A healthy church begins with healthy church leaders. It’s easy to assume someone serving “in ministry” has things all together, but you and I both know this can certainly be far from the truth at times. Church leaders are human, which means they are fallible (*gasp!*) and will never perfectly exhibit these characteristics of healthy church leaders.
So what are some characteristics of healthy church leaders? How can you make sure you are being healthy and investing in yourself, so that you can be more effective at impacting others around you?
15 Characteristics of Healthy Church Leaders
1) Life-Long Learners
Do you take every opportunity to learn from your experiences? How do you respond to your mistakes? Don’t lead with arrogance. Take a chance and learn from those around you. We all have room for improvement and can learn from those around us. Take the time to listen to those you are leading, then act on constructive criticism to make yourself a better you. Beware though as one of the most important parts of life-long learning is the ability to trust the Holy Spirit to do in you what you are unable to do on your own. Although we all need to take responsibility for our own actions, we also need to always remain open to what the Holy Spirit might do that we cannot.
2) Read Scripture Often
Make daily time in the Word a priority each day. Grounding your day in God’s truth will not only give you perspective and guidance, but will set your heart in the right place when leading others. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). As a leader in the church, you not only want to be knowledgable of the Bible, but allow it to permeate and drive your life and actions.
I find that many church leaders are so busy that they often don’t believe they have time read Scripture outside of their preparation for a bible study and/or a sermon. This should trouble all of us. We need to do a better job giving church leaders the time they need to focus on their most important relationships (i.e. God and family) so that they don’t serve out of an empty spiritual tank.
3) Spend Time in Prayer
Whether you have a set aside time for prayer each day or pray throughout the day when situations arise, being in constant communication with the Lord provides you opportunities to listen to Him and follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Need to make a tough decision? Marinate it in prayer (individually and corporately) and see where the Lord guides you.
4) Rest Regularly
Effective leaders make sure they get rest and give their body time to recalibrate. What about you? Does this describe your normal rhythms and routines in your ministry?
Taking time to ensure you get rest allows you to find balance for your busy schedule. It also allows you to serve people well rather than serving them out of exhaustion. God has placed you where you are at this time for a reason and your ministry matters too much for you to serve others out of exhaustion. Think about what rhythms Jesus incorporated into his life and ask yourself how you might apply those to your life as well.
5) Love Their Family More Than the Church
Does your family feel like you spend more time with church members than you do with them? Is your spouse a church widow? While you should focus on your ministry and its impact, you should not consistently place your marriage and family on the back burner. Make sure your set aside time with your family outside of church activities. Show them you love them with your actions — not only your words. Effective leaders have a strong and loving home life, which provides them the support they need to lead the church well.
6) Develop Leaders
Leadership is not one-directional. Healthy church leaders need others around them for support, team work, and working together to make an impact. How do you invest in the leaders around you? Do you have a strong leadership pipeline in place? Do you have difficulty delegating? By equipping and training others to lead, you will multiply your ministry and God’s impact on your community.
7) Embrace Spiritual Disciplines
Many of the points above can be considered a form of spiritual discipline, but how often do you participate in spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, solitude, silence, etc? Dallas Willard (in his book Spirit of the Disciplines) writes: “We can increasingly resemble Christ in character and in power by following him in his overall style of life…”
Taking the time to focus on the spiritual disciplines makes you stop and reflect on your life, spiritual walk, and patterns in your life that may need altering. (A good resource on spiritual disciplines is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.) Have you taken time to intentional help your church’s leaders reengage with the spiritual disciplines lately? What would it look like if you did so sometime in the next few months?
8) Clarify Their “Why”
Have you ever gotten into a project or a ministry and wondered “why are we doing this?” To be an intentional leader, you need to ensure you know why you are putting your time, energy, and resources into something. Make sure you start with the why, so you can move forward with intentionality, action, and a goal in mind.
When we do church vision consulting with churches, many times we find that key strategic leaders are not in sync with what their true vision as a congregation is. Vision clarity helps you to become a healthier and stronger leader if you are willing to align your strategic operations plan with your vision and its measures.
9) Strive to Obey, But Ask For Forgiveness
As a healthy church leader, I hope that you not only read God’s word but also take time to consider how you will apply it to your life. If you don’t have time to do this normally, try journaling or discussing the text with someone to help move from knowledge to application. You never want to simply acquire information at the expense of experiencing the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
One thing I’m not referring to here is what many refer to as legalism. I don’t believe any of us should treat our Christian faith as a system of rules to follow in order to show our “goodness.” It is actually quite the opposite. Our lack of goodness is what creates a need in us for forgiveness and salvation. We strive to live according to Scripture but also remain aware of the reality that we are unable to align our lives completely with it.
As we seek to obey God and His word, we also must develop a regular rhythm of asking for forgiveness. I’ve seen a solid example of this in the missional communities of one of our clients, Austin Stone Church. They have integrated a process of Scripture reading, forgiveness asking, and prayer into their discipleship process. Where have you integrated forgiveness into your disciple-making pathway? Do you regularly ask for forgiveness?
10) Worship in Multiple Contexts
Worship occurs in many ways and through many avenues. What ways are you incorporating worship into your daily patterns? One obvious context is with the church during your worship services. This is the most common way that we think about when we think of worship. Most everyone immediately jumps to Sunday morning worship services as the primary and sometimes the only times that they worship God on a regular basis. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
How often do you worship with your family together? How about alone? What about while hiking or drawing? Some of the richest times of worship may occur outside of Sunday morning if you intentionally engage God and His word at non-traditional times. You may also find that you create a powerful context for the discipleship of your grandchildren or children who crave the spiritual leadership of the adults in their lives.
Find the ways that you connect best with the Lord and integrate them into your personal time of worship.
11) Create Movements
There’s nothing new under the sun….and there’s nothing new about movements. Jesus was a movement maker, as he invested in the disciples. Healthy church leaders do things that cause exponential multiplication. They start with their own discipleship and invest in not only making disciples, but also inventing innovative discipleship processes that yield disciple-makers.
Intentional yet seemingly accidental. The irony of discipleship is that you maximize your impact when you focus on a few rather than many. By focusing on a few and creating processes that can be easily multiplied, you open the door to a disciple-making movement that can span generations and countries. Isn’t that the type of impact you would like to have?
12) Content, yet Discontent
Healthy leaders are content, but also have a healthy discontent about them.
They are content with what comes at them, because they have hope. Yet at the same time they are discontent, because they long to see God work in His people in yet unseen ways. They long for the day when the groan of creation ceases and God brings about a new creation. Until that time, the leader seeks to improve upon things, make things better, and see how much more of an impact can occur in the world for the cause of Christ.
13) Follow as They Lead
Leaders must first be followers. Healthy church leaders are not afraid to follow those below them. They seek to create an environment where there is mutual respect and others willingly desire to follow them. They make their leadership contagious and exciting to follow.
How do those who follow your lead perceive your leadership? Have you ever considered what it is like to sit across from you and experience your leadership? Although leaders usually are understandably concerned about taking this step, I would encourage you to ask for this type of feedback from those you lead. If they are unwilling to give it or hesitant, that alone will tell you volumes about your leadership. If you are afraid of getting this feedback to the point that you would never ask for it, that also tells me volumes about your leadership.
14) Fueled by Vision
Vision is a picture of where you are going. When a ministry is stuck without vision clarity and crippled by vision limp there often seems to be no direction as people ask either explicitly or implicitly, “Why are we doing this?” A healthy leader takes hold of where the church or organization is going and holds onto that vision to propel the ministry forward. When a leader is developing a vision for ministry, the leader ultimately develops a pathway moving forward that guides future decisions, ministries, and opportunities.
15) Characterized by Love on Mission
Mission drift can creep into any church or ministry. We are all so busy these days and losing focus is either already here or waiting just around the corner if you aren’t careful.
Leaders who clarify the missional directives of their organization and relentless pursue them, usually exhibit a heightened love for other people. There is a notable irony here. Many leaders refuse to simplify their ministry and focus on a few things because they see it as selfish and unloving of those other people or ministries that might get cut or redeployed. But the reality is that as you focus on doing a few things well you end up increasing your ability to help and love others.
The contagious energy of someone who wholeheartedly serves and loves others provides a strong foundation for healthy leadership. When a leader seeks to impact those nearby — no matter where the leader serves — one can’t help but follow. As you serve others around you and lead those below you, make sure you are motivated by love – namely the love that Christ bestowed upon you. Be slow to anger and be quick to offer grace. Love others with kind humility and inspiring leadership that will encourage others to follow you and serve the Lord enthusiastically alongside of you.
We all want to serve the Lord and His people well. Doing so requires we take an honest look at ourselves and our character. When you look at these characteristics of healthy church leaders, which ones would your congregation or family say best depict you? Which ones do you feel you need to work on?