So You Want to Be the Leader

Church leadership demands progress. This progress gives the leader a satisfying experience because people follow when they see it.

Sometimes, some followers want a sense of sameness to have the expected experience. For them, showing up gives them all the satisfaction they feel they need. Others want progress that is different than what the leader looks for. Difficulties between leaders and followers are common in churches. We need to break down this issue if we are going to build up the church.

One or More?

The lead pastor in a church usually desires to be the prime leader. However, he often feels others think he is there to meet the expectations of all the people in the congregation. Often, he believes he can’t meet their expectations. If you must choose between a new Sheriff in town or a new Shepherd, you will lean toward the Shepherd for good reasons. But there is always more to leadership than that simple choice.

The most effective leaders adopt a style that meets the moment’s needs. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5) In this passage, you can draw attention to the one with the power – Jesus. Or you can draw attention to the one with the servant’s towel – Jesus. That unique perspective of our Master helps us see leadership in a way that stops us in our tracks until we think it through.

It may be true that each leader brings some dominant characteristics to his role, but there will be times when other styles are necessary. It confuses followers when they see apparent randomness in the leader’s style. It is usually good to have predictability, but as Jesus demonstrates, not always. Those who don’t know the leader will assume certain things based on their guesses or expectations from their past or from their culture. There will, however, be different approaches by the leader that meet a need for the moment. A good leader chooses how to lead according to the need. He does not take a one-size-fits-all approach.

People only willingly follow a leader they like. Every leader needs much more than competency in a few skills. A leader must have the ability to evoke positive emotions from followers. How their leadership affects the emotional state of the followers must be a priority for one who wishes to lead well.

Volunteer Experience

Satisfaction grows in a church when three things are present in the volunteers’ experience.


Firstly, they need to have a sense of progress toward a goal. Since church isn’t about widgets coming off the end of an assembly line, it is difficult to see progress. The progress must be in the changed lives of people. Sometimes, that is almost imperceptible in the short term.

Volunteers must see small incremental steps to feel they are getting somewhere. There are two other elements present in the satisfied volunteer.

Resource Person

Secondly, volunteers must have someone or some resource to supply fresh ideas on approaching the situation when they are stumped.


The third element is that volunteers must feel appreciated. They need nourishing conversations with others. They especially need healthy conversations with those who are their leaders.

I have attempted to live with a pattern of “five carrots and one stick.” My observation is that people feel under-appreciated and need much reinforcement. You earn the right to correct someone when they know you appreciate the good things about their performance. Sincere compliments that stand on their own create emotional safety. Never link a compliment to something negative with a “but.” After five “carrots,” you can consider the timing to use your one “stick” if it is advisable. Always avoid using the “stick” in front of others.

Like a good golfer who finds it easy to choose the correct club for the situation, a good leader moves naturally among leadership styles. The objective is to create a positive atmosphere that waters the seeds of productivity and progress. Choosing the right style for the person and the situation is second nature to good leaders.

One Body – Many Parts

The church is a body – analogous to the human body. Each part is necessary and has an important role. But while Paul doesn’t mention it in his analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, the nervous system of the church has to have a central element to keep all the parts operating as they should.

Some live with the belief that a central element is a Board. Boards aren’t mentioned in the Bible. The plural leadership mentioned in the Bible is “elders.” “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17) In that translation, “direct the affairs” is the dynamic equivalent of one Greek word which means literally “pre-standing” or “preside over” or simply “to rule.” That makes it clear that the elders (plural) are supposed to be in charge and are to be honored.

The word translated “honor” could also be translated as “price.” That would point to paid elders. And those who teach and preach get double. Obviously, then, other elders don’t preach or teach. Again, to look at it literally, that is “straining in word and teaching.” Some work (strain) in word and teaching other elders do other things that qualify as presiding over. There is no mention of one having primary authority over the others. Still, we know that, practically speaking, in human dynamics, one person leads the way, whether officially acknowledged or not. The preceding is just a cursory look at the concept of who is supposed to be in charge or, as I said earlier a central element that functions as the spinal cord to keep everything operating correctly. Culturally, we have adopted the term “pastor” to describe a leader in the church. The previous generation added the term “senior” to “pastor” to refer to the head person. Now, we tend to call that person “lead pastor.” I can’t find any evidence in the New Testament to suggest it is possible to have anyone other than a qualified male occupy that position. But then I can’t find anything in the New Testament that refers to that position as being held by one person. Pragmatically, it appears that the church is always more vital when more people are given and take responsibility for a piece of the action. It also appears, from a pragmatic viewpoint, that we do better when that key leader is a male. The rest of the discussion on that issue is for another time and place.

Everyone in that spinal cord function needs to understand how to preside effectively. Some cultures are built upon a “strong man” approach to leadership. They accept and expect one leader to take total control and have others implement his plan. Most people function best when leadership is shared. From that one verse in 1 Timothy 5:17, we get the hunch that a one-man-operator model is not within the range of biblical normalcy. However, the one person who does directly have the major influence exists in our real world. And it existed in a negative way in the New Testament world as well. “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.” (3 John 9) Even the apostle John was blocked by one strong man.

It is the responsibility of each member to strive to keep the church on track. Paul said, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6) To achieve that, the members must be broad in their thinking to have unity. If anyone attempts to dominate the church in a particular direction, that church will fail. At the same time, if the members refuse to follow the leader, the church will also fail.

Look forward to other posts where we delve into the six styles of leadership that are necessary for a leader to thrive and the church prosper.

Exported with Wordable