Leadership: The 3-12-72 Principle

As many who read my blog will know, my church is in the process of hiring a new pastor. We will vote this week as a congregation to decide whether or not our youth pastor, Josh, will take the job. As the associate pastor, I have been in on the interviewing process, and have enjoyed watching as different men have stepped up their leadership through this process, both in the trustee board, and from outside. What Josh has been stressing through this process is a need for men to step up and lead, and to mentor one another.

As I have been thinking about leadership, and what it looks like to mentor others there is something that I have found strikingly interesting about how Jesus organized those around Himself, and I believe it is an important principle for anyone in leadership to understand, and although bothersome for some, to come to terms with.

The first thing we must understand about Jesus is that He loved everyone He came in contact with, ministered with compassion, and demonstrated grace even on those everyone else loathed. However, even Jesus seemingly realized that His physical limitations as He walked the earth in a human body would prevent Him from giving equal time to everyone. Equal grace, love, and dignity for all? Yes. But equal face time? No.

When Jesus called His disciples, He called 12 men to drop everything and come follow Him and commissioned them for ministry (Matthew 10:1-15). But among the twelve, Jesus had an even closer relationship with the three who have been dubbed the inner circle, made up of Peter, James and John. He allowed these three to walk with him in some of the most intimate times of His ministry, such as meeting with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop called the ‘transfiguration’ (Matthew 17:1-8).

Beyond this, we know that Jesus had more regular followers than just the 12 because He later sends out 72 people to do ministry in the towns He would soon be going to (Luke 10:1-12). These 72 must have been following Jesus for a while and learned from Him and the 12 for Him to be willing to send them out like this, but that doesn’t mean they had the same relationship to Him as the 12, or the 3.

And then, beyond these 72, we know that as time went along, Jesus began to be followed by multitudes of people so that at one point he has to get in a boat and push away from shore a bit to be able to teach them all (Matthew 13:1-9). And we know that this number of people ran into the thousands, and that even the disciples began to be concerned for the crowd’s well-being, asking Jesus to send them away so they could find food (Matthew 14:13-15).

Lesson for Leadership

It is clear that even before His death Jesus had a great ministry that reached thousands of people in a day when technology, internet, and great sound systems hadn’t even been thought up yet. But despite His love for every one of them, Jesus devoted Himself first and foremost to the 3, to the 12, and the 72, because they would be the next generation of leaders when He moved on.

Here is the reality that every leader must come to terms with. You cannot – and should not – make an attempt to mentor and develop every person one-on-one. You do not have the time, energy, or even the ability to do so.

For any ministry to grow and thrive, the leader must identify a few leaders that he can train and raise up well, and then send them out to train and mentor more. A refusal to do so will result in the leader stretching himself too thin, and rather than training everyone as he hoped to, no one will get trained effectively at all.

Lesson for Leadership Students

While I know that this principle sounds unfair to someone wanting to grow in leadership, it is nevertheless true. And what every person serving under a leader must come to terms with is that not everyone gets a seat at the front of the table. Demanding or usurping authority that is not given to you undermines the leadership you are trying to learn from. Submission means that we are willing to step up when called upon, and to step back otherwise.

The truth is, learning to grow as a leader takes time and effort, not only on your part, but on those that will mentor you. We must either submit and step back sometimes, or find another leader to follow who will train us.