; Senate Chaplain Halverson; Billy Graham

Posted at 2:26 PM on April 20th, 2011
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