The 5 Essential Practices Of Leaders Who Multiply Leaders

Today’s post is written by Dave Ferguson, Lead Pastor of Community Christian Church, Co-Founder of the New Thing Network and Exponential.

I recently interviewed Dave on Episode 169 of my podcast. You can listen here

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Five . . . four . . . Ferguson picks up his dribble . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . Ferguson shoots and scores! They win! They did it! Ferguson’s last-second shot has won the championship!

With my hands raised in victory, I shouted those words in the driveway of my house as a kid. In fact, I created a heroic drama like this hundreds of times every summer.

I bet you did too.

If it wasn’t a game-winning last-second shot, how did you imagine yourself as the hero somewhere?

My wife, Sue, who became a teacher, saw herself being like Anne Sullivan: teaching the next Helen Keller and helping her students discover how to learn.

Maybe you dreamed of taking a spaceship into outer space as the whole world watched to see whether you would land safely.

Perhaps you envisioned yourself in front of ten thousand screaming fans, nailing a face-melting solo on your electric guitar.

Maybe you imagined dancing so beautifully that when the music stopped, the crowd erupted with a standing ovation.

I believe God put that dream to be a hero within each of us as our way to make a difference and to leave our mark on planet Earth.

Jesus As A Hero Maker

Jesus’ death on the cross was heroic. Jesus told his Father, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42), and then he stretched out his arms and gave his life for us.

But Jesus didn’t stop with being a hero. He made heroes out of his closest followers. We know that Jesus was a hero maker by how he allocated his time and energy as a leader.

When you think of Jesus’ ministry, do you picture him speaking to the crowds—Sermon on the Mount, feeding of the five thousand—or spending time to train the Twelve? One researcher says the Gospels put 3/4’s of their emphasis on the training of the Twelve. He calculates that from the time Jesus told the Twelve that he’d teach them to multiply (“I will send you out to fish for people” [Matt. 4:19]) until his death, Jesus spent 73% of his time with the Twelve. That’s forty-six events with the few, compared with seventeen events with the masses. The ratio of time Jesus spent with the few versus time he spent with the many was almost three to one.

The point: Jesus’ ministry emphasis, in terms of where he put the biggest amount of time, was with his twelve apprentices! He was mentoring them so they would do “greater things” (John 14:12). This included multiplying themselves through others.

In the years that followed, not only do we see the amazing works of the Holy Spirit through these twelve in and after the book of Acts, but according to history Jesus’ earliest followers fulfilled his prophecy that they would do greater things by making other disciple makers around the world

21st Century Hero Maker

I vividly remember the day I looked at my schedule and saw an appointment with a guy named Sam Stephens. I asked my assistant, Pat, why I had this meeting and who this guy was.

“I thought you knew him,” she said. “All I know is that he is from India.”

I went into the meeting wondering if this would be a waste of my time. I greeted the man, extended my hand, and asked him to tell me his story. Sam started back in the 1950s, with a story about his father. Sam’s father had started a mission to plant churches in India, and by 1992 they had experienced some growth. They now had two hundred churches, and all could be traced to that first church started by Sam’s dad in the 50s.

Wow, I thought. Two hundred churches! Sam had my attention now.

Sam wasn’t comfortable talking about his own work; he’s very humble. So I had to drag the details out of him. He told me that in 1992, he had taken over the mission, and he made a simple but strategic shift in the way they did things. He began to insist that every church planter not only plant a church but also have an apprentice church planter. This was someone who would come alongside the planter and learn firsthand how to plant a church, so the reproduction would continue year after year.

Now I was really curious. “How is that going?”

Without much expression, Sam replied, “Well, we now have seventy thousand churches.”

At that point, I was glad that I was sitting down. I was beginning to realize that this was an incredible story. I asked Sam, “How many people does that represent?” And again his reply took my breath away.

“I think about 3.5 million,” he said. Then he added, “But we are praying for one hundred thousand churches and 5 million people!”

At that, I began to wonder: how did this kind of exponential multiplication happen?

In talking further with Sam, I learned that he had discovered hero making.

He made the shift from trying to be the hero to hero making back in 1992, and it transformed the results of their church-planting efforts.

Sam had discovered that there were people and leaders all over India who had gifts, and he found that if he could empower them, encourage them, and make them successful, then Jesus’ mission would be accomplished at a completely different level of productivity.

He mentored leaders who in turn mentored other leaders who in turn did the same for many others. Sam Stephens is a hero maker!

Hero Making Practices

It was the leadership of Jesus and meeting people like Sam Stephens that led me to look closer at the practices of hero makers.

This resulted in a closer study of the gospels, reflection on my own experience and assembling a think tank of multiplying leaders. The findings were included in a new book by me and Warren Bird, Hero Maker: The Five Essential Practices of Leaders Who Multiply Leaders.

The following are the top five practices of these hero makers:

1. Multiplication Thinking

This is a shift in thinking, and if you want a quick slogan for this practice, it’s “Think it!”

You move from thinking that the best way to maximize ministry is through your own efforts to understanding that it is through developing the leadership of others. We see this in the life of Jesus in Acts 1:8. When Jesus casts a vision for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, he tells his followers, “You will be my witnesses” to explain that he is going to do it through them.

Jesus didn’t think the mission was going to happen just though him during his time on this earth; he thought it would happen through others who would equip others who would equip still others.

Jesus practiced multiplication thinking.

To help you easily implement this practice, I will give you a simple tool called a “dream napkin” and challenge you to multiply your impact by 100x. This simple exercise will push you and those you are mentoring into multiplication thinking and into realizing that the only way you can maximize ministry is through developing others.

2. Permission Giving

This is a shift in seeing, and if you want a quick slogan for this practice, it’s “See it!”

You will take the focus off your leadership and begin to see the leadership potential in the people all around you.

Since you see the people around you as leaders in development, you will begin to lead with a yes and give them permission to fully engage in the mission. We see this in the life of Jesus when he says to a group of ragtag working-class fellows, “Come, follow me.” (Matt. 4:19) They never expected a rabbi to see them worth teaching and leading. But Jesus saw in them a group that could change the world.

To help you easily implement this practice, I will give you a simple tool called an “I C N U conversation.” This simple tool will show you how you can help others see potential in themselves they never saw before, and in so doing, you will give them permission to reach their full God-given potential.

3. Disciple Multiplying

This is a shift in sharing, and if you want a quick slogan for this practice, it’s “Share it!”

You will begin to not only share what you know to help others follow Jesus but also share your life and invest in the development of leaders who do the same for other leaders. We see this in the life of Jesus as he spent three years primarily with twelve people (John 3:22).

To help you easily implement this practice, I will give you a simple tool called the “five steps of apprenticeship.” This tool has the power to multiply movements of disciple-makers. The only reason it does not is because people have not fully used it.

4. Gift Activating

This is a shift in blessing, and if you want a quick slogan for this practice, it’s “Bless it!”

You will not just ask God to bless the gifts he has given you but ask him to bless the leaders you have developed as you send them out at the end of their apprenticeship. The most obvious example of this is in Matthew 28:16–20; Jesus is turning over the leadership of the movement to his closest followers, and he tells them, in effect, “I have all authority and will use it through you as you go!

To help you pass along the blessing, I will give you a simple tool called “commissioning” (explained in chapter 8). This ancient practice of laying your hands on someone and asking God to bless them as you send them out is a powerful way to activate a leadership gift.

5. Kingdom Building

This is a shift in counting, and if you want a quick slogan for this practice, it’s “Count it!”

You are no longer only concerned with who is showing up at your thing; you count who is doing God’s thing!

Jesus told his followers in simple terms, “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33 ESV). They heeded this admonition, and all that mattered was what God was keeping track of as the Jesus mission was being advanced around the world.

So that you can make this shift in counting, I will give you a simple tool I call a “hero maker’s scoreboard.” Lots of statistics are important and beneficial, but this simple scoreboard will have churches track only a few vital metrics and ask leaders to track only two key measurements. This scoreboard is designed to help you count what builds the kingdom.

With these five practices, God will use you to change the world. Each practice depends on your willingness to continually ask, “Am I trying to be the hero, or am I trying to make heroes of others?”

Here To Help You

The words hero maker may be a new term, but I’m so convinced that it comes straight out of the model of Jesus himself that our Exponential church multiplication conference is devoting the entire year of 2018 to unpacking how leaders can become better hero makers.

I warmly invite you to be one of the more than 10,000 people who join the in-person Exponential gatherings that kick off February 26-March 2 in Orlando, and also one of the 30,000 leaders who watch various sessions online. Find out more at exponential.org.

There is no better way to prepare for that event than to read and process Hero Maker with your leadership team (see HeroMakerBook.org for group-purchase discounts and free discussion guide).

Our prayer for both the book and the conference comes from Jesus’s promise: “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12, emphasis added). Could it be that these “greater things” will happen in direct proportion to the ministry mobilization that happens as more leaders today make heroes of others?


Dave Ferguson is an award-winning author, founding and lead pastor of Chicago’s Community Christian Church, a missional multi-site community considered one of the most influential churches in America. Dave is also the visionary for the international church-planting movement NewThing and president of the Exponential Conference.

HeroMaker is the theme for the 2018 Exponential Conference. Join thousands of leaders for inspiration, encouragement and equipping at Exponential 2018 (February 26 – March 1, 2018). Visit exponential.org/2018 for more information and to register. Carey Nieuwhof will be one of the featured speakers at Exponential this year.   

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto and is author of several books, including his latest #1 best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. He writes one of today’s most widely read church leadership blogs at careynieuwhof.com and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews some of today’s best leaders.