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Leadership Development Never Screams

Matt Steen talks with Brent Dolfo & Tim Nations about how leadership development never screams. If you don't address it, you'll find yourself in a wealth of trouble.

Leadership Development

A Chemistry Conversation with Tim Nations & Brent Dolfo


Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, talks with Brent Dolfo and Tim Nations about leadership development. Leadership development never screams. It creeps up on you. If you don't address it and get ahead of it, you'll find yourself in a wealth of trouble. Brent Dolfo shares about the three most common objections to leadership development and Tim shares how churches are reframing their vision for what church looks likes going forward and how we can rally people around that vision. 


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Matt Steen: Well hey, it’s Matt Steen again, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Today I’m pretty excited. We’ve got two people who are joining us today. First up is Brent Dolfo. Brent has worked with churches all over the world - US, Canada, Europe. He consults and coaches pastors, and most recently he’s served as the Leadership Community Director at Leadership Network. Prior to that, he served with Campus Crusade for Christ of Canada as the COO. So he’s been there and done that a lot of different places. Brent, we’re grateful to have you here. Thanks for some time.

Brent Dolfo: Great, glad to be here with you guys.

Matt Steen: And then also joining us is Tim Nations. Tim is one of the church coaches here at Chemistry, and he’s really run point on a lot of the Chemistry labs that we’ve been doing. He’s been working with churches over the last 18 months, helping them to figure out digital ministry strategy, helping them figure out what life looks like in this brave new world that we’ve found ourselves in. Pretty excited to talk a little bit about some of the collaboration that Tim and Brent are doing. But before we get to that, Tim, thanks for doing this, man.

Tim Nations: My pleasure, glad to be here.

Matt Steen: So here’s how we typically have these conversations. Real straight forward. As you guys are looking at the church landscape, what are you learning about the church right now?

Brent Dolfo: Well Matt, one of the areas that I work in in particular is leadership development and helping churches work in creating their leadership development culture and leadership development systems. And one of the things I always say to church leaders is, leadership development never screams. You just wake up one day and go, “Oh my goodness, I don’t have enough leaders.” And so I think in this season of COVID and some of the reimagining of the church we’ve had to do, that’s been even more true. It’s been even more of a focus on survival and the immediate and all those kind of things. Again, in this season, I am finding, while you don’t need to spend time on leadership development, if you don’t you wake up in a brave new world and wonder, “Where are my leaders and are they ready to roll?” Again, what I’ve seen, too, probably a second thing is that in the area of leadership development everybody agrees that it’s an important thing to do and it’s an important thing to be about, but I’ve found there’s really three objections that pastors have to the area of leadership development. The first one is what I would call theological. Sometimes pastors might feel, “Hey, I’m gifted to be a shepherd or I’m a teacher. I’m not really called to be a person that spiritually multiplies myself.” And I hear a lot of that when they are honest enough to tell me that because I can really point through the whole New Testament, whether it was Jesus - he didn’t pastor people, he didn’t minister to the masses. Most of his ministry was in the development of spiritual leaders who could do what he did. So how can people realize that regardless of my spiritual gifting, I am still called to multiply myself in the lives of other leaders. Multiplication is spiritual formation, but it’s much more than that. It’s creating leaders that can lead in the kingdom. The second thing I’ve discovered is, the second objection people have is what I would call emotional ones. “I don’t know if I’m good at this. I feel insecure about this. If I develop someone as good as me, will I have a job?” So processing through church staffs, helping them to realize we all have objections to the gospel and what the gospel calls of us and helping them work through that. And then the third objection is, “Okay, theologically I’m convinced. Yeah, I’ve got to work through my crap but I know I can develop people okay. But what do I do?” And really helping churches work through the, how do I actually develop leaders? And that’s where I’ve found primarily people need the most help and church teams need the most help.

Matt Steen: That’s great. I want to circle back to something that you said because I think this is going to be more and more of a pain point for people. You mentioned, “leadership development never screams.” I love that line. And I think you’re spot on, and so many churches have gotten caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and getting online and all that kind of thing. Tim, I feel like as one of the themes that you’ve been hearing in some of the labs that you’ve been running is as people are going back in person more and more, volunteer engagement and engagement of people in the work of the ministry has declined pretty significantly. I don’t know if you’re seeing that as well, but I’m wondering as we’re hearing churches and pastors talk about how they don’t know how many of their volunteer teams are coming back, how do you guys coach that and how do you help them thank through how to reengage those teams and continue to develop people? Do you understand what I’m asking?

Tim Nations: Yeah. The one caveat I think that I would include with that is that for churches that didn’t do a good job of helping people pivot to a new area of service during the pandemic, they’re having concerns about that. I’m also talking with a lot of churches who maybe it’s their leadership development culture where they immediately began shifting people to use their gifts in different ways throughout this last year and actually created more opportunities for people to be engaged in serving people in their church and their community. I think it’s the churches that really struggle to figure out how to invite people into a new way to volunteer and use their gifts and to lead that are having that anxiety. I think it’s very real and a lot of churches are faced with that and trying to figure that out. But I would say that there are some churches that have done a really good job of how to invite people into new opportunities, so they’ve actually created more for people to do rather than seeing that less.

Brent Dolfo: I guess a couple thoughts that I might have is that the churches that do the best job with leadership development and volunteer engagement have learned this key principle. People respond to vision, and especially leaders respond to vision. Doers respond to task. So if there are tasks you want people to do, you can say, “Hey, I need help with X. Will you help me?” But that engagement doesn’t stay longterm because if I’ve helped you with your thing long enough, now I want to go back to do my thing. Great churches that do a great job of recruiting and developing spiritual leaders do a great job of calling people to a vision. And I think that’s one thing pastors will have to think about a little bit again is how do I create a vision for Sunday morning, how do I create a vision for my serve teams. How do I help them understand the critical role that they play in the advancement of the mission. So again, reimagining people. Not telling them, “It’s time to come back and serve,” but reimagining them again for the vision of what’s behind the area that they’re serving in.

Matt Steen: That’s great, that’s great.

Tim Nations: Matt, I think along with that is the fact that as we’ve been having these conversations with churches throughout the different labs, churches are beginning to see that it’s not physical church and digital church, but it’s the church. And there are components to that on both sides that are part of the whole. They’re not separate things. So especially for church leaders that haven’t come back yet, they have an opportunity to reframe that vision for church that’s not, here’s the physical church and here’s the digital church, but here’s what church looks like going forward. Here’s what our vision for the church is, in both physical and digital spaces. And then being able to, to Brent’s point, to be able to call people around, rally people around that broader vision. I’d go back to what I said earlier. I think that that creates more opportunities for people to come and serve and lead rather than less.

Brent Dolfo: One of the interesting things, Matt, one of the tools that I use - I’m a certified Birkman consultant. It’s a profiling tool that helps people understand their leadership profile. But what I’ve discovered is that among pastors, that persuasive gift, that natural ability to sell and motivate and envision, a lot of pastors score very low on that. They score higher on pastoral care and listening and responding and caring. So a lot of times you have to think about, hey, that whole idea of envisioning, I’ve got to work to get better at that. I’ve got to improve that. So often times, what I suggest to church teams is, get your staff in a room and practice your one-minute elevator pitch. What would it be like to recruit someone for children’s or First Impressions or for youth, and can you create a compelling story that would invite people into the journey of the kingdom and serving the kingdom in a way that would be exciting. And so I think pastors do need to work at getting better at that, many of them.

Matt Steen: So besides locking yourself in a room with your staff and working through that pitch, how would you encourage them to start working on that skillset?

Brent Dolfo: Well the first thing I do think is I would want to make sure that team bought the idea that the calling on their life, regardless of what their gifting is, from Ephesians 4, I still have a calling on my life to multiply myself. I’m not called into ministry just to do ministry, but I’m called in life to multiply myself and to create people that can do what I do. If I haven’t bought that, then I just am kind of selling people, I’m trying to fill slots to do ministry. And so I think this theological framing of leadership development is really critical because if we don’t buy that theologically, then we find ways to not have to do the envisioning because we’d rather not. It’s just uncomfortable many times.

Matt Steen: Got you. That’s strong. So fellas, what I’m pretty excited about is the lab that you two are collaborating on. We’re doing a 7-week leadership development strategy lab that Tim and Brent you guys are working on. Is this some of what you guys are going to be working on together is helping people embrace that?

Brent Dolfo: Yeah. I think Tim and I have worked together for years, back in our Leadership Network days. Tim and I would run cohorts of large churches that we’re working on creating a better leadership development culture and then the systems and processes and tools and practices that really help leadership development flourish in a church setting. So we want to take some of what we’ve learned from some of the best churches in America over the years and give them models that are working and help them work through the challenges they are facing in order of creating a rich culture of spiritual multiplication.

Matt Steen: Good, that’s good. So Tim, tell us a little bit more. Details, how do we get started and that kind of thing.

Tim Nations: Yeah, so as Brent said, it’s a 7-week experience. Really, the outcome for the experience is for churches to be able to create kind of a detailed first draft of what their leadership development strategy is going to look like. What do the systems and structures that support a leadership development culture, what did that look like for their specific church and the vision and the goals that they have for their church. So we’ll have four in-person sessions where we’ll be live together with maybe 6-8 churches, just a small group that’s big enough to create some rich conversation but not so large that we miss out on some of the intimacy of those kind of conversations, churches that are trying to figure out the same thing. We’ll walk them through some of those key components of what it takes to build a strong culture for leadership development and then the systems and structures that support that. In between times, there will be opportunities for some one-on-one calls, some coaching, helping churches work through the exercises and the templates that we’ve given them in order to take the learning that they get from those live sessions and actually apply them to their specific context. So it’s not just a “sit and soak.” It’s not just a, “Here’s some content and good luck with that.” But it’s very much a working process where they will do some learning, get exposed to some ideas, some models for how other churches are doing it, and then be able to process those, come to an understanding of what that could look like in their context, and then make decisions on what are we going to do about that, what are we going to do next. So we walk along beside them with the content and the tools in order to help them move from these ideas about leadership development and what that could look like to what are their next steps going to be and how they begin to take action on those things. The best way to get started on that is just to connect with me and have a discovery conversation and see if this is a good fit for you and where your church is. It may not be for every church and where they’re at right now. I’ll give you an example. I had a conversation with a church just a couple weeks ago. There was a volunteer leader that was excited about the opportunity to do this, but not everyone at the senior team was on board with that. I encouraged them to go back and work through the ten thing pdf that Brent and I put together, have some conversations with the staff as a team, and then we can look later down the road at getting into an experience like this.

Matt Steen: That’s great. So who is this ideally for then? You told us who it’s not ideally for. Who is the perfect church for this?

Tim Nations: Brent can speak to this too, but it’s churches that have made a commitment to this at the senior level. Because we’ve seen over the years churches that have someone that’s kind of in a specialty role that’s really excited about pushing something forward, but if that buy-in isn’t there at the senior level then at best they’re going to struggle, at works they’re going to waste their time and be disappointed. It’s for churches where leadership development has a seat at the lead table and they’re willing to go to work and take the time to invest in creating new systems and structures and strategies to develop the people that God has placed within their church.

Matt Steen: Well, fellas, thank you guys so much for having this conversation, but thank you so much for the work that you’re doing in the kingdom and helping strengthen churches and grow and develop churches. Down below, we’ll have all the links to the ten things pdf that Tim just mentioned, which is a great resource to be able to take away some things that great churches are doing to develop leaders. We’ll also link off to the lab as well. Fellas - Brent, Tim - thank you guys so much for the time today.

Tim Nations: Thanks, Matt.


Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

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