Putting Christ in your Church Leadership

September 11, 2019

I have had the privilege and at times the challenge to serve my church in various committee and leadership roles for 30-35 years.  At times everything seemed straight forward and it was easy to lead and there were other times when I wanted to “run for the hills.” During my church life and business life, I observed and experienced various leadership styles and philosophies that helped shape and inform my own leadership style and philosophy. Here are a few of my favorite principles on how leaders might be able to influence change within their local church or just to be better leaders. 

A few principles to keep in mind:

  1. Try as I might, I have yet to find a passage in the Bible that spells out a retirement age for serving Christ. I believe it is a lifelong commitment and lasts until we are called home to be with the Father. Not to say that burn out isn’t real and we may wish to learn new areas to serve, but just because you retire from work, you don’t get a pass on continuing your service for God. 
  2. We must all work diligently to strike the right balance between a philosophy of its “our Church” and the “Pastor is in charge”, or the more the common sentiment of the “Pastor is to blame.” We wish to encourage congregants to feel that this is “their” church and we do wish to respect our Pastor’s spiritual leadership, but in the end, it is God’s church, we are there to carry out His calling for ourselves and our outreach to the community we serve.
  3. Every church has its own unique history and culture and acknowledging this will be critical in making any significant change you may need to implement. Taking the time to communicate and secure buy in will help facilitate the shift. Being patient with the process, the resets, and the naysayers will be required.
  4. With anything new, it is much easier to point out all the reasons it will not work. This is true with any change in any circumstance. Our charge is to switch the conversation from why it won’t work to how we can make it work. We have to embrace the concept that we might fail, learn from the failures, and refine as needed. 
  5. As leaders, we must learn to listen. We may have heard it multiple times, but each person wishes to be heard. It takes more time, but the time is worthwhile as you look to build consensus. It doesn’t mean that everyone agrees, but everyone feels that they have been heard and can buy into the process and the eventual decision. 
  6. E-Mail and texting have become ubiquitous and the preferred communication method, especially for the younger generations. If the communication is sending meeting notes, event information, meeting schedules, anything where basic information is being provided, this can work well. Once opinions, feelings, and emotions enter the picture, E-Mails and Texting become problematic and can serve to heighten issues and misunderstandings. 
  7. Business tools and guidelines can be used in conducting the business of the church with a few caveats. We need to allow for God to be a part of our planning, in Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, he points out it doesn’t take much faith to step out on a new project when all the money is in hand. When we plan, we need to make sure we count on God being an integral part of our success. The tools and analysis are great to help inform our decisions, but we are not a business and our congregants shouldn’t behave like transactional customers. Not to say that there aren’t some in our midst, but we hope to help them grow further in their faith journey. We must use these tools with the understanding that we aren’t a business to “sell” but to “save”.
  8. We have all experienced fellow Committee Members and Committee Leads that seem to take the leadership role a bit too seriously. Going about God’s work through Christ’s leading is important work but to be a successful and relevant church in your mission field, it will take many congregants to provide the needed effort, and they are all volunteers of a sort. They have chosen to give their treasure of time and passion to serve others. Their experience will have a direct impact on whether they will do this again in the future and or whether they will invite their friends to join them. In business and in church, it has been my experience that if the leader had to tell people that they were in charge, the chances were pretty good that they really weren’t and that folks struggled to follow them since being “large and in charge” seemed to alienate people more than it inspired them. After many years, I have found that leading by example and by persuasion is much more effective in drawing people in to be a part of the effort. If we look to Christ’s example as a leader, I think we see a quiet and confident style of leadership, he didn’t announce that he was going to minister to the sinners and outcasts or to tell others to go out there, he went and his flock followed. 

Change and adaptation to our ever changing circumstances is required to be successful. Everlasting life for ourselves and those we serve is our ultimate goal. Continuing to reach the lost and fallen in a dark world depends on our ability to be relevant in their lives by others seeing Christ through our actions words and deeds. 


David Lisk is the Executive Director of First Steps, a non-profit providing expertise in early childhood intervention. https://ycfirststeps.com. He has served in most every local church office, but currently serves as the Administrative Council Chair of St. Andrew’s UMC of the Metro District.

Leadership Development