Updated: Nov 13, 2020
There are plenty of great leadership books out there, and many have been recommended to pastors and other church leaders. And that's fine. If there is value in such a book, it's because that author has tapped in to the way God has designed human beings.
But church leadership requires understanding one thing. If you fail to understand this, you will fail to be the leader your church needs you to be. This is true of pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee chairs, you name it.
The church is not a business. Or a club. Or a society. Or even an organization. Those things are all created by people. But the church was created by God, and as a result, the church must operate by God's rules.
So, to be an effective leader in a church, you have to understand what a church is. Let me give you the really short crash course.
What Is a Church?
In a nutshell, a church is an assembly of Christians. But there is more to it than us simply getting together for a meeting. Jesus created the church (which for our purposes on this website refers every local assembly of Christians) with a specific purpose and identity. Here are the primary images used to describe the church in the New Testament:
The People of God. We do not speak a certain language, come from a certain country, or belong to a certain demographic. Church members come from every tribe, people and language (Rev 7:9-10) who were once not a people but have become God’s people (1 Pet 2:10). This means that our primary identity as individuals is not who we were/what we belonged to—we are God’s people, here to do God’s work for God’s glory.
The Body of Christ. We are not a religious society, a civic organization, or some dissociated sect (denomination). We are a community of believers united to one another by the confession of Christ’s lordship (Matt 16:18-19) and united to Christ in His death and resurrection. The “body” image highlights the power of diversity in unity/unity in diversity—Christ is the sole head of the body, but each part (us) plays a unique part.
The Community of Saints. We are not just anybody, but we are those who have answered the call to follow Jesus Christ as His disciples. There is an expectation for our lifestyle and behavior as well as our relationship with one another. The language the Bible uses to describe this is family: we are brothers and sisters (of each other and of Jesus), equal in rights and privileges, and equal in sacrifices and responsibilities.
There are some key truths to be learned here: our church does not operate by our rules, but we operate by God’s rules. Our church does not exist for our purposes, but we exist to fulfill Christ’s purposes. Our church was not put here to create division but to unite Christians into an intimate family relationship.
Furthermore, Jesus gave us what we need to be an effective church of God. He gave us a clear purpose in the Great Commission (Matt 28):
“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
He gave us the gifts and helps we would need to accomplish that purpose (Eph 4):
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
And He gave us His Word and Spirit to help us answer all of the questions we would have and make all of the decisions we would face.
Trying to lead a church from any perspective other than that, with the Bible as your "operations manual" and the Spirit as your "chief consultant", will result in confusion and failure.
What Does This Mean for Being an Effective Small Group Leader?
You'll find more detail on this in other articles in this category. Essentially, this means that
The Bible must be your primary resource.
Christians must be your primary leaders.
Christlikeness must be your primary goal.
Evangelism must be your attendant strategy.
You might think that this would be different if you're leading children's Sunday School, or a Griefshare group, or Financial Peace. But it's not. Every small group comes down to those four factors. Once you have those established, you can go just about anywhere with them--engage all kinds of people, cover all kinds of topics--and do right by your church.
Topics I can engage in the future:
Local church vs. "universal" church
Visible church vs. invisible church
"Real" church vs. virtual church
Your stance on those matters will affect how you understand your role as a church leader, so they will be worth addressing one day.