When it comes to choosing leaders in the church, we are often drawn to people who show enthusiasm and have engaging personalities. The Bible tells us this is our natural inclination. It also tells us that outward appearances are not the best measure for choosing a leader: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).
As you seek to “look at the heart” of potential leaders for your church, here are some questions to ask, especially when considering someone for a church board position:
1) Does this person have good character? He or she doesn’t have to walk on water, but…
- You don’t want someone who is divisive or living in unrepentant sin.
- You don’t want someone who doesn’t support the church financially.
- You don’t want someone with an unteachable spirit or an arrogant attitude.
Character is of the utmost importance in leaders, so if you notice clear character flaws, don’t overlook them or blindly hope they will get better. Remember, it’s almost impossible to take back power or authority from an immature person once it has been given.
2) Does this person display emotional maturity?
- Emotional maturity (EQ) is a greater predictor of success than IQ.
- A positive indicator of emotional maturity is the ability to “speak the truth in love.” You don’t need a team full of lovers who won’t share what needs to be said, nor do you need a team of overbearing truth-tellers.
- An emotionally mature person can have an honest dialogue without taking things personally, dominating the room, walking out, gossiping, or practicing passive-aggressive behaviors. Relationally immature people can KILL teams because they shatter trust, and trust, which is the foundation for healthy teams, is a hard to develop and maintain.
You may have people who are active, supportive, and eager to serve, but if they are not relationally and emotionally mature, putting them in leadership positions is likely to hurt your ministry. Their immaturity can lead to unnecessary drama, and they will struggle when you try to have candid conversations with them.
3) Is this person relationally and philosophically in sync?
- Any potential leader should be on the same page with the church philosophically and theologically. You don’t want leaders who use their authority to push their own agendas.
- You want someone who has good chemistry with you and others on the team. While it is not just about choosing people you like, the reality is that teams tend to make more progress when the people involved trust and like each other.
Every leadership team should have a vision and clear expectations. If you are considering someone for leadership and you sense that this person will not embrace that vision or agree to comply with those expectations, you should consider that a red flag. However, this does not mean that you only put your fans on the team! You don’t need “group think” or people who only tell you what you want to hear. Relational and philosophical sync requires continuity, not blindly loyal followers.
4) Does this person fill a specific role on the team?
- It’s important to think about what each person brings to the team. Biblically, this is called gift-based ministry. For example, when we consider potential board members at my church, we look for what role each of these people could fill (e.g., Shepherd/Caregiver, Disciple Maker, Strategic Thinker, Doctrinal Guru, Mission Coordinator, etc.). This brings balance to the team.
- When considering what a person will bring to the team, look at what gifts he or she is already using within the congregation as a whole.
This is a question that is often overlooked, but when it is, leadership teams can lack balance. When they are heavily dominated by too few spiritual gifts, they are missing out on potential growth and effectiveness.
5) Will this person be committed long-term?
- Leaders must be willing to commit to steady service over a long period of time. Be wary of people who have a tendency to serve in inconsistent bursts.
- Leaders must also be committed to the process of planning and implementation. If someone has a history of not following through on things, that person is not committed enough to be a leader. One way to gauge commitment level is to ask a potential team member to read something within a limited time frame and set an appointment to discuss it. If that person doesn’t have time or energy to do it, he or she probably won’t have the time or energy to do all that leadership requires.
Turnover in leadership comes at a cost, especially in small and medium-sized churches. Big churches and mega-churches can make and implement plans in the midst of leadership changes, but small and medium-sized churches need people who are personally involved in and have ownership of the whole process.
Considering these five questions as you look at potential leaders can help you avoid placing the wrong people in leadership. It is also important to give potential leaders clear expectations, ideally in writing. They need to understand what is being asked of them, including the time commitment involved. If you carefully consider their character, mindset, and gifts and if they are given the opportunity to count the cost of leadership, you are more likely to end up with a leadership team that will help your church reach its redemptive potential for the Kingdom.