Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mastery Based Skill Acquisition for Leaders: “Leadersmithing”

Written by: on November 4, 2021

“Leadersmithing” by Eve Poole is a skill-based book to tackle to ever increasing challenge of raising up and equipping new leaders.  Her approach is practical, and flexible to meet the individual needs of the diversity among the leadership community.  The book itself is divided into three sections: Theory, Practice, and the Appendixes that outline how to actually apply this material.  

This week’s reading of Eve Poole’s “Leadersmithing” catapulted me back to my student teaching internship.  I had the opportunity to participate in one of the final years of a pilot project, that was a joint effort between the state of Washington, a local school district, and Seattle Pacific University.  It was a Mastery-based learning program for both perspective teacher of Special Education, and the students they did their practicum with.  For me and my classmates, we often questioned and attempted to rebel against the seemingly rigid structure of our training.  We were the only teaching students from the University that were required to maintain the same school schedule as the districts we worked, instead of the University schedule.  This was particularly, challenging when we are having to make up snow days well into June, while our classmates were off the end of May.  Today some forty plus years later, I can say that I am grateful for very minute.  There were clear goals and objectives that had to be met every week.  They were not just a test demonstrating I had acquired the information, but it required practicing the skill to a mastery level eighty percent or higher.  This was not just once but five times in a row.  At the time it seemed excessive and tedious.  My first-year teaching when I was stretched far beyond my limits, and what would be expected of most first-year teachers, I realized that I had been given a great gift.  I had a foundation of skills that were apart of my muscle memory.  It allowed me to respond to the emotional and administrative challenges from a place of calm decisiveness that exceed my level of experience.   I am truly grateful.

              I was particularly draw to what Poole referred to as “Critical Incidents,” and the mastery of those skills under a “Master,” in terms of pastoral leadership within my denomination.  As a movement there has not been a requirement for seminary training as such, which has its pluses and minuses, there seems to have been decisions that have been made to fill slots without adequate equipping.  For example, there has been a push to place younger leaders as lead pastors.  There are a number of situations that more seasoned servants have been passed over for appointments because they are not in the preferred age range.  On the other side there are a number of older pastors that are clinging to their pulpits that have not been invested in their leaders, as a Master would their apprentice.   Although, I am convinced that these younger leaders are called, and had acquired experience in serving in a congregation they are now struggling under the lack of certain skills.  There is also an observation that a number of the younger leaders are so anxious to get into the work that they have not been willing submit to the restrictiveness of an “Apprenticeship” relationship.  The conversations have sprung up around these situations revealing the need for “Masters” investment in the new leaders.  The understanding of young leaders that God is in the waiting and training, much like Moses’s time in the desert. There is also a need for clear definitions around “Critical Incidents” and what constitutes mastery so that it is in fact muscle memory.   

              I was also intrigued by the emphasis on the need for character development.  As I reflected on this it brought me back to some of our reading from Friedman, and others.  I will need to return to this topic as it relates to my NPO and the nature of leadership.

              This book prompted a number of questions around the development of my NPO that I desire to come back while moving forward in this process:

              What are the biblical definitions of “Believer” and “Disciple”? How do they differ in theory and practice?

              What are the key competencies of a discipline?  How might those competencies be measured?  What factors would indicate maturity?  Growth? And continuous growth?

              What is key thinking, believing, feeling, and behaving practices of leadership that would develop these competencies?

              If a pastor had a core of such disciples, how would that impact the thinking, believing, feeling, and behaviors of the leadership and the others who attend that particular fellowship?

              What specific practices, in any particular fellowship, are developing these competencies?  How is the development of these practices being measured?

              What Scriptural guidelines are available to identify and access these competencies?  If any?

              How does the Scripture differentiate between disciple and believer?  How does the Scripture differentiate between disciple and leadership?


About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

11 responses to “Mastery Based Skill Acquisition for Leaders: “Leadersmithing””

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, wow, what a profound list of questions you carried away from the book. I also appreciated your paragraph on young and older pastors. I have personally experienced the pain of a gifted, young pastor whose skills were not matched by his character. It would take older pastors willing to mentor and younger pastors being willing to be mentored. Both groups will need to get past any personal insecurities to make that reality but it could produce something wonderfully effective.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Roy, so true. Both groups need to be willing to learn from one another. I feel that we often forget that character is what opens the door to ministry. If the messenger is without character the message is tainted.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great post, Denise. I was also drawn to her discussion on character development. In every leadership book I have ever read, that subject is discussed. It’s indispensable and the older I get the more focus I put on it. Skills of a certain job can be taught and mastered, technology can be learned but a person’s character is the rudder in navigating life and ministry. I liked this book, too. It did a good job of mixing theory with practice.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Such a interesting list of questions to consider, Denise. Are you able to incorporate any of those into your workshop or individual interviews? I feel like each question could become an NPO on its own and I’m interested to see how your project continues to unfold.

    As for your example of your student teaching, it encourages me as that embedding of project-based learning is the vein I’m working on with my NPO.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Kayli, Funny you should ask. I hadn’t thought about those questions until this week but I definitely will be looking for ways to include them along the way of this process. I’m still looking forward to a a conversation about our NPO’s. I think that we will be able to glean a lot from one another.

  4. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Denise, much thanks for highlighting the element of apprenticeship in Leadersmithing and for relating that to your teaching education experience at Seattle Pacific University and the need for younger ministers to be apprenticed. I think I would be at a much better place if I had the opportunity of an apprenticeship under a more experienced missionary and community development practitioner; and hope I can extend same to younger ministers in my circle of influence.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Henry, you are so right. We all need someone to show us the bumps in the road of life and ministry. I am so fortunate that my denomination didn’t see fit to accept me right away in missions. Because it opened the door for me to mentored by a great man of God from Sweden. His investment in me did far more than my denomination ever would have contributed.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Denise, firstly, your experience with that program years ago sounds fascinating! I wonder, did it continue? Looking back now, what were the helpful principles you believe were most important?

    Also, I found your comment on putting “young leaders” into the place of leadership very interesting. And if I am honest, I think your hesitation is spot on. There is something really powerful that is gleaned through one of the best teachers: the grind of time, failure, and experience. I too fear that we have too quickly forsaken these principles and desire the quick fix and the quickest path to leadership.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Eric, I wish it had continued. It was a state grant funded relationship. Every teacher who graduated from that program who wanted to work were hired. I even got an interview for a job I had not applied for at a time when the teaching market was flooded. I think the most important principle was it was truly mastery based. I knew everything so well it was muscle memory. I had a good handle of every aspect of the job, because I did not just see it done I did to a mastery level multiple times. This was particularly helpful because my 1st job was exceptionally difficult. The school I was hired at was on strike for the first three weeks of the school year. When we could get into the building I had 3 days to put together individual all day program for 15 high school students with severe behavior problems.
      Young leaders…I find it interesting that we think we can put people into leadership because they are young. There is a reason that the Scripture talks about not “laying hands” on someone too quickly to set them into leadership. Most biblical leaders all had to wait to be tested over time, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, etc.
      But the mature leaders definitely need to be better at mentoring. It is not a one sided issue in my opinion.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Denise, thank you for your thoughtful post and engagement with Poole’s book. I really appreciate your emphasis on character and tying this to how the church cultivates leadership. Your reflection questions at the end encourage me to ask a similar set of questions for my NPO. I particularly find this set of questions helpful: “What are the key competencies of a discipline? How might those competencies be measured? What factors would indicate maturity? Growth? And continuous growth?” Your emphasis on a spectrum of growth and movement in that growth are helpful to me. Thank you.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise, as others have mentioned, your list of questions are very thoughtful and engaging. I would really enjoy digging into those with you!
    You mention that young leaders struggle with the truth that God is in the waiting and the training….I think there are a few older leaders who struggle with this as well 🙂

    I do agree that returning to Friedman regarding character development could provide fruitful understanding. If you were to take a wild stab in the dark, what might be one connection between Poole and Friedman?

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