What makes an effective Church leader?

We are in the process of searching for a lead pastor for our church. It’s a daunting process as we are a young church and the outcome will have a huge bearing on the future vitality of our church community. We want to make sure we are in tune with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as He knows what’s best for our church. As a result, myself and the other church leaders have been pondering what characteristics we are to look for in a potential candidate.

There are many noble characteristics one must look out for in someone and I would be very keen to hear what others’ views are. However I have observed two key ingredients that I feel are critical. Both of those ingredients can be merged into what I see as the main aim or responsibility of church leadership.

Firstly, the two ingredients I think are crucial:

1) A faithful, God-fearing, passionate expositor and teacher of the Word. In a world that is so confused and corrupted with political correctness and relativism, there needs to be solid, passionate teaching of God’s Word within the church by someone with clear and strong biblical convictions. This teaching and attitude to the Bible  is to permeate throughout the sermons/church services each week and into the small group sessions. A church will only be able to develop a healthy, God-honouring culture if it is founded on prayer and being engrossed with learning what the Bible teaches with members applying this to their lives. This culture will permeate through to aiding our individual battle to fight sin and follow God, and affect how we treat and support those around us.

2) That leads me to the second ingredient – someone who is able to connect with, support and empower those around him. A leader is by definition someone who influences others; a person who people look to for guidance. One way to know if someone is a leader is to look behind and see who is following. People will follow those who they trust and believe want the best for them and the church; who’s leadership they feel is best for their spiritual growth, the growth of the church and the glory of God within the community. A church leader’s key role is to inspire and equip others to become more like Christ. There are many ways in which one may potentially do this, but I feel one effective method is by empowering and equipping other leaders. When a leader invests into other leaders, his influence is multiplied. This influence then permeates through the small/bible study groups, which I feel are the building blocks of the church and where the ‘rubber hits the road’. This cascade effect highlights how leadership will make or break the church and why we must be extremely discerning and diligent in who we allow into leadership roles, and why there must be a level of accountability and support within the leadership group.

But if I was to summarise those two key elements of a Christian leader into one key element I think it would be this:  The Lead Pastor, by humbly submitting to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help equip and empower the church with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s through the Gospel that we realise how our human frailty and sinful depravity is torn down by the liberating and empowering work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection that we are born again spiritually and come into union with God forever. It’s through this gospel message that we break free from the sinful entanglements that hold us down and realise the joy of serving God in all that we do. Only by this message are we humbled before our holy God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to step up to the plate and live for Christ. What greater purpose is there for our church leaders to aspire others towards? We live to serve and marvel our God and all that He has does. Our church leaders are the key people to help facilitate that within the church.

That is some of my thoughts, but clearly there are other important ingredients. I would appreciate your thoughts on what you think makes a godly leader/leadership within the church.

9 thoughts on “What makes an effective Church leader?”

  1. The crucial thing is the motivation for seeking out a ‘Lead Pastor’. Is it to gain credibility as a ‘real church’? I hope not. I agree whole-heartedly with your observation concerning the behaviours of many secular leaderships: ‘In a world that is so confused and corrupted with political correctness and relativism’, but if I may say so, your approach to seeking a leader is surprisingly full of the language of many secular leadership courses.

    Why do you want leaders to ‘empower’, when actually you want servants to show you how to serve Christ? Personally, I would want a wise pastor, preacher, teacher, friend and brother. Someone I could feel at home with, and at the same time someone who could lift me to the heavens with the Word of God. Someone I could talk to whose approval would be great encouragement, and someone whose disapproval would cause me to think again.

    You suggested that a leader has someone whom people follow. There are all types of leaders, even in religious circles, and many of them have huge followings. I would hesitate to use them as models of leadership. They whip up excitement, they draw a crowd, but their disciples tend to be shallow, and doctrine (such as there is in those places) can be a moveable feast depending on the prevailing wind.

    I fear you may be sadly disappointed in the sort of leader the Lord has in mind for the church. He chooses shepherds – despised shepherds at that – whose main qualification is their allegiance to the one who is despised and rejected of men. You probably would not be impressed with God’s choice, and you won’t be able to tick many of the boxes on your (or any one elses) wish list.

    I fear you may find someone with all the right theory and the methods you approve of, but little of the heart and qualification for the ministry which has built up congregations and glorified God in the lives of countless believers. You are not appointing a Christian lecturer, or a salesman, or the director of a company (but these people might have the skills and attributed that you have described).

    I am surprised that there is no reference here to the basic qualification. First and foremost you are seeking an pastor and elder to lead you. The New Testament in particular provides clear guidance on this. Paul’s exhortations to Timothy provide a wealth of insight into a pastor’s attitude, struggles and calling. These are the fundamentals.

    Remember too that you are not looking for an angel, but another sinner saved by grace (flesh and blood!) who just happens to have gifts and graces that can help your congregation glorify Christ. He will have many imperfections, and he may not always see eye to eye with you (sometimes you will be right, and sometimes he will). Differences of view on non essential matters is not a bad thing sometimes. You have to know how you are going to deal graciously with differences, or the relationship may soon turn sour. On the other hand, agreement on all things can mean you have appointed a cult leader!

    Above all you will need prayerful discernment to find a wise, faithful and God fearing man who will give himself gladly to the work. These men are rare, and when you find one you should honour him and support him and value him – especially through difficult times in the life of the church.

    There is a saying ‘marry in haste, repent at leisure’. Choosing a pastor is in some respects like choosing a wife. Take your time! Now I ask you, did you ask your friends what characteristics you should look out for in your wife? Do you have some notions on what role she was to have in your marriage? I bet they soon changed when you met the right one! Similarly, with a prospective shepherd for your flock, you will know when you have the right one.

    1. I have been involved in church leadership at various levels for almost 50 years. During that time I served on four pastor search committees. Each committee took a different approach to finding ‘God’s man”. And in every case, regardless the process followed, the final selection resulted in a flawed man being called to fill the role.

      From my limited human perspective, some of these had wonderful ministries which God used to bless many and bring glory to Himself, whilst others seem doomed to failure from the beginning.

      One such man, his name was John, struggled from the outset and during his ministry, people left the church in droves. Clearly we had made a mistake – we had chosen the wrong man.

      I remembers one particular Sunday evening service as though it were yesterday. I sat with my then teenage daughter and endured another poorly delivered sermon. At first my mind wondered, but then I noticed my daughter fidgeting next to me. I was concerned, because she had attended reluctantly that evening. I was fully expecting an ear-full during the drive home.

      At the conclusion of the service, Pastor John indicated that if any wanted to ‘trust in Jesus’ they should come forward so he could speak with them more. I don’t think I could have restrained my daughter had I tried. She almost leapt over the pew in front of her to get to speak with John, so powerful was the conviction of THE Holy Spirit in her young life.

      I waited patiently following the service for about 45 minutes and then she came into the room where I was waiting, a new person in Christ. As we drove home, she exclaimed to me, “Dad, I can’t believe many more didn’t come forward!”

      Her comment reinforced the lesson God was teaching me through that experience. God can use the most humble, yes unskilled of people to accomplish His purposes. I praise Him for this faithful man.

      Subsequent to this wonderful day in the life of our family, I learned to love John, a faithful servant of God. I later learned to appreciate that the real problem John faced in his ministry at this church was not his lack of delivery skills , or the lack of eloquent words. The real problem lay in the proud hearts of his congregation. As God changed my heart towards John, his preaching became strangely effective, his stumbling pastoral style became warmer and more endearing.

      Of course, John hadn’t changed one iota – but I had.

      1. Don,
        That is a very gracious and very helpful thing to share.
        Isn’t it our greatest problem – trying to change others, when God intends to change us.

        “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
        Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
        9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
        So are My ways higher than your ways,
        And My thoughts than your thoughts.
        10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
        And do not return there,
        But water the earth,
        And make it bring forth and bud,
        That it may give seed to the sower
        And bread to the eater,
        11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
        It shall not return to Me void,
        But it shall accomplish what I please,
        And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

        It is a good thing we serve a great God, and that He still guides and directs us in spite of ourselves.

      2. Hi Don,

        What a humbling journey it is to follow Christ. It’s so true that often the biggest obstacle to hearing the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit guiding and prompting us is our pride. The day we think we have nothing to learn, is the day we stop growing and maturing as a Christian. I feel a natural and highly effective way of maturing is being humbled by our Lord. It can even come through those are perceived as less gifted or spiritually mature. It can even come through those who are not Christians.

    2. Thanks Sol deo gloria for you input. Some great observations. Clearly there are many aspects to be aware of, and as you pointed out, there is no perfect person. The goal is to be open to who God leads to us and to recognise him.

      A few of clarifications though regarding my post:

      1) To empower someone is to help equip them to achieve their purpose more effectively. You say this is a secular term. Nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned. It depends on how it is used. In the context of which I used it I am referring to someone who helps those around him to understand and apply the gospel to their lives. That helps equip them to glorify and serve Christ more effectively with their lives. A leader, I feel, is doing more then just showing others how to serve Christ, but inspiring them to do so. Inspiring people can come in many intriguing forms. Some key ways I find for myself is someone who is being true to the Word and leading by example, having strong convictions on upholding foundational biblical truth. They are also to help protect the church from apostasy and unbiblical teaching. In serving Christ, the church leaders are watching over the flock and helping to build them up in the Word.

      2) You mentioned that I didn’t note that we are to look for a pastor/elder of a church. I may have misunderstood your point here as I thought the two qualities I have noted are foundational for a pastor/elder, amongst others of course. Clearly 1 Timothy and Titus help with more specific qualifications, however I feel they all point to the person’s ability to point people to power and grace of our Lord with the Gospel message. I may have misunderstood the point you were making here.

      3) When I mentioned people tend to follow those who have leadership qualities, it doesn’t necessarily mean large numbers. It may, or it may not. I am simply saying from my experience that people tend to follow those who have natural leadership qualities, trusting them to be better equipped to serve Christ. Much like a shepherd with his sheep.

      There’s also a couple of points you made that I think are very pertinent:

      1) We are looking for a redeemed sinner, not an angel. I have a lot of respect for people who respond from making mistakes in a God-honouring way as opposed to those who don’t necessarily make the mistakes in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I think someone standing up against temptation victoriously in any particular circumstance is very encouraging, however the reality is we all make mistakes and have sinful struggles which is why we need to live and breath the gospel message every day. How one responds to those struggles often highlights a person’s character in way’s one can’t observe if they didn’t make the mistake in the first place. One of the most inspiring qualities I find in a leader is someone who is prepared to be vulnerable about their struggles and highlight how God has refined them as a result of the struggles. In our weakness God makes us strong. It’s by persevering through our struggles that we see God’s power at work and His name glorified. For He saved us not just from the consequence of sin – eternal death – but also the power of sin in our lives. To see that our leaders struggle with sin just like anyone else is to reflect their humanity. What make them more effective leaders is their perseverence in standing up against those struggles in the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the sort of leaders that I want to learn from and who inspire me in my walk with Christ.

      2) It takes time. SO TRUE! It’s a big temptation to rush the process to appoint a pastor as it’s clearly a critical part of an effective church. However like with a potential spouse, time is often the acid test. Whoever we discern may be the right person, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and the candidate over time. That way any impetuous and emotive decision may be nullified. Over time one can better discern a person’s character and convictions and how they interact with people with is foundational with pastoring a church. It also allows the potential pastor to discern more about the church.

      Thanks again for your input… it was very helpful.

      1. Ok I think I see where you are coming from, and can add this to the dialogue:
        1) there is a certain cliche in secular circles which to my mind runs counter to the gospel. They say ’empower’, but i think ‘equip’ is more accurate. Let your yes be yes. Also whatever happened to ‘when I am weak, then I am strong? If I have any power, it comes through Him, when I am weak. Elders and pastors equip believers.
        2) I’m simply saying ‘first things first’. Look for the qualified elder before the other qualities. There is a risk that someone satisfying the two qualities does not have the qualification as an elder. Be careful!
        3) sheep will follow a hireling too! I do understand your point though.
        i) I think there is good and bad in the example that an elder can set. He won’t always be a good example there – none of us are all the time. Its important to be realistic, and not to set a standard for this man above that which you keep. If you do, you will soon find that you judge him, and fail to benefit from his ministry.
        ii) i agree entirely. Its a two way street, and you may find you are convinced of the man’s suitability, but he isn’t persuaded its right for him.
        Commit all your ways to Him, and He will direct your path.

        1. Clearly a potential lead pastor needs to uphold biblical characteristics as listed for eldership in the Bible. No doubt about it. I suppose I was trying to capture in my blog two key elements one needs to look for in a potential pastor given the biblical characteristics are met in passages such as 1 Timothy and Titus.

          This highlights the important point you make that people can be drawn to, and follow, the wrong influence. Just because a church leader is ‘popular’ or a church is bursting at the seems with lots of people, doesn’t mean they are honouring to God and upholding the true Gospel message. In fact I suspect those of us who are true to the Gospel will be more frowned upon in society as it’s an unpleasant message to hear. Without the work of the Holy Spirit amongst us, people tend to rebel against the Gospel message because it offends us. However when the holy Spirit moves one’s heart, repentance and salvation occurs! I would much prefer be a part of a small church who upholds and teaches Scripture faithfully where people are coming into a sincere relationship with Christ and maturing in their faith, then a large church who that is driven on trying to save the world and feel good about themselves. We are not here to please people, but please the Lord. It’s inevitable that this world will therefore be unhappy with much of what the church upholds.

          On the other hand I think when you have a church leader who stands up for Biblical truth in this corrupted and confused world, God fearing and honouring people will be drawn to that type of leadership and be inspired to live for Christ more.

        2. Stu, this is good, and allows me to raise another couple of issues:
          1) It may seem obvious to say that the focus must be on the scriptural qualifications, but for many this is not enough. If you are re-interpreting the scriptural qualifications in the guise of your two key characteristics, I understand. However, this sets an unfortunate precedent. I think it is better to tease out some implications from the qualifications rather than assume the principles are in your key characteristics.
          2) Don’t fall for the small church is spiritual church idea. There are three good reasons – a) its easy as most churches are small! b) many small churches are dead with no obedience, vision, or effort c) you would be dismissing some of the most valuable ministries in the history of the church (e.g. Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones, Wesley, Whitfield).

          My approach in looking for good characteristics and models for leadership is to start with the leaders in Scripture – Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Elijah (good and bad!) Haggai, Paul, Peter, and not least, the Lord Jesus.
          Why go outside the Scripture for your models first. I use external models as a more contemporary ‘for example’.

          If we truly believe ‘Sola Scriptura’ then we must apply this in all areas of personal and church life.

  2. I pray the Lord will bless you with a faithful man – along with a plurality of elders – who will faithfully shepherd the flock at HBC…..

    One book I am currently reading may be of help:

    ‘Pastoral Ministry’ by John MacArthur.

    Sure, it is more directed at those who are or aspriring to be pastors but inside it contains a wealth of knowledge about what the man should be.

    Blessings

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