• Andrew Estes

The Leadership Pipeline

Updated: Aug 3, 2021


We Need More Leaders!!!

Have you said or thought that recently? Leading a ministry where the vast majority of leaders are volunteers can be difficult. I spent over a decade as a ministry leader and it is tremendously rewarding at times. But there’s a lot to keep up with: coordinating schedules, casting vision, coaching, creating space for others to lead, etc. Often we believe the lie that it’s easier to do it ourselves than to take the time and energy necessary to train other leaders. But the overwhelm of doing everything yourself doesn’t make things easier, it’s a different kind of hard. When developing The Leadership Pipeline, Mac Lake talks about this tension in his book The Multiplication Effect when he describes that it can be hard work raising up leaders, but it’s also hard work doing everything yourself. You have to choose your pain.


Earlier this year I interviewed Mac for a Nexus Webinar to introduce The Leadership Pipeline. The Leadership Pipeline is an intentional training system that helps identify your ministry’s leadership structure, identify potential leaders, and clarifies how you will raise them up to maximize the potential of their leadership giftedness. But it all starts with the question before all other questions… why?


Why do you need more leaders?

The answer you give to this question will tell you a lot about yourself and your heart in ministry. We all know we need more leaders to keep the ship running: to lead ministries and small groups, to teach children’s classes, to lead worship, to greet people, to follow up with first-time guests, and a thousand other things. Often when we think that we need more leaders we just want a short-term fix for the hole in our current team. Even when you get every spot filled, more needs arise and you’re back at square one.


Mac suggests that “the greater reason for developing leaders is to cultivate the God-given leadership gifts in others… The big win is not filling a leadership position; it’s seeing someone maximize the potential of his or her leadership giftedness.” It’s easy to forget that your leaders are not just a means to fulfill the mission of your church… they are the mission! So how do you intentionally create a culture of leadership development?

“The greater reason for developing leaders is to cultivate the God-given leadership gifts in others… The big win is not filling a leadership position; it’s seeing someone maximize the potential of his or her leadership giftedness.” Mac Lake – The Multiplication Effect

The Leadership Pipeline

The Leadership Pipeline is a simple and powerful tool that helps you see the basic structure of your organization and know the next steps necessary to equip and train leaders. It starts with identifying how you define leadership in your culture. There has to be a basic structure that you can overlay in every ministry area. The language can be your own but the basic overlay should look something like this (starting from the bottom):


  • Lead the Church – Senior Leadership Team (Provides visionary leadership for the church)

  • Lead a Ministry Area – Director (Provides visionary leadership over a specific area of ministry)

  • Lead Leaders – Coach (Leads a small team of leaders to provide further equipping, encouragement, and evaluation.)

  • Lead Others – Leader (Leads a small team or group of people)

  • Lead Self – Team Member (Leads themselves by participating in a group or team)


Practical Implications

This basic outline exists in every ministry area. In Children’s Ministry, you may have 30 volunteers. Okay, how many teachers do you have? They are “Leading Others.” You might have 15 teachers. Okay, do you have specific leaders over different age groups? Someone over nursery or pre-k or 5th & 6th grade? They would be a “coach” or a “coordinator” or “team leader” whatever language works. And then you might have someone over all of them that functions as the ministry “Director.” Once you identify the different levels of leadership, you can begin to see potential in your team to identify who might be able to be equipped at the next level. Now, rather than saying, “we need more leaders,” you can identify specifically how many team leaders, or coaches, or team members you might need.

It’s similar in Worship Ministry or Small Groups. How many team members do you have? How many people are able to lead others in their ministry area? How many people are able to lead those leaders? Who is overseeing the entire ministry? And most importantly, who has potential and needs to be trained and equipped to move up a level?


There is so much depth that can be derived from laying out your ministry in this way. You can identify who has a heart and capacity to be raised up. And it might show you that you have someone that doesn’t have the abilities to be at the level they are in and they need to take a step back. But even as you see your ministry in this way, you must constantly remember that you’re not raising up leaders to just be a cog in the machine. You are called to train and disciple them in a way that they will train and lead others. You’re instilling a sense of multiplication in them by realizing they have room to grow and they have the potential to train others.


Church Plants

In a smaller church or church plant, you may not have 100% of the positions you want from day one. Mac suggests that there may be as few as 4 or as many as 6 based on the size and structure of your organization. When a church is just getting started you will likely omit either the “Director” or “Coach” level to start. It will look more like this:

  • Lead the Church

  • Lead Leaders

  • Lead Others

  • Lead Self

You can always aspire to have that position, but at the launch date, you probably won’t. There is a great exercise in the book The E-Myth where you take time to dream about your ideal org chart prior to launch. It’s a good idea to know where you want to end up and slowly work towards that goal.


The tool is great, but it all starts with the vision of developing people, not simply putting warm bodies in needed positions. Mac shares about the lasting impact of leadership development when he says, “One of the primary goals of leadership development is not just to produce a leader but to produce a leader who produces leaders. Developing a leader will last a season, but developing a leader who reproduces leaders lasts generations.

One of the primary goals of leadership development is not just to produce a leader but to produce a leader who produces leaders. Developing a leader will last a season, but developing a leader who reproduces leaders lasts generations.” – Mac Lake

At Nexus we’re not interested in just planting another church, we’re after churches. We believe that leaders are our legacy. We can’t forget that it is our job to equip the saints for the work of ministry. So what’s your leadership development strategy? If you don’t have a plan to develop leaders in your church, you don’t really intend to do it.


Learn more about Mac Lake and the Multiply Group.


Originally posted on nexus.us/blog.

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