Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

10 Hallmarks of Great Churches and Great Leaders

  • Brian C. Houston Sr. Pastor & Founder of Hillsong Church
  • 2016 7 Sep
10 Hallmarks of Great Churches and Great Leaders

Why am I here? What was I born to do?

In the heart of every man and woman is the longing to know his or her purpose.

Knowing and understanding your purpose – what you are called to do and what you are anointed for – is key to walking the path to greatness. A career is what you are paid to do but a calling is what you were made to do. That is the difference.

It is my experience that there are principles that undergird success and lasting greatness, no matter what your field of endeavour may be. When studying the calling of Saul to become the first king of Israel, I noticed these principles were the same even back then. God has not changed and there is great wisdom found in the Bible when it comes to leadership.

1 Samuel 9 and 10 reveals Saul’s path from obscurity to greatness. Saul, son of Kish, was actually seeking out his father’s lost donkeys when the prophet Samuel called him out to anoint him as ruler over the Lord’s people. It wasn’t even Saul’s idea to approach the prophet, his servant made the suggestion after failing to find the donkeys: “Look, I have here at hand one-fourth of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us our way.” (1 Sam 9:8) Saul agreed it was a good idea.

You may not recognise the anointing on your life but, like Saul, if you faithfully serve where you are, others will see it and you can discover it for yourself.

Saul’s journey reveals some important markers of leadership and greatness, check them out below:

10 Hallmarks of Great Churches and Great Leaders:  

1. Great churches and leaders accept and understand their calling and anointing.

“Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: “Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance?”” (1 Samuel 10:1)

Saul was anointed for a specific purpose as “commander over the Lord’s inheritance.”

Jesus also accepted and understood His purpose as he declared the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me…” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus and Saul were anointed for something specific. You are also anointed for something specific. Sadly, many people and churches never work out what they are anointed to do. We must be who God called us to be – not copy someone else or some other church. The end of that path is frustration and disappointment.

For example, Hillsong Church is called to write songs of worship. There is a lot of effort involved in outworking this call, but it’s more than work and effort that makes it what it is. Sadly, I think some pastors believe that this is what you have to do to be successful…write songs and record albums! But, your path to greatness may be very different! I know of a church that is also in the outer Western Suburbs of Sydney who is doing incredible projects that are feeding a phenomenal amount of people. They are doing what they are called to do. Other churches are anointed for missionary endeavour, others to teach and equip, others are ‘factories’ for apostolic leadership and so on.  It is important to work out what you are anointed for, otherwise you will spend your time trying to do everything and end up mastering nothing.

2. Great churches and leaders have healthy hearts.

“Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man… So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart.” (1 Samuel 10:6, 9)

Saul became “another man” with “another heart”. I don’t think this was a literal heart transplant or that Saul’s physical heart was exchanged for another – but his inner man, his spirit, was transformed.

So what actually changes?

I am the same guy who went to Bible College in 1972 and was so fearful of speaking publicly that when I was supposed to preach in chapel, I got in my car and drove in the opposite direction! I’m the same guy today, but with greater security and confidence.  When we step into the God-imparted calling and anointing on our life, we become who we are designed to be and live from a place of confidence, strength and grace.

3 John 1:2 says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”

Proverbs 4:23 warns us to, “…keep our heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”

Keep your heart and soul healthy by being in constant communion with the Holy Spirit and with other believers.

3. Great churches and leaders know what the occasion demands.

“And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.” (1 Samuel 10:7)

An occasion is a particular time – a chance occurrence, not something regular or consistent. You often have to lead differently in the occasion than in the routine. Great leaders must be both consistent and flexible.

In a driving emergency my only option may be to drive into a pole in order to avoid hitting a child. The occasion demanded it but that doesn’t mean that every time I drive I will aim for a pole!

In such things as weekly giving and building projects for example, it is important to recognise what the occasion demands. If you spend the same time and challenge on taking up the weekly tithes and offerings as you would on speaking about a special building or missions project, it will hurt you. Some things are established and understood and don’t need to be ‘campaigned’ – while others require extra time, energy and motivation, and perhaps the imparting of vision and resources. Some things will change while others won’t.

Crises are occasions, and often our leadership rises and falls in crisis. You cannot lead with rigidity or legalism in exceptional circumstances. Be flexible and open to hear the leading of the Holy Spirit – otherwise the consequences could be devastating for you and for your church.

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul mis-handled the occasion, by failing to respond correctly to the situation and taking matters into his own hands which led to a disastrous defeat.

Develop the confidence to trust your judgment and believe in your ability to hear God. Be prepared to take certain risks – discern and learn to read the occasion. Sometimes radical decisions will be required in a crisis, so you will need to have courage and confidence in your decisions.

4. Great leaders and churches refuse to shrink back.

“When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.  And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”  Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?”” (1 Samuel 10:10-12)

There was cynicism about Saul’s anointing – others who knew him questioned his right to prophesy and tried to limit him to who he USED to be.  Rest assured that as you step into your calling you will face intimidation. There will be those who will speak down to you in an effort to make you feel small. But to be great you cannot shrink back in such times. If you do, you are playing into the devil’s hands. He wants to stop God’s plans coming to pass; but shrinking back will only cause you to lose your effectiveness.

When Amos was called to prophesy (Amos 7:14-17) he was questioned as to his qualification to do so. Nevertheless, he refused to shrink back. He stated his case and proceeded to prophesy despite the opposition.

If you refuse to shrink back when you are opposed or treated like a lightweight, you will see greater growth and momentum as a result.

5. Great leaders and churches value the high place.

“And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.” (1 Samuel 10:13)

Great things happened for Moses on the high places. Mountain peaks are highlights but they are not a place to dwell permanently. Celebrate the victories, but remember that people have lives, families and commitments. A leader’s role is to bring heaven to earth, not try to transport earth to heaven! Bring the power of heaven to relate to people’s everyday lives.

The high place is found in your prayer life and times in God’s presence. It has been in these times that the Holy Spirit has given me strategic ideas but I had to ‘come down’ to actually put legs on these ideas and make them happen. Our battles are won in the high place, but the victories are fought out in our attitude to the day-to-day.

6. Great leaders and churches are not full of themselves.

“So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But about the matter of the kingdom, he did not tell him what Samuel had said.” (1 Samuel 10:16)

Saul didn’t reveal to his uncle that Samuel had prophesied that he would become a great leader and king. In the same way, some things are better kept to yourself. God will do what He said He would; you don’t need to broadcast it.

In verse 21 of that chapter, Saul was actually hiding from his public appointment behind some equipment. Insecurity is one thing, but you need to have a good balance of self-effacement and humility – let God lead. Quiet confidence is much more powerful than a bag of hot air! We do not graduate from humility.

Romans 12:3 says, “We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

…“So they ran and brought him from there; and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.”  (1 Samuel 10:23)

There are some things that you cannot make happen. You can’t make people commend you and you can’t force others to attach themselves to your vision. When you are walking in your calling and anointing, others will simply recognise it! Saul had Samuel. You will not have to force things.

As a young boy, I was never chosen to lead anything and no one would have guessed that one day I would lead a great church. Yet, for all my ministry life, it seems that whatever I decided to start has grown, and people have been quick to follow. That is something God puts on you, not something you can force. It’s also something that can frustrate others who see the favour you have and want it for themselves. But if those people focus on simply doing what God has designed them to do, they too will begin to see people attach themselves to it.

8. Great leaders and churches understand cultural responsibility.

“Then Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the Lord. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.” (1 Samuel 10:25)

It’s interesting to see that royalty requires certain behaviour, and so does leadership. What you allow you cannot change. Decide the right behaviour that should be attached to your calling – not just morally, but the personal disciplines as well. It’s in the words you choose, the attitudes you display, and the posture you take… And it’s in the practical things as well.  So if, for example, your home and family are in disorder and you don’t exercise self-discipline around the house, then that can spill into your ministry or public life. If your lawns are up to the windows and everything inside your home is dirty and unkept, it will reflect on you negatively and potentially sabotage your influence and potential.

Pastors, as well as your own, make sure that you also take responsibility for the behaviours that you see in others under your care – your staff and your team. Address them where appropriate – don’t ignore them. As a leader, take responsibility to raise the standard for the behavior of your people and for your own behavior – be the culture you want to see.

9. Great leaders and churches are grounded.

“And Saul also went HOME to Gibeah; and valiant men went with him, whose hearts God had touched.” (1 Samuel 10:26)

Saul went back home after he had been anointed as King of Israel. He didn’t suddenly tour the countryside, declaring his appointment or begin to make grandiose plans about his rule. There is wisdom in returning and being committed to home – it’s where you are known and where your support network is. It’s your proving ground and the place of nourishment and nurture.

Paul (Saul) of Tarsus was sent home after his radical conversion. He had much growing and learning to do before he could begin his ministry.

It’s a mistake to occupy yourself chasing opportunities and ideas, flitting from church to church, place to place and never giving yourself the chance to be firmly planted anywhere. Often greatly underestimated but of enormous importance to the growth and maturity of any Christian, is committing yourself to a home base and church. This allows you to deal with the heart issues that everyone tends to develop over the course of life.  Un-dealt with, these issues will limit both us and our potential. Sadly, some never learn this.

Look at the life of any proven and great leader and I guarantee you’ll see the quality of consistency and commitment in their life – they are grounded.

Being grounded will build consistency and strength into you for what it takes to be a great leader. To build God’s purpose in your life is to look at what is in front of you and give it your absolute best – one hundred percent. If you do, it will open the doors to all God has for you.

Refuse to chase opportunity. Instead, stay planted and build God’s purposes in your life and then watch as blessing and opportunity begin to follow you.

10. Great leaders and churches will attract opposition.

“But some rebels said, “How can this man save us?” So they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace.” (1 Samuel 10:27)

Not everyone will be with you or like you when you begin to operate in your God-given place. Often others who have known you for a while will think that you’ve changed, but in fact – you have grown. That is a matter of people’s insecurities; sadly, many times the people you expected to support and encourage you are the very ones who don’t. At the end of the day, you have to keep your peace and stay true to what God has called you to.

Remember, God has not called you to frustrate you – He has called you to greatness.

We were not called to simply exist, but to excel. Get an understanding about what God has called you for and walk in that anointing. Take responsibility for the behaviours that go with your leadership position. Step up, refuse to be intimidated or shrink back. Allow God to do in you what He wants to do and don’t underestimate what amazing things He has in store. You are called to be GREAT!

Brian C. Houston is the Senior Pastor and founder of Hillsong Church globally. For more leadership content from Pastor Brian visit

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