The Primary Functions of Leadership
by Paul Ford

   "Over the last twelve years I have been watching leadership trends in both the Christian and secular arenas, from Bennis to Drucker to Senge to DuPree to Maxwell to Barna. Add to that the privilege I have of training Christian leaders and teams in eight different cultures ongoing. This year I will work with leaders from four sub Saharan tribal groups in Africa, Kazaks in Central Asia, Russians in and around Moscow, Estonians, several different ethnic Chinese groups in southeast Asia, and even Korean pastors in Los Angeles! It has been a rather interesting journey, to say the least -- particularly as I reflect on my own culture's leadership patterns here in the West after returning from any of the training treks.

  Out of this process of watching I came up with my own grid for Christian leadership. What functions are really essential to Christian leadership?

  What activities are strategic for every leader or leadership team to fulfill in a given ministry or church? I call my set the "Primary Functions of Leadership." It will appear in its most updated form in my new workbook called "Your Leadership Grip: Getting a Grip on How you REALLY Lead" coming out May 15 through ChurchSmart Publishers. An older edition of it appears as "Principle Priorities of Leadership" in my teambuilding workbook, "Discovering Your Ministry Identity."

   The "Primary Functions of Leadership" are my read on what actions are essential to effective Christian leadership in the New Millennium. Since the New Testament does not primarily focus on leadership but rather on equipping and releasing, these five summarize leadership in functional equipping language, all of which are combinations of various spiritual gift sets. No one of the five is valued over another, though each is strategic and essential to the whole process of this activity we call "leadership." Only 30% of the leaders with whom I work have the gift of leadership (Barna uses an even smaller figure), so there must be other combinations of equipping gifts that empower leading and enable the equipping of the saints.

   The five?

   Values Keeping, Vision Sharing, Teambuilding, Active Listening and Equipping-Releasing.

   The first two are more content driven; the second two are more relationally driven, while the fifth is really a combination of content and relationship, depending upon the gift mix of the particular leader. Commonly, I have found that leaders are strong at two or three of the five and less so with the other two or three. While some claim that their strengths among the five vary according to situation, the 90% majority clearly identify two are three as indeed their real power areas. By power I mean what the Kazaks of central Asia understand spiritual gifts to be: where God is powerful in you by His grace.

   I offer these three observations from the learning track these past 18 months since first using this simple assessment.

   First, it seems that in the west we have made leadership into a person instead of a series of functions to be fulfilled by a group of people. While it appears God has designed leadership to be activity where the "I" needs the "we," we have chosen the model of making the leader into the five-in-one specialist!

   Over the past ten years, the emphasis on leaders needing to be that certain kind of visionary leader or powerful upfront presenter appears to have been so strong in Christian media that everybody wants to be a visionary leader. Or they feel guilty that they are not such. This is a new framework of the same old problem that even the Reformation didn't address effectively...the priesthood of all believers just never quite caught on!

   Thus it will not surprise you that "Vision Sharing" is far and away the highest ranked of the five so far for those 600+ who have taken this assessment. This insight did not surprise me, what with Christian literature setting this course so clearly. What struck me was just HOW strong this trend was/is. Thankfully George Barna and others are now backing off things said earlier about the all-encompassing centrality of visionary leadership.

   Interestingly, after teambuilding seminars that I do regularly, commonly up to half of the people who came in believing that their strongest Primary Function to be Vision Sharer realize that they only WANT this to be strongest. Their real power is in other areas - and they are actually relieved! They suddenly realize that God has designed them to lead with other powerful strengths and thus do not have to fit the culturally popular styles.

   Second, and for me the most challenging insight gained, I was expecting that one of the five would be far and away the lowest - that being the Active Listener. I was wrong. Far and away, the lowest rated of the five thus far is... Equipping Releaser. I was shocked!

   Of the five this one actually seems closest to the biblical model of leadership. I now believe that we have focused so strongly on the pastor as visionary leader or what I call the "Moses as CEO" concept that leaders seem pre-occupied with the question "Am I a leader?" or "How can I learn to be a visionary leader?" rather than "How can I lead powerfully through who I am?"

   Everybody wants to be a leader - and one of the fruits of this trend is that many have forgotten about their equipping and releasing of others for ministry! Again, the "I" of leadership in our culture has lost sight of the "we." Everybody wants to be a leader - THE leader -x and the equipping and releasing of the next generation of leaders has been left wanting. This is why I am releasing the new "Your Leadership Grip" workbook - to help leaders re-focus on who they really are and get off this visionary leader as guru kick and back to an equipping/releasing framework.

   Thirdly, we may be asking some wrong questions when it comes to leading ministry and teams. The questions that leaders in the west commonly seem to ask are "Where am I strong?" and "What seminars can I go to strengthen my weaknesses?" We translate this same strong leader mentality into making even my weaknesses stronger. That's what you do in a culture that focuses on strength and runs from weakness, in a culture that focuses on the strength of the "I" as more important than the power and synergy of the "we" - this in spite of all the teambuilding supposedly going on.

   I contend that those earlier questions are not the right biblical ones. The critical questions are "Where am I powerful (i.e. my spiritual gifts)?" and "Who do I Need?" That is, equally important to how God has made me powerful is how God has prepared me to need others!

   For Christian Body Life purposes, God has designed every leader with intrinsic strengths and inherent weaknesses. That is, God has designed each of us to be strong and needy at the same time. The "I" again has been designed for the "we." Our model as leaders is to include how we allow others to come alongside to make our weakness into a strength for the leadership team. Commonly, leaders who have taken the Primary Functions assessment experience a new sense of primacy on asking God to raise up those alongside who create more holistic and powerful leadership model. The hoped for result is a re-centering of the principle of body life ministry driven by the leader who now sees him/herself more accurately as one among called to prepare the troops out of his own needs.

   I welcome shared insights on this subject as the learning continues."

   You can contact Paul R. Ford at or through ChurchSmart Publishers (800.253.4276) or His latest work is "Getting Your Gifts in Gear" lay mobilizing workbook is due out in second edition this summer with the whole "Mobilizing Spiritual Gifts" set for local churches. Paul has given us an assessment workbook for the average lay Christian (Getting Your Gifts in Gear), one for team assessing (Discovering Your Ministry Identity) and one expressly addresses the Leadership function (Your Leadership Grip).

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on April 6, 2003