The ABC’s of Church Leadership

The ABC’s of Church Leadership
Thom Rainer

Leadership is difficult.

Now that’s really an obvious statement.

Leading a church is especially difficult. Regardless of the church polity, the number of bosses the church leader has is usually equal to the number of church members. And keeping all church members happy is not only difficult; it’s impossible.

The unfortunate path of many church leaders

When a church leader begins to experience difficulties, a common path taken is one of defense. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t upset the apple cart. The metaphors are many.

And the unfortunate result is that the church follows the path of its leaders. It stops taking risks. It focuses more on comfort than a Great Commission challenge. Avoiding conflict and making as little change as possible becomes the unstated vision.

And that’s a path of certain decline.

Studying leaders and leadership

Four years ago I led a research team to look at leaders who had made significant leadership changes. Without getting into all the boring criteria, the essence of the study can be explained simply. We were looking for leaders who moved from defense to offense and from comfort to challenge. We began a quest for breakout leaders.

The search was difficult. Not many leaders who had moved into a defensive posture were willing to change. But we found a few such leaders four years ago, and we’ve found a few more since then.

As we interviewed these leaders over the past four years, we found a common pattern. We called that pattern “The ABC Moment.”

The ABC’s of breakout leadership

What goes on in the mind and heart of a breakout leader? How did that leader make such a radical change? What moved him from leaving the comfort of the status quo to the challenge of Great Commission obedience?

Awareness. The first stage in the mind of the leader was a wake-up call. The church leader was able to confront the brutal reality that the church he was leading was not moving forward as Christ intended. Unfortunately, many church leaders live in the world of denial. They are simply unwilling to face the facts that the churches they lead are in status quo mode at best.

Belief. In this stage the leader, after seeing the unhealthy state of the church, really begins to trust God and move forward. The leaders do not despair over the needed changes, but instead have a strong belief that God can use them to make a less-than-desirable situation better.

Crisis. Once positive change begins, the inevitable resistance to change fights back. Not everyone is receptive to Great Commission obedience. Some members are more concerned about their own preferences and their own comforts than obedience to the call of God. They don’t like it when the church leader does not do things their way, and they are quick to let him know.

The small number of breakout leaders

Very few church leaders ever make it to the level of awareness. Looking in the leadership mirror can be tough, so even fewer are able to realize the next stage of belief. It’s hard to trust God for something when you don’t think you have any need for change.

For the few leaders who experience the crisis stage because of positive leadership efforts, the stage is often not sustainable. The pain is too great and the price is too large to continue.

But the blessings are incredible for those who become breakout leaders. It is a difficult path, but not impossible. The God we serve is able. He will be with those leaders who are radically faithful in Great Commission obedience. The dying church thus becomes alive, and the congregation sees the impossible become possible.

A great price.? A great opportunity. A great God.

Such is the reward for those who make it through the ABCs of church leadership.


Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and for 15 years prior to that led a church and denominational consulting firm. He is the author of 21 books. His latest, “Simple Life,” will be released later this summer.

The above article, “The ABC’s of Church Leadership” is written by Thom Rainer. The article was excerpted from: June 2008

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.