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Every church has leaders, but not every church has leaders in the right place. If there’s a person in the wrong place in leadership, extensive damage can be done.

If churches continue to ignore leadership development, perpetual damage will be done to their health and sustainability. And the first piece of leadership development is understanding the 3 levels of leadership and asking the question: are our leaders equipped to lead at the level they presently reside? Let’s dive into this.

3 Levels of Leadership

1. Lead Yourself

If you can’t lead yourself, you have no business leading someone else.

At this level, leadership is part discipline, part passion, and part perseverance. It takes discipline to do your work and to do it well. It takes passion to maintain the energy required to try new things and constantly innovate. It takes perseverance to push past criticisms, roadblocks, and failures so you can have a long and fruitful ministry.

4 qualities of someone who is able to lead them self:

  • Constant learner, i.e. a reader of books and blogs, a listener of podcasts, an attendee of conferences, and a mentee of other leaders. Not having prior knowledge of something isn’t a roadblock.
  • Dependable, i.e. you never question whether they will be on time or do what they said they would do.
  • Self-starter, i.e. if something needs to be done, they take initiative and get it done.
  • Principled, i.e. they operate on a foundation of biblical principles. They have steady integrity.

Someone who can lead himself well has the potential to move to the next leadership level, but this move isn’t automatic and some don’t make it.

2. Lead Others

To lead others, you must step back from task completing and step into people equipping.

At this level, leadership is part planning, part vision casting, and part equipping. Tack on the three leadership pieces from leadership level one and you get a picture of what it looks like to lead others.

It takes planning to move past getting things done yourself and moving toward getting others involved. It takes vision casting to constantly help the team see the why behind what they are doing. It takes equipping to honor God and His call for us as church leaders (Eph. 4:12).

5 qualities of someone who is able to lead others:

  • Observer, i.e. they don’t just focus on what they are doing, but they take notice of what their team is and isn’t doing, and, more importantly, how they are doing.
  • Question asker, i.e. they find ways to teach and lead by asking open-ended questions that help their team push past the obstacle at hand.
  • Value driver, i.e. they utilize opportunities for teachable moments that drive home the importance of the church’s core values and core convictions.
  • Grateful, i.e. they take the time to make sure their team knows they are appreciated. Thank-you notes are a great way they do this.
  • Optimistic, i.e. they help their team see what the future could be and always connect the day’s project with God’s work in and around them.

Someone who can lead their self and others could potentially move to the next leadership level. But there are some shifts they need to make.

3. Lead Leaders

Your effectiveness as a leader of leaders is determined by what you help others help others accomplish.

And no, that wasn’t a typo.

At this level, leadership is part evaluation, part coaching, part courage, and part presence.

It takes evaluation to set aside time to reflect on where the church has been, how God is leading in the present, and how we should respond for the future. It takes coaching to raise up the leaders who are working through the challenges of leading people and to help them know that you have their back. It takes courage to make the tough decisions that leaders must make on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. It takes presence to build and cultivate the trust of the entire church and to remain a connected leader.

5 qualities of someone who is able to lead leaders:

  • Good communicator, i.e. they effectively and constantly are communicating the gospel and the direction and vision of the church with their leaders and the entire congregation.
  • Strategizer, i.e. they connect the vision for the future with the work of today so that the vision ceases to be a God-given idea and begins to become a God-given reality.
  • Listener, i.e. they are concerned with keeping the pulse of the congregation and the best way they do this is by listening to their leaders and their congregants. Most importantly, as with all followers of Jesus, they are in tune with the voice of the Spirit of God.
  • Herald of the big picture, i.e. they are far more concerned with how decisions impact the entire church. They are able to zoom out and see the entire picture of the church.
  • Thick skin, i.e. the criticisms of a few don’t deter them from doing what God has called them to do. Criticism hurts, but it doesn’t cut to the arteries of their leadership.

The level of leaders of leaders is often occupied by people who have never led others and this can be a problem.

It’s important to move to the next step consider this question: are your leaders in the right place?

Are Your Leaders in the Right Place?

Take some time and reflect on the pool of leaders in your church. Are they equipped to lead at the level they are currently in? A lot of times in churches, people are given the responsibility of leadership simply because they are liked. That can sometimes lead to a person being in leadership who hasn’t even risen to the first level of leadership – self-leadership.

The Best Action Step to Take At This Point

Rather than reflect and decide what your answer to this vital question, I’d like to encourage you to do something different.

Gather your leadership team (your elders or your board, and your staff) and work through this article and this question together.

A few things should happen:

  • Some will see what leadership level their role is, they will see how they need to grow into that leadership level, and they will determine to grow.
  • Some may determine they are better utilized in a different role.
  • Some will be affirmed in the focus they have had and determine to grow to the next leadership level or grow more deeply in their abilities as a leader of leaders.

Once this conversation has happened, drive the importance of leadership development deep into the hearts of your leaders and potential leaders.


Brandon Kelley serves at a fast-growing church plant in Batavia, Ohio (east side of Cincinnati) called The Crossing in the role of Outreach & Communications Pastor. He loves to learn and write about preaching and leadership. Connect with him on Twitter.

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