Reflections on Leadership Development 

The Gift and Value of Leadership Development, by Matt Agee

On August 1, I will join the people, pastors, and elders at Grace Church of Des Moines, Iowa as Associate Pastor to Young Adults. My family and I are exceedingly grateful to the Lord for His goodness, guidance, and provision. I am filled with excitement as I think of all He has planned for His people and His glory (Ephesians 3:20-21).

This time of transition has provided me the opportunity to reflect and to give thanks for the equipping I received at Parkwood through the ministry development program. Parkwood’s commitment through leadership development is to equip and deploy the next generation of ministry leaders. I, along with many others, have been on the receiving end of this biblical commitment.  

The following are my reflections on the equipping I received at Parkwood:

A passion for God’s Word is central to life and ministry. 

I remember sitting in Pastor Jeff Long’s office, sharing my desire to preach God’s Word. He sat patiently, listening to a young man filled with zeal share his heart. At the end of our time together, Pastor Jeff pointed me to an open Bible sitting on his desk. It was opened to Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” “This is the key,” he said, “loving His Word, reading His Word, and obeying His Word. You must start and end here.” Those words were spoken to a would-be preacher, but they should be true of every believer, and especially of those who desire to serve as ministry leaders. The equipping I received at Parkwood centered on God’s Word and on cultivating a passion for His Word. “You must start and end here.” I will never forget those words.  

God’s call is felt internally and affirmed externally.  

It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God calls servants to serve His people. A man or woman must feel a call to serve as a ministry leader. There must be an internal sense of calling, of burden, of heart-deep desire to give your life for God’s people (1 Timothy 3:1). However, the internal is not enough. The calling we feel internally must be affirmed by others externally (1 Timothy 5:22). This external affirmation is the foundational work of leadership development at Parkwood: shepherding young men and women to discern if and how God has called them. External affirmation happens when opportunities are taken and when feedback is provided. The opportunities, feedback, and affirmation I received (culminating in my ordination on April 19, 2015) were necessary and precious. By God’s grace, others will experience the same.

Humility is crucial for growth and development.  

Growth and development in ministry requires correction, input, coaching, course-correction (to use one of Pastor Joey Denton’s terms), etc. However, we must be humble enough to receive them. Only then will they bear the fruit God intends. This means that we must learn the vast difference between being merely agreeable and being teachable. Agreeability requires only that we nod our heads to what is being said; teachability requires much more. When we are teachable, we welcome and apply the words of encouragement, correction, and wisdom we receive from others. This calls for humility. Leadership development at Parkwood taught me that at every stage in my growth and development humility is my greatest ally and pride is my greatest enemy (1 Peter 5:5-6). There is no greater lesson to be learned.  

Ministry leaders are servants, not professionals.  

Don’t get me wrong. All believers should aim for excellence in their lives and in their various callings. However, leadership development at Parkwood showed me that ministry leadership is always servant leadership, meaning it embodies a different tone and mentality altogether. We follow the example of Christ who did not come to be served by to serve (Mark 10:45). One of the early books I read as a part of leadership development was Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Although the book is written to men in ministry, the lessons are applicable to all who serve. On page one, Piper writes, “…there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).” I would add, “There is no professional picking up trash after Vacation Bible School family night.” It is hard to appear professional while picking up trash. That’s the point.  

Gospel work is people work.  

If we are concerned with the work of the Gospel in the world today, then we must be concerned about people. Ministry leadership requires that we love, serve, and disciple people. A core component of leadership development at Parkwood is learning what this means and how it’s done. If we plan a great event, but somehow neglect the people involved, we have missed the mark. If we are reading all the best new books, but are not actively investing our lives in others, then we have missed the mark. In recent years, the book Trellis and the Vine has worked it’s way into the DNA of Parkwood’s pastors. Here is a key line: “…the growth of the gospel happens in the lives of people, not in the structures of the church.” Are structures important? Of course! However, it is possible to add and maintain structures while neglecting people. The personal investment I received through leadership development shaped me deeply. I was not neglected. I hope by God’s grace to continue the work in others.  

Discipleship is worth the time and effort.  

This reflection goes right along with the previous one. A central goal of leadership development at Parkwood is teaching and modeling what it means to disciple others. The expectation is that everything you receive you will reproduce in others. And you receive much! Of course, this is the responsibility of every disciple of Christ, but especially of those who desire to serve as ministry leaders. Through this process, you come to understand that discipleship takes time and effort. I remember riding in the car with Pastor Kem Lindsay when he explained to me that the all-important word in Colossians 1:28 is “struggling.” Discipleship requires struggling and effort. It can be messy and inconvenient, sometimes even painful (I know devoting time and energy to my development could not have been easy!) But, leadership development at Parkwood taught me that discipling others, sticking with them, investing your time and energy, is well worth it. Why? Because God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), and because He promises to finish every work He begins (Philippians 1:6). What a privilege to have a role in His work! 

The Church is God’s Plan A, and He has no Plan B.  

I could not forget this phrase if I tried, and for that I am deeply grateful. God’s work in the world is gathering a redeemed people around His Son from every language, nation, tribe, and tongue who will worship Him and enjoy Him forever. And He does this work of gathering through His people, the Church. The Church is God’s Plan A for reaching our neighbors and the nations with the Gospel. Leadership development at Parkwood taught me what it means to love the Church and to serve the Church and to commit my life to the Church. Why such a commitment? Because Christ promised that He would build His Church, and that the gates of Hell itself would not stand against it (Matthew 16:18). When we commit to the Church, we commit to God’s plan for His world. There is no greater purpose.  

So much more could be written. I could go on and on describing and rejoicing over all God taught me and all the ways He shaped me through leadership development at Parkwood. Truly, I am grateful to Christ for His people (Philippians 1:3). I know so many others feel the very same way.  

May our Lord continue His work through Parkwood until His Church is built and the earth is filled with His glory! 

Why Preach Spiritual Leadership Series

We preach expository sermons at Parkwood, in short, because we believe the Bible is our great and ultimate authority. The Word of God is authoritative over our thoughts, opinions, and traditions. Expositional, exegetical preaching is therefore our intentional choice for sermon delivery as it most appropriately and sufficiently allows the preacher to convey both the authority of the Word and the necessity of our submission to it. For this reason, preaching through books of the Bible is the typical pattern for sermon planning (a biblical theology approach). In January, though, we typically plan a diversion in the preaching schedule to preach a series particularly poignant to the direction and/or far-reaching issues in the life of the church (a systematic theology approach). The preaching schedule is taking us through the book of Matthew, but we are currently taking the month of January to focus on a series entitled Spiritual Leadership.

So the question is, Why preach a Spiritual Leadership series? The answer, I mentioned last week at the close of the series’ introductory sermon, and these points will continue to surface over the course of the Spiritual Leadership series. The reasons for such a series are three: first, congregational understanding of the biblical instruction on spiritual leaders; second, administering great care in calling our leaders; and third, increasing leaders for the purpose of the church. 

First, it is incumbent upon spiritual leaders to ensure a proper congregational understanding of spiritual leadership. Spiritual leaders, in a context in which the Word of God is the ultimate authority, may not shepherd and serve any way they see fit, even should they choose a fitting way to shepherd and serve. Leaders, even wise and discerning leaders, must not lead according to their wisdom. The only appropriate manner in which to shepherd and serve is that set forth in and consistent with Scripture. God, having established and designed the church and the authority of the church, has therefore chosen and revealed the appropriate standard and manner of spiritual leadership. A Spiritual Leadership sermon series is fitting because the congregation should understand what the Father has communicated in his Word regarding spiritual leadership. And the present is an appropriate time for communicating and reinforcing a congregational understanding of the biblical instruction on spiritual leaders because of the large numbers that have been added to the congregation in recent years, many of which are previously unchurched, from other denominations, or from different traditions. If we believe the Bible, then we all need to know and be reminded what God has said about spiritual leadership.

Second, we need to be careful who we call as our spiritual leaders. It has been said, “We do God a great injury if we accept an unsuitable person to govern his household. Therefore, the greatest care must be taken that nobody is chosen for this sacred office in the church unless he has already proved himself” (Calvin, Acts, 88). Recognizing the great care we must take in calling men to spiritual leadership, it is prudent and beneficial to devote time in the sermon schedule for a systematic study of the Bible’s teachings regarding the roles and responsibilities of spiritual leaders. Future leaders must know what is required of them; current leaders must be reminded; and the church must understand the same before called upon to affirm and to follow such men in spiritual leadership. If we are to be faithful and careful in calling spiritual leaders, then we should be instructed by God’s Word that we may function according to biblical wisdom and not merely human wisdom.

Third, a Spiritual Leadership sermon series is appropriate for the calling of new spiritual leaders. A faithful church makes disciples who make disciples. In this growing context, new leaders are regularly needed. If a faithful church makes disciples, then a growing church develops leaders. Parkwood needs more leaders for two reasons consistent with her purpose. More leaders are needed to meet the growing demands of a growing congregation, and more leaders are needed for the increasing missional demands of sending more personnel to campuses and to the nations. We need a Spiritual Leadership series because we need more spiritual leaders. We need to develop leaders as often as we grow and as often as we desire that our gospel ministry grow. And we need to send more leaders to the nations and to campuses as long as we seek to obey the mission of God to magnify his glory and proclaim his gospel in all the world. 

Considering these reasons – congregational understanding of spiritual leadership, care in selecting leaders, and the continuing need for more leaders – a Spiritual Leadership series is both acceptable and beneficial. I pray as a result of this series that Parkwood would continue to grow in our understanding of spiritual leadership, take great care in selecting leaders, and develop increasingly more shepherds and servants who will lead here in Gastonia, at future campuses, and among the nations.