What is Leadership and Why Does It Matter in Church?

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair at Wheaton College, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.


“Great men lead people,” Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ said. “But greater men train leaders.” As leaders we are called not only to raise up followers, but also to equip leaders. How we define Christian leadership is the crucial starting point.

When I teach leadership, I walk through a few definitions, including:

“Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.” (Robert Clinton)

“Leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.” (John Maxwell)

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” (Peter Drucker)

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” (Warren Bennis)

Here is the definition I use today:

Christian leadership is a process of influencing a community to use their God-given gifts toward a goal and purpose as led by the Holy Spirit.

But, how does this work? And, how is Christian leadership different?

A Skill?

A common debate about leadership involves whether leaders are made or born. On the one hand, some believe leadership is simply a skill to be developed. On the other, some think there are natural born leaders, with no refining or development necessary. The answer lies in between these two extremes.

There’s no doubt some are born with a combination of characteristics that easily opens doors for leadership.

However, there are additional skills of leadership one can learn.

In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin observes how we’ve overestimated the importance of being born with great ability—leadership, sports, music, or other areas—and underestimated the power of deliberate, intentional practice to improve [1].

Regardless of our starting point we can grow as leaders.

I am struck by the reaction people have after taking a leadership class. They feel empowered because they have learned skills to better lead a congregation or ministry. They LEARNED to lead, inside the gift set and wiring God had already given them.

Therefore, whether leadership comes naturally to us or not, we can learn to lead better, often by developing skills. Sometimes those are pure leadership skills, but sometimes they are skills that support leadership.

When it comes to leadership, growing in specific skills allows us to better serve God’s people by leading them well. Growing as disciples personally includes developing as a leader specifically.