If we desire healthy church boards, we need to ask: "What are the characteristics of an effective church leader?" Consider some of the ways churches have traditionally filled leadership roles:
-We look for Godly individuals.
-People who have 'power' in the church get the nod.
-We try to balance 'power blocks' in the church by making sure there is representation of the various blocks on the board.
-There is an unofficial system that rotates key leaders through the leadership spots.
-We choose those who have been in the church a long time.
-Congregations simply nominate people; if they have the votes, they end up on the board regardless of gifting or qualifications.
-Leadership slots are filled even when there is a lack of qualified candidates. Priority is given to filling slots rather than ensuring leadership 'fit.'
Clearly, none of these methods is likely to result in a board of great effectiveness or impact. Nor are these methods likely to be 'leadership friendly' - motivating those with true leadership skills to serve.
The way we choose leaders and our understanding of what good leadership looks like goes to the heart of church health and ministry impact. Who you choose to lead will determine the impact of your congregation.
I would suggest that the New Testament implicitly or explicitly describes the kind of individuals who we should place in church leadership.
Exhibits godly character and lifestyle
This is the most critical, non-negotiable characteristic of a church leader. We are called to lead on behalf of Jesus Christ, as shepherds accountable to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Paul made it clear in First Timothy and Titus that, above all else, a leader's life must be in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Only those deeply committed to personal transformation and authenticity can lead others in that direction.
Has a deep passion for Jesus
The church is about Jesus! He is its leader. We serve as leaders under Him. Thus, only those with a passion for Him are qualified to lead His people. Those we lead will be influenced by whatever passions drive us. It is painfully obvious when church leaders are more interested in power, ego or their own agendas than in leading Christ's people where He wants them to go. Remember, few congregations rise above the spiritual level of their leaders.
Displays personal humility
Leadership in the church differs in two significant respects from how it is practiced in other arenas. First, it is a leadership of service rather than power. As Peter wrote, "Overseers should be 'eager to serve: not lording it over those entrusted to you.'" Second, this leadership already has its agenda set by the Lord of the church. Our agenda has been set, and our leadership priorities are Christ's not our own.
Genuinely loves people
Ego-driven individuals love themselves, not others. Humble godly individuals love others as Christ loves them, and their leadership is fueled by genuine spiritual concern. The driving characteristic of God's pursuit of us has been unexplainable, powerful, unrelenting love, bathed in mercy, compassion, forgiveness and grace.
Is a lifelong learner
Leaders are learners. They are hungry to understand the leadership task. They are driven to lead well to become more effective. Nowhere is it more important for leaders to be lifelong learners than in the context of the local church. Healthy leaders are learners of God, of effective ministry options and methods and of leadership. Once leaders give up learning as a high value, their effective leadership days are over.
Understands and agrees with God's leadership assignment
I often ask leadership boards if they can clearly articulate their responsibilities. Invariably the answer is no, apart from generalities. It is my belief that God has given leaders specific responsibilities and every leadership board should be able to define its responsibilities.
Grapples with the future
To lead is to be out in front of others. True leadership is primarily about the future and secondarily about the present. While this may seem obvious, most leadership boards spend the majority of their time dealing with present-day rather than future issues.
Focuses on the team
Warning: Never elect or appoint to leadership an individual who cannot graciously work in a team setting - and publicly and privately support decisions that the team has made. Leadership teams require team players. Those who cannot function as a healthy member of a team will destroy the unity necessary for a leadership team to lead (remember humility). Mature, healthy leaders choose to subordinate their egos to the will of the group and deeply value the perspectives and input of others and the collective decisions of the board.
Good leaders are willing leaders (remember 1 Peter 5). Willing leaders are ready to make the sacrifices necessary to lead, without inner resentment and frustration. It is a mistake to coerce individuals to serve in leadership positions. When we push people to serve before they are mature enough to handle the difficulties of leadership (such as conflict), they often have experiences that cause them to avoid future leadership.
Positively influences others
Real leaders have influence over others, whether they are in positions of leadership or not. This is the key: When considering individuals for leadership, ask the following questions: "Do they already have a positive influence over others? Do people look to them for leadership? Do they lead people closer to Christ and in positive ministry directions?"
Has an action bias
Leaders do things. They have a bias toward action and away from the status quo. They don't always know what to do but they will try things and see what sticks, what works. Leaders are never content with how things are but dream of how they could be - continually looking for ways to accomplish mission more effectively.
Is a purveyor of hope
Leaders are optimistic about the future and convey that optimism and hope to those they lead. They believe that positive things can and will happen because they understand that it is God who empowers and it is He who has promised to be with the Church until the end of the age. Pessimists are not leaders! Pessimists telegraph caution and see all the reasons why things cannot happen.
Rarely will a church rise above the personal, spiritual and missional health of its leaders. Who you select is a key either to mediocrity or to health. No one has all of these characteristics in equal measure but they are key questions to ask about those whom you put into leadership.