I am regularly asked questions about becoming either a leader within the church or the pastor of a church. This post is designed as the starting point for answering those questions. This article is by no means an exhaustive list, and it applies to lay ministries and pastoral ministries. Here are a few prerequisites for church leadership that are a combination of common sense and basic biblical guidelines. Many people disqualify themselves from any possibility of church leadership (or they start and fizzle out) because they fail to maintain these standards.
1. You can’t be a church leader if you consistently miss services.
Aside from the spiritual implications, this is a practical guideline as well. You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful. Try telling your job or a team membership that you want to lead without being consistently present. It doesn’t work. Not only is it a spiritual concern, but it’s also a dependability problem.
2. You can’t be a church leader if you’re consistently late.
This point is closely related to the above topic. For the record, everyone is late from time to time, but I’m referring to a consistent lateness pattern. Again, this is a dependability factor. If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up, you are unreliable, which applies to every facet of your life.
3. You can’t be a church leader if you are rebellious towards spiritual authority.
To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect, you must model how to give respect. And I mean genuine respect; many give lip service to respectfulness in public and display their real rebelliousness in private conversations. Many people fake respect but demonstrate rebellion through passive-aggressive actions. They do not realize how transparent their heart really appears to godly leadership. When you undermine the authority over you, then you undermine your own authority as well. Give the kind of loyalty that you would expect from others. Remember, there is a crucial difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit; submission is obedience with a right spirit.
4. You can’t be in church leadership if you are in sin.
The blind cannot lead the blind. All the talent in the world is no substitute for righteousness when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
5. You can’t be in church leadership if you have a “me first” mentality.
The Church, like all organized institutions, functions on the power of unity. Church leadership requires a “team” mentality, not a “me” mentality.
6. You can’t be in church leadership if you are unwilling to make sacrifices.
Here’s where most people fall off the wagon. Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. For example (and this also falls under the heading of sin), you are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.
7. You can’t be in church leadership if you are easily offended, easily angered, and cling to grudges.
You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received, you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance. You will have to rise above negativity, critique, ungratefulness, hostility, apathy, complacency, disloyalty, and sometimes outright attack. Mostly this will come from expected places, but the most hurtful will be from Christians who ought to know better.
8. You can’t be in church leadership if you do not love God and people.
Love God first and ask Him to help you genuinely love people. If you do not truly love people, the point made in the above post will burn you out faster than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. If you lead out of any motivation other than godly love, you lead from selfish and carnal reasons. That always ends badly.
9. You can’t be in church leadership if you lack personal spiritual discipline.
You wouldn’t want an overweight guy teaching you how to lose weight. You wouldn’t want a weak guy teaching you how to get strong. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t pray to teach you how to pray. Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.
10. You can’t be in church leadership if your personal life is in shambles.
This one might sound harsh, but it is a biblical principle and a common-sense principle as well. Bottom line, if you can’t manage your own business, you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and indeed not God’s business. This principle includes your family, your finances, your emotions, spirituality, etc.
11. You can’t be in church leadership without integrity.
This final point is technically covered under the point about sin, but I think this deserves a more in-depth look. Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow, and your influence will run shallow.
12. You can’t be a church leader if you do not have a burden.
The apostle Paul described his burden for his fellow Jews’ salvation as a bitter sorrow and unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love. A burden goes beyond concern. It is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. A burden is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.
13. You can’t be a pastor without a Divine calling.
This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. I know many people called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the theological framework needed for each point. Still, the need for a calling is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles, including Paul and Timothy. Jonah is fascinating because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first, and God went to great lengths to take him to his evangelism field.
14. You can’t be a church leader without wisdom.
Many people have the knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information; wisdom knows what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. A couple of points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership, the more critical wisdom becomes.
15. You can’t be a church leader without vision.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown,” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.
16. You can’t be a church leader without faith.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.
17. You can’t be a church leader without anointing.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach, you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was evident for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants. Lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. However, God does confirm anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.
18. You can’t be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.
Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training, you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s blessing. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him, and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required, or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.
19. You can’t be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.
Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via coalition and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church, looking for someone to validate their ministry. Eventually, they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from a pastor, preacher, teacher, evangelist, musician, singer, youth leader, and on and on.
20. You can’t be a church leader without the ability to lead.
This one will rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who could not lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the actual “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed), promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into in our rush to start new churches. One caveat, I do believe that if God indeed calls, He does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together, it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, the neck in conjunction with the head, etc. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg, spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.
21. You can’t be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.Romans 6:20-22
Faithful servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind, they are still safe (i.e., saved). When spiritual leaders traverse the gray areas, their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant, but it bears repeating because of its importance.