DNA of Biblical Leadership

Some thoughts on church leadership dynamics concerning the roles of preacher and pastor. Ephesians 4 names five “offices” or roles that together make up leadership within the Church. For there to be effective, spiritual, and transformative leadership in the congregation, each of these has to be present and healthy:

  • apostolic leadership – emphasizes the outward expansion of the organization’s mission into new areas through starting new ministries and creating new opportunities;
  • prophetic leadership – emphasizes the inward character and values of the organization through calling for confession, repentance, guidance, reform, and self-assessment;
  • evangelistic leadership – emphasizes the mission of the organization to grow the Body through relationships, outreach, meeting needs, and bearing witness to the gospel among outsiders;
  • pastoral leadership – emphasizes the relationships of organization through servanthood, guidance and counsel, and caring for the needs and well-being of others;
  • teaching leadership – emphasizes the maturity of the organization through exhortation (preaching), instruction and knowledge, resources, and training built on the Scriptures.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)

Based on this text, true leadership involves multiple roles and multiple leaders working in concert. Each dimension is essential to the work of the organization. However, how effective can a single leader or pastor be who is expected (or seeks) to fill all five roles simultaneously?

Modern evangelicalism, in its desire for effective outreach and productivity, has fallen prey to a mechanical, cause-and-effect view of organizations. This means viewing the leader as a skilled technician able to build, run, and fine-tune the machine for maximum efficiency. Just as a well-built machine only needs one operator, organizations are viewed as “parts” that need ordering and assembly. The top leader in the organization is the one best suited to assemble and coordinate those parts.

The byproduct of this mechanical view of the organization in the Church is that leadership is reduced down to the office/role of “pastor” which has, in modern times, now become the primary, dominant leadership office in the church. We hire “senior pastors” but we never hire “senior teachers” or “senior apostles.” (Even when apostle is used as a label, it generally is used in lieu of “pastor,” not in the distinct function seen in the NT.) The other offices, while still seen to be important and necessary, are relegated to the category of “spiritual gifts” or subordinate “associate” jobs rather than uniquely essential parts of the core leadership.

On the other hand, the five offices in Ephesians suggest the act and practice of leadership itself is defined by the interaction of these roles and the people who fill them. In other words, that which we call leadership is not a “thing” one uses to manage the interaction of these, or other, roles, but the interaction of these five roles itself (1). Biblical leadership in the church is never relegated to a single individual. Just as we talk about the Body of Christ being reflected in the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit throughout the Body, so too should we talk about biblical leadership. Leadership in the church is distributed leadership, perhaps, as suggested in Ephesians 4, primarily in the matrix of five offices. After all, the ultimate single head of the Church is Christ, not the senior pastor.

A distinction should be made here between the role and the person who fills the role. Five roles does not necessarily mean five different leaders; one individual may well fill multiple roles; i.e., a strong evangelistic preacher, or a caring pastoral shepherd with a strong, prophetic voice of wisdom and guidance. The greater point to recognize is not how many leaders do we have to get, but how and where are each of these roles being filled. The question is especially critical in a small church (half of American congregations have fewer than 100 people [Alban Institute website]) with the budget for one full-time clergy (and sometimes not even that).

The answer is to rethink our thinking about leadership. The formally designated pastor as the head of a congregation (whether full-time or bivocational, trained or not trained) certainly plays a key role in the community. That role, however, is only a portion of the leadership of that community. That senior pastor fills one or more of the five leadership roles, but their ministry effectiveness is dependent on others filling the remaining roles. These others may or may not be full-time professional clergy. More likely, they are already a part of the congregation (laity). Nonetheless, a primary part of what it means to be a leader is to seek out the other leaders around you to discover and engage with them so that the full dynamic of leadership is at work in the congregation.

Revisiting our conceptions of ecclesial leadership in terms of an interactive, interdependent model of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher offers the  Church in a post-Christian world a great deal of freedom, power, hope, meaning, and spiritual productivity that is woefully absent in most Christian leadership writing. Ephesians 4 invites us to recapture a model of leading the church that is less about influence, strategy, form, and relevance than it is about relationships, authenticity, sharing, trust, mutual servanthood, and a corporate pursuit of the holy life.


(1) The subtle distinction between leadership as interaction and leadership as the management of interaction may seem indiscernible or inconsequential, but the relative view in each of authority, power, relationship, followers, vision, calling, conflict, etc. can be vastly different. When you talk about the church in terms of these issues, the implications become far more meaningful. The point being made here is simply that there is a direct link between how one thinks of these issues and how one conceives of leadership at its most basic core.

Further reading