9 traits of excellent church leaders
When teaching church leadership, there are specific qualities in leaders which should exist or be formulated. In a culturally shifted world, the church cannot remain in the 20th century (or 19th in some circumstances).
For instance, the largest auto retailer does not own a single vehicle (CarMax), the largest seller of goods worldwide does not own a store (Amazon), and the biggest home corporation does not own a single home (Airbnb). Innovation is here.
The facts exist that we live in an ever-shifting culture. Leaders within the church must be trained differently, and in tandem, be discipled regarding their gifting.
Here are nine leadership traits of excellent leaders.
Vision is an abused term. When I mention vision, I’m more concerned with two things: (1) seeing the bigger picture for the church (i.e. Where is God leading us? What does God want us to do in this community? etc.)—and (2), navigating the church through culture by staying stay focused upon the Spirit’s movement (i.e. protect and direct the church). Like the captain of a ship—an excellent leader knows and stays his course.
This is a big one. An excellent leader is an encourager. Positive attitudes are contagious. As Billy Graham once stated, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
An excellent leader is expected to think critically and act analytically—don’t allow emotions to control an outcome. The key to problem-solving is to wait, take a step back, assess all aspects of a situation, and move in a forward direction, perhaps consulting others (Proverbs 11:14).
This one is commonly misconstrued. Delegation is not about giving orders, but about disciple-making, training, and knowing your limitations. Some leaders want to do everything—only to protect their “empire.” Newsflash: the church is not yours—delegate or you’ll burnout!
Excellent leaders know how to define what is important and what is not. There will always be people priorities versus paperwork priorities. As well, there are life-suckers—people who take up all of your time, if you let them.
Advice: you can’t do everything or please everyone.
Listening & hearing
James 1:19 declares that we should be quick to hear and slow to speak. Excellent leaders listen not only to the church, but even more to outsiders—remember—these are the ones you want to reach. What’s hurting them? Addictions? Sufferings? Financial? Racial? Listening is not only hearing, but doing. While some pastors are trying to “keep” people, excellent leaders are reaching them.
Narrow your focus
PhD’s are pin-pointed degrees—they’re fine-tuned in areas of knowledge or expertise. You cannot do everything awesome. Too many leaders want to be great at everything—but, to be more productive, narrow your focus on your giftings (and see delegation).
Second Timothy 2:2 declares, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Disciple-making is the commission from Christ (Matthew 28:18–20). Excellent leaders strive to work themselves out of their position—raising up a disciple. Excellent leaders make disciples.
Think Moses and Joshua or Paul and Timothy. Moses taught Joshua by bringing him with him. Paul taught Timothy in the same manner. Discipleship is about replacing yourself—teaching others to do what you do.
Leaders vs. managers
There’s a difference with a manager and a leader. The church has too many managers. Leaders are passionate and witness enthusiastic followers. Managers perform tasks—some they do not enjoy—forcing people to march on command.
Excellent leaders are innovators—they see the gifting in others and boldly set them free to serve God in creative ways. Managers play by a rule book and do not like creativity—it’s against tradition—it’s not the way things “are done.”
Assuredly, this is not an exhaustive list—and perhaps some of these may overlap. The main point, if we strive to be excellent leaders, we must be intentional and passionate about serving Christ and His church—moving forward, engaging culture. Leaders are born, but they can also be developed.
Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.
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