Healthy Leaders


The Primary Principle to Be an Effective Church Leader

Matthew FretwellMatthew Fretwell

The elder of the village gazed at me and said, “You need an African name ‒ your name is Gbondoe (pronounced bon–doh).” It was prophetic. We had just met. Gbondoe connotes a bringing together ‒ someone who unifies. Little did I know how divided the village Bible mission leaders were.

Underneath the cool of the giant mango trees, I sat with them until late into the night. I patiently listened to their grievances with one another. While I was thousands of miles from my home ‒ deep in the jungle ‒ I felt as if I were in the middle of an American church business meeting ‒ division, bitterness, self-pride, and control. All of the characteristics that leadership should not emulate.

With only the moonlight breaking through the dense tree cover, I could barely see the faces of the offended, pain-stricken, and troubled people. But their voices told a familiar story.

Seeing through the darkness

In every meeting, I always remind myself, “People are not perfect.” Travel the globe and one constant remains ‒ self-centeredness is a reality ‒ a byproduct of our human sin. Regardless of geography, I’ve been in deacons’ meetings, business meetings, council meetings, and gads of countless committee meetings ‒ only to recognize that human sin shines the darkest in the flesh. Leaders must see through the darkness.

I was grateful for the name Gbondoe, but if unity and togetherness did not come to this people ‒ it was just a name ‒ a facade. Somehow they expected me to be the Band-Aid ‒ to heal their division.

Being an outsider, I waited until everyone delivered their case. While listening, I was praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  I knew one thing ‒ my heart hurt, not just for this people, but for Christ’s Church. There was a newly constructed mosque just 200 yards away. Yet, the Bible mission was arguing over money, control, and position.

For hours, I hadn’t said a word. When they asked me to speak, I was deeply moved by the Spirit. I wept before them and reminded them of the Gospel ‒ of our high calling in Christ ‒ of sin, darkness, the mosque, and the Great Commission. I pled with them “if you have love for one another” then people will know you’re Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). I implored them to seek repentance and unified love.

Unity in Christ

Every one of Paul’s epistles addresses church unity ‒ somewhere. Why? Because “there is a way that seems right to man” (Proverbs 14:12). The primary principle to be an effective church leader is unity. As Paul declared, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Church leaders must proclaim unity in ‒ and through ‒ Christ.

Churches will have division ‒ if ‒ the flesh reigns. But Jesus “is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Church leaders must stress unity and present themselves as servants of Christ and His church ‒ not as domineering ‒ but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Show what you know

As I expressed to the elders ‒ the entire village is watching what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once declared, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.”

People are watching you. Church leaders can only show what they know.

Self-centeredness, pride, and control must be placed at the foot of the cross. When the Body of Christ observes servant leaders ‒ it is a testimony to the working power of Christ. The Apostles obeyed Christ’s teaching (Matthew 28:1920) that love and unity must abound.

To be an effective church leader, you are called to bring unity to the Body of Christ. Shepherds do not direct a flock in simultaneous multiple directions. They make sure that the sheep are in one accord.

Church leaders bring unity by directing the church on a solidified mission and vision. As Peter pronounced “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

Therefore, every church leader must be a Gbondoe.

This article originally appeared here.

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