Leadership
in the Local Congregation

By Dan McVey

        My dear brethren, as we march along to Zion, we have much on our hands to do for the Lord's glory. As we have been made part of God's glorious kingdom (Acts 2:47; Col. 1:13), let us ever strive to draw closer to our Savior and carry on the work He has given us to do. As we are in our local congregations, we must see the opportunities around us and look for ways to use these opportunities to serve the Lord. To be able to do this, we must have good leadership. We will never be a strong people if our leaders are not strong; likewise, we will not be successful in the Lord's work unless our leaders are capable and dedicated. The weeding of the farm will only be as good as the sharpness of the cutlass. I would like to share some few ideas with you from the Bible and experience. Please consider carefully what is said and discuss it in your congregations. These are only suggestions except when taken from the Scriptures. The purpose of this brief study is to help us as we grow into more mature leadership by God's grace.

The Nature of Christian Leadership

        Before we can have good leaders in our local churches, we must know who is a good leader. So, we must understand the true nature of leadership. Some think that leadership is only the power to command or tell people what to do, but this is not Christian leadership. Some think that leadership is only for the old or that leadership is only for a few brothers, but this is not Christian leadership. Christian leadership is servanthood - being a servant.

        Jesus came to be a servant and gladly showed us what a true leader is - Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:44-45; Luke 22:27; John 13:4-5; Phillippians 2:7. So, we find Jesus serving His disciples and the people, yet He was called "Master." Truly, we must follow His example of humility and not seek to exalt ourselves. Consider the following points:

  1. We are God's servants - Acts 27:23; Rom. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3.
  2. We are to humbly serve one another - Matt. 10:42; John 12:3; Acts 20:18-19; Mark 10:35-45.
  3. We must be willing to serve God's people - Judges 5:2; Nehemiah 11:2; 2 Cor. 8:3,11; Gal. 5:13; 2 Tim. 2:21; Titus 3:1.
        A servant is one who freely gives himself for the work - Phil. 2:3-4; Rom. 12:10-13; 2 Cor. 5:14-15 - just as Jesus gave Himself for us. A servant is one who forgives the abuses that will come to him as a leader - Eph. 4:31-32; Matt. 5:23-24; Phil. 3:14-15 - just as Jesus forgave the people for abusing Him. In the life of Paul, we see three wonderful attitudes of a good leader, a good servant (1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:1-2; 10:10):
  1. Humility
  2. Sincerity
  3. Honesty

        My brethren, to be a servant is not an easy thing, but to be Godly leaders, we must be servants We need to understand that in God's house, there is only one master - Jesus We cannot have "big men" in the Lord's church. We cannot allow men like Diotrophes (Ill John 9) to spoil the church and bring reproach on the family of God just because they desire to control the congregation. We cannot allow one or two or three to run the church and become stumbling blocks to the work The only way we can prevent these problems is to develop good Christian leadership within the congregations. Good Christian leaders are humble, sincere, honest servants. Brethren, let us humble ourselves

Leadership Roles

        The New Testament lists some leadership roles for us - Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28:
  1. Apostles and prophets - These two leadership roles were for the miraculous guiding of the early church until God's word could be fully revealed and the written word (Bible) became a dependable, universal guide - Eph. 2:20; Heb. 2:3-4.
  2. Evangelists and teachers - These leaders have a place in God's work by guiding Christians into a proper understanding of God's word - James 3:1; Gal. 6:6; Rom. 10:14; 1 Cor. 9:14; Acts 8:31.
  3. Elders - These leaders are also called Bishops and Pastors (Acts 14:23; 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim.3:1-7; Titus 1:59). Elders are to be men who meet specific qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. They are to guide or "oversee" the congregation (Bishop) and to feed the flock with humility and tender care (Pastor - Shepherd). The Apostle Peter gave specific instructions that elders are to humbly serve as examples to God's people and to remember they are not masters (1 Peter 5:1-3).
  4. Deacons -- These are men who are servants to the congregation to help fulfill the different works of service and help to lead the church (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1).

        Since we no longer have apostles or prophets, we can see that God's plan is for each congregation to have elders and deacons (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1), and preachers/teachers are to lead in Bible study and give guidance into a better understanding of the truth. Paul gave Timothy and Titus (two preachers) some advice about their work. As preachers, Paul said they should:

  1. Teach the truth (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:2);
  2. See that proper leadership is achieved (Titus 1:5);
  3. See that brethren understand their Christian duties (Titus 2);
  4. See that brethren are properly motivated (1 Tim. 4:15-16);
  5. See that as preachers their own lives are good examples for the brethren (1 Tim. 4:12).

        All of God's leaders must remember humility. The Bible does not say that preachers are to rule the church. Paul's words were tellinq Timothy and Titus how to teach the brethren. Leadership is within the congregaton and it includes the preacher, but the preacher is not the leader. The preacher helps to lead the church, but many preachers bring trouble when they try to control the church. What if we don't have men qualified to be elders and deacons? Well, we still must have leadership as we work toward maturity. Later in our study, we will look at some suggestions.

        So let us remind ourselves that leadership is servanthood. Some necessary character strengths of good leadership are: service (Luke 22:27), sacrifice (Luke 14:28), concern (Acts2O:31) and a pure desire (1 Tim. 3:1). If you want to be a leader, you must be humble - that means to think of the needs of brethren before your own needs and do not exalt yourself. You must be sincere - that means you really want to serve God's people and you are willing to sacrifice your time, money, peace of mind and other things to lead God's people. You must be pure - that means you do not wish to use leadership just to get something for yourself and your life must be a good example.

        My brethren, we have many good leaders among us and we also have some who are not good. We are all human. Let us all try to strengthen ourselves and go on unto perfection (Heb. 6:1). Let us not be satisfied with poor leadership or weak leadership. Let us be more Godly and more concerned. Let us freely discuss leadership in our congregations, and try to constantly improve. Let us be willing to try new methods of leadership while we exhort one another and serve one another. Let us think of the good of the church first and humble ourselves

How to Develop Leadership

        We must ask ourselves, "How do we develop good Christian leadership?" We know that in any group of people there will be leaders, whether it be school children, societies, governments or in any group. We can say leaders will develop naturally as individuals who have zeal to lead and do the work. Colossians 3:23 and Ecclesiastes 9:10 tell us that if we have the zeal we should use it to God's glory. However, the zeal to lead is not enough. The zeal must be with knowledge and proper attitudes (Rom. 10:2; 12:3). To properly develop this zeal to lead, we must take time to study the principles of good leadership.

  1. Humility, humility, humility - Remember all we have said about servanthood. Leaders must be humble (Mark 10:35-45). God will raise up leaders for His people (1 Sam. 12:6-13; Judges 2:16), but these leaders must keep themselves humble. Humility for leaders means a sincere desire to help the church without exalting themselves.
  2. From Nehemiah we can learn many good qualities of leadership. When we look at his life, we can see: (a) He was a Godly man who prayed to God often (Neh. 1:4-11;2:4); (b) He was willing to sacrifice himself for the work (2:5); (c) He was careful in his plans to think of what is the best course of action (2:15-16); (d) He was a man loyal to God's law who guided his people in keeping God's law (Neh. 5:13); (e) He was a man of faith who looked into the future with confidence (2:20). My brethren, if we can have leaders like this, God's kingdom will prosper mightily.
  3. Wisdom (1 Kings 3:9; James 3:13-18) - As King Solomon asked for wisdom to lead God's people, we must also have wise leaders, men who follow after heavenly wisdom to guide God's people in righteousness, justice and service.
  4. The qualifications of bishops listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 (also for deacons 1 Timothy 3:8-13) help us to see what kind of men the Lord is looking for to guide His people. Look carefully at these qualifications and you will see that all Christians need these good graces in our lives, but our leaders must be strong examples in these qualities (I Pet 5:1-3). In the home, at the worksite, in the church, our leaders must be Godly, dedicated, righteous men.
        If we study these principles and many others concerning leadership, we can see how leaders can be trained through Bible study and experience. We are all brethren and we all have the right to be heard in matters of church decisions, but we all know the need of leaders to guide us (not dictate to us), to encourage us (not abuse us), to teach us (not ignore us), and to consider us (not exalt themselves). Leaders who have a Godly attitude of humility and dedication will be able to do a wonderful work.

        The congregation must also have proper attitudes toward the leadership. The congregation should not murmur, complain, or criticize (1 Cor. 10:10; PhiL 2:14). If there is a disagreement with the leaders, we should talk to them directly in an humble way. Let us understand the difficulties of leadership and let us respect and encourage our leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-19; Ex. 17:12). Sometimes leaders need to be corrected or even rebuked. Let us do it with love and humility and wisdom. Let us encourage Godly men to give themselves to the work in roles of leadership.

A Wise Leadership

        Let us look at two examples of leadership that help us understand good leadership.
  1. Moses (Ex. 18:13-26) was a great leader of God's people. He was meek (Num. 12:3) and trusted in God. He found himself in a different position in Exodus 1.8 because he was trying to judge the people all by himself. All day long, people would come with questions and problems. Moses' father-in-law saw this was not good and advised him to set up judges or leaders over the people to help him lead the people in judgment and instruction. This worked very well. Moses chose men of truth, honesty and fear of God (Ex. 18:21). In this short account, we see so many good lessons for leaders to remember:

    1. Leaders must manage their time and not try to do everything themselves. There is too much work for the leaders to do it all and it is not wise for leaders to try to control everything themselves because others must also learn to do the work;
    2. All leaders need advice. Even great Moses needed to be advised. Good leaders will seek the advice of the congregation and ask for counsel and help. Leaders who forget their people are not good leaders;
    3. Leaders must use the talents of others in the work of the church. One of the greatest tasks of leadership is to involve the members in the work. Truly, this is the most important part of leadership - getting brethren involved in work. Every member is important (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

            We cannot overlook even one soul. Many times, converts fall away because we have neglected them. A new converts' class is not enough. We must try to involve all brethren in the life and work of the congregation. Let us not be like the Pharisees who worked so hard to convert people and then did nothing to let them really enjoy the blessings of salvation (Matt 23:15). The Apostle Paul took people with him to learn how to do the work (Timothy, Titus, Silas). We need to take brethren along in evangelism, benevolence, Bible classes, worship, etc. Get people involved. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage. Use the young, the old, the women, the men. Find work for them. Plan for them. Talk to them. Brethren, this is leadership!

            Please, let us not allow some few to have too much influence. Let us not seek to please the wealthy, but encourage them as equals to all. Let us not think only of our own people. The Asante brother and Ewe sister, the Ga preacher and Frafra secretary - we are all brethren. Without Christ, we are nothing. In Christ, we are all brethren (Gal.3 :28). My brethren, if we fail to feed our babies, they will die. If we pay no mind to our children, they will run away to the streets. If we forget our fathers and mothers, they will die in sorrow and neglect. True Christian leadership means getting people involved.

  2. The second example of good leadership is that of the Apostles in Acts 6:1-7. There was a problem in the young church at Jerusalem. Some sisters were neglected. The Apostles did not try to settle it by themselves; they took the problem to the church (Acts 6:2-3) and asked the brethren to choose out some men to take care of the problem. Again, we learn some lessons:

    1. Good leaders recognize problems. They are able to see possible danger ahead and make plans and corrections to avoid it. Our leaders must learn to carefully consider the work and know how and when to make corrections;
    2. Good leaders involve the congregation in the work. I believe it is very important for us that the Apostles did not select the seven men. They took the problem to the church and let the church choose out the men. Leaders must talk to the church. Discuss plans and problems. Let the brethren speak. The church will grow in maturity only when there is good communication between the leaders and the congregation;
    3. The Apostles were good leaders because they were able to explain the need to the church and provide a way to meet the need. This is good leadership, providing a guideline by which the brethren can get involved. Leaders do not need to try to do all the work, but provide a framework for the church to be able to do the work
        My brethren, let us learn from these good examples of leadership to motivate ourselves by good, humble attitudes to have courage, zeal, knowledge and a true desire to involve our brethren in the Lord's wonderful work. In building a house, there is work for the carpenter, mason, painter, laborer. So in God's house, there is work for all.

        Perhaps I should say something about humility. Some people think that humility is weakness or thinking people are better than yourself. But this is not really humility. To truly be humble is to know who God is and who I am. Before God, I am nothing and I must see myself and all humans as nothing before God. I must be willing to suffer for good and allow myself to be used as a servant to do God's will (Phil 1:29; 3:10). I must be willing to consider the needs of others before myself (Phil. 2:2-4) and let myself be used so that others may receive a blessing (see 1 Cor. 4:9-13, the apostles as an example). Jesus is the greatest example of humility (Phil 2:5-11). He humbled Himself and gave Himself, but He was always honorable, dignified, respectable and upright. To be humble is not to beg or always let others tell you what to do. To be humble is to know the power of God working in us (Col.1 :29) and it is not our own goodness, but God's goodness. To be humble is to be kind (Prov. 19:22) and concerned about others and to know that only by God's grace can we be anything (1 Cor. 15:10). Humility is not weakness, but strength, and the humble shall be exalted by God (Luke 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:6).

Decision Making

        One of the great needs for leadership is that we need good leaders to direct us in making decisions as we try to do the works of edification, evangelism and benevolence. When we have men qualified to be elders and deacons, then these men are to lead us in the local church in the path of good leadership. They can guide us as humble servants. But what do we do when we have no elders? That is a question we often must answer.

        We need to be very careful how we use the English word "elder." Many times we use the word to mean the older ones among us and certainly this is not wrong, but the word "elder" also has a Bible meaning the same as Bishop or Pastor: one who is ordained into the position of permanent leadership of the local church (as long as he is qualified). These elders must meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; so, l beg you, let us have this in our minds, how we use the word "elder" so we have proper understanding. We need to honor and respect the older ones among us and realize that "elder" has a Bible meaning of Bishop or Pastor. So, the word must be used carefully with understanding.

        When we have no bishops (elders) to guide us, then the men of the congregation must accept the corporate responsibility (group responsibility) to guide the affairs of the church. However, the work must be well organized or it will fail. There are times when the whole church should come together to discuss the affairs of the congregation (Acts 6:2; 15:4, 22). Such meetings are necessary when we have elders also. We have abundant examples of how we can choose out brethren to put them in charge of various works: Acts 6:1-7;11:30; 1 Cor. 16:3; Phil. 2:25-30. Benevolence, finances, edification, evangelism, planning, worship, visitation - these are all examples of types of church work that we can ask certain brethren to accept responsibility to plan and organize the work for the church. Always remember that the most important part of their work is to get the brethren involved. Thus, these men on such committees become our leaders (chosen by the whole church) and these committees are to organize the work and lead the church and report often to the church. They can organize and plan ways to get the church involved in the works and fulfill responsibilities given to them by the church. This way, they are leading the church.

        Some congregations have found it helpful to appoint a central, coordination committee to organize the overall work of the church. This can be a useful idea as long as such a committee does not think of itself as an eldership or as masters of the flock. If they can help the other working groups (committees) to balance their work and keep things flowing smoothly, then they can help in the day-to-day affairs of the church. However, such a central or business committee should not be regarded as the only leaders of the church. All committees are leaders and certainly one committee cannot be exalted above other committees

        All committees should have a rotating (changing) membership, that is different. People need to be put on the groups yearly or every 18 months, etc. This gets more brethren involved and helps to prevent a certain few from controlling everything. The congregation should do the selecting. Of course, our wise, good leading brethren need to be used as much as possible. Any central or business committee should be given specific duties, not just left to decide everything. This committee should pass on information to the other committees and often put matters before the whole church. Remember, all committees are servants to the church and must report often to the church and plan ways to get the whole church involved in the works of the church. As I see it, I believe committees are necessary only when the congregation begins to grow large in number so that it's not practical to put every issue before the whole congregation. The church would become occupied with small, small decisions rather than concentrating on doing the work. At such times, some brethren can be appointed with certain tasks to do for the church. Especially a central or business committee should not be needed except in large congregations. Men's meetings can guide the church in all stages and the church can appoint brethren to see to certain tasks as it is necessary. My brethren, we need to be very careful or we will delay ourselves in ordaining elders and deacons because of a committee system. When we have qualified men who desire the offices of elders and deacons, then we must appoint them. Of course, even elders will need committees to help them do the work (remember the wisdom of Moses and the Apostles in getting helpers).

        Decision making and planning are basically applications of the principles of leadership and organization. Good leadership will provide good decision making. Good leaders will:

  1. Consider the needs of the congregation:
  2. Seek comment and advice from the congregation;
  3. Draw up guidelines for a decision (ideas, plans, etc.);
  4. Exercise patience and humility;
  5. Show themselves worthy of the trust of the members;
  6. Above all, seek to follow the Bible pattern in all things.
        If there is a good flow of communication and information between the congregation and leaders, there will be good decision making. Remember wrong decisions can always be corrected. These have been a few suggestions concerning decision making. Each congregation must find the pattern of work that best suits them as we all grow toward elders and deacons.

Dealing with Problems

        We are all human, so problems will come within the church and from outside (2 Tim. 3:12). However, our attitude toward the problem will determine how we are able to settle it. We must have humility, patience, concern for all brethren, justice and truth. We must avoid gossip, pride, favoritism (James 1:19-20). Of course, Jesus has taught us how to handle problems in Matt. 5:23-24 and 18:15-18. He taught that whenever we know a wrong has been committed, we should try to correct it. If we go to each other in love and humility, so many problems will go away. When we fail to follow Jesus' teaching, our problems get worse.

        Let us look at a few types of problems we might face:

  1. Problems relating to planning and doing the work of the church. Meeting place, schedule, shortage of supplies, etc. - these are physical types of problems to be solved by planning and diligence. Also, there are spiritual problems in this area such as poor attendance, lack of teaching, poor involvement. These types of problems must be carefully handled to provide opportunities to improve and mature. We need to make our assemblies interesting and truly "feed" our people on God's word. We need to study carefully and learn how to encourage and motivate our people to serve God. The leaders must take time to seriously consider the situation and constantly plan well for congregational growth.
  2. A second type of problem is between brethren or personal problems. We must follow the Lord's example of settling personal disputes and keeping down any division. Let us not allow personal disputes to become church problems. As brethren, we must help one another to settle personal problems. Many congregations are divided because of such problems.
  3. Another type of problem is one of evil or sin in the church. We must rebuke sinful brethren in love and patience. Sin in the life of members means sin in the church and we must purify ourselves (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:6,14-15). Leaders must take the lead in helping us practice discipline.

        We cannot be discouraged when problems come because we know God will test us (Acts 14:22; James 1:2-4; 1 Cor. 10:13). Search the scriptures and let God show us the way out of our problems. Strong leadership can help so much to avoid and settle problems. Of course, sometimes our problem is our leadership. Poor leaders need to be corrected in love and replaced if they do not improve. All must be done orderly and in a Godly way (1 Cor. 14:40). Take time and move with wisdom.

        Discipline means to keep ourselves pure and cause ourselves to follow Christ (disciples). We must discipline ourselves through study and service. If a brother fails to discipline himself, then the body of God's people must do it for him (Ex. 12:15; Lev. 7:27; 1 Tim. 5:20; Gal. 2:11). We rebuke, exhort and reprove ourselves as brethren (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Disfellowship is the last point of discipline and is to be used only when the brother will not repent. It seems there are three basic times when disfellowship is in order (2 Thess 3:6; 1 Cor. 5:1-5).

  1. Cases of immorality - 1 Cor. 5:9-11. Fornicators, drunkards, idolaters, thieves, etc.
  2. Disharmony between brethren because of sin that involves the whole church - Matt 18:15-18.
  3. Division caused by false teaching or activities contrary to the doctrine of Christ - Rom. 16:17. Disfellowship should not be used lightly or quickly.

        If a brother is weak in faith, but still trying, he needs encouragement, not disfellowship. When a brother goes into sin and refuses to repent, then we must disfellowship him. The sinful one has broken the bonds of fellowship by going back into the world, and we must make known to him and all the church what he has done and that he is no longer in fellowship. He is still our brother (2 Thess. 3:15) to be admonished and rebuked, but we cannot regard such a one as if he is in fellowship with us (1 Cor. 5:11). We must not act too quickly and be sure we are motivated by love and concern for his soul. Let the brother know he can come back into fellowship if he will repent.

        My brethren, let us involve the whole congregation in cases of discipline and disfellowship. Let us be honest, fair and truthful. Let us be consistent. Disfellowship is not only in the hands of the leaders, it is in the hands of the church (Matt 18:15-18). Let us practice more instruction and exhortation as discipline, so we can avoid needing to correct brethren who fall away.

        There are many other problem areas. Let us notice a few.

  1. Let us not measure the growth of the church in physical things. It is great to have buildings, schools, etc, but let us not think this is the most important part of our work - it is the least important. Let us not sacrifice evangelism and benevolence on the altar of church buildings. In God's good time, we will have physical progress, but we must never move our eyes from spiritual goals.
  2. Money matters can also present problems. Let us budget well, give freely and faithfully handle the money. We must provide things honest (Rom. 12:17). I would suggest that we avoid giving loans out of church funds and above all, report all finances to the congregation. Money problems can best be avoided by careful record keeping and reporting to the congregation.
  3. Let me take a moment to discuss an area of possible trouble because we are often not very careful. This is the area of the relationship between the church and the preacher. Rom. 10:14-15 tells us of the importance of preaching and we have already discussed some of the leadership roles of the preacher. Preachers need to be humble servants to the congregation who study diligently and do their best to teach God's truth to the church and give Godly advice. Preachers are not to rule the church. They have responsibility to carry God's message to the lost and strengthen the church, but this does not mean that they are to be in charge of everything. Preachers who try to do too much will hurt the congregation by not encouraging members to take up leadership positions. So, there are limitations to a preacher's work, but we must not neglect our preachers. My brethren, we are so often too forgetful of our preachers. The Bible plainly tells us that the church must meet the needs of the preacher (1 Cor. 9:11-14; Phil. 4:16). Too often we treat our preachers like schoolboys or leave his wife and children neglected. My brethren, these things should not be. Let us support our preachers well. Preachers, we must be diligent and humble - God will provide. Let us have good relationships between our preachers and congregations.
  4. Other problems can come simply from a lack of planning. Concerning our meeting place, evangelism and other things, if we do not plan well and look into the tuture, we will make troubles for ourselves.
  5. Let me please add one more problem we need to avoid. This is the problem of one or a few brethren having too much power in the congregation. Whatever they say, it is done. Whatever they wish, it is law. Brethren, this is not good and it damages the church. Many congregations are blessed with very Godly men who are able to be great voices of wisdom and guidance. These men are needed and very helpful if there is humility in their attitudes. Unfortunately, sometimes we have some brethren who want to exalt themselves and be masters to the church. We must avoid this evil (3 John 9) by encouraging participation by all members, rotating membership of committees and letting the whole church consider many (or most) issues. The voices of Godly humble leaders will be heard, and those who seek only glory of men can be prevented from causing trouble.

        In conclusion, let me exhort all of us, my brethren, to strive toward maturity. Let us discuss important issues that we can have growth in spirit. Let this brief study be only a beginning for discussions and studies as we seek to continue to develop a Godly leadership. May God bless us to this end.