What Is Church Leadership?
Church leadership is the spiritual shepherding of God’s people in the context of his church. Although commonly associated with head pastors or paid staff members, church leadership isn’t defined by specific positions or formal titles. Instead, it is a role given to people in the church whose trust in Christ, as well as their love and respect for God’s people, can serve as a model for others.
Church Leadership Roles & Responsibilities
Depending on your denomination, your church may be organized in any number of ways. However, when it comes to church leadership, certain roles and responsibilities tend to exist across denominations. These roles may be filled by specific, named people with job titles; other roles may be filled by multiple church members who are simply serving as part of the congregation.
Regardless of how your church fills the role, common church leadership roles and responsibilities include:
- Pastors/shepherds: Often (though not always) filled by pastors, the church leadership role of shepherd requires people who can offer trustworthy spiritual guidance to others. Like the ultimate Good Shepherd, shepherds in churches are marked by their willingness to sacrifice for others and lead people through difficult times.
- Worship leaders: Worship leaders may take the stage every Sunday, or they may simply inspire others by how they worship from their seats. Beyond the music portion of a Sunday service, worship leaders also help congregants explore other ways of worshiping God in their daily lives.
- Theologians/scholars: The leadership role of theologian or scholar is often filled by someone with advanced academic knowledge on the Bible and theology.
- Disciplemakers: Disciplemakers can be found leading small groups, Bible studies, youth groups, and other gatherings where people are pursuing deeper relationships with God and other people. They walk alongside people in the church who are learning how to follow in the steps of Christ.
- Evangelists: Sharing the Good News with others requires patience, compassion, enthusiasm, and wisdom. You’ll find evangelists among both paid staff and laypeople in most churches.
- Prayer leaders/liturgists: The church needs the example of prayer leaders and other liturgists who can help others communicate thoughtfully with God.
- Missionaries: Like evangelists, missionaries are church leaders who share the Good News with others, but they are often operating in a professional capacity or as a volunteer of a professional organization.
- Community outreach leaders: You’ll find church leaders coming up with creative ways of serving their local communities both on staff and as part of the congregation.
- Justice seekers/prophets: Often overlooked, the church leadership role of a prophet or justice seeker is to speak truth, even when it is uncomfortable or difficult, in order to bring about healing and justice.
- Youth leaders/child caregivers: Church leadership roles are required for congregants of all ages, especially children. Caregivers in the nursery, Sunday School teachers, and youth group leaders are all essential church leaders.
- Administrative leaders: It’s hard to reach people if you don’t know who you’re looking for, where to meet, or when to be there. Administrative leaders often operate out of the spotlight, but their servant leadership is crucial to the success of a church body.
- Volunteers/servant leaders: No church would be able to operate without the volunteers who are often not only serving their church, but also providing shining examples of church leadership.
Who Are Church Leaders?
In general, church leaders will be part of one of three groups:
- Church leaders on staff: All staff members, no matter their position, have a certain leadership role in the church. From the pastor to the person who runs payroll, all church staff should walk in a way that follows Christ and can serve as a model for the congregation.
- Lay leaders: Many church volunteers occupy leadership roles due to their experience with and heart for service.
- Natural influencers: Some people in church may not have a role of any sort, but instead have a natural charisma that allows them to influence others. These church leaders can be gifts to a congregation but often require strong leadership and discipling so they can be aware of their gifts and use them to edify the church body, not to glorify themselves.
Church Leadership: Best Practices
Assuming the responsibilities of leadership can be intimidating, especially in a church context. The good news is that no church leader operates alone. All church leaders can benefit not only from the example of Jesus, but also from the examples of the apostles, historical church figures, and their contemporary brothers and sisters in Christ. Best practices of church leadership include:
- Accountability: Church leadership is different from any other leadership role in life because church leaders often serve as a primary witness of Christ to people in their congregations. The power of their example must be held to a higher standard. Accountability is a necessary component to any good and trusted leader, but especially for church leaders, who must always put the love, welfare, and service of their church members, attenders, visitors, and community first. Everyone in a church benefits when clear systems of accountability are in place.
- Service: Too often, people seek out leadership roles to glorify themselves. Nowhere should this be more firmly rejected than in the church, where all glory goes to Christ. Church leaders should remember that no matter their position, title, or natural gifting, they are called first to serve. Leadership structures that isolate church leaders from actual service only create misunderstanding, detachment, pride, and resentment.
- Faith: You cannot lead others in the way of Jesus if you are not following him yourself. Church leaders must cultivate a personal connection to Jesus before they can lead others.
- Vulnerability: It’s tempting for leaders of all kinds to try to present an image that is larger than life. Church leaders can be freed of this temptation as they remember that they are only serving to point others to Christ, not themselves. A culture of vulnerability and humility can encourage church leaders to admit their faults, reconcile with others, and seek justice and forgiveness, knowing that all have fallen short of the glory of God.
- Empathy: Church leaders need to be in tune with the celebrations and turmoils experienced by their congregations. An empathetic heart and a listening ear are necessary for leaders to truly understand and care for others.
- Hope: Far from offering platitudes, church leaders need to be connected to the deep, joyful, victorious hope of Christ to shepherd their congregations through even the darkest of times.
Signs of Bad Church Leadership
Too often, church leaders miss the mark when it comes to serving and leading others, resulting in pain, disconnection, and sin. Your church may have a leadership problem if church leaders:
- Are the first to accept praise but the last to accept criticism or blame
- Love the spotlight more than shining light on others
- Operate out of a framework of fear and self-loathing
- Ignore the leadership of anyone who is not officially on paid staff
- Do not know how to admit guilt, repent, and ask for forgiveness
- Prioritize their own privileges over the needs of the congregation
- Ostracize congregants going through hard times instead of walking alongside them
- Judge others harshly while giving excuses for their own shortcomings
- Resent or otherwise lack respect for their congregation
- Seek to cultivate a “perfect” image rather than living faithfully as an imperfect Christ follower
Church Leadership Training & Development Resources
Leadership Coaching for Church Leaders
No matter what position you hold in a church, it can be difficult to receive intentional training and instruction on how to be an effective church leader. That’s why Gravity Leadership offers leadership coaching for church leaders of all sorts.
Whether you’re a new pastor struggling to lead a team for the first time or a seasoned volunteer looking for new ways to lead your small group, Gravity’s leadership coaching model can help you grow as a leader so you can help others grow in Christ.
Here are some recommended resources and articles on church leadership:
- Leading in Times of Anxiety and Uncertainty with Jim Herrington
- Learning to Lead in Uncharted Territory with Tod Bolsinger
- What Brain Science Teaches Us About Leadership with Marcus Warner
- Jin S. Kim: Decolonizing Christian Leadership & Theological Education
- 2 Ways We Get Leadership Wrong in the Church
- Center-Out Leadership: A New Framework For the Church
- Why All Good Leadership Starts With Listening
- How a Leadership Crisis Is Killing Discipleship in the Church
- From Affinity to Affection: Building an Actual Community
- Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger
- Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs, Steve Cuss
- Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Ruth Haley Barton
Guidance & Support for Church Leaders
Gravity Leadership is here to help church leaders on their journey for leadership growth and development. Learn more about our leadership coaching service, or consider joining the Gravity Commons as a way to connect with other growing church leaders.