We were in the middle of a care group gathering at church. People would share some of their deepest struggles, and then, inevitably, a leader in training would derail the conversation with unhelpful questions.
It’s not uncommon. We often tap people for leadership who show deep spiritual growth before we’ve noticed they need to grow in how to care for others. For many people, it’s not that they don’t have the potential to be strong leaders in your church—it’s that they aren’t ready yet. They need vetting and training.
As a church leader, it’s your job to set up healthy, biblical methods to identify and equip leaders and protect your sheep from bad leaders. Thankfully, you can minimize risk to your church by knowing what to look for in a church leader.
Where to start
As you consider who’s ready for church leadership training, pray often that God will bring the right people to mind at the right time. Then, look over your list of current volunteers and ask, “Who’s already leading in our church? Who’s already serving faithfully?” Those who are faithful with little will probably be faithful with more (Luke 16:10). And if people are already following this servant leader, you can confidently expect that they will succeed.
From there, look at people on the margins with potential to serve. Maybe there’s a new couple that previously led college ministry. Or maybe a teacher wants to start a special-needs ministry. If you think these folks have the right heart to become leaders in your church, you can give them a trial run by asking them to help with specific short-term projects.
For example, you could ask the couple that loves college ministry to mentor a student in your church, or you could ask the teacher to organize an appreciation dinner for families with children who have special needs. Then, once they’ve proven they’ll follow through, you can start tapping them for leadership development and other ministry opportunities.
Qualities of a leader
As you think about potential leaders, certain things should always be true of the people you tap for leadership. Look for people with these qualities.
- Conviction. When thinking of people who will have leadership responsibility at your church, you want to ensure they agree with the main points of your theology and ministry philosophy. They probably won’t need to argue the finer points of your church’s doctrine, and you can train them in anything they should know. But you will want to make sure they’re walking closely with God, growing in their faith, and loving the people in your community.
- Character. As Larry Osborne, author of Sticky Teams, says, “Whenever a staff member’s giftedness and platform surpass their character, it eventually creates disillusionment and cynicism among those they work with. It also tends to create festering jealousies and division among the rest of the staff, especially among those who become frustrated and disheartened by all the success and public praise they see heaped on someone they know is actually a jerk behind the scenes.” While he’s talking about church staff specifically, it’s true for everyone in leadership. Look for people who are the same during the week as they are on Sundays, who earn your respect, and who deal fairly and generously with others without watering down truth.
- Competency. It’s a no-brainer: don’t put your super artsy, left-brained thinker in charge of finances and spreadsheets. You want the right people in charge of the right things because that’s where they’ll thrive. As Romans 12:6 teaches, God has given each of us different gifts all for the same purpose: to make the body of Christ flourish. Matching each person’s gifts to essential ministry opportunities in your church gives potential leaders confidence that God can and will use them in his kingdom.
- Chemistry. When considering someone for leadership, think about how that person will fit in with your existing leaders. Do they bring something new to the table? Do their gifts complement the gifts of others on the team? Are they enjoyable to work with? Are they overly negative or yes-men/yes- women? If those on your leadership team are too similar to one another, you’ll miss opportunities for the growth that comes from introducing new ideas and perspectives.
- Capacity. As you’re training people for specific leadership roles, consider whether they have time and energy to give to their areas of leadership. If someone can’t lead now, you can set occasional reminders to check in with them to see if they’re ready to start leading.
And while it’s implied in the characteristics above, it’s never wrong to reiterate: look for people who are teachable and servant-hearted.
This post originally appeared in the August 2020 edition of Ministry Team magazine.
Jennifer Grisham is a writer for Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software and other ministry tools. She is also a managing editor and administrator for a ministry to worship leaders. Previously she served as a church communications director.
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