Leadership in church


  1. Do you believe in UFOs?
  2. What if an alien landed outside your church and asked what all aliens are reputed to ask: “Take me to your leader”?
  3. What would you say? Would you say:
  • I’ve no idea who the person is!
  • Take a seat. I’ll see if I can find him (her?)
  • We believe in joint-leadership…there’s no one “in charge”
  • Jesus is our leader… we don’t need anybody else
  • The position is currently vacant?
  1. In truth, if no one is the leader, a leader will emerge… and not necessarily the most suitable person!
  2. Leadership in the church can be a function and/or a role
  3. It’s a function in that leadership can be exercised by many people at different times and in different ways
  4. It’s a role in that a person may be acknowledged or appointed as leader
  5. Sadly, some ‘appointed’ leaders fail to exercise leadership
  6. So we might first have to ask our alien a question: What do you mean by leader?
    And the alien would probably reply: “No! What do you mean by leader!

Reading: Malachi 2: 1 – 2, 7-9

‘And now, you priests, this warning is for you. 2 If you do not listen and if you do not resolve to honour my name,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘I will send a curse on you and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them because you have not resolved to honour me.

7 ‘For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. 8 But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.’


Leadership is an issue that affects all of us because even if you don’t consider yourself to be ‘a leader’, your life is greatly influenced by those who are leaders!

There is one simple test for finding out if you are a leader… look over your shoulder! If no one is there, you are not a leader

  • Someone may call himself a leader… or have a fancy title or ‘look the part’ … but if no one follows him then that person is just deluding himself.

I knew a head teacher of a large primary school who was not the leader… (a) She was not respected by the staff (b) She was a square peg in a round hole (c) She did not exercise leadership.

Good/effective leadership is characterised by the following:

Leadership is about leading through having a clear focus and knowing where you’re going.

Leadership is about communicating well with others

Leadership is about courage to persevere despite criticism and setbacks … but also to evaluate people’s comments openly

Someone has said that one of the Laws of Church Life is that for every decision made there is an equal and opposite viewpoint!

Leadership is about supporting others… respecting their endeavours, encouraging and treating their ideas seriously.

Leadership is about enabling others… providing followers with the ‘tools to do the job’ … both practically and emotionally

Leadership is about personality… decisiveness, enthusiasm and passion are essential characteristics for any leader.

Leadership is about being well informed, not least about the opposition’s tactics… (Satan… “As wise as serpents”)

Leadership is about showing good judgement… when to pause, when to stop and when to press on with all guns blazing!

Leadership is about caring… being compassionate but not sentimental… seeing others through the eyes of Jesus

Leadership is about training successors… knowing when to pass on the baton and step aside.

Priests were the leaders during Old Testament times… but with the leadership came responsibilities… and in Malachi we find that God had four complaints against them:

1)   They failed to honour His name

  • The priests should have been giving God thanks and glory each step of the way… but they were not.

2) They failed to cherish knowledge about the Lord

  • They neglected God’s word and were careless about eternal truths
  • Some of our ‘liberal’ church leaders, who deny the truth of the Bible, will have to answer to God, as those priests did!

3) They gave the people false teaching

  • It gets worse! Not only did they fail to cherish knowledge of God … they offered the people false teaching

4) They showed partiality in dispensing justice (“the law”)

  • The priests had a responsibility to be even-handed and fair … instead, they favoured one person above another

The Jewish leaders, the priests, had been weighed in the scales and found wanting!

Leadership of God’s people (as opposed to general leadership)

Leading without the Holy Spirit’s guidance and enabling is pointless… The greatest leaders are the humblest… They know that without God, their greatest efforts will be fruitless

Being fully committed to the work of the Lord must be preceded by being fully committed to the Lord of the work!

  • We should follow the example set by evangelist, Gypsy Smith… “Lord, keep him low (humble)

Leaders have to use loving persuasion…

  • The best leaders are encouragers … but are also willing to exercise godly authority… which is tricky  because people simply leave the church!

Leaders must be people of deeply rooted faith in God

  • Good leaders walk in step with the Spirit… they refuse to allow obstacles to deflect them from the path

Leadership involves servanthood … more in a moment

Godly leaders possess divine wisdom… discernment that goes beyond human understanding…

Christian leadership has practical and spiritual consequences …

  • Failure in leadership can damage people’s walk with the Lord… It’s a huge responsibility and privilege

Male or female leadership… or both?

The Bible emphasises the importance of male leadership… but there are instances of female leaders, including Deborah in the Old Testament and Priscilla (with husband, Aquila) in the New Testament

  • There are also many instances of women playing a leading role in fulfilling God’s purposes… e.g. Esther, Ruth & Naomi in the OT… and Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary & Martha in the NT…

A lot depends on how we define ‘leadership’…

  • If it means taking the main responsibility for preaching and teaching, the Bible pattern is clearly for men to take the lead
  • However, leading by example in godliness, dedication and service to others applies equally to men and women

Does the fact that men are called to leadership mean that women are inferior to men in God’s sight?

  • By no means! If you are an aeroplane pilot and I am the co-pilot, it doesn’t mean that you are superior… it means that you have the main responsibility and I am there to support you

Most church attenders and missionaries are women. The majority of charity workers, care workers and organisers are women…

  • God wants us to use our ‘natural’ abilities and the talents that He has given to us, regardless of our gender
  • To suppress women such that they are unable to use their gifting to serve Christ is wholly unbiblical

However, we must rid ourselves of the notion that the only yardstick to use is that of equality…

Equality is frequently referred to as the sole criterion by which to judge the appropriateness of a decision…

  • But equality is not a ‘neutral’ concept
  • The way in which we define “equality” is based on BELIEF… moral belief… about what is right and wrong
  • In the UK, we don’t allow prisoners to vote… we don’t allow an 18-year-old to have sexual relations with a 15-year-old … we don’t allow polygamy… we don’t allow people to walk around naked…
  • Why not! Because equality has to make reference to what we consider to be morally right or wrong…

So should a woman lead a major area of church work ahead of men?

  • Should a competent and gifted woman ‘hold back’ and allow a less competent man to lead?
  • Should women be allowed to teach the Bible, instruct men or make significant decisions that affect men?

These questions are looking down the wrong end of the telescope!

What we should be asking is how men, as leaders in the church (and the home) can encourage, facilitate and support women in their various roles, whether the role is supposedly ‘minor’ or ‘major’

We must be careful not to merely give the impression of leading…

A man was driving with his wife at his side and his mother-in-law in the back seat. The women just would not leave him alone. His mother-in-law kept saying, “You’re driving too fast!” His wife kept insisting, “Put your foot down or we’ll be late!” After several more contradictory orders, the man turned to his wife and asked, “Look! Who’s driving this car – you or your mother?”

So in God’s purposes, men are called to lead… to be examples… to demonstrate faith in God… to protect and cherish others…

  • This responsibility is not about being superior or patronising or smug… quite the opposite!
  • The single most important quality in a leader is having a servant-heart

The priests failed as leaders… they failed God and they failed the people for whom they were responsible… They were called ‘leaders’ but they were a sham… and would feel the full weight of God’s righteous judgement.

So what answer will you give the alien?

The story is told of a serious traffic accident. Police officers were called to the scene and when they arrived they found a husband, wife, and two children lying unconscious in the car. They pulled them from the car, and as they waited for the paramedics to arrive they noticed a monkey in the car also. Seeing that the monkey was the only witness to the accident who was conscious, the officers decided to question him about the accident. Turning to the monkey they asked, “What was the dad doing at the time of the accident?” The monkey motioned, indicating that the dad had been drinking. The officers next asked what the mother had been doing at the time of the accident. The monkey took his finger and shook it angrily at the unconscious man. The officers then asked what the children had been doing. The monkey this time indicated by hand gestures that the children had been fighting in the back seat. One officer said, “Well, no wonder there was an accident with all of that going on in the car.” {Sounds like some churches!} As they turned to leave, almost as a parting thought, they asked, “By the way, what were you doing at the time of the accident?” To which the monkey signed that he had been the driver! My friends, I am afraid that there are many churches today headed for trouble and “a serious accident” because they do not understand God’s design for the church. They do not understand God’s call for leadership and as a result they have allowed the noisiest monkeys in the group to sit in the driving seat. My friends, noise does not equal leadership.

{Leading can be a thankless task… until we hear His “Well done!}

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