The Best Kind of Leadership Training

The Best Kind of Leadership Training

Years ago, I sat with our staff team at a large well-known conference. On the docket were several of the world’s greatest Christian communicators as well as business leaders and authors. The conference was a two-day extravaganza of some of the most incredible sessions about important topics that would help our team grow and learn as leaders. The worship band was extremely talented. The comic relief was hilarious. The MC was both insightful and helpful as he communicated between sessions. In light of the content of the conference, we didn’t pay that much and we got a lot out of it. Or did we? I cannot remember a single point from those two days. I remember being wowed by the speakers. I remember laughing hard at the jokes. I remember hanging with our team and eating some great food. I even remember posting live tweets along with each main session. I filled in the blanks in the conference notebook. I discussed the event with our team upon returning home. But five years removed, I can’t recall a single teaching point. While I am willing to take full blame for this, I am also reminded of a different conference, one which I can recall just about every key teaching point.

We invited one of the best small group ministry leaders around to come and train our group leaders. He was insightful. He was helpful. He was concise and clear. This leader was not the most eloquent speaker, but his experience and the way he moved us through the training was extremely effective. We walked away from this training with more than inspiration to be better at what we do. We left with more than some notes we could refer to down the road. We left as changed leaders ready to embrace a fresh and exciting new way of doing the same ministry we had been doing. I didn’t tweet out a single point. I didn’t get a shirt with the training logo. And there was no book to purchase from the leader while he was on site. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I write all of this to make a point: The best kind of leadership training has one key element that changes the game for those who attend. It is the element that takes everything being shared to the next level. It is the element of being practical. While just about every conference and training event in existence would argue their content is practical. The reality is, for many, that it is not.

Leadership training so easily falls into the inspirational. Amazing speakers spouting tweet-worthy statements joined together to form the latest in a series of mind-blowing observations is undoubtedly worth a watch and listen. But there is often little that can be done with the content later. Even more challenging is that the context for much of what these leaders share is often foreign to the average attendee. Rather than feel inspired and encouraged to attempt to implement, they feel burdened by the fact that they may never be able to accomplish the task. While the responsibility is on the attendee to contextualize, many times speakers (and who can blame them) are operating from a different paradigm. Sure, the best speakers are aware of this. Sure, the best communicators adjust to ensure this is not an issue. But in practice, this is why I believe the best kind of leadership training is focused more on what the attendees can do with the content than how mind-blowing that content is.

Leadership training so easily falls into the inspirational. Amazing speakers spouting tweet-worthy statements joined together to form the latest in a series of mind-blowing observations is undoubtedly worth a watch and listen. Click To Tweet

Think about how little most leaders can implement in a typical church. I’m not trying to be overly cynical here; I am merely stating that there is already so much going on, any shift or change is going to require relational capital, time, energy, vision, etc. Yes, I realize this is the job every leader must do, but it is already complicated enough. There is always more room for inspiration. Everyone wants to feel like someone else shares their burden and their pain. We all want to gather around and dream together, hope together and lock arms with those who know what it is to do what we do. But in the end, we need practical, substantive solutions. We need to be able to implement.

Before I offer a few suggestions on what to do with this blog, (how can you write a post on practical implementation and not provide a way to implement the content) let me be clear that I am not criticizing events and incredible speakers. I love listening to the best as much as the next guy. I need to be inspired. I need to share in the journey with others. I am merely saying that the best kind of leadership training comes with a practical application that is more than a response to a message. Here are a few application points that will help make this blog practical for you.

Attend a Smaller Conference

Everyone wants to go to the big event to hear from the best. I have found that at smaller events there is more connection from the attendees. There is more connection with the leaders. And there is more time to connect and discuss your context and how you can implement what you learn. This level of connectivity is one of the reasons we limit our Discipleship Blueprint conference to under 200. We value these connections and want everyone to leave with an actionable game plan.

Customize the Big Conferences for Your Team

If there is an option to connect with key leaders, take it! If your team is attending a large conference with a carousel of fantastic speakers, be intentional about how you will implement the content. Compare notes. Meet after the sessions and ask two fundamental questions: 1. What can we do with this information personally and as a church? 2. How will this content impact us in six months, one year, eighteen months from now?

Create Your Own Leadership Conference

There is nothing better than customizing an event focused on training and equipping you and your staff. Bring in a specialist. Don’t try to lead this yourself if you want to learn and grow as a team. You are training and leading throughout the year, build this event to help you and your team grow as well as the rest of your people. Be intentional about the outcome. If you want to see your groups ministry grow exponentially as a result of the training, bring in a groups ministry leader (they don’t have to be the best in the world, just someone who has experience leading one step further than where you are currently). Whatever the focus or outcome, make sure the leader knows where you want them to take you. This intentionality is how you can implement the results and make sure the practical content gets applied.

There are unlimited opportunities for leadership training. There are large annual conferences with the most amazing speakers and leaders, web-based training from the experts, and smaller regional conferences with experienced practitioners. No matter what training event you attend, the most crucial element is the practical application of what you learn there. Leadership training, regardless of the context, is an investment in yourself and your leadership. As you focus on your next opportunity, be intentional about what you want to see as a result of the investment.

Chris Swain currently serves at Long Hollow Baptist Church as the Executive Director of Replicate Ministries. After fours years of service in the United States Marine Corps, Chris served in full-time ministry for 14 years in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, leading ministries ranging from Students, to Collegiate, to Spiritual Formation. Most recently, Chris served as the Director of Student Ministry Publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources serving the Church in its mission of making disciples. Chris’s heart is to expand the Gospel through disciple-making in the local church.