If you ask most Executive Pastors to show you their radars, they’d look a lot like FAA snapshots charting planes in flight across the country. While I know you’re as stressed as a control tower agent, let me put something on your radar that is overlooked by most Executive Pastors: future leader development.

After twenty years of ministry, including some time as an Executive Pastor, I left my role as the Executive Editor of Rev! magazine to invest the remainder of my life in raising effective, ethical leaders. While I’m obviously a slow learner, after authoring a dozen books—and that many years of training adult leaders—I came to the conclusion that the ROI on adult leadership development is far too low. My friend, George Barna, suggested that I focus on children, which I initially blew off because, well, “I’m not a youth guy.” But after investing the last three years in prototyping an executive quality leadership training program, age-sized for preteens, I’m convinced that the right kids can get leadership much better than their older counterparts.

The 10/13 Window is key because moral psychologists concur that by age fourteen, character is pretty much set. Cognitions are not developed sufficiently until age ten for learning conceptual social skills such as leading, team building, conflict resolution, vision casting, and any number of related leader competencies. In essence, teaching ethics courses to MBA students is a waste of time. The proverbial horse has left the barn. I’m convinced, after a quarter century of church leading, that our best hope is in developing leaders while they’re young.

While I know that most Executive Pastors are consumed with ministry management issues like staffing, budgets, facilities, and backroom meetings, I also think that Executive Pastors are in line with God’s strategic plan for the future of His church in terms of young leader development. Here are three reasons I believe this:

1. The Link

The Executive Pastor is the link between values and implementation. While most large-church pastors are leader-oriented, they’re too consumed with preaching and the overarching vision of the church to make sure that a value, such as leadership development, becomes incarnational. No one would deny the importance of raising future leaders, but making sure it shows up in budgets, schedules and job reviews is quite another. Steven Covey’s 2×2 matrix on Importance vs. Urgency suggests that leadership development is a quadrant two issue, meaning it’s important but not urgent. I was talking to John Kotter recently, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency, as to why more organizations don’t change. He concluded the number one reason is that their leaders lack a sense of urgency. They’re so busy putting out fires that they take little time to remove the fuel causing the blaze. Unless someone like you champions the value of future leader development, chances are slim it will ever take hold in your church. You’re the strategic implementer, making sure sub-ministry staff leaders “get” the value and act on it. If you believe leadership development is valuable, then be wary of lip service. The last few years, I’ve met a lot of large-church staff who said they already have leadership programs. Upon closer analysis, a stamp of “Leadership” shows up on programs that are really more about discipleship or service than tapping those gifted in leading with character and skills—qualities they’ll need as organizational catalysts.

2. Critical Mass

Executive Pastors supervise organizations with a critical mass of youth, critical for effective peer learning. While people acknowledge gifting in areas such as music, athletics, arts, and science—and Christians identify a number of spiritual strengths  such as prayer, evangelism, and teaching—for some reason when it comes to leadership, most have bought into the American myth that you can become whatever you want. Exodus 18 and other scriptures seem to deny this idea, let alone common sense. I have yet to see a single stitch of research supporting the idea that everyone can become a leader, in the organizational definition, whereby leaders catalyze others to work together to accomplish what they could not as individuals. Show me any given social group or class of students and approximately 10% will create 80% of the group influence. Therefore, you’d do best to focus on the 10-20% who are natural leaders, who have the God-given aptitude to learn and enjoy learning leadership-oriented principles and skills. We’ve developed an online assessment (free) at KidLead (www.kidlead.com) called the Social Influence Survey, providing parents an estimate of their child’s leadership aptitude, along with a key for understanding it better.

3. Aptitude and Learning

The reason why large churches are well-fitted to accomplish young leader development is that with such a critical mass of youth in any given age group, you can identify and separate those with aptitude from the rest, so they can learn from each other. Leaders learn best from fellow leaders, so that organizing a program around their development is optimum. For example, if you have 50-100 5th and 6th graders, you’ll have between 10-20 who have an aptitude toward leading. These future leaders do best to interact with each other and then can disperse to help lead any number of other roles you can use them in as leaders in your church. Smaller churches will find this type of focus more difficult.


Executive Pastors see the big picture. It happens all the time. An individual age group pastor grasps a burden for leadership (or any other impetus) and then implements programming and events that champion the value. Kids graduate to the next ministry leader who has another top priority, only to be followed by yet another and another. When staff change takes place, an almost schizophrenic ministry impetus results. Family life pastors are significantly improving this situation, creating a ministry umbrella as well as weaving key values throughout age group departments. But as an Executive Pastor, you tend to see an even bigger picture that is also tied to budget, facilities and staffing. In the context of future leader development, you can make sure that you’re identifying leaders in childhood, training them as preteens, and then unleashing them in high school and college.

Most formal leadership development does not take place in our culture until the ages of 25-35, when corporations provide training and mentoring opportunities for employees deemed with leadership potential. Imagine what it would be like to give Christian leaders a 15-25 year head start. We can do that if we intentionally invest in a plan to do this early. That is the essence of our work at KidLead. But whether you use our resources or not, we applaud all who take this task seriously, for it represents the future of the church. God has and will continue to use leaders to catalyze His people for fulfilling His work. If you want to change the world, focus on leaders.  If you want to change leaders, focus on them when they’re young.