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What Is Church Leadership? Key Principles & Policies

Jesus said that we are the light of the world in Matthew 5:14, and our light shines most effectively through leadership within the church. Whether you are looking for the best church software or answers about how to disciple small group facilitators, church leadership is central to your decisions.  

Church leadership is the responsibility of every Christian, and a church’s organizational structure, policies, and practices help Christians to understand their leadership roles to successfully fulfill the Great Commission. Whether you are a senior pastor, an elder, or a local church member—all believers receive God’s call to be a part of Christian leadership.

In this article, I’ll cover:

What Is Church Leadership?

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16–20 commands Christians to disciple the world, and that discipleship requires leadership from us, the church. So, what is church leadership? 

Church leadership is two things: the people who lead the church, and the actions that the church takes in the community. Typically, when talking about the people, we call them the church leadership team. The actions can be any kind of event that the church takes out in the community, from highway clean-up to holiday plays to food pantries.

Primarily, in this article, we will be talking about the leadership team. I will be careful to make it known when each is being talked about.

No matter how the church leadership team is structured, the church is most visible to the world through leadership actions on the local level. People within the congregation often look to the pastor or priest as the lead, and they observe other ministry leaders as models of what good Christian leadership is.

However, church leadership does not stop with the local church government, elder board, or pastor. A healthy church has leadership at all levels. As 1 Peter 2:9 says, every Christian is part of the priesthood, so Christian leadership needs to be undertaken by all believers.

At its core, church leadership means overseeing and shepherding the church, but the shape of leadership changes according to roles within the church.


Related Read: Complete Guide To Church Event Management & Planning

Roles And Responsibilities Of Church Leadership

Here are some of the key roles in the church, along with their core responsibilities. 

  • Pastor: leads the congregation, and represents the church to the public.
  • Deacons: act as ushers and prayer leaders, as well as take offers
  • Lay Leader: in charge of coordinating between the congregation and spiritual leaders.
  • Worship Leader: directs the choir and band, picks the songs, and coordinates with the pastor for consistent messaging.
  • Administration: can act as everything from the receptionist to the maintenance crew and IT department.
  • Church Board: the group that provides accountability for the church to the government and possibly higher authorities in the denomination.

Attributes Of Church Leadership

No matter what position a person fills within your church leadership team, some attributes should be shared amongst everyone. Communication is key, and people who think alike can help avoid miscommunication. Plus, you want people who are as committed to the cause and call of your ministry as you, the head pastor, are.

Here are some key attributes to look for in potential and current church leaders:

  • Motivated: Your team needs to want your mission to be successful.
  • Cooperative: Your church should have leaders willing to work with anyone who volunteers their time and energy.
  • Independent: When you put someone in charge of a project, they should be able to complete it without having their hand held, after having had the proper training.
  • Devoted: This attribute is purely spiritual. Your team must possess a devotion to Christ.
  • Teachable: Every Christian is a disciple, and leaders should be more so.

Related Read: Church Volunteer Management Guide: Strategy, Tips, & Software

Leadership In A Healthy Church

While church leadership is clearly part of maintaining a healthy church, being leadership savvy is secondary to strong pastoring. If leadership establishes effective policies, procedures, and other leaders within the church, this allows pastors to focus on pastoring and being there for the congregation. This makes leading the church much more manageable.

Different Types Of Church Government 

Church government is often responsible for shaping church leadership within a denomination or local church body. One branch of ecclesiology (the study of churches) deals with the government, or polity, of church leadership. Church polity consists of three main types: episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational.

Episcopal Polity

In an episcopal structure, bishops hold authority in the church, providing guidance, support, orthodox theology, and even discipline when necessary. The bishop oversees (Greek episkopoi means “overseer”) a local diocese—a region of churches. In this way, local churches hold accountability to the diocese, and the diocese is accountable to the bishop who represents the diocese worldwide.

Presbyterian Polity

The Greek word for “elder,” presbuteros, is the source of the English word “priest,” but the priest or pastor is not the only authority in the church. Rather, in a presbyterian church government, the pastor is sometimes called a teaching elder. The local church, then, elects elders from the congregation to lead the local church in session, the local governing council, which is moderated by the teaching elder.

Session appoints and oversees deacons, who have local tasks in the church, such as serving communion and shepherding people within the congregation. Deacons are model servant leaders within the church.

Like the diocese in an episcopal structure, presbyterian government organizes elders within a region called a presbytery. Then, multiple presbyteries compose a synod as a larger governing council.

The fourth layer of presbyterian polity is the general assembly, a government gathering of elders from many synods that makes determinations for the church overall.

Congregational Polity

While episcopal polity places authority in an individual overseer, presbyterian government focuses on the “priesthood of all believers” by having teaching and lay elders act in a representative government. Congregational governance is still farther from a central authority within the church. In congregationalism, each church independently determines doctrine, theology, practice, and all matters of function.

Variations In Church Polity

Although these three structures are the main types of church organizational leadership, many churches practice variations. A congregational church, for instance, may elect elders, like a presbyterian model, to a board that provides governance to the local church; unlike presbyterian polity, however, the board of elders may be the final human authority over the local church.

Church Leadership Styles

Church leadership at the local level can take many forms. 

  • Autocratic leadership is where the pastor makes every decision and sets the vision for the church. 
  • Laissez-faire leadership provides minimal direction and disconnects from other leaders in the church to allow the local church to move in its own way. 
  • Democratic leaders, however, fall somewhere between autocratic and laissez-faire, where they guide and counsel the church in a democratic manner. 

No matter the leadership approach, the main objective of a pastor and other church leadership should be to facilitate spiritual growth in their community.

Key Principles Of Church Leadership 

Brian Dodd outlines many key principles of effective church administration, including the following:

  • Be organized with policies and procedures. Keeping everything in order will prevent chaos from overtaking your church.
  • Be sensible. Always be willing to shift your policies if they are making life difficult for your leaders or members.
  • Be consistent. A consistent message will draw people in and give them a guide to follow when miscommunications happen.
  • Guide others. As the head pastor, your responsibility is to be the teacher of both the leadership team and the general members. Don’t forget to give special workshops for your top leaders.
  • Appoint church leaders who provide solutions. If you follow the Attributes Of Church Leadership section above, you should have this covered.
  • Lead with others. No one person can do it all. The church is called the Body of Christ. The brain can’t work without the heart. The heart can’t pump without the lungs. Raise up people who can help.
  • Delegate to others. Similar to the previous point, give your responsibilities to those who can handle them. Sometimes, the only way to find out if someone is ready to move to the next level is by giving them a chance at something they’ve never done before.
  • Have advisors. Everyone has blindspots and biases. Let your leadership team offer advice and counsel when you don’t know what to do.
  • Study. The Bible is our greatest resource as pastors, but websites such as this one also help as we teach each other and share our experience. Never stop learning.
  • Focus on people, not process. Good people are more important than the specific processes that they follow. A good leader can fix problems as they arise, while a bad leader will fail when problems come. Build your leaders up, and the policies and procedures will become easier to fix when you find flaws.

Forging Church Leaders

As J. D. Greear claims, the church is a place where leaders are made. Current leadership within the church needs to challenge its people to be leaders, empower and equip them to be leaders, and have the courage to send those leaders beyond the local church. An effective church leader inspires church growth in depth and breadth. He strengthens the children’s ministry by challenging and encouraging its leadership team. She teaches leadership principles to her church staff.

If your church models and facilitates effective leadership to grow leaders, then get ahead of the curve and look at our guidance on church planting.

Most importantly, take a clue from the Apostle Paul’s letters. He almost always opens and closes his letters to the churches with callouts to the people who have been helpful to him in his ministry. Positive reinforcement is as old as the New Testament. Use it early and often to help create strong leaders.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has opened your eyes to the many types and ways that churches can be led. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, so always be ready for the next church member to step up. In the meantime, stay faithful in prayer and let the Lord Jesus help you create the environment where your leaders can thrive.

I’m Lexie, and God bless!

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By Alexandria Schmidt

Lexie was born into a family of pastors and other church leaders. She was trained to be a pastor by her grandfather, and spent a great deal of time in her youth learning everything he knew about the ministry. She played trumpet and guitar for worship, with her mom on piano, and was leading people to the Lord on a regular basis by the time she was a teenager. She has also held nearly every position in a church from custodian to sound tech to Assistant Youth Pastor. Although she became physically disabled for almost twenty years, medicine has advanced enough that by 2020 she was doing well again, and her fire for the ministry rekindled.

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