The Seven Traits of a Healthy Church Leader

October 10, 2018

I am encouraged.

I am really hopeful.

I see more signs of healthy church leaders today than I have seen at any point in my 30 years of ministry. This trend portends well for the future health of our congregations. Healthy church leaders will lead churches to greater health.

The seven traits presume foundational issues such as an affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible, the exclusivity of the gospel, and the work of the Holy Spirt. Emanating from these foundational issues are key leadership traits. If a leader has all of the following seven traits, it is likely that leader will lead the congregation to greater health.

  1. They embrace change. Healthy leaders do not fear change. To the contrary, they embrace it. They understand the constant power and hope of the gospel only presents opportunities. They don’t complain about change; they get excited about it.
  2. They have a healthy grasp of history. Healthy church leaders are grateful for the past; but they do not dwell there. They take the lessons and the leaders of the past as steps to move forward in the future. Their attitude toward the past is not nostalgia. Rather, they respect the past without revering the past.
  3. They constantly evaluate methodologies. These leaders are not program-driven, building-driven, or procedure-driven. They are constantly asking how they and their churches can do better. They don’t do things the way they’ve always done them. They constantly and persistently evaluate everything.
  4. They intentionally interact with non-Christians. They get out of their offices and into the community. They attend community functions and make friends with non-believers. They believe the Great Commission is a mandate for them personally.
  5. They accept responsibility. These leaders don’t play the blame game. They know God has called them to lead their churches, and they must accept the mantle of responsibility. It’s not the members’ fault. It’s not the denomination’s fault. It’s not the fault of other staff. And it’s not the community’s fault.
  6. They see reality. Healthy church leaders have a clear and firm grasp of reality. They know how their churches are doing, for better or worse. They don’t try to rationalize away difficult news. Yet they readily celebrate good news. They want to know the unvarnished truth, because they know a clear vision of reality is critical to moving forward.
  7. They invest in one (and only one) major outwardly-focused effort at a time. This trait is a characteristic we have been seeing for the past few years. It is one of focused simplicity. The leader is always doing one more thing to move the church and himself to a greater outward focus. But it only one thing at a time. This discovery has been a major insight we have gleaned specifically with revitalized churches. We will unpack this trait with more detail in the future.

I remain an obnoxious optimist about the future health of churches. And one key reason is that I am seeing more and more church leaders with these seven traits.

These are hopeful times and exciting times.

Let me hear from you.

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15 Comments

  • John Punni says on

    Hi Thom Rainer,
    My name John Punni, pastor, Cornerstone UMC in Oklahoma City. I know that my role as a pastor is to “equip the saints”. My main reason for reaching out to you is to help me with information or resources that will help me lead God’s church through leadership effectiveness, revitalization and growth. Thanks for you import. Blessing always.

  • Don Johnson says on

    Great list, all true. Just check the graphic for what it also says: male and white? I know that is not the bias you have, but the imagery is there. Just a thought

  • Patsy Parker says on

    Thom, thank you for this very positive and encouraging article. I agree with some of the comments, especially the ones related to organized action, follow up and the role of women. Having dedicated christians in the mix with such skills is essential.

  • What is an ‘outwardly-focused effort’ and why only one?

    • Why only one? Because if a leader takes on two major projects at the same time both suffer. That’s not even a church leadership issue, it is a worldwide issue. Multi-tasking really doesn’t exist, even for a computer.

      Outwardly focused – not focused on the function of the Parish. For instance, joining with other leaders in the community to work towards social reconciliation of whatever stripe necessary. Or working at or creating a cross-denominational organization to reach out to the under-served in the community.

  • Jeffrey A Brady says on

    Great list!! I have seen great fruit from these engendering these things in my own ministry work. I would only quibble with #7 in that the leader can be working on the congregation and himself OR herself. Women are amazing leaders in the church as well. Thanks for the article!!

  • I would add that the best, regardless of gender, interact with and talk to their “unliked” parishioners and other Christians. They see only one class of Christian and don’t try to create more classes. They try to ensure that something in the sermon relates to them and try to understand their problems, which aren’t typically like those of other people in the church.

  • RONALD GAMBLE says on

    I would agree on the above points, however I see one problem in the leaders I have met, that is the lack of organizational skills. Under them there is total disorganization almost like a dysfunctional family where few get any direction or real leadership.

    • Good point, Ronald.

      • In my experience as church staff for 30 years, many leaders are ‘big picture’ people which is how God gifted them…as visionaries. The best leaders will recognize this and have people on their team who are gifted as detail-oriented…the ones who can help them accomplish the vision by working with the leader to advise and get the details taken care of.

      • Good point, Corby.

    • Robert Meeks says on

      One o the biggest problems I see i s “Follow-up” Having a weekly Check-up.
      Many have great ideas yet fail in weekly discussions with leaders and getting their results.
      Second, many pastors who need leaders “Appontment” many and usually the person agrees to take the position, yet that is not his gift. He does so only because no one has stepped forward. To be a leader, You must first be fully committed.
      1. DO YOU HAVE THE TIME
      2. ARE YOU FULLY DEVOTED
      3. IS THIS ONE OF YOUR GIFTS
      I have seen so many fall simply because they did not have the time.

      • The appointed leader(s) also pass the litmus and gender tests and are part of the “in crowd.” A dozen great people might step forward if only they knew about the opportunity. Now most of them would be summarily rejected, but they are there if anyone bothers to look.