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Leadership - Person or Functions?

How do you see yourself? As a leader, I mean.

We’re not all the same. We all have different gifts, our own way of expressing leadership. Perhaps some of us associate the word ‘leader’ with ‘power’ and therefore avoid thinking about a topic that’s seen as distasteful. Hold your horses, because however you think of leadership, at some point you must do business with the idea.

In your own life. It cannot be avoided. It must be dealt with head on.

Avoidance—which often involves pretence and denial—is the worst thing you can do.

If you’re a leader whom God has called, he desires that you lead in a way that glorifies him. And if that’s true, you must give your own leadership some thought and attention. This is not self-centredness. It’s the kind of inward reflection necessary to grow, to become the leader God has called you to be.

That’s why you’re reading this post. Because you’re visiting a ministry devoted to helping you become a better, more godly, leader.


Leadership expert, Paul Ford, has trained hundreds of leaders during his life. He writes,

Leadership is not a person, though we need a leader so that we all learn how to follow. Rather, leadership is a series of functions fulfilled by a group of people. [1]

Just toss that thought around in your head for a moment. Leadership is a series of functions fulfilled by a group of people.

Marcus Honeysett writes,

Leadership in the New Testament is resolutely plural and collegial. The picture is of shepherds acting together, not of lone rangers. [2]

First, we need to deal with the Jesus problem. Sounds odd, right? How can Jesus be a problem? Well, since all believers model their lives on Jesus, and none more so than leaders, then his competence and perfection can be misunderstood and mis-applied. It’s easy to see why leaders place such a burden on themselves.

Jesus could do it all, why not me? Aren’t I supposed to be like him? Shouldn’t I try?

Frankly, no. You were not designed to lead as Jesus led. Why? First, because he was inaugurating a kingdom, starting a movement, and training its future leaders. You, on the other hand, are leading a church. They are not the same. Second, because while you are called to be like him morally, you are not called to live the same life as him. His life and calling were unique to him, not a model for leading a church. But third, the impression that Jesus is ‘doing it all’ is simply wrong. If anything, he’s the ultimate equipping releaser, embodying a facet of leadership that will be essential to those he’s training. Hence the sending out of the 72.


So what comprises Christian leadership?

This where the wisdom of Paul Ford comes in. He lists five functions of leadership as follows:

  • Equipping Releaser

  • Values Keeper

  • Team Builder

  • Active Listener

  • Vision Sharers

The five functions he mentions are all vital to the healthy leadership of a church community. They will either be done well, or done badly. But no one person can do them all. At least, not well. This is why it’s essential to understand these functions, and ensure they are done well in your community.

By doing the first well: equipping releaser.

Ephesians 4 is quite clear.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Eph 4.11-12

It can’t escape your notice that St. Paul lists several functions for church leadership. Not one. Many. Which is why the first function, equipping releaser, is so important. If a church leader cannot delegate, then leadership becomes very difficult. The load can become too much to bear.

It has often struck me how absurd it is that one leader is expected to fulfil all these functions. The kind of person who is good at organising is rarely the one who is good at casting vision, or preaching, or pastoring. These so clearly draw from different personality types, it makes perfect sense that these functions should be fulfilled by different people. A large, vision-casting platform speaker often lacks pastoral skills. The sensitive pastor often struggles to give a clear vision. They’re different jobs. Different functions. No wonder they’re suited to different people.

That’s why it’s essential for a leader to delegate. To equip and release people within the community to fulfil these functions. To be honest, sometimes it’s enough simply to release. Especially if you don’t have the right gifts to do the equipping. Assign someone else to do the training. Delegate.

I acknowledge that many church structures are not set up for this. They’re modelled on the single person senior pastor/vicar/priest role [3]. In many churches, the faithful look to the person at the top for everything. We need enormous change in most church cultures. But that doesn’t change the fundamental truth that leadership is a set of functions, not a person. If you remember nothing else from this short read, take that into your day.

I would love for you to find relief from the burdens you’re carrying. Perhaps this can be a first step. Delegation isn’t easy, I know that. Especially in a community with long-held, rigid expectations of what the leader ‘is supposed to do.’ But with wisdom, and the Lord’s help, these functions can be shared out. They really can.

But it takes courage. And the support of a team, who can help in re-thinking how these functions are expressed in your community.

I pray today that as you read, the Lord will speak to you, that he will show you his desires for leadership in your church.

For his glory.


  2. Marcus Honeysett, Powerful Leaders? IVP. 2022.

  3. pastor/vicar/priest – these refer to the various leadership titles in our denominations


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