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Leaders Develop Over a Lifetime.

Robert Clinton reframes a leaders' life in terms of God's developmental processes.

This leadership model facilitated a reflection on my own story and life experiences that have culminated in producing my personal timeline. It is such a  tremendous help in understanding the work of God in my own life. God works differently in each season. The leadership development stages are empirical and easy to identify with. 


Who is a leader? Robert Clinton defines a leader as "a person with God-given capacity and God-given responsibilities who influences a group of followers towards God's purposes for the group" ( Clinton 2012, 110). His definition is different from the popular notion that a leader must have a formal position, title, and training. However, he argues that many who are called leaders in the church and parachurch organizations have no such titles. Clinton 2012, describes developing leaders as a life's process, not just formal training. Clinton 2012 captures leadership dynamics and provides Biblical insights into God's patterns and processes to develop a leader (Clinton 2012,10).

Aware that leadership development is a life's process, leaders must be willing and ready to go through the whole ride. What does the process look like, and what is the cost? What are the results?  Clinton provides insights that will allow one to persevere through the process. In terms of a lifetime perspective, the view of leadership is very compelling, especially with the need to allow convergence "moving into a role that matches one's gift-mix and experiences. It allows one to consider their individual needs as well as the needs of the organization.  Worth noting is that the development is a function of events, people to impress leadership lessons upon a leader, time, and leader response. Processing is central to this theory (Clinton 2012,22).

Leadership emergence theory begins with the concept of formulating a timeline. Clinton identifies five development phases that leaders go through:

Phase I: Sovereign foundations

In this first phase, Clinton expounds on how God providentially works through the family, environment, and historical context to maximize our opportunities to know Him and develop into what He desires us to be. The leader has little control over what happens at this phase, but the building blocks are there. However, the structure built may not be clearly focused (Clinton 2012, 37-38).

Phase II: Inner life growth

This phase involves developing a foundational relationship with God. Clinton argues that at this point, the leader makes their initial commitment to follow Christ and begin to learn to relate to him in prayer and hear God. This phase is crucial as God prepares the emerging leader for the next steps in leadership. There is involvement in some ministry, and they are receiving some informal training, learning by doing. As the emerging leader identifies their leadership potential, God uses testing experiences to develop character.  Clinton argues that the tests fall into three categories: Integrity checks, obedience checks, word checks, and the ministry task. These checks sometimes work together. An emerging leader must learn obedience to influence others towards obedience. If the emerging leader does not learn, they will be tested again in the same area (Clinton 2012,38).

 We affirm this from scripture as well, where we see God doing an integrity check with His servants. For example, Joseph experienced an integrity check on his character when he was under pressure to succumb to Potipher's wife's demands. Joseph did not violate his convictions, and God honored his unyielding character (Gen 39:1-20). Abraham experienced an obedience check-in after receiving the promised son. God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, whom Abraham knew that his future line depended on, but he was still willing to obey God (Genesis 22: 1-10).

 Phase III: Ministry maturing

At this stage, the emerging leader develops and matures ineffective leadership. They are starting to experiment with spiritual gifts, even though they may not know its doctrine. They may get informal training to be more effective, or the training can take place in vocational, lay ministry, and or marketplace contexts. Ministry is the focus of the emerging leader at this stage. Many of their lessons will zero in on relationships with other people or inadequacies in their life as they will be challenged to respond to conflicts and authority issues. Clinton holds that at this stage, God is developing the leader in two ways. Through ministry, the leader can identify their gifts and skills and use them with increasing effectiveness. In this phase, God is working primarily in the leader and not through them. This phase can be very frustrating as the emerging leader is constantly evaluating productivity and activities while God is quietly evaluating their leadership potential. God is concerned with who we are, not just what we do (Clinton 2012,38).

Clinton suggests that there are four stages that God develops the emerging leader in this phase: a) Entry:  God challenges the leader into ministry task, b) Training: God develops ministry skills, training experiences, and spiritual gifts to enhance their effectiveness,

 c) Relational learning: God enables the emerging leader to relate to people in ways that will motivate and influence them, d) Discernment God helps the emerging leader see spiritual principles that govern ministry that please Him: spiritual warfare, power items, faith, prayer and influence challenge. Throughout this phase, the emphasis is faithfulness in ministry tasks and challenges faithfulness in responding to testing and in developing new skills. (Clinton 2012, 67)

At this stage, the mature leader's responsibility is to openly and deliberately challenge emerging leaders about specific needs and ministry opportunities. Clinton suggests that a danger sign indicating a plateaued leader lacks enthusiasm in challenging and recruiting potential leaders. A mature leader, at this point, will stimulate the emergence of potential leaders. (Clinton 2012, 74) At the transition between the early and middle ministry subphase, the ministry skills process item provides the momentum. A leader's sensitivity to this item indicates whether they are growing or plateauing. At this point, Clinton suggests that leaders will need ministry skills and will opt for formal training if they wish to have a long-term influence. Leaders who plateau early reveal a familiar pattern. They learn new skills until they can operate comfortably, but they fail to seek new skills deliberately and habitually. They coast on prior experiences (Clinton 2012, 75-76).  

Phase IV: Life maturing

In this phase, the emerging leader has identified, and they are using their spiritual gifts in ministry that is satisfying. Their giftedness and priorities emerge as they gain greater clarity on life calling and developing an integrated ministry philosophy. Isolation, crisis, and conflict take on new meaning. The principle that "ministry flows out of being" has new significance as the leader's character mellows and matures. During this phase, the key to development is a positive response to the experiences God ordains (Clinton 2012,39). The success in this phase is critical towards convergence.

When people influence other people, conflict inevitably arises; this may be general conflict "any conflict that is used to develop leaders in their spiritual life" or ministry conflict "conflicts in ministry through which the leader learns positive or negative lessons about the nature of the conflict." Leaders' grasp of these lessons can significantly affect their future leadership (Clinton 2012, 82)

Conflict is a powerful tool in the hand of God and can be used to teach leaders lessons that they would not learn in any other way.  Conflict may come from without -nonbelievers or within -believers, but it is necessary. Who we indeed are is revealed in a crisis as our character is revealed in the process.  Clinton argues that "what we are" in the conflict is much more critical than "what we do." Ministry conflict processing is to the maturing ministry phase what integrity processing is to the inner life growth phase. In conflict, processing closure is often weak. Closure completes an experience to put it behind and gain lessons from it for the future. One could leave a conflict successfully resolved, partially resolved, or unresolved, but it is important to have closure (Clinton 2012 82).

Komives and Wagner define conflict as characterized by an argumentative environment of power, debate, and competition. Members defend opposing positions on an idea and are pressured to take positions. Therefore, they intentionally use controversy with civility instead of conflict. They argue that controversy with civility is characterized by a safe and supportive environment of trust, respect, and collaboration. Controversy with civility is not just a character trait but an attitude, a behavior, and a value in the social change process (Komives & Wagner 2017, 154).

 Emerging leaders should be mentored to value differences and build an understanding of differences. They must learn to value, be comfortable, and embrace differences of opinions rather than avoid or reduce them. An emerging leader's ability to recognize their worldview and other people's worldviews and empathize with others to seek understanding facilitates their development (Komives & Wagner, 2017, 153). Controversy with civility is significant for leaders in high-power distance cultures where emerging leaders have to accept without question. This idea does not devalue traditions and hierarchies; instead, encouraging dialogue, they practice being leaders who can later hold controversial dialogues with civility with other younger leaders.  


The leader must learn to sense the spiritual reality "spiritual warfare" behind physical reality and depend on God's power in ministry. They must also learn to know God's voice in the challenge process items- faith, prayer, and influence- and the affirmation process items -divine and ministry (Clinton 2012, 85). During this phase, Clinton explains how the leader must learn how to operate in spiritual gifts that demonstrate the Holy Spirit's power. They also must learn prayer power-dependence on God's power to solve the problem in such a way that his leadership capacity, particularly his authentic spiritual authority, is demonstrated and expanded. Clinton warns that the leader must heed two cautions concerning the spiritual warfare process; underestimation and overestimation. (Clinton 2012, 96).

Another area of discernment presented by Clinton at this phase concerns the expansion of the leader's ministry. In this area, God concentrates on expanding a leader's discernment regarding their capacity to lead and influence. This process usually begins with prayer, where the leader begins to respond to the vision "vision birth." Plateaued leaders rarely discern or respond to this challenge cluster of items (Clinton 2012, 99).

There are three patterns for terminating the ministry maturity phase. Two of them leave the leader in the ministry phase, and the third leads him on to the next phase: Life maturing. First, those who plateau at some ministry competency level show relatively little ongoing growth in ministry or spiritual development. Second, some are subjected to discipline limited or set aside from ministry. The third group reflects on the meaning of ministry and God's involvement in it plus a significant shift: from competency in "doing." to effectiveness flowing from "being" due to the leader's reflection on God's involvement in his life and ministry  (Clinton 2012,103).

Phase V: Convergence

In this phase, God moves the leader into a role that matches their gift-mix and experience to maximize ministry. The leader uses the best they have to offer and is free from ministry for which he is not gifted or suited. Clinton notes that many leaders do not experience convergence for various reasons; a) hindered by their lack of personal development, b) an organization may hinder a leader by keeping them in a limiting position, c) other providential hindrances that may be hard to understand because there is no full picture.

This phase's primary developmental task is to be guided into a role and place to maximize effectiveness. God's guidance must be to trust, rest, and watch as God moves them toward a ministry that embodies all the preceding phases' development (Clinton 2012,39).

One of the ongoing lessons that Clinton points out is guidance, which is a crucial element of leadership. God does provide guidance, but in a fashion that challenges discernment, individual responsibility, and commitment. Clinton points out six major process items that are frequently used by God to heighten a leaders discernment for guidance:

a)     Divine Contact-This is a person whom God brings to a leader at a crucial moment in a development phase to affirm leadership potential, encourage leadership potential, and guide a particular issue. Leaders need to recognize that they will often be divine contacts for others they meet. Therefore, they need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's use of them as divine contacts and recognize this unique way of influencing (Clinton 2012,112). Stanley and Clinton's description of the occasional function "counselor and teacher" fit the description. (Stanley and Clinton 1992,42).  

b)     Mentors -mentoring refer to the process and results of a mentor helping a potential leader. A mentor is a special kind of divine contact who may offer prolonged help or guidance or be a stimulus for growth (Clinton 2012,113). Stanley and Clinton refer to this as networking power, which involves God using mentors or other mature leaders to accomplish a leader's goals. They hold that our weaknesses, blind spots, limited capacities, and lack of experience all point to interdependence, which is why they advocate that connecting with others plays an indispensable role in healthy development. They describe three groupings of mentors: intensive, occasional, and passive)  Furthermore, place them on a continuum ranging from less deliberate to more deliberate involvement. They further argue that a leader will rarely find an ideal mentor who can fulfill the whole range of mentoring functions; one could find someone available to mentor them on a specific need (Stanley and Clinton 1992,41-42).

c)     Double confirmation -This is unusual guidance in which God makes His will clear by reinforcing it through more than one source (Clinton 2012,115). Spiritual guides categorized by Stanley and Clinton in the intensive function could apply to such reinforcements.  

d)    Negative preparation - God prepares someone to accept the next steps of guidance by first allowing them to go through negative experiences during their present development stage, which produces an incentive for the leader to move on and seek the next thing that God has. These negative preparations are frequently seen, particularly in boundary times between development phases (Clinton 2012,117).

e)     Flesh Act- refers to those instances in a leader's life when guidance is presumed and decisions are made either hastily or without proper discernment of God's choice (Clinton 2012,118).

f)     Divine Affirmation -this is a special; kind of experience in which God gives a leader to have a renewed sense of ultimate purpose and a refreshed desire to continue serving God.

For a few, Clinton states that there is phase VI- Afterglow, where the fruit of ministry and growth culminates in an era of recognition and indirect influence at broad levels. Leaders will be sought after as they will be a storehouse of wisdom gathered over a lifetime (Clinton 2012, 40).

Quality leadership does not come easily. It requires time, experience, and repeated instances of maturing processing. Mature ministry flows out from a mature character, formed in the graduate school of life. Ministry can be successful through giftedness alone, but a leader whose ministry skills outstrip his character formation will eventually falter. A mature, successful ministry flows from one who has both ministry skills and a character mellowed, developed, and ripened by God's maturing process. Ministry flows out of being (Clinton 2012, 145).

According to Clinton, only a third of leaders finish well (Clinton 2012,203).  His description of the developmental process of the leader from "doing to being" is compelling. His identification of the boundaries/ change signals that many leaders face is very familiar. His call for a paradigm shift from finding meaning and achievement to ministry that flows out of being is appealing and profound. Clinton helps leaders to negotiate these transitions in leadership successfully.

The concept of knowing, doing, and being is rooted in scripture. Jesus talks about himself as being the true vine and we the branches.  Bearing fruits is God's fundamental concern for all Christians. "Much fruit" bearing can only happen if we abide /remain in Christ; the word abide/remain repeated ten times. Jesus does not just desire that we bear much fruit but that our fruit would last; this can only flow from abiding. Bearing fruits is a natural result of abiding in Jesus, and it is not a task in itself. The more dependent on the vine leaders become, the more they bear fruit that will last long. As leaders, Jesus warns that we are not supposed to attach others to us but to Jesus, who is the true vine (John 15:1-17).


The third world continues to face a leadership crisis characterized by burnout and leadership failure, which leads to plateauing, resulting in being stuck. Traditional leadership theories presented leadership as girded by a skill set and not a lifetime process. This traditional theory eventually proves inadequate and unsustainable. The leadership emergence theory timeline presents the reader with an opportunity to explore their leadership development journey and help them identify where they are and the next steps to take for a fruitful ministry or to finish well.

Further research needs to explore if personality and cultural factors play a role in an individual's experience within the theory. It is also paramount to explore how this theory would take shape in a non-Christian setting.



                                             Reference List


     Clinton, J. Robert. The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012.

    Komives, S. R. & W. Wagner. (, 2017). Leadership for a better world: Understanding the social change model of leadership development (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN-13: 978-1119207597

   Sta            Stanley P., & J. R. Clinton. (, 1992). Connecting: The mentoring relationships you need to succeed. Colorado Springs: NavPress. ISBN-13: 978-3909131020


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