Leaders lead others to lead.Rebekah “RJ” “Rebby” Johnson
Let’s Go Back to 1999….
I was eleven years old, serving as a teacher’s assistant in a first grade classroom at our church. We had a group of about fifteen kids that would show up every week for coloring, games, singing, and hearing a Bible story. I loved working with them as well as watching how the teacher would present the Bible story to them.
My parents always needed to be the first to claim their usual seats in our church sanctuary, which meant I was always the first one in my classroom, a good hour before kids started showing up, as well as a good thirty minutes before the actual teacher would show up.
Which meant that I would usually set up the classroom while I waited, and sometimes signed in the kiddos of other parents who came to church early.
One weekend, I had started signing in kids to my classroom, but oddly enough the teacher hadn’t appeared yet. Assuming the teacher would eventually show up as he normally did, I proceeded to escort the kids to their time of singing and worship.
After worship, still no teacher.
I escorted them back, and other adults who oversaw the classroom activities started panicking around me saying, “Where is the teacher?”
“He never showed up.”
Mind you, this was before everyone carried cell phones with them. Therefore before text messages could be sent to parents or teachers. We DID have walkie talkies. No matter what, I was stuck with my group of kids for at least an hour.
While the adults scurried around on their walkie talkies trying to figure out what to do, I had my class sitting down in their usual spot on the carpet, ready to listen to the Bible story.
I always read the material beforehand, so I simply kept things moving by proceeding to sit in the teacher’s chair and start telling the story.
Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the adult “in charge” leaders, Lisa, lower her walkie talkie and clip it back onto her jeans. She grabs one of the children’s chairs from a table and sits in the back of our classroom and says nothing as I continue to teach the lesson.
Lisa never gets up. Never interrupts. Never takes over. She sits, listens, and allow me to lead.
There were some days in our classroom that the kids were running around like crazy, but I remember that this wasn’t one of them. They listened. They answered questions. We prayed and they went to do their craft.
As they sat down with their craft, Lisa comes up to me and gives me a big hug and whispers in my ear, “You are a very good teacher.”
Lisa waits in the classroom with me until all the kids have been picked up by their parents until it’s just she and I in the room. My Dad comes to pick ME up, because remember, I’m eleven years old. But Lisa makes him wait so she can chat with me.
“Rebekah, what you did today was amazing. I hope that you become a teacher because you did a phenomenal job – just as good as anyone else. You have a real gift, and I’m so glad I got to see it. Now, we are going to work out our system that if there’s no adult we are not signing any kids into the classroom anymore- BUT, you did a great job today.”
Before this, when the chaos of having no adult in charge was still an issue, Lisa could’ve easily stepped in front of me, and figured out a new lesson plan on the spot. Or she could’ve cancelled the class altogether and tried something new. She could’ve done whatever she wanted with the authority she had.
But instead Lisa let me lead.
She took her authority and activated it into a supportive role. She sat in the back in case I needed anything, but she let me exercise my gift without interruption.
And I’m so thankful.
I’m thankful not only for Lisa in that moment, but the many other leaders who over time made space for me to learn how to teach. I’m thankful for the leaders who put a microphone in my hand to lead Bible lessons. I’m thankful for teachers who eventually let me preach to my peers in Fellowship of Christian Athlete meetings. I’m thankful to Pastors who purposefully called me up to a pulpit without warning to pray for others. I’m thankful for Pastors who without ever hearing me speak publicly to adults invited me to facilitate teaching series in church.
I’m thankful for leaders who have handed me the keys to their job for moments and seasons so that I could grow in my gifts.
When you become a leader, you are creating a culture where others follow your example. But, once they learn to follow it well enough, you should be discipling them to the point that they can do whatever YOU can do. But that also means that you need to create chances for them to DO whatever you can do.
Here’s some thoughts on how to step aside and make room for future leaders…
So, Let’s Step Aside and Make Some Room
Spy on Your Team, Looking for their Gifts
To be a good leader you need to have the eyes to see gifting and potential in someone, and not be threatened by it. Lisa could’ve seen eleven year old me walk to the front of the class and had me sit down due to protocol. But she saw something in me, and took the risk of letting me speak, and continue to speak. And when she observed what I did well, she spoke into my gifting by calling it out, naming it, and affirming it.
Be on the lookout and crazy search to find, see, notice, and observe the gifts and leadership potential of your team. Watch them. Stalk them. Step aside and spy on them, not being on the lookout for what they do wrong, but what they do well.
(Also to cut down on your spying time, you could also have them take online assessments of their spiritual gifts, as well as personality tests that very clearly map their strengths and weaknesses, such as the Meyers Briggs, Strengths Finder, and Enneagram tests).
Pass them the Microphone
Once you’ve identified the potential gifts of your leaders, find ways for them to use them! This might mean taking the microphone out of your hand and passing it over. And if not a microphone perhaps a set of keys, or blowing up a balloon for a kids’ ministry event, or perhaps the space behind the pulpit.
The point being, it’s time for your disciple to actually practice what they’ve been observing in you. At this point, we quiet our own voice for the sake of letting our team step up and speak. Setting aside our own egos, experience, or authority for the sake of giving others a chance to grow. This also leads to a self evaluative question of, “Have I been doing a good job at leading my team? If I pass them the microphone, will they know what to do?” But that’s another blog post for another day!)
Create the space for others to operate in the gifts you see in them.
Praise and Push Ups
Chances are, your leaders won’t do everything perfect the first time through. But that’s not the point. The point is they had the courage and faith to step out in their gift, and that is to be praised!
Identify what your leaders do well, and affirm those things like crazy! But you better do it genuinely!!!!!
… Because no one wants empty praise.
To praise them you might say…
“You are such a good (fill in the blank: teacher/speaker/organizer). I especially like the way you (fill in the blank: showed so much energy, thought through that project, were so creative).”
And as their leader, don’t only pump up their gifts, but stay on the lookout for how their gifts are developing, so you can keep pushing them forward. A coach or trainer makes their athletes do push ups to strengthen their muscles. And as they do those push ups, they observe their form. Give them honest critiques, helping them improve their form, their craft, the way they act our their responsibilities. And find ways to increase the weight of responsibility, in order to increase their strength and capacity for leadership.
To critique their form you might say…
“So I noticed you have a lot of energy at the beginning of your talks/teachings. Try to make your transitions between points have that same amount of energy to people’s attention.”
To push them to greater weight capacity you might say…
“Wow, you are really a great small group teacher. I think you would also be great at leading a workshop with a bigger group. Let’s start getting you prepared for one!”
In leadership, it is so easy to get caught up in our own responsibilities, But one of our most important responsibilities as leaders is to be inviting those that follow us into our story. No solo leadership! Leaders lead others to lead.
We need our team to see that there is a place for them in the mosaic of our organizations. Every person needs space to operate in their gifts and purpose. And when we create the framework that everyone within the grand picture of our team has room to grow, God is going to get so much more glory.
Thanks for Reading,
Coach RJ 😉