I love the local church.
I love the worship, preaching, and community. I love our witness to the world and ministries of mercy. Most of all, I love the pastors and leaders of the local church.
I know the average pastor is overworked, understaffed, and underpaid. I know the spiritual burden of being a shepherd. I have walked that long road myself, so I have such appreciation for those who have chosen to live that life.
I am excited and optimistic about the local church, but I am also concerned. Why? Because the local church is experiencing a leadership crisis. For every celebrity pastor who exits in the spotlight, hundreds of unknown pastors have fallen privately in the shadows or become spiritual shells of who they once were.
Hundreds of conversations have convinced me of this: Behind a pastor’s failure is a weak and failed leadership community. We don’t have just a pastoral crisis; we have a leadership crisis.
Could it be that the way we have structured local church leadership, how leaders relate to one another, how we form a leader’s job description, and the everyday lifestyle of the leadership community may contribute to pastoral failure?
Ephesians 4:1–3 is a passage that should form every church leadership community: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (ESV)
It’s impossible to do a detailed study in this limited context, so I want to suggest four characteristics of a healthy local church leadership community shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Humble leaders love serving more than they crave leading. They own their inability rather than boasting in their ability. Humble leaders are always committed to listening and learning.
Dependent leaders acknowledge that every leader needs to be led, and every pastor needs to be pastored. If Christ is “the head of the body,” everyone else is just part of the body! (Colossians 1:18) Biblical literacy, spiritual gifts, and ministry experience and success don’t exempt pastors and leaders from the essential sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ.
Because of the blinding power of remaining sin, inspection is needed. Gospel-centered leaders invite people to step over the “normal” boundaries of standard leadership relationships and help them see things that they would not see on their own.
True biblical love doesn’t just accept you, bless you with patience, and greet your failures with forgiveness. Along with all these things, ministry leaders work to do everything they can to protect you from the weaknesses of heart that make you susceptible to temptation. If this protection is meant to be everyone’s experience in the body of Christ, should it not be present in the core leadership community, too?
The Bible teaches us that lasting change of heart always takes place in the context of a relationship, first with God and then with God’s people. Over and over again, I am saddened that the ministry leaders I know lack the rich gospel community that is required for them to be spiritually healthy and to enjoy longevity.
Could it be that many of our local church leadership communities don’t actually function like biblical communities? Could it be that as we have become enamored with corporate models of leadership, we have lost sight of deeper gospel insights and values?
How many failed pastors and hurting churches will there have to be before we ask these tough questions about how we are leading the church that the Savior has entrusted into our care?
Paul David Tripp
My New Book For Pastors + Ministry Leaders
Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church is out now!
My prayer is that these principles will protect and bless Christian leaders with a long and healthy ministry life for generations to come. Consider purchasing it for the pastors in your life from our non-profit ministry. We offer free shipping when you buy 3 or more copies.
1. In what way has God called you to lead, in any context?
2. Are there ways in which you desire to be seen more than serve? Why should you have a healthy fear of the responsibilities of leadership?
3. Are there ways in which you are living an isolated, individualized, independent Christianity? Why is this spiritually dangerous, and how can you be more dependent on the body of Christ?
4. Who can you invite to inspect your heart? Have you avoided this in the past? (Remind yourself: There is nothing that could be known, exposed, or revealed about me that has not already been addressed by the person and work of Jesus.)
5. How can you better follow the mandate of Hebrews 13:17 - “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Have you been hiding the struggles of your soul to others?