Leaders see the long game

After 3 consecutive series losses, Queensland selected Mal Meninga as the coach of the 2006 State of Origin side.  There was enormous pressure on him to select an experienced, battle-hardened side but he, instead, selected a side with 7 debutants.  Among those 7 were names like Greg Inglis, Sam Thaiday, Matt Scott and Nate Myles.  He also resisted pressure and selected the much-maligned Johnathan Thurston at halfback and Cameron Smith at hooker, even though most pundits thought these two probably wouldn’t amount to much.

Yet, history tells us that Meninga was looking to the long game and, as history now tells us, that group of players made up the core of the great Queensland sides of the last 12 years.

My point is not just to trumpet the success of Queensland (though I will take any opportunity to do that) but to show the point that the really good leaders look to the long game of life and ministry.

It’s easy to just plan for this Term, this Year, this season.  But one of the great outcomes of realising that Jesus builds His Church is that we are never going to reach the finish line of ministry.  We just play the part God gives us and hand the baton on to the next person.

As the Apostle Paul says regarding King David, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption” (Acts 13:36-37)

David played his part and then he died.  But, Jesus never dies.  We will play our part and then we will die.  But our God is marching on!

So, it then becomes incumbent on us to lead in such a way that we aren’t just leading “what is now” but preparing for “what is ahead” – preparing the next generation and even the generation beyond that.

That’s part of the reason why, as a Church, we ask each leader to be training up the next leader.  In so many Churches, when one leader steps down, it is left to the pastor or Church leadership to find the “replacement.”  But that’s not how we want to see ministry at FLBC.  Ministry and leadership are God-given privileges and we should want more for them that just replacements.  As leaders, our desire should be to see the next person take the ministry further under God than we could have.

I saw this truth in my own life some years ago when I was asked to lead an evening service team at another Church.  I’d never led a service team or even really led a ministry.  But, under God’s good grace, we saw increase and blessings.  God raised up amazing people who served faithfully with a generous heart.  But the time came when God was clearly saying my time in that role had come to an end and it was time to move on to something else.  As I looked around for the person to take over from me, God clearly laid His hand on one guy in particular who took the ministry further than I could have ever done.  It was a blessing to see a ministry that had been struggling when I first came to it, go on to really be used by God.

However, it would have been far better if I’d trained up this young guy intentionally rather than discovering him accidently.

It’s a powerful image to grasp that God can take our feeble, fumbling efforts and use them to have generational impact for the Gospel.  But one of the most common questions I receive is, “I understand I should raise up leaders.  But, practically, how do I do it?”

My answer comes from Jeff Callow (OMF missionary to Thailand), “You must MAWL them!”  Jeff showed me that, to raise up other leaders, I must be prepared to MAWL them and do it thoroughly!

MAWL stands for the following:

  • Model – I do it, they watch.
  • Assist – I do it, they assist me.
  • Watch – They do it, I watch and coach.
  • Launch – They do it all.

Can we really trust that this system works?  Well, Jeff & Belinda Callow have planted multiple Churches in Thailand following this method and those Church are healthy, growing and planting other Churches.  So, yes, I think we can say it’s a health model.

But, more than that, it’s a model we see Jesus use with His disciples:

  • First, Jesus modelled ministry to the disciples. He didn’t ask them to heal the sick (Matthew 4:23-25) straight after He called them (Matthew 4:18-22).  He gave them the example.
  • In Matthew 8, Jesus brought the disciples in closer. He still did the ministry, but he taught them about the cost of ministry and drew them in.
  • From Matthew 10 through to Gethsemane, Jesus sends out the disciples and watched from afar. He then debriefed when they returned;
  • Finally, Jesus launched them into ministry with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). He assured them of His ongoing care and love but this was done in spirit of launching them into the ministry that would start the Church.

Paul followed a similar model with Timothy, Moses did the same with Joshua and Elijah appears to have done something similar with Elisha. 

As we MAWL people, we multiply leaders.  As we multiply leaders, we multiply capacity for the Kingdom.  As we make it an outflow of an intimated abiding in Christ, it becomes fruit that will last.  Indeed, as we intentionally MAWL people, we start to see not just the next leader (2nd generation) but the upcoming leaders after them (3rd generation).

So, as FLBC leaders, how can we be good at MAWLing new leaders?  Here are some thoughts:

  • For anything to have any eternal value, it must be bathed in prayer. 
  • Model well. The first 2 phases of the acronym, “Model” & “Assist” are so critical because it is here that you impart culture.  They will pick up on the unspoken prompts and keys.  So, how you model matters! 
  • Teach biblical reflection. When you work through the different phases, talk with your learner about how the Bible informs what you do and encourage them to ask.  In many cases, we become such routine practitioners, that we neglect to reflect biblically on what we do.  Biblical reflection is an important step to pass on to others.
  • Don’t skip steps. In the first accounting firm in which I worked, the induction process on my first day went like this:  I was taken on an office tour and introduced to everyone (100 people), shown my desk, shown the computer package to be used and then given a file.  When I asked, “How do I do this?”  I was told, “Have a go and we’ll show you what you do wrong.”  We missed M., A. & W. and went straight to L.  It was the “sink or swim” approach.  
  • Keep the vision in front of you. The MAWL process is time-consuming and it can be frustrating as you hand over responsibility to someone who makes mistakes.  You may say to yourself, “I could do this better.”  And you’re right!  However, you need to have a bigger picture mentality.  You are investing in someone who is important to God.  And, if you do it well, they will take your lead and invest in other people who are important to God.  Keep your patience, keep your focus and see the potential.
  • Keep the vision in front of them. Just as this process can be frustrating for you, it can be equally frustrating to your learner.  They don’t enjoy making mistakes or feeling like they’re letting you down.  So, keep encouraging them by showing them the vision.  Tell them what you see in them.  Tell them about how they can impact the Kingdom by God’s Spirit. 
  • Be prepared to have hard conversations. If you’re going to raise up someone well, you need to be prepared to have the difficult conversation with them. You need to be prepared to show them where they’re wrong – it may even be something they think they do well.  If you paper over it, you are setting them up for failure.  Conversely, the hard conversation may be where your learner points out a fault in the way you do things.  Can your ego handle that?  Your goal as a leader should be for your followers to “surpass” you.  Can you handle that? 
  • Show them the wider Church. It’s too easy to have a silo mentality in ministry – to only see what we’re doing.  As we train someone up for leadership, it is critical that we teach them to look beyond this role to the wider ministry, the wider local Church and the wider global Church.
  • Be prudent with your time and energy. MAWLing someone takes a lot of time, energy, transparency and work.  You cannot MAWL too many people at once.  You need to be selective under God’s wisdom.  It will mean you have to let other things (and potentially other people) go so that you can stick to the main thing.  Leaders are the ones who have to make tough choices and this is just about the hardest one you will make.

Many people have given me ministry advice but Jeff’s advice to MAWL people is one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve received because it is based on the way Jesus did it and it goes to the heart of abiding and discipleship.  When my leadership journey comes to a close, how will I judge the fruitfulness of that journey?  By how well I’ve MAWLed people who have gone on to MAWL others.

“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)

God said to the Israelites, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)   God invites us to partner with Him in raising up more shepherds.  Lord, please raise up more shepherds by empowering me to MAWL others.  In the powerful Name of Jesus.  Amen.