Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the pastor who got into an angry argument with a disgruntled deacon in the lobby after church one Sunday. Voices were raised. Fingers were pointed. Push came to shove—literally! The result: The pastor lost the argument, and eventually his ministry!
The fact is, there’s a great need for spiritual maturity in local church leadership these days. I’m hearing regularly of pastors, deacons, and other leaders who respond to one another in immature ways. Sadly, church leaders can sometimes be selfish, quick to judge, and critical of those with whom they disagree. The results can be tragic in the life of a church. We desperately need leaders who are godly and mature in interpersonal relationships. Consider these ten marks of spiritually mature church leaders . . .
1. Respect the opinions of others—even when they hold opposing views. Sometimes good people disagree. Maturity means that we courteously listen to others’ perspectives, without hostile reaction or demeaning criticism.
2. Applaud the achievements of others with sincere goodwill. Mature leaders recognize God’s ultimate reward and recognition—and move beyond petty jealousy and envy.
3. View criticism as an opportunity for correction and growth. It’s true: Some critics are not constructive in their comments; they seem to be more interested in inflicting pain and causing hurt than providing helpful correction. Maturity means that we listen for the truth in a critic’s remarks that will make us better leaders.
4. Be a good loser—accepting disappointment or defeat without bitterness. Things do not always turn out the way I want them to. My decisions and those of my fellow leaders may be dismissed by the congregation. Important initiatives (in my view, of course) may be rejected. Maturity, therefore, means we accept disappointment with grace and trust in God’s timing. It means we see in the midst of the defeat a God Who cares for us and is accomplishing His will.
5. Don’t complain. Even leaders can be marked by a complaining spirit—about other leaders, the congregation, the church’s weaknesses. Maturity means we accept the things we cannot change and view our churches, its their people, and leaders in a positive way.
6. Don’t promote yourself. Like Diotrephes, who is described as one “who loves to have the preeminence among them” (3 John 9), we can get carried away with the recognition and power that church leadership sometimes brings. Maturity means that we humbly see ourselves as servant leaders and seek to promote others and ultimately our Lord in the context of church ministry.
7. Accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. As church leaders, we must own up to our decisions with transparency, integrity, and grace. Maturity means that we recognize that we are not always right and that when we make mistakes, we accept responsibility for them and honestly seek to change where needed.
8. Speak kindly of others—avoid gossip and slander. Nothing is more damaging in a church than leaders who sow discord through critical remarks and slanderous accusations. Maturity means self-restraint in speech as well as a commitment to confront others whose gossip and slander cause disunity in the church family.
9. Accept delays without impatience. Church leaders know that things often move slowly in congregationally governed churches. Maturity means that we are willing to adjust ourselves to the convenience of others. It means we balance proactive effort with the need to wait on God to work things according to His will—and in His time!
10. Deal with sin in loving ways that bring reconciliation and restoration. Rather than simply ignoring sinful behavior, spiritual leaders are to proactively respond in gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1). To fail to confront in love is not a mark of godly leadership. Maturity means we are willing to do the challenging task of prayerfully and lovingly working through the process of restoring a fellow believer who has fallen into serious sin.
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) was a pastor for 30 years before becoming associate national representative of the GARBC.