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What does a church look for in the
selection of lay leaders and workers?

A pastor is always encouraged whenever anyone says they feel the calling to serve in some aspect of ministry or leadership in the church. There is always a great need of qualified laypersons to serve in such roles. But before believers seek such avenues of Christian service, they should understand four common principles that apply to all Christian leadership:

(1) Faithfulness is the chief qualification for leadership. Persons considered for leadership roles in the church should first show spiritual character, maturity, and faithfulness. Generally speaking, a pastor will select his leaders on the merits that they are consistent and cooperative to the basic expectations that are preached and presented to the whole congregation — that they are outstanding Christians. Faithfulness in basic things is the cornerstone of leadership, and is the scriptural method to discern leadership potential. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10). Paul shared these same views and instructed Timothy to commission men of faithfulness to carry on the ministry of the Gospel. "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). Regardless of their skills or talents, if a person does not have some degree of mastery in the basic fundamentals of Christian faith, morals, and character, they do not yet have qualifications for leadership and should not be considered.

Besides the previous issues mentioned, many churches or pastors will not consider persons for leadership (a) if they do not attend church and its functions faithfully, (b) if they do not have an uplifting attitude, (c) if they do not demonstrate loyalty to the pastor and other leadership, (d) if they do not show voluntary eagerness and cooperation, (e) if they do not manifest patterns of scriptural stewardship, (f) if they don't share the same doctrinal views or ministry goals, and (g) if they don't show some evidence of appropriate giftings or leadership traits.

(2) Leaders will be held to higher standards than non-leaders. To some it may seem unfair to expect more from leadership than the average believer, especially if they do not understand that leadership is supposed to be a role-model. But the Bible makes clear that those with higher responsibilities also have higher accountability. "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48).

The life of any leader, especially a pastor, will always be under a magnifying glass, being scrutinized and criticized for flaws or imperfections. Whether we think this is just or unfair, it's a fact — and a matter of necessity, as the perceived godliness of a leader helps bring credibility to his message.

However, keep in mind that the success of leadership does not depend on the total absence of flaws. There are, of course, prescribed standards of morality and character that every leader must possess, but if it were possible for a leader to be completely perfect without any faults, he might fall short as a role model for believers who are destined to make many mistakes in their lives. It is because leaders are human, still subject to mistakes and even sin, they provide an attainable role-model for the average believer. Flawlessness is not the realistic goal that leadership hopes to demonstrate. Rather, they must show the wholehearted effort of following the Lord, the example of a humble, repentant heart if they fail, and the determination to rise above their failures to keep going on for God.

Since a leader's Godly lifestyle contributes to the credibility of his message or teaching, he must make himself accessible to people. As persons observe the Christ-likeness and genuineness of their leader in a casual environment, they will grow in their trust and respect of his guidance and counsel. "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you" (1 Thess. 5:12).

To illustrate this, one church member was a staunch opponent of many of the pastor's sermons. He would often write letters of rebuttal and openly criticize the pastor. Finally, in an effort to resolve this discontent, the pastor invited the member to his home to fellowship on several occasions. As a result, the member began to know the pastor better and began to trust the content of his messages. It may seem odd to many of us, but people sometimes view church meetings and services as a "staged," superficial environment, where ministers and people act religious only because they're supposed to. These people have the greatest need to know their leaders outside of the church meeting environment.

Even if persons are not seeking to be leaders, but are given significant roles of visibility or influence in the church, they are usually also held to a similar standard expected for leadership. This is because anyone who stands in front of people performs a role of leadership whether they intend to or not. In times past, I've known some in the church to be extremely gifted as musicians, singers, or teachers who could have been a great blessing to the fellowship, but they showed such immaturity, unfaithfulness, or impure character, that I could not use them, as it would put them forth to the congregation as an example. Gifts and talents are obviously important, but sincerity and integrity is far more critical than how talented they are.

(3) Leaders lead by example. The basic definition of a leader is "one who stands in front of." And of course, what they stand in front of is people. A leader stands in front of people in order to be seen, because a leader is one who demonstrates a visual example. A leader is a role model who leads the way, who shows how it's done. "...in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility" (Titus 2:7).

Leaders must be good followers in order to be good role models. Usually a pastor will not have a problem encouraging the congregation to do what he's been able to get his leaders to do. When the pastor encourages the people to worship, the leaders should be the first to worship. When the congregation is invited to the altars to pray, the leaders should be the first to respond. When the congregation is asked to sacrifice and give, the leaders should be the first to give. When the people are asked to go shake hands and be friendly, the leaders should "lead" the way in going to people introducing themselves and being friendly. When the people are asked to make church attendance a priority, the leaders should be the first to cooperate. If the people are challenged to pray, the leaders should lead the way. "...be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

(4) Spiritual leaders inspire cooperation from the heart. The objective of Christian ministry is not merely to influence behavior. Rather, it is to inspire the attitude of the heart, which affects behavior. While it might be possible to demand and enforce outward obedience to certain rules or laws, it is not possible to change inner "spiritual" desires or attitudes by such demands.

For instance, one could demand a kiss from one's spouse, and might get compliance, but it doesn't mean they did so willingly. And what real value was the kiss if it was only compliance to orders — and not from the heart? Love is something that comes from the heart and cannot be bought, forced, demanded or manipulated. So it is with spiritual virtues. You can't order someone to be joyful or peaceful. These virtues must be birthed in the "want to" of a person's spirit. They can be inspired, coaxed, courted or motivated, but they cannot be forced, coerced, or pressured.

If the church was only concerned with outward results, or in maintaining a regimented organization, it might be possible to coerce the cooperation of most people with tough rules and methods of enforcement. Even the unruly nature of criminals can be contained by the controlled environment of a prison. However, everyone knows that prisoners are not voluntarily cooperative. In their hearts, they resent their harsh environment of shackles and chains. And if a gate was left open, or a guard's back turned long enough, any one of them would willingly escape.

The only way a church can accomplish its mission of changing people's lives, is when there is a "want to" born in the heart — a desire to serve God and to do His will. The objective of leadership and the ministry is not to "coerce" people into obeying God, but to "inspire and motivate" faith that will bring about obedience. Our tools for this are God's Word and the person of the Holy Spirit, who invites, convicts, and persuades the heart of men. A hunger for God, peace, love, unity, or joy cannot be forced upon a church. These, and all other spiritual things can only come when there is a desire birthed in the heart of the believer. This is a basic rudiment of spiritual leadership. There is no pastor or leader that will succeed until they understand this.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.