Keychain Leadership

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Capacity vs. Dependence

Last month, Jason Locke (Preaching Minister at the College Church of Christ in Fresno, California) posted a simple truth that church leaders should take to heart: “Leadership should generate capacity, not dependency.” 

For paid church leaders, ministry is both a calling and a career. Both sides of that can sometimes lead a minister to put an unhealthy pressure on themselves to do it all. Whether it’s a desire to give 110% of themselves to the church and ministry out of a genuine passion for God and his Kingdom, or the very real pressure to justify their paycheck (so they can support their family), many ministers take on so many roles that they inadvertently make the church dependent on them. 

Here’s what dependency can look like and why it’s a problem: When a single church leader is the only one who can do X, Y, or Z at a high level at their congregation, things will be great… until they’re not. An unexpected illness, a calling to go to another congregation, or a slow loss of passion for that particular ministry could leave the church without anyone new to step in.

And that’s why Jason Locke is right. Healthy, Biblical leaders don’t generate dependency, as nice as that might feel for the minister. They generate capacity by training and equipping others who can continue the work long after the original leader is gone. 

Keychain Leadership

The researchers behind the book Growing Young call this “Keychain Leadership.” It’s the idea that good leaders share the “keys” of the church with younger leaders who can continue the work long into the future. They keys represent access, leadership, and responsibility. When established leaders hog the keys, the work might continue at a high level as they continue to insist on doing it all personally, but eventually their work will come to an end—and no one will be ready to replace them.

The Biblical tradition from Moses to Joshua highlights the importance of Keychain Leadership. When Joshua took over for Moses in Joshua chapter 1, he had all the tools he needed for success. God had strategically orchestrated the events of Joshua’s early life so that he would have the necessary skills to lead Israel at a high level. And Moses was intentional about partnering with God in bringing Joshua along.

Four Themes in Joshua 1:7-9

When God called Joshua to lead Israel, he gave him this famous pep talk:

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9, NIV)

If Joshua wanted to be a successful leader for the nation of Israel, he needed to keep these four themes in mind:

  1. Be Strong and Courageous.
  2. Obey the Law of the Lord.
  3. The Lord will be With You.
  4. Go Where God Leads You.
Joshua’s Early Life Prepared him for Success

It’s no coincidence that the four primary stories about Joshua in Exodus-Numbers correspond to these four key leadership principles.

1. Be Strong and Courageous: In Exodus 17:8-13, Moses appoints Joshua to lead the military battle against the Amalekites. As Moses held up his hands above, Joshua found victory in the valley below: “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Exodus 17:13, NIV). By the time Joshua was appointed to lead Israel into the Promised Land, he was already an experienced military leader.

2. Obey the Law of the Lord: In Exodus 24:13-14, Moses takes Joshua along with him to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. Joshua had a front-row seat to this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

3. The Lord will be With You: In Exodus 33:9-11, we see that Moses would often spend time in the Tabernacle in the presence of the Lord before returning to his leadership duties. “But,” the Bible says in Exodus 33:11, “his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” Joshua learned to dwell in the presence of the Lord without departing from it.

4. Go Where God Leads You: Joshua was one of the twelve spies who scouted out the Promised Land in Numbers 14. Leaving the safety and security of his own people, he ventured into enemy territory full of faith in the power and protection of God. 

Each of the four stories about Joshua’s early life demonstrate that God was preparing him to be Israel’s leader. He had powerful and relevant experiences in all of the ways God called him to be a leader. Moses, to his credit, was enthusiastic about raining Joshua up in this way.

The Takeaway

Churches should take this example to heart. We need to practice keychain leadership by generating capacity instead of dependency. 

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