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The primary principle to be an effective church leader

| by Matthew Fretwell

The elder of the village gazed at me and said, “You need an African name—Your name is Gbondoe (pronounced Bon–doh).” It was prophetic. We had just met. Gbondoe connotes a bringing together—someone who unifies. Little did I know how divided the village Bible Mission leaders were.

Underneath the cool of the giant mango trees, I sat with them until late into the night. I patiently listened to their grievances with one another. While I was thousands of miles from my home—deep in the jungle—I felt as if I was in the middle of an American church business meeting—division, bitterness, self-pride, and control. All of the characteristics that leadership should not emulate.

With only the moonlight breaking through the dense tree cover, I could barely see the faces of the offended, pain-stricken, and troubled people. But their voices told a familiar story.

Seeing through the darkness

In every meeting, I always remind myself, “People are not perfect.” Travel the globe and one constant remains—self-centeredness is a reality—a byproduct of our human sin. Regardless of geography, I’ve been in deacons’ meetings, business meetings, council meetings, and gads of countless committee meetings—only to recognize that human sin shines the darkest in the flesh. Leaders must see through the darkness.

I was grateful for the name Gbondoe, but if unity and togetherness did not come to this people—it was just a name—a facade. Somehow they expected me to the Band-Aid—to heal their division.

Being an outsider, I waited until everyone delivered their case. While listening, I was praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  I knew one thing—my heart hurt, not just for this people, but for Christ’s church. There was a newly constructed Mosque just 200 yards away. Yet, the Bible mission was arguing over money, control, and position.

For hours, I hadn’t said a word. When they asked me to speak, I was deeply moved by the Spirit. I wept before them and reminded them of the gospel—of our high calling in Christ—of sin, darkness, the Mosque, and the Great Commission. I pled with them “if you have love for one another” then people will know you’re Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). I implored them to seek repentance and unified love.

Unity in Christ

Every one of Paul’s epistles addresses church unity—somewhere. Why? Because “there is a way that seems right to man” (Proverbs 14:12). The primary principle to be an effective church leader is unity. As Paul declared, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Church leaders must proclaim unity in—and through—Christ.

Churches will have division—if—the flesh reigns. But Jesus “is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Church leaders must stress unity and present themselves as servants of Christ and His church—not as domineering—but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Show what you know

As I expressed to the elders—the entire village is watching what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once declared, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him, come and die.”

People are watching you. Church leaders can only show what they know.

Self-centeredness, pride, and control must be placed at the foot of the cross. When the body of Christ observes servant leaders—it is a testimony to the working power of Christ. The Apostles obeyed Christ’s teaching (Matthew 28:19–20) that love and unity must abound.

To be an effective church leader, you are called to bring unity to the body of Christ. Shepherds do not direct a flock in simultaneous multiple directions. They make sure that the sheep are in one accord.

Church leaders bring unity by directing the church on a solidified mission and vision. As Peter pronounced “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

Therefore, every church leader must be a Gbondoe.


Matthew Fretwell

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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