Leadership and the Successful Local Church

Part of the Tell Me What to Write series.

Recently, my friend Ben suggested tackling a great topic:

What role does good leadership play in the overall success of a local church?

As I write this, I’m attending a conference on Christian leadership, so the subject is top of mind. The short answer to this question is that good leadership is essential to a local church’s health and wellbeing.

So, what is a good leader?

Is a good leader the one that can put together the right plan and get it done? The one who can identify and address issues that arise among staff and volunteers? These kinds of things are important parts of leadership, absolutely, but they’re not the totality.

Fortunately, the Scriptures offer an answer.

The Character of a Christian Leader

In 1 Tim 3:1-7, Paul writes:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Similarly, we read in Titus 1:5-9:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

In these two passages, we see the qualifications of an elder or pastor, the highest leadership role within the church. Paul explains that an elder, in a nutshell, must be a mature Christian man; a man who is above reproach. The short version is that he’s a man against whom no one can hold any serious sin. His marriage, if he’s married, is healthy (which does not mean that it’s perfect, obviously, otherwise we’d all be disqualified). His household is in order and his children respect and obey him. And he is to be a man in whom the fruit of the Spirit are clearly evidenced. He is to be “self-controlled,” a “lover of good,” “disciplined,” humble, gentle and hospitable. Deacons, by and large, are also to have these same character traits (see 1 Tim 3:8-13).

For the elder, Paul emphasizes not only these character qualifications, but a couple of critical abilities:

  • He must be able to teach sound doctrine
  • He must be willing and able to rebuke those who contradict sound teaching

These are perhaps most critical and arguably neglected duties among those who lead in the church today. I covered the place of preaching quite heavily earlier in this series (part one and part two) so I won’t belabor the point, but I would like to address briefly this second duty as in many ways, our willingness to do it reveals something about our character.

Christian Leaders and Confronting False Teaching

So why must Christian leaders be willing to confront and correct false teaching? While the easiest answer is that Scripture tells us to do so, there’s a little more nuance that’s required. We confront false teaching for at least three critical reasons:

  • False teachers exist—and are among us even now (Acts 20:29)
  • False teachers seek to lead God’s people astray (Matt. 24:24)
  • False teachers divide the church (Titus 3:10)

This confronting of error and contending for sound doctrine is perhaps the most critical element of good leadership that we need to recover. The conference I’m currently attending has a lot of good material, but a great deal of error as well; therefore great discernment is required. This is not terribly surprising—even the conference host has said as much as they’re intentionally “agnostic” about from whom they believe we can learn. For the general topic of leadership, that’s not a bad way to handle it (although not my preference, per se). But in the church, particularly when it comes to our Sunday worship, our small groups and our classes, we must be diligent in doing all we can to ensure that no false doctrine is being permitted within our gatherings.

So why do we do this? It’s not because of a perverse desire to be the rightest people who ever were right. We contend for sound doctrine and confront error because we love those we lead. That’s perhaps the biggest takeaway for pastors from the book of Jude—if we don’t contend for the faith, we don’t actually love the people God has called us to serve. So why would we neglect it?

The Role of Leadership

The role of leadership is essential in the local church. This doesn’t mean that we are to be slick salepeople or follow all the latest trends in management thought. We should learn from those experts, to be sure, but only to a limited degree. Far more important to good leadership and its impact on the local church’s success is that pastors show genuine love and concern for those whom they serve, helping them to press forward to holiness and doing all they can to protect their flocks from the wolves that seek to devour them.

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