7 Principles for Leadership Development in Disciple Making Movements

leadership development

The movement is beginning to multiply. You have second and third-generation groups beginning. You sense that the leaders of the groups need more input. What is the best way to train leaders in a movement?

As we look at this issue we first look to Jesus. How did He train leaders for His movement? We can also draw best practices from growing movements happening today.

Birthing a Movement

When I first began to learn about church multiplication, I attended a two-day seminar with George Patterson. George was one of the “fathers” of movement thinking. I learned so much from him in those two short days!

One of the things that George spoke to us about was that our role needed to be that of a mid-wife. The churches being born were not ours. They had to be the responsibility of the local people in the groups or churches. In order for that to happen, we had to be careful not to take away the baby church and try to raise it ourselves! That was their role.

As many new parents are young and experienced, so these young believers would need help in how to care for and lead the new groups/churches. If we got too involved, they would not bond with the others in the group. They wouldn’t take the necessary responsibility to care for, grow, and multiply those groups.

As a young mother myself, this made a lot of sense. If the nurses, doctors, or midwives had tried to take too much control of the process of caring for my babies, that would have been terrible!

My kids were mine. I loved and wanted to be their mom…even though I needed help to learn how to do that. I appreciated my mom’s advice, as well as that of nurses and others. Responsibility and decision making had to be in my hand (together with my husband) as their mother.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

Luke 10:1 NIV.

In Luke chapter nine, we see that Jesus sent out the twelve to do ministry. In the following chapter, He appoints and sends out seventy-two! His ministry harvest force is multiplying. It is fair to assume that it was the twelve who trained, modeled for, and worked with the seventy-two. Leadership was multiplied.

7 Principles for Leadership Development in Movements

1. Develop close relationships and community with your most fruitful leaders.

Relationships of trust and influence mean you must invest time. Jesus spent a lot of time walking from town to town with his disciples. They lived together, fished together, walked everywhere together, ate together, and ministered together. In these informal times, they drew close to one another. They could ask the Master anything, complain to Him, share with Him, etc.

leadership development
Fishing together can provide fun, relaxing times to build relationship.

2. Invest in potential leaders as people, not only as multipliers.

Many times those you are discipling will have personal issues they need help with. Financial pressures, marital stresses, and other things will surface. They will need attention from you. As you walk with them in character and life development you will grow strong leaders for the future.

3. Give responsibility and authority.

One of my mentors says, “Responsibility is the fertilizer used to develop leaders.” Start small and increasingly give more responsibility to those you are developing. This is not related to the group meeting. You should have locals leading those from the very beginning! Give them the responsibility to organize prayer times, local outreaches, lead meetings, etc.

Many leaders like to give work but no authority. Don’t be that kind of leader! Give both. Trust them, evaluate, and walk with them when they make mistakes.

4. Regular gatherings for practical Just-In-Time training.

Most growing movements set aside regular time to gather the faithful and fruitful leaders they are mentoring. They invest in them intentionally and help them solve problems. These leaders bond with one another, encouraging, and praying for each other.

5. Coaching is essential.

Developing a coaching network within the movement can catalyze multiplication. Both one-on-one and group coaching sessions help them solve their own problems, take action steps, and make plans. Then, the coach needs to hold them accountable for what they decided to do. This friendly accountability must be practiced at every level in the movements.

6. Help leaders with evaluation, analysis and planning.

As things grow, new issues will surface. Developing leaders will need your help. They may not have the ability on their own to do a detailed evaluation, analysis, and planning. Come alongside them to understand how to track growth. Then look at those growth charts or data, and draw conclusions. As you regularly do this, they will learn how to do the same.

7. Keep stretching them with new assignments.

As leaders grow and develop, they will need to be given more responsibility. Keep working yourself out of a job as the main trainer. Take them with you to train people who want to partner and let them teach there. Open doors for them to do what you are doing. Train them in financial responsibilities and decisions. Keep stretching them until you are no longer needed, except to encourage, pray, and champion them.

Take the Long View

Leadership development is a critical task for those who want to grow a movement. It starts right away. Don’t wait until they are ready. Don’t wait until it feels right. Begin to develop leaders early in the process.

When you only have a handful of believers you are training, it can seem like a distant future to think about leadership development. Take the long view. Look down the road a few years and dream about what God wants to do. If those things happened, what kind of leaders would you need to have in place?

Start working now to develop leadership skills, attitudes, and character within those God has given you. Pray much, be intentional, and believe for God to raise them up.

What have you done to develop leaders in your movement so far? What stood out to you from above that you’d like to try? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on the DMMs Frontier Missions Facebook group!


  1. John Paul Palathingal

    Dear FM brothers & sisters,

    By His grace I got opportunity first time to know about FM in 1989, through to be a student in the first SOFM of India, run by Steve & Elisabeth (before their marriage). Just after SOFM, God gave opportunity to pioneer some FM stations in North India.

    I am 64 now, want to involve more with FM ministries and finish well.

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    1. Sylvester

      Thanks so much sister Cynthia for your materials shared with me. They are very much helpful to me, they increased my understanding in Disciples making and to build the mind of those who are in training. May the Almighty God continue to increase your understanding to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ those of us that you are mentoring.
      I am a pastor, living in Liberia, West Africa. Hope to hear from you at all times

  2. Ekole Merrick

    This was powerful, but I have this impression of not having the right people yet so am praying for the right ones though some who are there are willing but seem to occupied. What should I do?

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