Leveling Up Leadership, Part 1

By Andy Addis

Pastors are leaders. This is not exactly a groundbreaking statement, but what kind of leaders are they?

In this two-part post, I’ll discuss four types of leaders I’ve encountered in ministry.

Very often, leadership is considered a binary issue. Either you are or you aren’t. You have the gift, or you don’t. You’re leading a crowd or taking a walk by yourself.

But what if leadership had levels?

That would help you know where to place people with the “gift “of leadership in your church. And it helps discern where you are as you face the daily challenges of leadership.

This concept surfaces in Exodus 18 when Moses gets schooled by his father-in-law.(That’s never a fun experience!) Jethro tells Moses that what he’s doing is not good because he’s bearing all the weight himself. He tells him he must find leaders but then gets strategic about it:

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” (Exo. 18:21 ESV)

Moses was to look for a bunch of leaders, all with similar integrity and skills. Yet some were capable of leading thousands, while others needed to be simply over a handful.

Apparently, there are levels of leadership.

In my 30 years serving the church, I have seen four levels of leaders, both volunteer and staff leaders:

  • Earn a check
  • Serve a cause
  • Lead a cause
  • Advance a cause

Here’s a look at that list of four leadership types garnered from my observation over the years. I’ll cover the first two levels in this post, and the last two in a follow-up post.

‘Earn a check’ leaders
Starting at the lowest level – or the lowest level of commitment – are leaders who are there to “earn a check.” You might think that’s only a staff designation. But some volunteers lead in your church simply because they’re hanging onto a family heritage, feel a sense of burdened obligation or even think they are somehow earning their spot in the kingdom (legalism in its truest form).

And, if you’re blessed enough to have secondary staff members, some are skilled and able, but the only reason they are serving is because they need a job.

When someone volunteers, serves or leads to receive something in return, like payment of some kind, we must ask the question: Should they be allowed in that place of leadership?

The answer is yes – and no. For the staff member, there is a higher sense of accountability and a need for them to be more than a hireling. Serious conversations about commitment to the church and the vision are needed – positive conversations that challenge them to embrace leadership at a different level.

It could be extending their leadership to a place where they feel ownership. But, in the end, if a paid staff member can’t find motivation beyond a paycheck, they need not receive that paycheck.

Being a volunteer is a different matter. Suppose you recognize the volunteer is serving for some payout. In that case, you have an opportunity for discipleship – driving them to prayer, seeing the value of what they do from the kingdom perspective and celebrating with them. They may need to change roles or be challenged with different tasks and levels. As a pastor, you should embrace the opportunity to turn them into something more than they are today through God’s Spirit and service as a co-laborer.

What you don’t want to do is let them continue to serve with that heart, especially in leadership, knowing that all they are doing is “plugging a hole.” That is abusing the volunteer, who should be discipled better.

‘Serve a cause’ leaders
The second level of leadership is one who “serves a cause.” These are the leaders who understand the mission and want to contribute. Their service is on task and beneficial to the organization/church. But their leadership is primarily custodial. Seldom are they self-starters; they paint by numbers. They will be faithful leaders as long as they are instructed and inspired well. These leaders are managers, not alpha dogs.

It can be challenging for the staff member at this level because leaders above them often project their own personality and drive onto those who serve with them. When they don’t see the same characteristics in that staff member that they see in themselves, it can cause conflict and disappointment.

This is true for the secondary staff member as well, as they believe they are serving at full capacity and don’t know why “the boss” is not satisfied. If this is the scenario that you’re in, one of two choices must be made:

  1. You can adjust your expectations to be satisfied with what they have to offer.
  2. Or you can help them to be a better leader, finding joy in seeing them grow.

For the volunteer at this level, you must ensure they are in the right seat on the bus. A leader who serves the cause is an incredible asset if you need someone to fulfill a role who will passionately reproduce what you need done in a specific area. But if you have them in a position that needs to run independently without instruction, you could be setting yourself up for heartache.

Staff members and volunteers can grow from this level with some direct contact: intentional conversations on leadership, clear expectations, public rewards, reading together and processing as a team. The “serves a cause” leader is an asset where they are but has the potential for even more.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this post, which will cover the last two types of leaders.

Published June 23, 2023

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