Training.  With Jesus as our model, we walk away from a structured approach to training. Jesus dealt with people, including His disciples, as individuals. He had no cookie cutter approach to discipleship. There were no programs. No one was sent off to Bible school to study. Jesus’ training was personal, passionate, current – it was real.

More than $60 billion dollars is spent each year in the U.S. on employee training. More than 25% of those dollars are spent on “Leadership Training.” Though I have no figures to back this up, I’d guess the church and mission industries mirror the business world.  And the point is – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. Jesus didn’t train leaders, He developed them–a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but the way most training is done is simply not Biblical. That does not mean it is wrong, yet I do believe Jesus offers a better model.

The Problem

My problem with the way training is done is that it presumes the need for indoctrination, methodologies, systems and techniques. In addition, training assumes that these methodologies, systems and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to “best practices” you may rest assured that’s likely not completely valid in the real world.

Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, and not by future needs.

Our models of training originate with the mechanization birthed in the industrial age. Manufacturers rapidly learned the value of the assembly line to mass produce products, and in similar ways educators copied the model of mass learning. Prior to the 1800’s, young people would apprentice with a master craftsman for several years. The young apprentice would work alongside the master, learning not only his skills, but also observing his character and way of life.  However, with the dawn of the industrial age, efficiency and production became the priority, and the way we trained people began to focus on quantity, not quality.

The Solution

The simple solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. We should stop training leaders, and instead mentor them, disciple them, and develop them. As Jesus did, invite potential young leaders to come follow you. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and fitting in with the status quo, development strives to call out the unique giftings, skills, and experiences God has given each individual. Developing people highlights their singularities and shatters the herd mentality of training. Young leaders shudder at the thought of training, so don’t be surprised if they try and avoid it. However, they will embrace and look forward to being mentored, having life on life, relational development. Development is nuanced, actionable, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, relational.

When it comes to raising up future leaders, training puts them in a box, while development frees them from the box. If what you desire is a programmed, static thinker–train them. If you are seeking to build innovative, critical thinkers–develop them.



PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for other 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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