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11 Characteristics the Church Needs in Leaders Today

The church of today looks different than 100 years ago – or it should. If it doesn’t, you’ll have a really hard time being effective in today’s culture.

The church 10 years from now will look different than today. It’s the message of the church, the movement of God, that is sacred; it is not the methods or institutions that are sacred.

We desperately need leaders, with deep character and faithful competence, to help the church go from where it is today to where it needs to be for tomorrow.

In days gone by, church leaders could be trained to give a decent sermon, hold a funeral, visit the faithful and they were good to go.

As a professor of mine would say, church leaders need to be ready to “pray, preach or die on a moment’s notice.”

Things look different today. Those days are long gone. So much more is needed and required from our leaders today and into the future.

We need leaders who can bridge cultural divides, bring change to congregations, equip people to be the church and remind the church of its role to join God on his mission in the world every day.

My colleagues – Garth Williams, associate executive minister for leadership development with the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches (CABC); and Kevin Vincent, CABC associate executive minister for new congregations – and I have been discussing the kind of leaders the church needs today.

Here’s our list. The leaders the church needs today and into the future are:

1. Highly relational – value people and are great listeners.

They know trust is a key commodity and is only built through solid relationships. They build teams that accomplish a lot, but also know, trust and understand each other. They know when to be vulnerable and can be trusted with others’ vulnerabilities. These leaders can listen to even criticisms and hear the hurt and confusion that is coming out as judgment or anger.

2. Collaborative – invite others in to help shape and accomplish the vision.

These leaders are influencers rather than dictators. They have a posture of invitation into God’s way and into their leadership. They display an openness to discussion while also knowing when to push the team from discussion to action. They are willing to give away power and control.

3. Less linear, more fluid – comfortable living in less defined constructs and living in the gray.

They are comfortable ending a discussion with a comma and not a period. They are comfortable with uncertainty and leading into the unknown. They are versatile, agile on the method but married to the mission. They recognize the church cannot stay where it is and continue to reach new people and a new generation.

4. Great questioners – able to ask questions that are not judgmental but force assumptions to the top.

They ask questions that invite people into deeper and more thoughtful discussion. Questions also help these leaders be ongoing learners. Leaders need to show this willingness to learn from outsiders, insiders and anyone.

5. Visionaries – Leaders with extreme clarity of God’s mission for them.

They know their “white-hot why” and are able to communicate the cause clearly to others.

6. Strategist – Leaders that not only dream and vision but also know how to lead a team and church to become passionate implementers.

7. Experimenters – Leaders that are passionate about experimentation.

They have an entrepreneurial attitude and are not afraid to take risks. There is no failure; there are only lessons along the way.

8. Character – Leaders with depth of character and love.

Leaders that have the character to withstand challenges with grace and perseverance. They have clear integrity, inside and out. Leaders that love and serve so fanatically that their deep convictions are respected by even those outside the faith. Others could say, “I don’t agree with them in that but, wow, they live out their faith in Jesus!”

9. Missionaries – know they are called by God to love and serve missionally where they study, live, work and play.

They are desperate to understand their context, the questions people are asking today and the needs around them, so that they can equip the church to be missionaries in their context. They are both modeling being on mission every day with Jesus in their own lives and are calling and equipping others to live on mission with Jesus every day.

10. Kingdom minded – they are concerned about the Jesus movement going forward.

They are not protecting a particular church, a building, a denomination, nor are they seeking to build their own church or kingdom. They are others’ focused.

11. Gritty – they are not afraid of hard work and pain.

They are resilient and persevere through challenges. Their strength comes from being close to Jesus and listening to Jesus. They are not afraid of talk about the tough topics or have difficult conversations. They are willing to do whatever it takes for the sake of Jesus’ mission advancing.

Renée Embree is director of Youth and Family Ministries with the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches in Canada and the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Studies at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, One Neighborhood, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @r_embree.