Five Characteristics of Healthy Church Leaders

I like studying healthy churches. Much has been written about the sad state of churches in North America, so much so that many have asked me if God is done with our congregations. I sadly have contributed to that perception of hopelessness. In an honest attempt to report the factual state of churches in our nation, I often describe the problem without contributing to the solution.

But isn’t that the case of much of church life today? Critics and doomsday pundits abound. It’s easy to criticize and observe what’s wrong instead of offering hope and direction.

Suggesting a New Direction

I am making an honest attempt to move in a new direction. I will continue to report the facts of American congregations as our research dictates. Facts are our friends, and I don’t need to have my metaphorical head in the sand.

But I will also offer hope and possible solutions as the facts unfold. God is still working in great ways in so many churches across our land.

The Path Forward

Indeed what I will do is take copious notes from healthy churches and their leaders. I will share with you how God is working in great ways in so many churches.

In many ways, I will simply be a conduit of information so you can be both encouraged and instructed.

In this article, I will focus on the leaders of healthy churches. Of course, the word “healthy” has some degree of subjectivity to it. I am not referring to any particular size of church or style of church. Instead, I am reporting from churches that are largely unified, that are reaching and caring for their communities, and that are truly making biblical disciples for Christ.

Beginning with the Leaders

What are some of the obvious characteristics of leaders of these healthy churches? Most of the leaders I observed are senior pastors, but I have not limited my leadership observations to them alone. My list is obviously not exhaustive, but I begin with five traits.

1. They spend time in prayer and the Word. Indeed most of these leaders take at least an hour a day alone to pray and study God’s Word. Some take two to three hours. These leaders are incredibly busy, but they have deemed time with God and His word as one of their highest priorities. They are truly Acts 6:4 leaders who devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

2. They have longer tenure in the church. Most of the healthy church leaders I observe have been in their present church for at least five years. They have weathered conflict and change. They have earned the love and respect of the people of the church. They have become trusted and loved in the communities they serve.

3. They demonstrate obvious love for the people in their congregations. It’s cliché to say that no one is perfect. There are no perfect pastors. There are no perfect staff members. And there are no perfect people in the church. Ministry is messy and sinners are sinful. Receiving criticism and second-guessing is the fate of every leader in a church. But leaders of healthy churches love the people anyway. These leaders understand that the Savior loves them though they don’t deserve that love. They love unconditionally because they are loved unconditionally.

4. They have a consistent missional leadership push. Evangelism is a priority for these leaders. They serve and care for the community. They lead the church in an outward focus. They have an obvious passion for the nations. They focus on sending people and other resources where there is need.

5. They lead toward incremental change. These leaders are change agents. But they don’t lead autocratically or at such a pace that the congregations cannot or will not follow. They “eat the elephant” one bit at time. And they seek God’s wisdom and the counsel of wise men and women on how big that elephant bite should be.

Communicating Hope

God is not done with our churches. He is the God of hope and promise.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.