God called David ‘a man after my own heart who will do everything I want him to do’.

He certainly wasn’t perfect. In fact, his story is an encouragement to leaders who are aware of their own failings. But he was a man of courage and faith, whose devotion to the Lord was sincere.

In our travels we meet hundreds of church leaders, but sadly, some are not in David’s category. It is sad when a leader prevents others moving forward. It means he is not leading, (in this article, we use the masculine for convenience, but refer also to woman leaders).

There are some common errors amongst Christian leaders, sometimes caused by an overemphasis on some biblical teaching and an under-emphasis on other balancing teaching.

One such error is based on the truth that leaders are called to be servants. This can mean that leaders are so afraid of being thought authoritarian that they jettison all authority whatever. We must not forget that strong leadership is taught in the New Testament, and without proper authority, the Church will be gravely harmed.

For example, some churches develop freedom of worship through charismatic renewal. At one time, everyone knew what would happen in a service, but now the unexpected can occur. If the leader is not known to be properly in charge, others can soon feel very threatened by it all.

Joe Bloggs, an expert in ‘glossalalia’, can visit the church and blurt out his ‘message in tongues’. All he’s really doing is showing off, but if the leader, kindly but firmly (and privately if possible) doesn’t prevent that in future, the service will be spoilt and people will stop coming.

Freedom without leadership means chaos. A true shepherd will be up front leading, not letting the sheep get on with it and keeping up as best he can.

Another leadership error is based on the truth that we are only called to be kind. This draws some leaders into the error of ‘niceness’.

It beats us how anyone can conclude that Jesus was always ‘nice’. He strongly condemned hypocritical religious leaders to their faces; he rebuked the disciples for lack of faith; he overturned the money-changers’ tables.

How misleading is the phrase ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’. Yet in the Church, we have many meek and mild leaders, even in circumstances when they shouldn’t be!

What is needed in the Church is relaxed authority. Authority should be like wallpaper – you know it’s there in the background but you don’t normally focus on it.

Leaders should also function as members, albeit leading members, of the Body of Christ. One favourite question we ask leaders is what their main gift is. It is surprising how many don’t know and clearly haven’t given much thought to the question.

No Christian leader has all the gifts, but expectations of the presiding leadership role in most churches still imply he does. We should discover his main gift(s) and set him free to major on them.

In 1980, three of our leaders’ groups prayerfully shared what they believed were the main gifts of my wife and myself. It proved most encouraging.

It was good to have them confirm what gifts we did not have. For example, they told me that, although I sought to do pastoral work as well as possible, I did not have pastoral gifts, and should delegate pastoral work as much as possible.

This was profoundly liberating because I was aware of the fact, but very pressurised by the heavy emphasis on the pastoral priorities of the Anglican rector.

They confirmed that we have pioneering and ‘prophetic’ ministries, and increasingly we were set free to exercise them. Had that not been so, we would have become very frustrated over the years.

Over 3,000 years ago, Jethro told Moses that if he didn’t delegate, he would not only wear himself out, but he would wear the people out too (Exodus 18:18). And that’s exactly what is happening in many churches.

True, one must be responsible about delegating. And other people may not initially do the job as well. Yet we underestimate what people can do. Often they end up doing it better than we did because they are gifted for it.

The New Testament only knows shared leadership and in our church we delegated very radically to various departmental leaders -worship; administration; young church; prayer; outreach; and in particular to housegroups.

Moses delegated; the apostles delegated (Acts 6); Jesus delegated to the Twelve. Do we know better?

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction