How to be a great church leader

Sometimes I think that being a great leader in the church looks like being a great leader in everyone’s eyes. After all, greatness is not achieved until you are publicly recognized as great, right?

  • I start to read books about being a business leader and think, I want to do that!
  • I like to listen to interviews with politicians who have done amazing things around the world, and I contemplate a life in public service.
  • I’m drawn to quotes of big time leadership speakers plastered all over Twitter. Wow, I want to say things that brilliant!
  • I feed off of and find energy from success stories of non-profit leaders making a big impact in our community. How can I do stuff with that much impact?

I confess that when I gobble that stuff up I secretly start to aspire to be like those people. I envy their roles, positions, and greatness. I want to measure my success against the big things those people are doing. I would love it if people looked at me and said, “Wow, Adam is a great leader. Look at his list of accomplishments.

Yesterday, my pastors message was just the reality check I needed. I needed to be reminded that in Jesus’ upside down, bottom-up leadership economy… it’s the servant who is a great leader. (And not “servant” for the sake of saying you’re a servant leader in sermons, books, or as a public persona in the way the Christian media portrays it.)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:1-5

Want to be great in God’s upside down leadership economy? Serve the least of these. (Matthew 25:40)

  • The guy who vacuums the carpet in the sanctuary is greater than the guy playing the guitar in front of the congregation.
  • The nurse who wipes away the vomit from a disabled child’s nostrils at 2:15 AM is greater  than doctor who’s name is on the door.
  • The pastor who visits the sick, has homeless people move in with him, or runs a middle school small group is greater than the pastor who preaches in front of thousands, meets only with the powerful in the church, or assigns visitation to lesser employees.
  • The pastor at the tiny church in a small town people wince at when you mention it is greater than the megachurch pastor in Americas Finest City.

The good news of becoming a great leader in the church

  • No pedigree required.
  • No seminary degree required
  • No ordination required
  • No recognition from a governing body required
  • No board approval required
  • No website required
  • No money needs to be raised

All you have to do, to be great in Jesus’ upside down leadership economy, is to serve the least.

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn’t, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27, The Message


2 responses to “How to be a great church leader”

  1. Kara Szyarto Avatar

    I just printed this out and tacked it to my office wall- what a great reminder today and every day. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Jonny McCormick Avatar


    I’m not sure if things are supposed to be as inverse as that. I mean is there a chance that this was in some ways slightly hyperbolic. In many senses I don’t think Jesus’ ministry was about creating a different hierarchy, rather, about levelling the playing fields. Destroying hierarchy through the challenging and dissolution of normal paradigms.

    I would be worried that this would simply become a new and deluded form of ego-massaging?

    What say you?

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