Raising Up Leaders – Reaching a generation with Ness Wilson

“The duty of every leader is to raise up other leaders’.

If you’ve spent any amount of time around church or ministry leadership you will probably have heard this countless times, which is good. Because it’s true. But (as every Christian will know) just because something is true, doesn’t mean it’s easy to apply. Like many aspects of leadership, the path to understanding how to apply this involves experience and wisdom – which is why I’m so pleased to bring you this interview with Ness Wilson.

Ness leads Open Heaven Church in Loughborough, which is a church that she (along with a few friends) planted when they had barely finished being students themselves. It’s pretty incredible – the full story is on the podcast, which you can get on iTunes, Stitcher, at the end of this post, or wherever you get your podcasts. Ness still oversees Open Heaven, and is on the core team for the Pioneer Network. On the podcast, we ask Ness this question: How do you raise up leaders?  Here are some of our reflections on what she says.

4 aspects of raising up leaders

1) Emphasise character

It’s easy to spot someone who’s popular, eloquent, and makes others laugh. None of those are bad things. But the most valuable thing to look for and develop in a leader is a Christlike character.

‘Ability open the door, but character keeps you in the room.’ – Ness Wilson

Like all leadership, this starts from the current leader. Is a Godly character valued in your organisation/ministry/church? Who gets the invite into a leadership huddle: the popular & eloquent person, or the person who stays behind to clear up the chairs?

Inevitably there is also a question of what your training sessions focus on for leaders: is it primarily about competency (what you do in a Bible study) or is it primarily about character (who y

And ultimately it all boils down to us as leaders: what do you value more for yourself? Your time in the pulpit, or your time in prayer? Receiving honour from those who you work with, or giving honour to the One for whom you work?

2) Encourage and celebrate

If theres one spiritual gift that we love to ignore it’s the gift of encouragement. The power that celebrating the good gifts that God has placed in someone is enormous: think about how you started in leadership. For most, if not all of us, there will have been someone who encouraged us after we first preached, affirmed a calling we were unsure about, or praised the work we tentatively offered.

If you see a fresher walk in and bring a non-Christian friend with them, affirm it. Drop them a message and say well done for being bold enough to invite someone to church!

If a second year tells you how much they love going to a small group run by another student, tell that other student. Say well done – offer encouragement.

When a third year has faithfully served in the kids ministry for the last couple of years at uni and is now preparing to head off, get them up the front and pray for them. Commission them into what is next. Celebrate work that usually goes unnoticed – not only will this encourage the person, but it also makes a powerful statement about what you value.

3) Give opportunities away

The first chance to lead is often the first time that someone thinks of themselves as a leader. Ness Wilson has a ‘small menu of opportunities’ for leadership. I’m still working on becoming that organised…but one thing I do is to try and always to ask ‘who can lead for the first time through this event/structure’. For example:

  • On our weekend away last year asked 5 first years to do a ‘call to worship’ for the 5 worship sessions. We showed them what to do, and then gave them space to make it their own. Each of them was brilliant.
  • When we spot someone with Godly character we invite them into leadership huddles for small group leaders, even if they’re not that confident leading a Bible study. They get involved in helping their small group leader lead the group.
  • Our small group leaders will usually allocate leading worship to someone else in the group, and then notice who really leads well.

What is the next opportunity for someone to lead for the first time in your small group, student ministry, or Sunday service?

4) Create leadership pipelines

Often we fail to raise up leaders because we give them one opportunity, and then forget about them. Take the final bullet point from the list above. If someone leads really well in a small group, where do they go next?

  • If they do well in a small group they might lead a song (along with a more experienced worship leader) at one of our student nights.
  • Next time they might lead a few more songs.
  • Then the whole thing.
  • After that at a night of prayer for the whole church.
  • Then on a Sunday.
  • And perhaps in future on behalf of The Belfrey at regional festivals/events…etc…

Importantly: at each stage, there is encouragement and feedback offered.

So lets imagine you have a student who shares their testimony really well in small group. What’s next?

Okay, what about the student who helps run the social media account for the Student Ministry and want’s to get more involved: What’s next?

To listen to the full interview with Ness, make sure you download and listen to The Student Leadership Podcast


Resources mentioned in this episode

Habitudes – The book the Ness uses with her leadership huddle