29 Critical Bible Verses on Church Leaders

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You Cannot Follow Leaders You Don’t Know

Leadership is incredibly important for every Christian’s life.  This is true whether we are part of a family, a Christian organization, or a church.  The quality of our leaders greatly influences the community as a whole and each individual involved.  Bad leaders do not just provide bad sermons. Their conduct infects everyone around them. We know this intellectually. The problem is in actually finding good leaders and identifying the bad ones. 

Why is it so hard?  Our flesh and some of the accepted Christian church models betray us. The things that often appeal to us as people in the flesh are often what allow bad leaders to flourish. The attributes that the Lord says makes a good leader are just not flashy to our consumer culture.

If Ravi Zacharias’ issues have taught us anything, it is we tend to look and accept the wrong things in pastors, teachers or elders.  The Bible has a lot to say about the qualities and requirements of a good leader in a church.  The verses you will see below set out many qualifications for serving in authority over the church.  The surprising thing is the vast majority of them deal with the character and personal holiness of the leader.  They do not focus in any way on their ability to tell a story, build a corporation, or speak multiple languages.  The Lord focuses on humility, love, gentleness, and personal holiness.  Charisma is nowhere mentioned.  Fundraising and best selling author are also absent.  

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Yet, we as fallen people often ignore these qualifications and choose those who are entertaining. Those who appeal to our flesh are easier to listen to.  Their talent as a speaker and teacher outweighs all of the actually listed prerequisites for a leader.  We then build whole models of church based on the personal appeal of one particular person – regardless of whether they can fulfill the requirements the Bible sets out.  The Bible requires leaders to demonstrate to the church their whole life of Christian character. Yet, many leaders don’t even show up in person in a church they are supposedly leading. A weekly screen appearance is substituted for a life together in Jesus.  We then excuse the contrast between the early church model and our weekly seminar in the name of personal growth.  This feels good but makes no real Biblical sense. You cannot grow in Christ while ignoring His directions. 

Want to see what I mean?

Were you shocked at the revelations regarding Ravi Zacharias?  I certainly was, but should we have really been surprised?  We did not know the man.  We only knew his stage persona.  That does not qualify someone to be a teacher according to the Bible.

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Ravi Zacharias was an impressive presence on the stage for years.  He seemed holy. He seemed to love the Lord. It looked like on screen in a controlled environment that he was gentle. He was evidently a vastly different person off stage.  We had no way of ever knowing if that was actually true. When questions began to arise years ago about inflated degrees and questionable stories, they were pushed aside as negligible concerns compared to the work of this man of God. The persona dictated our beliefs based on just that – a persona. This is not real, in itself. It is also not God’s requirements for teachers. This is why God did not set up a system of social media influencers to lead the church. The Lord understands the heart of man. He therefore told us to examine the whole life of leaders – not just the stage or screen presentations. If their family lives are in order under Jesus, then you can follow them. If their day to day conduct is self controlled and gentle, then you can listen to them and model yourself after them. We cannot do that when a pastor only appears on a screen.  We cannot even tell if our pastors are disqualified from leadership if we don’t know them.  If there is no way for us to tell anything real about a leaders life – then we don’t follow them since they don’t meet the requirements set out by God for YOU to judge.

The Lord wrote this book for a reason.  Are we willing to do the hard thing and demand our leaders meet the requirements contained in it? 

Personally, I am done making excuses for things that are not Biblical just because I am used to them.

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29 Vital Bible Verses on Church Leadership

1)            Matthew 20:25-28

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”           

Serve.  Think about what comes to mind when you hear this word from Jesus.  His mission was to serve and His life was the embodiment of it.  Jesus came for everyone but Him.  Jesus worked for the good of everyone but Him.  He loved the broken, humble, and lost without seeking return.  He did so gently in holiness and without touting His own accomplishments.

Jesus is the perfect example of leadership.  If Jesus did not do it, a leader shouldn’t either.  This is adjusted for the time period, of course.  Leaders can drive cars, for example, but Jesus rode a donkey and lived humbly.  A pastor driving a Bentley is not what Jesus would do. 

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2)            Matthew 23:11-12

But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Does the person exalt themselves?  This can be subtle in making themselves rather than Jesus the source of all wisdom.  It can be the leader making church all about their speaking, emotional, o r presentation talents.  The experience may be wonderful and powerful in the moment but if it is about the “visionary” or the brand of the speaker, it is empty and worthless. 

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3)            Mark 9:33-37

Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

This is another clear Jesus direction that is routinely ignored.  Is the leader too busy for the little people?  Is he or she sequestered away preparing their greatness to display for a short time before heading back to their shelter?  Are they a superstar and everyone else not so much. 

This is a fine model for Hollywood celebrities or a concert.  It is not what the Bible sets out for your leader.  “Let the little ones come to Him”, Jesus also said.  Children were viewed as not worth the time of the important people at that time.  Jesus was not having that.  He loved even the humblest.  That is your leadership example. 

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4)            John 13:12-16

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

A leader cannot do everything and should not try to.  Yet, Jesus example here is clear as well.  Jesus was willing to make Himself a slave out of love and do the ugly jobs for the people He loves.  He then tells us to do the same. 

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5)            Philippians 2:1-11

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Great and simple verses setting out our example to follow.  Selfish ambition and conceit have no place in church much less in leadership.   

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6)            John 10:11-18

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.  But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.  The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

7)            1 Timothy 3:1-7

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.   A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;  not given to wine, not violent,  not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;  one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence  (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);  not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.  Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Here are the clear requirements for a leader in any church.  Do you notice all the character requirements?  The only presentation related one is “able to teach”.  The rest are all about personal holiness and his standing in his family and the community. 

How many leaders do we follow where we have no idea whether they actually meet these requirements?  Entire ministries are built on this lack of personal accountability.  We then are surprised when they fall.

This does not mean we cannot appreciate a teacher or ministry we are not personally involved in.  It does indicate this is not meant to be the pattern for the church. 

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8)            Titus 1:5-9

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—  if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.  For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,  but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,  holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

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9)            1 Timothy 4:12

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

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10)          Exodus 18:21

Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.

11)          Romans 12:9-13

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

12)          Jeremiah 23:1

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

13)          Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

14)          Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

15)          1 Peter 5:3

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:  Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;  nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;  and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

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16)          1 Corinthians 12:12

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

17)          Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

18)          Acts 20:28

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

19)          Deuteronomy 1:15

So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes.

20)          1 Timothy 5:17

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

21)          2 Timothy 4

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

22)            Matthew 7:15

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

I know this is a familiar verse but notice Jesus’ warning. The false leaders don’t come in wearing all black and announcing they are from Satan. They dress up like sheep and pretend to be sheep. They object and argue when people point out they are wolves. You cannot be fooled by their claims. Judge by their teaching and conduct. Wolves teach a different gospel. Wolves prey on the sheep.

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23)            Deuteronomy 18:20-22

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But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

This is an important verse for you to judge anyone who claims to speak for God. If a person says they have any message from God – via a word, a dream, or vision – it must come true or they are not prophets. The penalty for doing this in the Old Testament was death. It is a huge deal. It is offensive to God for someone who does not speak for Him to claim to be doing so.

This does not mean the message is kind of true. It does not mean a prophet comes close in their prophecy – getting 2 out of 3 claims true. The person is claiming to speak for the All-Knowing God. If they don’t get things exactly right as claimed then it is not God. You should not listen to them.

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24)            Galatians 1:6-9

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Accursed in this passage means under the curse of God. It implies that the person is beyond hope of redemption. This is how seriously God takes those who deceive God’s people.

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25)            1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

A preacher may feel important. You may get tingly or excited or weepy hearing the message of many of these showman. False teachers put on emotional productions designed to seduce and trick you. John warns us that just because it feels and seems good, doesn’t mean it is. You have to test the appeals and message against the Word and the Spirit of God.

It would not be easy to trick people into false doctrines if it did not feel good.

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26)            2 Corinthians 11:13-15

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

You cannot trust your instincts when protecting God’s church. You heart and your flesh would be deceived if left on your own just like Eve. Satan and his workers’ greatest weapon against you is deception. The sword, the Word of God is your weapon to defeat these attacks.

27)            1 John 4:1-6

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

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28)            2 Peter 2

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

Please notice two things big things. First, the false teachers are covetous of you. They want to own and possess you for themselves rather than shepherd you for God. They are obsessed with self. Pastor worship and control are signs you are dealing with a wolf.

Second, they will be successful. Many will follow them. A large and prosperous church is not a sign things are well in it. Millions of Frenchman can be wrong. Material success as a church actually just makes it easier to conceal the heresy.

29)            Galatians 4:17-18

They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.  But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.

This is such an important verses to understand bad leaders.  The Greek word translated as “exclude you” literally means to cut off.  The false teachers come at you with excitement, attraction, and passion.  They appeal to your senses but it is so that they can use you.  They want to cut you off from Jesus and turn you into a commodity. 

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