Commentary: We need more leaders in Christian ministry


I began teaching a course on organizational leadership this past week at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate how organizational leadership can promote human flourishing. What an encouraging possibility for those in leadership to think that they can contribute not only to the advancement of a mission, but also to the well-being of the people they lead.  

Leadership has an image problem. Some of us — men and women alike — hear the word “leader” and think about our own leadership inadequacies, real or perceived, or about some hard-driving, uncaring, boss-type leader who did little of the work but took all the credit.  

Added to this, much of what we hear about leadership these days comes from secular sources — often driven by the bottom line — whose principles have been baptized into ministry leadership contexts.  

But can we make a case for the importance of leadership in Christian ministry and the church? Do we need more leaders in churches and ministry organizations? Do church and ministry leaders need to grow in their leadership skills and ability? My answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ and here is why. 

1. Leaders help us advance the mission: Jesus gave us one mission, the Great Commission, and it requires leadership to move the people of God to go hard after that mission. Whether that leadership comes from a pastor, a lay elder, a deacon, a church council or a ministry team where collaboration is the norm, at the end of the day someone has to say, ‘This is where we need to go.’ That person is a leader, and helps us move into God’s mission for the church or ministry organization.   

2. Leaders keep us from drifting: In his book, How to Lead When Your Boss Can’t (Or Won’t), John Maxwell provides a list of what to expect when there is no leader. His list includes the following: “Decisions are Delayed, Agendas are Multiplied, Conflicts are Extended, Morale becomes Low, Production is Reduced and Success is Difficult.” All of that is true — plus more. Leaders also protect us from mission drift. They help us say ‘no’ to good things so we can say ‘yes’ to the best things for the mission.  

3. Leaders often inspire and encourage us: Not all leaders are inspiring figures.  Many who are called to lead have done damage to our leadership success by our own poor example or by not properly caring for the people we are called to lead. Each leader, however, can learn to inspire and encourage others. Biblical characters like Nehemiah, Moses or Joshua remind us that leaders can help people go further and do more than they thought they could. All of us need a little inspiration and encouragement and leaders can provide that.   

4. Leaders identify emerging problems: Good managers typically have their eyes on the work in front of them while those in leadership are expected to look farther down the road at what challenges are, or could be, coming our way. Someone has said that leaders see further and faster than others. The Apostle Paul looked at the sinful progression of fallen human nature and warned his ministry protégé Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3). Every church and ministry organization needs someone to look ahead at what emerging problems may be coming their way.  

5. Leaders set the pace in caring for people: This truism can be good or bad, but it is definitely true. Leaders set the pace and place a lid on the organization they serve. Good leaders help a church or ministry organization advance its mission and solve problems. Great leaders, however, do those things while also caring well for the people they lead. When leaders care for people while, at the same time, moving faithfully into the mission, then they are becoming leaders worth following.  

No matter where you are in your leadership development you can grow and improve as a leader. I have heard or read lots of people say that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second-best time is today. While it would be great if you have been intentionally growing as a leader for the past 20 years, it will also be great if you start today.  


Todd Gray is executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.