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Indirect leadership is more suited for this generation than the old models of command-and-control. Here are recommendations for using indirect influence to cultivate a church that expands the ministry capacity of its members.

1. Develop a Culture of Growth.

Turn your church into a center for capacity expansion. Inspire people to improve themselves. Don’t focus on where you are today; focus on what you will be. Jesus knew of the many flaws in the character and behavior of his disciples, but he didn’t focus on that. Instead, he focused on their potential and helped them to see themselves in a new light.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5:13–15, ESV).

2. Identify Specific Criteria.

A second step is to identify the criteria you will use to measure whether people are expanding their capacity for ministry.These criteria can include the church’s core values, specific job requirements, and the future needs of the congregation. The purpose of the criteria is not to evaluate but to develop. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the function of church leadership as equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Determine what that work looks like for your congregation and then identify the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to accomplish it.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13, ESV).

3. Give people the freedom to be creative.

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor 3:17).

You can do this in three ways:

  1. Value and reward the spirit of innovation.
  2. Provide the resources people need to experiment with new ideas.
  3. Support and defend creative thinking, even when specific projects fail.

4. Look for holistic solutions to problems.

Remember the spider-web. Look at the whole web to see which strands you need to adjust to produce positive change. Resist the tendency to think of problems in isolation.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, ESV).

5. Uncover the Hidden Culture.

Peel back the layers of the onion that encase the underlying culture of your church. What unquestioned (and even unperceived) assumptions are people making? Why do people behave the way they do? What beliefs are driving their behavior? What values are they trying to protect? What fears are they trying to avoid? The discovery of these invisible yet powerful forces driving your church will put you in a better position to lead change.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:11–12, ESV).

6. Set Clear Parameters.

Give your ministry teams freedom to innovate within guidelines that protect the core. When people feel like they are not allowed to innovate, they slip into a compliance mode. When they have freedom without parameters, they may make decisions that endanger the integrity of the church. Unless you have defined the core, parameters will expand to cover everything; you will be back to a level of control that allows no innovation. Until you define the core, you will see everything as core and try to protect it from change.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal 5:13).

7. Develop an expansive perspective.

Some church leaders see their role as restraining the forces of subversion. They resist change because, by definition, that is what they are supposed to do. Narcissistic leaders gravitate toward this role because they see all forces outside their control as personal threats. An open perspective is what you have when you see your role as a catalyst for outward expansions.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:18).

8. Distinguish between core values and peripheral expedients.

Your core refers to your deepest values and sense of purpose.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10:41-42).

9. Release the Power.

All the evidence seems to show that creation began from a dense core. This core exploded in a creative frenzy that continues to this day.

God wants to do the same with His church. When we center the life of the body in the gospel core, the power of that core is released. We start a seismic reaction that drives creative energy outward. Ministries, led by believers in a variety of occupations, are multiplied throughout the community and throughout the world.

The book of Acts talks about how the word of God “increased” and the number of disciples “multiplied” (Acts 6:7). Jesus saw the core he had placed on the earth expanding into the entire world (Matt 28:19). The same God who created the expanding universe envisioned His church to be an expanding kingdom.

The liberation of the Netherlands in the 17th century from Spanish rule ushered in a period so rich in creativity it came to be called the Golden Age of Art.

In an insightful article about the ingredients of an innovative company, Dr. Federico Capasso, of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, writes,

Innovation is inherently a bottom-up process, which thrives on brainstorming and a free association of bright people and ideas. Thus, traditional management techniques are not effective in encouraging and nourishing invention and innovation, which at their best are unpredictable and disruptive processes.

The book of Acts is full of expanding creative energy resulting from the liberating grace and Spirit of God. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV). This creative energy will be restored when the church rediscovers the presence of Jesus and empowers its people to expand their capacity to serve and lead for his honor and glory.


Photo by erichh. Photo available at Pixabay under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.