Successful organizations, including churches, need leaders. Elders are key leaders in Seventh-day Adventists churches and need to understand the important role they perform in the church.

What does it mean to be a church leader? What guiding principles do successful leaders follow? Let’s look at the building blocks of successful church leadership, with emphasis on elders. The principles, presented as building blocks, will make you aware of how to be a more effective elder. 


Building Block 1:

Spiritual leaders are different from secular leaders

The goals, outcomes, accountability, authority, and control are different in churches from that in secular organizations. For example:

The primary goal of a business is to make a profit—the primary goal of a church is help individuals deal with eternal matters.

In corporations, the leadership is accountable to the board of directors (or in private business to the owner) and the stockholders—spiritual leaders are accountable to the church board, the congregation, and also to God.

Spiritual leaders will be effective if they recognize these guiding principles:

The church, under God’s guidance, has invited you to be a leader so “If God has called you to lead, trust Him.”  (1)

Elders are not “bosses”; (2) rather they are in a position of service  (3)

Elders will be most effective if they see the congregation from the perspective of the cross of Christ. (4)


Building Block 2:

Spiritual leaders are defined by the life they live

The Bible describes the character of spiritual leaders: “Now the overseer is to be above reproach…” (1 Tim. 3:2). (5) The Apostle Paul adds “An elder must be blameless…” (Titus 1:6).

Character stands above all other characteristics: “Thus character is the most essential element, for it encompasses all the other qualities that comprise the leadership package.” (6)

Spiritual leaders put obedience to God above position: “The leader’s obedience and trust in God, not position, make character.” (7)

The leader’s character helps deal with crises: “It is a myth that a crisis develops character. It does not. Crisis reveals character.” (8)


Building Block 3:

Spiritual leaders show compassion

All of us need God’s mercy and compassion:

“Have mercy on me, O God,
  according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1).

Leaders recognize the need to act with compassion:

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pet. 3:8).

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

God helps leaders act sympathetically:

“The leader receives help from angels when he or she disciplines with Christlike sympathy.” (9)

Leaders who act sympathetically will be stronger leaders and the congregation will benefit.


Building Block 4:

Prayer is central in the life of spiritual leaders

“…pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17).

“Repeatedly she [Ellen G. White] admonishes that God cannot bless, prosper, or sustain leaders who neglect to pray for themselves, for their churches, and for those whom they influence.” (10)

Suggestion: Pray for individuals by remembering where they sit or remember what the member shared with you when you greeted them in church.


Building Block 5:

Spiritual leaders focus on the congregation and the community

“Genuine authority in leadership doesn’t come with title or position but when we so identify with the needs and aspirations of others that they can see and feel our passion.” (11)

“Leaders are talent scouts who recognize in others the gifts that God has granted and their commitment to service.” (12)

“The leader’s care for the poor develops character.” (13)

Question: What are you doing to meet the needs of the congregation and the community?


Building Block 6:

Spiritual leaders have plans; they look to the future

“For the leader, planning and visioning should involve others.” (14)

“The most important part of the meeting is what happens before it begins.” (15)

Paul: “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God…[Paul] began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves” (Acts 27:25, 35, 36).

Suggestion: Ask others where the church has been and where it is going; seek their input.


Building Block 7:

Spiritual leaders work as team members with each other, the congregation, and the denomination

 “My love to all of you [Corinthians!] in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Cor. 16:24).

“A team builder needs to know how to delegate responsibility and how to empower people.” (16)

“Relational leadership has no shortcuts.” (17)

“The servant leader plans and counsels with others.” (18) Quote from EGW: “They [those called to important positions] are not to seek to embrace too much authority…but to plan and counsel with their fellow laborers.” (19)

Remember: Pastors and elders are team members. 



Building Block 8:

Spiritual leaders protect the new and struggling members

“ ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ ” (Jn. 10:11).

“Have you ever thought that God too is seeking leaders through whom He can work to bring hope and the good news to a panicked and terrified planet?” (20)

Question: How does your church treat new members?


Building Block 9:

Spiritual leaders are dedicated to the mission of the church

“They [leaders…similar to Desmond Doss, well-known WW2 medic] reflect a combination of humility, dedication, and perseverance.” (21)

“We have to determine that to succeed as a Christian leader we must be committed primarily to bringing glory to God…” (22)

“Ellen White demonstrated the empowerment of an inclusive church, mobilized for service and evangelism.” (23)

Suggestion: Are you supportive of the various ministries in your church?



Building Block 10:

Spiritual leaders protect the congregation—theologically, morally, financially, and physically

“Keep watch over yourselves [elders in Ephesians] and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:28-31a).

Remember: Spiritual leaders have a sacred responsibility to the congregation, so that it will not be harmed theologically, morally, financially or physically.



(1) David Smith in Dwain N. Esmond, ed., …As I Follow Christ: 20 Essentials Every Leader Should Know (Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2013), 32.
(2) Lowell C. Cooper in Esmond, 71.
(3) Prudence Pollard in Esmond, 39.
(4) Sung Kwon in Esmond, 24.
(5) Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from the New International Version of the Bible.
(6) Ella Simmons in Esmond, 54.
(7) Cindy Tutsch, Ellen White on Leadership: Guidance for those who influence others (Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2008), 36.
(8)  Lowell C. Cooper in Esmond, 73.
(9) Tutsch, 113.
(10) Tutsch, 18.
(11) Dan Jackson in Esmond, 49. See also Ella Simmons in Esmond, 58-59.
(12) C. E. Bradford in Esmond, 138.
(13) Tutsch, 35.
(14) Tutsch, 118.
(15) Gerry Karst in Esmond, 117.
(16) Gerry Karst in Esmond, 114.
(17) David S. Penner in Esmond, 103.
(18) Tutsch, 55.
(19) Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA:  Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 270.
(20) Cindy Tutsch in Esmond, 11.
(21) David Smith in Esmond, 29.
(22) Dan Jackson in Esmond, 46.
(23) Tutsch, 143.