Iain Hesketh

5 things I’ve learnt about leadership

Leaders should love to learn, as well as doing things that matter. Iain Hesketh, who led the Elim Church in Selly Oak and is now the Elim International Missions Director, offers some important principles.


Be a follower before you’re a leader

This is probably the most liberating leadership lesson I have learned so far. Before I’m a leader I’m a son. Before we lead we’ve got to learn what it is to be a son/daughter. So many of us want to lead because, whether consciously or subconsciously, we think we’ll find significance and value in it.

The truth is, no matter how high we rise on the leadership ladder, we will never truly be satisfied until we are satisfied being a son/daughter first. This truth has had a profound effect on the way I lead myself before I lead others. Over the years I’ve found that our function as leaders in the church is not to lead people on some great adventure somewhere – be it a new building project, new ministry or missions project – but to lead people to someone. And his name is Jesus.

Some of you may be thinking, “Don’t do these projects achieve the same thing?” They can, but not always.

Do you, like me, ever get concerned that you’re busy doing the work of the ministry but not seeing people grow in Christlikeness the way that the Bible shows us? Could it be that when this happens we’ve forgotten that our first call is to be a follower, whose call is to give the people we lead a pattern for them to imitate? If we want other people to be radically obsessed with Jesus, we have to be radically obsessed with Jesus too!

Don’t just preach the culture, live the culture

When I first heard the statement that it takes seven years to change a culture I wasn’t sure that it was accurate, but now I’m sure it is. This is because I think to truly change a culture the leader has to live it. Having been at Selly Oak for the last five years, we are well on the way to shaping a discipleship culture. To carry the culture means that every decision we make is through the filter question, “How does this help us make disciples?” I’ve learnt that if I want to see it, I have to live it.

The best way to learn is to do

Whether it has been in the training of MITs (who are now ordained), development of elders or in the developing of our Connect Group leaders, I’ve observed the best way of teaching people leadership is to let them lead. It’s not that I just hand someone a leadership role and walk away, but I will seek to walk with them a while, making opportunities for feedback and coaching.

Invite people into your life

My wife Rachel and I have sought to have an open home to those we’re investing in. I’m not against formal training in any way – we do that particularly with our Connect Group leaders – but it can’t just be in a formal setting that we learn leadership. Opening up my life to those I’m investing in helps them to be all that God has purposed them to be. It’s scary and inconvenient but I’d have it no other way. This is less glamorous and maybe not as tweetable, but the effectiveness and longer-term benefits of emerging leaders catching the culture is far greater than if you leave the teaching to the classroom.

Don’t just train leaders to do stuff, train them to be disciple-makers

This probably won’t come as any surprise to you given what I have written above, but I’m not interested in simply training people to fulfil ministry roles. We can train people to lead in ministry but never really equip them as disciples who are able to make disciples.

Sure, we want people to serve in the kids’ ministry, welcome and worship teams etc, but why do this? For us, everything is about discipleship, and discipleship doesn’t just happen. It isn’t a programme, but a pattern of life. Therefore, our development of leaders is about developing disciple-makers who are equipped to live under the Lordship of Jesus, whether gathered with the church family or in the scattered spaces of work, university, neighbourhood, school and so on!

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