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10 Lessons on Leading the Church that Every Pastor Must Learn

10 Lessons on Leading the Church that Every Pastor Must Learn

Anyone who begins to pastor a church should recognize two big things: There are lessons to be learned if you are ever to do this well, and most of them are learned the hard way. Your scars will attest to your education.

Most of this is counter-intuitive; that is, not what one might expect.

1. Leading a big church is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (1 Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, want to lead big churches, want to grow their church to be huge, or wish to move to a large church. Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than one would ever think.

Small bodies can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.

A friend says, “At judgment, a lot of pastors are going to wish they’d led smaller congregations.”

2. A pastor’s formal education does not define his ability to lead.

The pastor of the small church will often have less formal training and education than he would like. Not surprisingly, he sometimes feels inferior to his colleagues with their seminary degrees. I have two thoughts on that…

1. It’s a mistake. He can be as learned as they are and more if he applies himself. Let the Lord’s preachers not be overly impressed by certificates on the wall or titles before their name. Better the preacher who’s got it on the ball than one who’s got it on the wall!

2. He can get more formal education if he decides it’s God’s will and if he is willing. Seminaries and Bible colleges have online programs that make advanced education practical and affordable.

My dad, a coal miner and the oldest of a dozen children, had to leave school after the 7th grade and entered the mines at age 14. But he never quit learning. He took correspondence courses and read constantly. When God took him to Heaven at almost 96 years of age, Mom had to cancel four or five magazine subscriptions he was still taking and reading.

Some of the finest preachers of God’s Word had little formal theological education.

3. There are no lone rangers or solo acts on the Lord’s team.

He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1)

The preacher who says pastors are not allowed to have friends and thus shuts himself off from colleagues in ministry has bought into a lie from hell that causes him to deceive himself, starve his spirit, and limit his ministry. While a pastor may choose not to have close friends among his own members, there is every reason for him to make friends with other ministers who serve the Lord well. Failing to do so limits himself and hurts the kingdom work.

Furthermore, he must have co-workers alongside him. Paul needed Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and others. Read the last chapter of 1 Corinthians and ask God to forgive you for trying to do this work alone.

4. You can't do it all yourself.

“Make disciples,” said our Lord. That mandate calls for us to help people come into the kingdom, then nurture and grow them to the point they will know the Word, can share the Word, and can make disciples of others.

Barnabas did not find it convenient to leave Antioch and travel to Tarsus “to seek Saul” (Acts 11:25). But in doing so, he connected the man called as an evangelist to the Gentiles with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are forever grateful to the best disciple-maker in Scripture, Barnabas!

5. Don't just tell them; show them how.

God did not send me to be a talker only, but first and foremost, a doer. Not as a coach only, but as a player-coach. It is enough for the disciple to become like the teacher, said our Lord.

So, as a pastor and church leader, my job is to show them how. Not just tell them. (James 1:22; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 1 John 3:18).

6. Rather than fearing criticism, teach stewardship until people do it.

Watch the butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. The struggle, we are told, is an essential part of its development. Without the struggle, the creature dies.

Only people of faith and determination will set out to learn to tithe and witness and understand the Bible, then stay with it until they are able to do it well. Everyone else drops by the wayside, intending to wait until it’s easy. In doing so, they’re asking for and expecting what never was and never shall be. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

Pastor, the members of your church need to be reminded that God does not need their money. He is not suffering from a cash flow problem. God is trying to grow disciples. That accounts for the hundreds of teachings on money in the Word. When are we ever going to understand this? When are preachers going to quit fearing criticism and teach stewardship until people do it!

7. God makes His leaders servants.

I run into husbands who want to lord over their wives because “God made me the head of the home and told her to submit!” Such men may call themselves believers, but they are pagan to the heart and may never have been saved. They certainly don’t know the first thing about God’s Word or Jesus’ heart. If they did, they would know that they are sent as servants. 

“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25)

Bullies on the playground or dictators in the pulpit are cancers on the body and should not be tolerated. The parable of all parables on this subject is Luke 17:7-10. We must keep saying to ourselves–even when we have done everything Jesus required– “I am only an unworthy servant; just doing my duty.”

8. The more righteous we are, the less we will be aware of it. 

“Moses knew not that his face did shine.” (Exodus 34:29)

I said to the 75-year-old saint in our church, “Marguerite, you are the most Christ-like person I know.” She didn’t flinch. “Oh honey,” she said to her young minister, “if you only knew.” I did know, in a way, but have learned a hundred times since: Those closest to the Lord are the last to know it. The nearer to the light we get, the more imperfections and blemishes we will see.

Beware of ever thinking you have arrived. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

9. You will always run into opposition.

Reading the mandate of the disciples in Matthew 10:16, we cannot say we were not warned. But it has ever been this way. We are swimming upstream in a downstream world.

Jesus prepared us for this by saying that whoever receives us is receiving Him, whoever listens to us is listening to Him, and whoever rejects us is rejecting Him (See Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16). If being treated like Jesus is not enough for us, we’re in the wrong calling.

10. The Lord's choice servants should expect to suffer. 

Again, see Matthew 10:16.

Caesar ain’t coming to your revival, preacher. So, the Lord is going to be needing someone to get arrested for preaching. Then, when the high and mighty ruler has to decide on this case, he will order the saint in chains to “tell us what you’ve been preaching.” That’s how it worked with Paul (see 2 Timothy 4:16-17), and how it has been with His choice servants ever since.

When Paul and Silas were falsely charged, then beaten and jailed, even though their backs were open wounds left untreated and they were hungry, tired, and hurting, “about midnight, they began praying and singing hymns of praise to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). They’re always listening and watching when God’s people suffer unjustly. That’s a fact which God uses to reach many for Himself.

No one wants to suffer. No one volunteers to hurt. But sometimes it’s the only way.

What God’s faithful must never do is groan and bellyache and say, “Why me, Lord?” Your suffering may turn out to be the highest compliment the Father ever gave you. Early believers rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer (Acts 5:41).

This article originally appeared on Used with permission.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Chuang Tzu Dreaming 

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at