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Lutheran leadership: Not just authority

What comes to mind when you think of church leadership? Many of us think about our pastor or council member or school principal. Generally, when the Bible speaks of “leaders,” it is referencing people like that—those God called to serve the church in some public capacity. That leader has God-given authority to provide oversight of the congregation’s ministry. So the writer to the Hebrews encourages us, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (13:17).

However, another aspect of leadership has nothing to do with authority and everything to do with influence. It is leadership that is exercised by encouragement or example. We can all think of individuals who, by their words and attitudes and actions, greatly influence the way we think and live. Those individuals “lead” us in a sense. The writer to the Hebrews also writes, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). He is calling for us to have a positive influence on each other. That’s an aspect of good leadership.

By your example and your encouragement, you can influence others.

If church leaders exercise leadership solely by appealing to their authority, they eventually will find that no one is following. On the other hand, if Christians think that because they have not been called to some position of authority they cannot lead others, that is equally problematic. All believers can spur their Christian brothers and sisters “toward love and good deeds.” Consider:

  • A pastor who leads his people into God’s Word. He helps them see the mission Christ has given his church.
  • A church president who leads in producing an annual ministry plan and budget. He shows the importance of Christian stewardship and service.
  • The woman who is constantly inviting her unchurched friends and neighbors to visit her congregation. She encourages her fellow members to do the same with their friends.
  • The man who notices some of his church friends haven’t been in worship in months. He visits these friends, encourages them to return, and, if necessary, is willing to admonish them.

The first two serve in a formal leadership capacity, yet all four provide a type of essential leadership. They all are attempting to influence others in God-pleasing ways. A congregation would thank God for all their leadership, formal or informal.

Maybe one day you will be called into public ministry. Maybe you will be elected to serve in some form of congregational leadership. But if these things do not happen, realize that you still can lead. By your example and your encouragement, you can influence others.

Take a moment tonight to think of all those people whom Jesus Christ has brought into your sphere of influence: children, spouse, grandchildren, your neighbors, fellow church members, the teen who mows your lawn, the woman who styles your hair. Picture a few of those faces before your bedtime prayers. Then in those prayers, ask that the Spirit would help you be a positive influence on those individuals, whether it’s striving to lead them to know Christ or grow in their life for Christ. As you exert that positive influence, know that what you do is just as glorious and important as the work of any pastor or church president or synod official. Thank you for exercising that leadership!

Learn more about being a Lutheran leader at the 2023 WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership, Jan. 16-18, 2023.

Author: Jonathan R. Hein
Volume 109, Number 10
Issue: October 2022

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