Bible Question:

I need help teaching the congregation about leadership. Could you provide some scriptures, format, and or an outline about how to do this? Thank you.

Bible Answer:

What does the Bible teach about church leadership? That is our question. Unfortunately, what Jesus and the apostles taught about church leadership is not the common view of most churches. The Bible teaches that our churches should be governed by elders, with deacons only providing support, not ruling. We are greatly influenced by the style and example of the leadership we see in our world. Those whom we consider to be great leaders become examples for us to follow. Some of them are examples of “bad” leaders and unfortunately they become our models of leadership. When we look at the leaders in our world, we consider them to be good or bad by what they do or do not do.

While some of us might disagree about the kind of leader we want, most of us want a leader who has vision, is effective, and is strong and courageous under trial. We expect our leaders will provide direction and even control of our nation, business, or organization. How many of us look at the leaders in our church and ask, “What kind of a person does this church look for in its leaders?” Or, maybe the question has been “Why did they pick that person? What did they see in him/her?” Or, “I would be a better leader than him/her.” Or, “What do I have to do to become a leader in this church?” These questions hint at the heart of the issue. Every church must start with the question who does God want to be an elder in our church?

In the church we assume leaders are spiritual, or at least we hope they are. And if a Christian man wants to be a leader in the church, he often starts “doing the things” the other leaders do. We assume leaders make decisions and “lead.” That hints at the next critical issue for leaders. That is, what is their function?

Leaders Are Models

But Jesus and the apostles are not primarily interested in what a spiritual leader does. They are more interested in the character of the man or woman. Why? Because leaders are to set an example of acceptable conduct for others to follow. Leaders stand in the place of Jesus as spiritual shepherds. Jesus is more interested in a man’s heart than in all of his activities (1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 15:17-20).

How many Christians want to be like their pastor? How many of us consider our leaders to be godly men? Men who love Jesus with all their heart and are actively seeking to know Him? If this is you, then you are probably a godly model that others are willing to follow. When we talk about leadership, we must ask what kind of person does God wants as a leader in the church? Jesus answered this question when He said,

It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher . . . Matthew 10:25 (NASB)

This is where any discussion about leadership should start. It should start with being like Jesus! Jesus told His disciples that their desire should be to become like Himself. That should also be our goal. But Jesus is not around so that we can watch Him. He is not present for us to see and hear. He is not around for us to imitate or mimic. So He gave us human leaders to watch, see, and hear. But how do we know which ones to follow? The Holy Spirit has given us the answer in the book of Hebrews when He says,

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 (NASB)

There are three characteristics that God wants to see in someone we choose to follow. First, we are to imitate someone who has been a leader. Now, to be honest, there are many leaders in our churches today whom I would not want to imitate, and there are leaders, both men and women, whom Jesus would not want us to imitate either. So the Holy Spirit added another thing for us to look for. God’s ideal leader is someone who has taught you the Word of God. Now that will exclude many leaders who are primarily administrators and not teachers of the Word of God. There are many leaders who do not know the Bible, and there are a few who do not care.

Finally, God adds one more thing to look for. They must be a godly, older Christians. Now some folks will not like the word “older.” But that is what God means when He says, “considering the result of their conduct.” He is talking about someone who has been observed for some time. It says, “the result.” The Greek word has the idea of being at the end of one’s life. This is not a young pastor or young leader. There is too much of life ahead and no one knows if that young man’s spiritual walk will successfully take him to the end of life (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The passage is talking about a leader who has been teaching God’s Word and whose life is a model of a growing, godly, spirit-filled Christian. He is someone you have been watching for awhile. If these things are true about him, then go imitate his life. This is the kind of leader God wants in the church. So it should not be surprising that God says to His elders,

. . . proving to be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3 (NASB)

That is God’s priority for His leaders. They are to be godly examples. This is a great responsibility for leaders.

God’s Leaders

Leadership in the church starts with the elders and deacons. The elders include the pastor, who is simply one of the elders who has been asked to teach the congregation. These men are supposed to be God’s models of godliness and leadership to the church. They are also models of leadership in the home, at work, and outside the church.

But leaders are often selected for their business experience, financial contributions, outside political connections, professional jobs, internal church connections as well as their spiritual qualifications. These are the criteria or qualifications churches frequently use when selecting leaders.They select doctors, attorneys, bankers and successful business owners. Models of holiness are sometimes desired, but biblical knowledge is often a secondary consideration compared to business and organizational skills. In many churches, the pastor is the only recognized Bible “expert” and the leadership looks to him for spiritual guidance as well as theological and biblical knowledge. By implication biblical knowledge and godliness are considered to be less important in choosing lay leaders than in choosing staff. But that is not what God says! Any discussion about leadership needs to include God’s qualifications for the leaders or the elders of the church.

Leadership Qualifications

So how do we select our leaders – elders and deacons? It is truly amazing that God does not give us a list of projects or activities that a person must accomplish in order to become a leader in the church. Many churches look for a man “to be faithful” and to have demonstrated a commitment. But Jesus does not say this. The church seeks “men who get things done.” Now that is okay, but it is not what is most important. God looks for godly character. That is why God gave us 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These two passages give us the qualifications of God’s leader. What we find in these two lists are character qualifications. That is all. Oh, it does say the elder must be a male, and that he must have managed his home well, and must be a good Bible teacher. But these are statements about his character and not whether “he can get things done.” God is looking at a man’s heart and not at his level of activity.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB)

Another question and answer has provided a list of qualifications for the elders. It also talks about selecting elders or leaders in the church.

Leadership Responsibilities

God’s expectations for leaders has been the same throughout all time. In the Old Testament, He called them to teach His Word, to love Him with all their hearts, to want to be holy, and to be faithful to Himself. His leaders have included priests, elders, prophets, judges, and kings. His expectations have been different for each group, but when it comes to spiritual leadership, His expectations are the same. A quick glance at God’s anger towards His Old Testament spiritual leaders – prophets and priests – will make the point. Listen to God’s heart as He expresses His unhappiness towards His spiritual leaders in the Old Testament.

. . . [Priests] who handle the Law do not know [God] Jeremiah 2:8 (NASB)

An appalling and horrible thing has happened . . . the prophets prophesy falsely, and rule on their own authority, and my people love it so! Jeremiah 5:30-31 (NASB)

For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness. Jeremiah 23:11 (NASB)

Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness . . . Jeremiah 23:14 (NASB)

Your prophets . . . have not exposed your iniquity. Lamentations 2:14 (NASB)

. . . the sins of her prophets and the inequities of her priests, who have shed . . . the blood of the righteous. Lamentations 4:13 (NASB)

. . . priests have done violence to My law . . . they have made no distinctions between the holy and profane, and have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from the sabbath . . . Ezekiel 22:26 (NASB)

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Hosea 4:6 (NASB)

[Priests] feed on the sins of My people, and direct their desire toward their iniquity. (approve of sin – their own & the people). Hosea 4:8-9 (NASB)

. . . priests instruct for a price, and her prophets divine for money, . . . yet they lean on the Lord saying, ‘Is not the Lord in our midst . . . Micah 3:11 (NASB)

For the lips of the priest should preserve knowledge . . . but . . . you have caused many to stumble by the instruction . . . Malachi 2:7-8 (NASB)

. . . [priests] are showing partiality in the instruction. Malachi 2:9 (NASB)

What does God expect of His spiritual leaders? He expects them to teach His Word, to love Him with all their hearts, to want to be holy, and to be faithful to Him. When we come to the New Testament, God tells us in a positive way what He wants His leaders to do. You find these statements in a previous question titled, “What are the pastor’s duties to a church?” We have talked about leaders as models of Christ. We have also seen that God has key character qualifications for His spiritual leaders. God also expects His spiritual leaders to fulfill certain responsibilities. God wants each elder to be a shepherd for the flock of people in this church over which He has placed them. He is not looking for Mr. Administration. Administration is the role of deacons.

Tragedy In Leadership

We want to conclude with one of the most serious passages in the Bible for a leader. It is found in Numbers 20:1-12. In this passage of scripture we find that the Israelites had returned to the wilderness of Zin in Kadesh, and the Israelites had found that there is no water for them or their animals. So they started complaining and Moses, along with Aaron, went to God about their complaint. God responded by telling Moses to go and speak to a rock and bring forth water. But Moses was angry with the people; and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice.

Thirty-eight years before this event, Moses had struck a rock at the Lord’s command and it brought forth water too! The striking of the rock was a picture of Jesus’ dying on the cross according to 1 Corinthians 10:4. Figuratively speaking, Jesus had already been struck once and now Moses hit Him two more times for a total of three. Jesus only needed to die once. So how did God respond to Moses’ disobedience? Many would say that God understood his anger and blessed Moses anyway. If I had been Moses, I think I would have been pleased. I would have thought, “I hit the rock and it flowed with water.” I would have concluded that God understood and that was why He caused the water to flow. God had ministered through me anyway. Many of us would have thought, “I was God’s man.” What a great miracle! We would have thought that God was working through us. But God was disappointed with Moses. Yes, God used Moses but Moses was finished. His ministry was going to end, but he did not know it. We find in Numbers 20:12 that God told Moses that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. His ministry was over.

When Moses had left Egypt with the nation of Israel thirty-eight years earlier, he was headed for the Promised Land. The journey should have only taken about one month if they had not stopped for other things, and if the Israelites had not sinned. But because of sin, the journey became a forty year trek through a hot desert and not a one month trip. There were only two years left to his journey when Moses hit the rock two times. He had been waiting for the Promised Land, and now God was not going to allow that to happen. These people had complained and angered Moses all these years. He had wanted to go to the Promised Land. It would have been the fulfillment of His ministry. He had wanted to reach the Promised Land but God said “No!” Deuteronomy tells that Moses even pleaded with God.

Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” But the LORD was angry with me . . . and would not listen to me; and . . . said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.’ Deuteronomy 3:25-26 (NASB)

Why? Why did this happen to Moses? The answer is found in Deuteronomy 32.

. . . because you broke faith with Me . . . Deuteronomy 32:51 (NASB)

God’s message was clear. The Hebrew word for “broke faith” has the idea of being faithless. The word was sometimes used for an unfaithful wife who committed adultery. You see Moses was unfaithful to God. God depended on Moses to be faithful. God wanted him to be faithful. So God told Moses that his ministry was over. Oh, Moses was still ministering for the Lord for another two years but Moses’ ministry was over. This is a serious lesson. It is very simple. Just because God is working through you does not mean that you are the only man God will use for that ministry. Your ministry can be over even though you are still ministering. In the last chapter of Deuteronomy we find another sad comment. Here it is,

Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. Deuteronomy 34:7 (NASB)

Moses died before he needed to. Moses was still healthy, but his ministry was over. God no longer wanted Moses in leadership. He was going to be replaced by Joshua. There is another lesson here for us. It is the most stunning one and here it is: ultimately, God does not need us! If we are unfaithful, He will find a faithful Joshua to finish our ministry. This is a serious call to anyone who desires to be a leader. God expects faithfulness.


The most important principle is found in the answer to two questions, “Do you love God with all your heart?” and “Are you searching for God?” God’s great passion is that we love Him, want to know Him, and are seeking an intimate relationship with Him. After His return to life, Jesus’ first question to the Apostle Peter was, “Do you love me more than anything else?”

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” John 21:15 (NASB)

That is the ultimate question for anyone who is thinking about serving God in any way – pastor, elder, or missionary. Your desire should not be to become an elder or a leader. Your desire should be to serve God. Your desire should be to serve Him in this way because you believe He wants you to do this. Your desire to do this should be driven by an inner desire to please your friend, the Lord Jesus.

We trust that these thoughts and scriptures will be helpful as you prepare to teach your congregation about spiritual leadership. We have also included a set of charts that you can download and use with your congregation . May the Lord bless you!

Related Links:

What are the pastor’s duties to a church?
God’s Great Passion
A Call: Teach The Bible
God’s Design For The Church
Marks of Spiritual Maturity
Recovering the Pattern of Biblical Leadership
Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?
Thoughts On Selecting A Pastor
Women In The Church