Leading a Church

Leading a Church

A Ghanaian proverb says: “A people without a leader ruin the town”. It is true that good leaders are necessary for a community to run smoothly, grow and develop. This requires a team effort, especially in the church community. Ideally, the people will get a clear vision for the work and will know what is expected of them. Promises will be kept, things will get done on time, and the leaders will be respected. Such a team accomplishes set goals and generally speaking, people are at peace and satisfied.
In contrast, imagine the confusion if everybody did what they felt like. A country without leadership is anarchy. And a church without leadership is like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.
God loves order (1 Co 14:33). During their trek in the desert, the people of Israel were given some strict regulations so that everything would function in an orderly manner. Every organization needs guidelines; the church is no exception. There are two ways of looking at the church:

  • The organic church consists of born again brothers and sisters of every denomination. This is the invisible worldwide church of God here on earth.
  • The organized church serves God by setting up a structure that will strengthen, nurture and further the kingdom of God.

To organise the church, God has put leaders in place, like pastors, elders and deacons, who take up responsibility for the church and give account to God for their work. In the following article, we will take a closer look at the different aspects of church leadership, mainly the responsibilities of elders and deacons. However, we will also recognize that lay people are very necessary, even though they are less trained. We will have a closer look at what a good team is and in what ways the church can nurture and train upcoming co-workers. Finally, we will touch some points on church discipline.

Responsibilities of Elders

When planting new churches, Paul made sure that elders were appointed to lead and oversee the local church (Ac 14:23). Lay elders sometimes think their only duty is to attend board meetings and help make decisions about church affairs, or to make announcements at church services. But according to the Bible elders have much more to do:

  • Teach and preach the word (1 Ti 3:2).
  • Protect the church from false teachers (Ac 20:17).
  • Visit the sick and pray for them (Jas 5:14).
  • Consider doctrinal questions (Ac 15:6).

In the early church “elder” and “pastor” were not two different offices. Both shepherded and cared for the local church (1 Pe 5:1-2). However today, a pastor is usually a trained preacher with a full-time commitment, paid by the church, while elders serve the church as volunteers. We need both!
Godly elders are spiritual fathers to the church. Their lives need to be characterized by maturity. For example, they must have only one wife, be self-controlled, hospitable, not given to drunkenness, not be lovers of money, and manage their families well (please read 1 Ti 3:1-7). These qualifications focus primarily on character and not necessarily on skills. Becoming a mature Christian takes time. So it is no surprise that the Bible says not to appoint a new believer as an elder (1 Ti 3:6).
Elders need to be equipped to teach the congregation in the word (Tit 1:9). Maybe this means studying Scripture with a new convert or encouraging the youth to take part in church activities. It may involve confronting and disciplining an unrepentant Christian. Above all, elders should find ways to teach the Bible regularly.
Elders lead by example. They shepherd the church not by ruling over others but by being servants and an example to the flock (1 Pe 5:3). They open their homes and are approachable so others can see their lives and imitate them (1 Co 11:1).
To summarize: Elders shepherd the flock by teaching, leading, modelling and praying.

Responsibilities of Deacons

Deacons have similar work to the elders. The Greek word for deacon, diakonos, means servant. Apart from supporting the church in spiritual matters, the deacons focus on physical needs. They make sure a full-time pastor is taken care of, and they encourage the congregation to maintain the buildings and assets of the church. This might include making sure the place of worship is prepared, seating the congregation or counting the offering. In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul gives a list of requirements for deacons which are very similar to that of elders.
Nevertheless, deacons need to be under the leading of the Holy Spirit and ready to obey God’s call. In Acts, we read of deacons like Steven and Philip who became fearless witnesses for their Master (Ac 6-8). Here is an example of how God uses a deacon in our time today.

Nobody liked Kwame. He regularly stole things from others, got in trouble everywhere, and was violent and unfaithful to his wife. One day God called him and changed his life radically, from a criminal to a born again Christian. After some years of maturing in faith, the church appointed him as their deacon. He served in that church for some time, then Kwame felt God calling him to remote places in his country to plant churches. Everybody recognized that he had the gift of evangelism. God used Kwame to be a bold witness. So far, he has gone to four different locations and has planted churches there. As soon as there were enough new converts in one location, another pastor replaced him and he moved on to new regions. Deacon Kwame has been a great enrichment in the kingdom of God!

A Church without Laymen – a NO-GO

The work of laymen should not be underestimated. What would the church be without lay preachers? They are the main working force of the church. Lay people voluntarily invest their free time in the church. This often means a sacrifice. The work of the church cannot be done without lay people. They may also have gifts of preaching and teaching. Lay preachers might not have had the chance to visit a Bible College because of lack of funds or other reasons. Nevertheless, they still need some training.
Who is responsible to train lay people? It is the pastor himself. Lay people should be mentored by pastors. They should be encouraged to study correspondence courses, like TEE (Theological Education by Extension). They may also be referred to a library for good literature. Pastors should take lay people alongside and gradually give them more duties in the church according to their ability and gifts. Lay people are a great asset to the church! We need to develop and use them!

Team spirit – Leaders build a team

A team in the church is a group of Christians who complement each other with ideas and skills. They work together to achieve a common goal to the glory of God and the building of his kingdom.
Have you ever watched geese flying in a V-shape from North to South or vice versa? By flying together, they can cover a longer distance than if they flew alone. Geese teach us a lot about teamwork:

  1. Scientists have found out that each goose provides additional lift for the goose flying behind it. By this, the whole flock can fly about 70% farther than if each goose flew alone.
    >    TEAM means: Together Everyone Achieves More.
  2. When a goose drops out of the V-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort to fly. So it quickly returns to the formation.
    >    Proverbs 18:1 says we should not separate ourselves from others. We are wise if we ask others for help and in return also offer help to others.
  3. Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in front gets tired, it moves to the rear and another goose moves to the front.
    >    In a team, responsibilities need to be delegated in a way that one does not carry the whole burden alone (read Ex 18:13-27).
  4. Geese honk while flying to encourage the ones in front.
    >    If we are wise like the geese, we will maintain open communication in the team and encourage and appreciate each other, especially the ones who lead.
  5. Geese help each other. When one goose becomes ill and drops out of the formation, two other geese will remain with the weakened goose until it is well again or dies.
    >    Teams work best when the members care for each other.

In 1 Corinthians 12 team work is compared to the physical body. Each part has its role to play. One cannot look down on the other part and say, “I don’t need you.” Each one is dependent on the other.
Team leaders are responsible to conduct productive meetings, delegate work and responsibilities to others, manage conflicts well and also encourage others.
Communication is an important contribution to the harmony of a team. Conflicts occur mostly because of poor communication. If we take the time to understand properly what someone says, we can avoid misunderstandings and confusion in a team. Let’s bear the following in mind to communicate well:

  • We need to listen carefully first. Avoid jumping to conclusions and giving quick answers before listening properly (Prv 15:28).
  • We first try to understand the other, before being understood by the other.
  • We should talk openly and not just say what we think the other person wants to hear.
  • We stick to the truth and we don’t exaggerate.
  • If we need to confront somebody, we prepare this prayerfully.
  • We restrain from finding fault in others and do not bad-mouth others.
  • We develop an attitude of trust towards each other and avoid criticism and suspicion.

Many more factors help in communication. One essential ingredient should not be missing: Let love be our guide! If we go by the Golden Rule pointed out by Jesus (Mt 7:12) we will contribute to building a healthy team.

A dream team
Two remarkable men with disabilities have planted 10.000 trees in a remote area in China. Jia Haixia is blind and Jia Wenqi’s arms have been amputated. “I am his hands,” said blind Mr Haixia. “He is my eyes. We are good partners.” So Jia Wenqi carries blind Haixia to the planting area, while Haixia assists handicapped Jia to plant the trees. If two men with disabilities can do that, I think a team of church leaders should have no excuses.

Multiplication – Leaders train others

The most important task of a leader is to train others to take up responsibility. There is no success without successors. Leaders need to gradually pass on their work to others. They need to keep their eyes open for somebody they can train, who will later take their place so they can move on to other duties and challenges. This period of training might take more time at the moment but in the long run it will definitely pay off.
Some church leaders have little interest in training new people for fear that they could lose their position and status. They cling on until they fall over dead. How foolish! I once asked a departing pastor if he had introduced his successor to his responsibilities. His reply was, “Let him find out for himself.” Isn’t that a proud and selfish attitude?
One question that should concern every good leader is: “In what way am I training the upcoming generation?”

  • Acknowledge the potential and skills in the younger generation and give them a chance.
  • Remember that the future lies in the youth of today.
  • Do not be afraid of losing your salary or your job.
  • Be humble; have the heart of a servant and you will be rewarded.
  • Do not let pride and selfishness destroy your ministry.

The quality of a leader often becomes evident only after he has left. Make your choice: Be a wise leader and train reliable people to be your successors, or be a poor leader and leave the chaos for the next one to sort out for himself.
Jesus trained his disciples for about three years with a clear goal in mind. He wanted them to continue his work. He could have stayed much longer, but he saw it proper to leave (Jn 14:12; 20:21). Paul also trained Timothy and Titus and encouraged them to train others to guarantee the progress of the work. In 2 Timothy 2:2 (the so-called 2-2-2 principle) he writes: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
This principle worked for Moses and Joshua, for Elijah and Elisha, for Barnabas and Paul, and it still works today.
If we are really concerned about the kingdom of God, we will do everything possible to train young people to take up responsibility in the church.

Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, is one of my favourite characters in the New Testament. He recognized God’s call in Paul’s life and called him to Antioch. Under his care and mentorship, Paul thrived and was appreciated by the church. Then the church in Antioch sent both of them out as missionaries. From that point on we read of “Paul and Barnabas” in that order, whereas before it was “Barnabas and Paul”. Clearly, a transition of leadership had taken place. Barnabas stepped out of the way and strengthened Paul in his position to spearhead the promotion of the gospel to the world (Ac 13). What a fatherly, mature, great thing to do!
How should we train others? Not by filling their heads with theory, but by approaching this training in a more holistic way. Growing leaders thrive if the training is based on the head (wise leaders), the heart (leaders with Godly character), and the hands (servant leaders).
Christian leaders need to continually pray for opportunities to identify, nurture, equip, and train potential leaders for ministry. They need to search for people who trust God, are faithful in little things, display good character, are disciplined and willing to serve, have a teachable spirit, don’t quickly give up, and are thankful. Leaders don’t build organizations and buildings; they lead people to maturity and equip them for service. By this, the church multiplies and grows in depth and becomes steadfast (Eph 4:11-16).

Church Discipline

One aspect of order in the church, as painful as it is, is discipline. It is essential to have a code of ethics applying to everyone.
What does God say to leaders who allow corruption and sin in the church? In Revelation, there is the example of the church at Ephesus, for instance. There used to be people who loved God. But in the course of 30 years, their love for God faded, so Christ needed to call them back to their first love for him (Re 2:4-5). God wants to bring a pure bride to Christ. Satan tries to destroy the church with sinful practices among its members. Without spiritual correction, the church is inclined to lose track of its purpose and goal.
God expects Christians to use church courts, not government courts (1 Co 6:1-3).The steps that should be taken to practice discipline among Christians are mentioned by Jesus himself: Go to the person who has sinned, alone. If he resists, take two or three witnesses with you. If he continues to harden his heart, inform the church. If he insists on sinning, don't consider him as a member of the church anymore (compare with Mt 18:15-17).
I remember a Bible College student being dispelled from school for misappropriate behaviour. Unfortunately, he resisted the discipline and eventually became an enemy of Christ. His life ended tragically.
Maybe we don't practice church discipline because of the following reasons. If that is the case, we should do something about it:

  • We have grown too weak to act upon our principles.
  • We might lose church members, especially influential or good paying ones.
  • We are afraid that church income might be reduced.
  • We are members of the same clan as other believers, which makes it difficult to take actions.
  • We fear being legalistic and judgemental.
  • We hope time will fix the problem.
  • We as leaders have our own “sin.”
  • In times of revival we do not address unspiritual behaviour because other church members might criticize us for grieving the Holy Spirit.

God practiced discipline in the Old Testament. Jesus corrected his disciples. Paul practiced church discipline, sometimes privately, on some occasions, even in public.
Church leaders need to address problems and not cover them up or excuse them. Some just transfer a pastor to another location for fear of confronting him and putting him in an uncomfortable position. The problem will not be solved; it will only be moved to another location and other people will suffer..
The church leadership should not be afraid to suspend a pastor, elder or deacon. For the sake of the purity of the church and the spiritual life of its office bearers, the spiritual authority should not tolerate misappropriation of funds or misconduct with the opposite sex.
If a church leader has been suspended, great care and enough time must be taken for restoration. There is no question: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). In this process, fallen church leaders need close counselling from a mature or elderly pastor. But, depending on the failure, it will take a lot of time to win back the confidence and respect from the church. Reinstatement should not take place too quickly. A period of at least two years is a rough guideline to start with, but only if true signs of repentance are evident and adequate counselling has taken place. It is common that church leaders never return to their original position in the church because many do not succeed in winning back the full trust of the people.


God wants a pure church. For that reason, he has appointed leaders in the church, like pastors, elders, and deacons, to take up responsibility and care for the flock so that everything would be done in an orderly way. To help build the church we need to work together in harmony like in a good team (Ps 133:1) and be concerned about training the upcoming generation.

Torsten Kugler

Application to your personal life

Answer the questions below and think about your personal relationship to God, the Father, to Jesus Christ, the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. You might need a separate sheet of paper for the answers. Discuss your questions with another Christian leader.

  1. Why do you think is it good for the church to have some guidelines?
  2. What kind of people has God appointed to lead the church?
  3. What are the main responsibilities of elders? Name at least four.
  4. What is the meaning of the word deacon?
  5. Who is responsible to train lay people in the church?
  6. How would you define a team?
  7. In which areas do you lack clear communication?
  8. According to the article, what is the most important task of a leader?
  9. When is the quality of a leader most evident?
  10. From what Bible verse is the 2-2-2 principle taken from? Learn it by heart.
  11. What have you learned from Barnabas?
  12. On what three areas should our training be based?
  13. What characteristics should we search for when selecting potential leaders? Name at least five that you feel are very important.
  14. Why do we need church discipline?
  15. What text in the Bible teaches us how to confront somebody who has sinned?
  16. Do you have personal reasons for not practicing church discipline? If so, what can you do about it?