4 Essential Leadership Practices in Ministry

I recently spoke to a group of “emerging leaders,” and was asked to speak about essential leadership practices—areas of leadership where ministry leaders must continually focus. There are at least four essential leadership practices that transcend a role on a local church staff. Regardless of the ministry role, whether leading as senior pastor or in kid’s ministry, student ministry, worship ministry, or missions, these four leadership practices are essential:

1. Shepherd your soul.

In ministry leadership, personal holiness matters. Leaders reproduce who they are, so character is essential. Because our hearts are prone to wander, leaders must care for their own souls, must continually repent and look to Jesus, must consistently feast on the Word of God. In speaking to kid’s ministry leaders, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“I commend to you the study of instructive books, but above all I commend the study of Christ. Let Him be your library. Get near to Jesus. An hour’s communion with Jesus is the best preparation for teaching either the young or the old… I think a teacher is very unwise who does not come to hear the gospel preached and get a meal for his own soul. First be fed, and then feed.”

2. Offer clear direction.

Marcus Buckingham said, “Clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.” Wise church leaders clarify, guard, and preach the essentials over and over again. Most importantly, pastors must be clear on the theology that serves as the foundation for the church. Without theological clarity, churches will drift from the faith that was delivered once and for all to the saints (Jude 3). Without continually reminding people of the gospel, a church will no longer stand on the strong foundation of the faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Or as D. A. Carson has stated, “To assume the gospel in one generation is to lose it in the next.”

Ministry leaders must also be continually clear on the ministry philosophy and direction of the church. People long to have a direction painted for them, to see how all that the church does is built on the theology and philosophy of ministry that drives the church. Pastors who fail to offer directional clarity leave a massive vacuum of leadership.

3. Cultivate your culture.

Leaders can easily underestimate the impact of culture. By culture, I am referring to the shared values and beliefs that undergird all the church does. Wise ministry leaders will continually check the culture and, by God’s grace, seek to bring it into deep alignment with the stated theology and ministry philosophy of the church.

4. Develop others.

Leaders are responsible for future leadership, and this is especially true in ministry. The role of a pastor is not to “do ministry” but to equip God’s people for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). A ministry leader who does not develop others is not serving the ministry well.