When people hear the term “church leadership,” they may picture a pastor speaking from the pulpit on Sunday. However, the best pastors know that Sunday sermons are just a fraction of their leadership responsibilities—and they also know that pastors aren’t the only church leaders.
In fact, strong church leadership is a necessary quality that should be shared among multiple individuals throughout a healthy church. Having a deep community of developed church leaders not only alleviates pressure from the pastor but also can prevent both the concentration and corruption of power in one single person.
What Does the Bible Say About Leadership?
The Bible has plenty to say about leadership in general as well as leadership in the context of the emerging church of the New Testament. However, focusing on one or two verses out of context does a disservice to the Bible’s holistic message on what it means to be a leader. We can trace examples of biblical leadership from the Old Testament to the New, from the way the Israelites structured themselves after the exodus to how Paul spoke to church leaders in his letters.
No matter when or how God’s people gathered, they put considerable thought and effort into how to create a structure of leadership that—no matter how imperfect—would honor God and serve God’s people. From tribal patriarchs to judges to kings to rabbis to apostles to church planters, you can find in the Bible different frameworks for how to lead and care for large groups of people.
Leaders Are Found Everywhere
You’ll find leaders in the Bible in the usual roles—judges, kings—but you’ll also find them in unexpected places. From shunned prophets to female warriors to imperfect apostles to unassuming caregivers to nameless teachers, women and men inhabiting various roles in the Bible are often described as displaying exemplary leadership qualities.
Leadership Is a Calling
Although it’s important for leaders to cultivate strong leadership qualities, it’s equally important that they don’t get distracted by the wrong ones.
Many times in the Bible, a leader claims their authority because of their birthright (Pharaoh, Esau, Reuben), their physical attributes (Saul, Goliath), or their proximity to power (Pontius Pilate, the religious elite). But God makes it clear that true leaders simply hear the call and answer. It doesn’t matter if they’re a poor speaker (Moses), the second-youngest of 12 sons (Joseph), a simple shepherd (David), a social outcast (John the Baptist), a zealot with a violent past (Paul), or part of an oppressed group (Esther, Mary Magdalene)—what matters is that they hear the call and answer it.
Leadership Works Best in Community
When Moses was acting as the singular judge over all of Israel, his father-in-law, Jethro, didn’t hesitate to tell him, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:17–18).
Again and again, the Bible shows us the importance of avoiding the concentration of power in a single person—it harms not only the people under that person’s leadership but also the leader as an individual. At the end of the day, no single church leader should reign supreme, because all followers of Christ ultimately submit to the perfect leadership of God’s Spirit.
Identifying Church Leaders
Before you can develop leaders in your church, you must first identify them. It can be tempting for pastors or others in churches with formal leadership titles to believe that they are choosing new leaders and calling others to serve. Instead, remember that God is already at work in your congregation, and ask yourself a simple question: Who is already answering the call to lead and serve?
Church Leaders on Staff
One of the first places to start identifying leaders is by looking for emerging leaders on the church staff. This includes developing staff members who are already in leadership positions (lead pastor, youth pastor, worship director, etc.) as well as staff members whose roles may not have explicit leadership responsibilities (church administrator, communications specialist, custodian, etc).
It’s important not to assume that just because someone has a leadership title, they must already be a developed leader. Starting with your staff gives you an opportunity to assess the leadership skills of those who may already have the title, but not the tools or support to lead others well. Look not only for emerging leaders but also those who may benefit from more coaching or training, regardless of their years of experience.
The next place to look when identifying leaders in your congregation is among your lay leaders. Many churches simply could not function without the loving service of their volunteers. Identifying leaders among your volunteers gives you the opportunity to pour into those who are likely more accustomed to pouring themselves out for others. Common positions filled by lay leaders include:
- Elders and deacons: Some churches rely on volunteers to fill elder and deacon roles, not paid staff. Often identified as the spiritual leaders of the church, developing your elders and deacons is crucial because of the power they’ve been entrusted to wield and the high-visibility roles they occupy.
- Small group leaders: Small groups exist in many forms in churches, whether as community groups, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, book clubs, or groups formed around shared life experiences (moms groups, singles groups, college student groups, etc). Whoever leads a small group is often entrusted with creating a safe space in which participants can be vulnerable, sharing both their desires and their struggles. It’s important that this role is filled by someone with leadership training and a wider network of support.
- Visitor welcome crew: Welcome crews are often the first people that visitors meet. They hold the awesome responsibility of making sure visitors feel calm, welcomed, and at ease. Such an important role would benefit from leadership training.
- Music and A/V volunteers: Whether on stage or in the booth, music and A/V volunteers provide a critical service on Sunday mornings and during other events throughout the week. Highly visible musicians may need training on how to use their platform to point others to Christ, not themselves, while behind-the-scenes A/V techs may need encouragement to assert more leadership skills for the benefit of their team and the rest of the congregation.
- Childcare volunteers: Who we entrust our children to is a reflection of the church as a whole. Are childcare volunteers merely treated as babysitters, or are they prepared for the awesome responsibility of teaching the gospel to the church’s youngest members? Is childcare treated as an “anyone-can-do-it” task, or is it honored as the highly skilled position that it is?
- Liturgists: Whether your church follows a formal liturgy or a more spontaneous service structure, whoever reads from the Bible or offers prayer during a service is automatically viewed by the congregation as a leader. It’s important that liturgists are given the training they need to use this time as a way to help others worship God.
Once you’ve identified leaders among your staff and volunteers, the final place to look is for natural leaders throughout your congregation as a whole. Certain people in the church have a natural charisma that draws people to follow them. This is a crucial group of leaders to develop, as people with this ability can end up misusing or even abusing their gifts of influence if they are unaware of the power they possess.
Identifying Leadership Potential in the Church
Wondering whether or not a person in your church has leadership potential? Be on the lookout for the following signs:
- Robust, personal relationship with God
- Calling to serve others
- Commitment to empathy, especially with people who may be different from oneself
- Humility and vulnerability in admitting faults and asking for forgiveness
- Willingness to be held accountable and held to a higher standard
- Demonstrated ability to offer love and support instead of judgment
- An active attempt to resist cynicism, especially regarding the people they serve
- Deep understanding of their own need for community
How to Develop Church Leaders
Establish Systems for Identifying Emerging Leaders
It’s human nature to look for what feels familiar. However, church leaders are called to be more discerning when identifying the next generation of leaders.
Pastors who rely too heavily on their gut feelings of who would make a good leader often end up stacking their team with younger versions of themselves. This behavior, while likely not intentional, ends up stifling the church’s ability to create a leadership team that reflects the diversity of God’s people.
Creating intentional systems of leadership identification and development can help avoid this unwanted bias. Pastors and existing church leaders should spend time contemplating what behaviors and traits indicate that a person in the church may be an emerging leader, no matter their background or demographics.
Create a Small Group for Leaders
Church leadership can be lonely, but connecting leaders to one another gives them the opportunity to support each other through good times and bad. The Gravity Commons is an online community for church leaders and other like-minded Christians to connect, learn together, and support one another.
Sign Up for Church Leadership Training
Formal leadership training can benefit church leaders of all sorts, whether they’re an emerging leader or a church leader with decades of experience. Gravity’s coaching services for pastors and church leaders provide the necessary training to serve God’s people effectively.
Ask for Prayers for Church Leaders
Identifying and developing church leaders is not something that happens in a vacuum. Ideally, all members of your church should feel connected to the process. Asking for prayer is a great way to invite the entire church into lifting up and caring for new and existing leaders. It also helps church leaders avoid the temptation to perform a “perfect” form of leadership that is simply unattainable. It takes humility to ask the people you lead to pray for you—which is why all church leaders should.
Develop New Church Leaders with Gravity
Gravity Leadership exists to help churches and other Christian organizations develop their teams with truly transformational leadership. Learn more about our coaching services for church leaders, or join The Gravity Commons to get connected to more leaders like you today.