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The Marks of Healthy Leadership

Nobody opts-in to gravity. 

Gravity is part of reality. You don’t have to like it. You can wish it wasn’t there. You can try to fight against it. But gravity will win — just ask any young boy who strapped wings to his back and took a leap off his family’s roof!

Leadership is like gravity. It’s a reality that must be accepted. It’s not really optional. 

When it comes to any family, team, organization, business, school, company, or government, leadership is part of the equation. 

When things are going really well, it’s often because there is good leadership guiding the way, making good decisions, empowering skilled people to play their part effectively, reminding people why it matters, and crafting a plan to pursue a preferred future.

When things are going really poorly, it’s often at least partly a failure of leadership. In their book Extreme Ownership, former Navy SEAL commanders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin go so far as to say, “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

And leadership is a massive part of the church. 

We can downplay it or pretend it doesn’t matter, but we know it does. 

I was recently meeting with a group of Phoenix area pastors and church planters. The sizes and philosophies were wildly different — everything from large mega-churches to smaller churches led by bi-vocational leaders to even house churches being planted with just a few families. But in every case, leadership is essential.

So the question is not whether there will be leadership in the church, but what kind of leadership there will be. 

Churches will have leaders. Will they be healthy? Will they be wise? Will they be mature? Will they be skilled? Will their character stand under pressure? Will they empower and cultivate others? 

That’s up to us.


We know the importance of leadership if only because of all the pain of failed leadership. 

Many of us experienced a failure of leadership as children from absent or emotionally-absent fathers. Some of us lost our passion for playing sports when we encountered an overbearing and hot-tempered coach. Others saw emerging gifts extinguished through the discouraging and careless words of a mentor or teacher.

And all of us have at least seen and heard about churches that were devastated through leadership failure. Many still deal with the scars and shrapnel of these leadership collapses.

What’s at stake when it comes to leadership is nothing less than the health of the local church.

Let’s be clear: healthy leadership is not enough on its own to build a healthy church. But you’ll never have a healthy church over the long haul without healthy leadership.

Notice the key word is “health.” You can have an impressive church without healthy leadership. You can have a growing church without healthy leadership. You can have a difference-making church without healthy leadership. 

But you’ll never have a healthy church — over the long-haul — without healthy leadership.

Why is this? Because leaders reproduce who they are. Jesus says this in Luke 6:40, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Over time, whether we like it or not, people become like the leaders they follow. 

So we have to pursue becoming healthy leaders.


So much good content has been written about leadership (and more will be because it’s so important!), and it would be difficult to come up with an exhaustive list of everything that makes up good church leadership.

That said, having been in ministry for nearly two decades, I’ve seen seven common traits of the healthiest leaders that are worth noting:

  1. Healthy leaders prioritize their relationship with Jesus above all else. Everything in your life and ministry flows out of your relationship with Jesus. My counselor frequently reminds me, “The best gift you can give to your family and your church is your transformed and transforming presence.” 
  1. Healthy leaders are self-aware. They learn to discern and pay attention to their feelings, their strengths and weaknesses, their tendencies and flinches, their limits, their motivations, how their past impacts their present, and how others experience them.
  1. Healthy leaders put on their oxygen masks first. We know that the emergency airline instruction for parents to put on their oxygen mask before helping their kids is not selfish, but essential for both to thrive. Healthy leaders put their mask on first by committing to daily devotions, intentional time with a spouse, physical exercise, practicing a sabbath, getting enough sleep, meeting with a counselor, or investing in our learning and leadership. 
  1. Healthy leaders don’t try to be God. The curse of pastoral ministry is feeling like we need to be everywhere-for-all (omnipresent), the know-it-all (omniscient), and the fix-it-all (omnipotent). That’s not a description of a pastor — it’s a description of God. Only God can be all those things and only God should try. Healthy leaders are OK being human.
  1. Healthy leaders embrace the pain. Leading change isn’t part of leadership, it is leadership. Think about it. All leadership is saying, “We are currently here, but we need to go there.” That means change. And, as Samuel Chand has said, “There’s no change without loss and no loss without pain.” 
  1. Healthy leaders prioritize their identity in God over their doing for God. So many leaders do more for God than their relationship with God can sustain. As a result, they become their ministry. But healthy leaders have an identity rooted in Christ, not ministry.
  1. Healthy leaders empower, equip, and develop others. Leadership isn’t about getting things done — if it was, it would be called “Doership.” Instead, it’s about delegating tasks and responsibilities, identifying and releasing the gifts of others, and allowing those around us to flourish (and even get the credit).


You’re already on the road towards pursuing healthy leadership. Let this article be an invitation to take your next step down that road. 

What could your next step be? Some ideas:

Read a great book about healthy leadership. A few of my favorites:

Talk with a seasoned pastor. Find a pastor in your area who has stayed faithful for a few decades. Offer to buy them lunch and take a notebook with you. Ask them questions (for some ideas, see the discussion on The Pastor’s Circle Facebook group)

Schedule a counseling appointment. Many pastors have put off counseling for too long. We know it’s a necessary step between where we are and the future we’d like to have, but it’s just scary. No more delays. It’s time for action. Some recommendations for faithful counseling from a Christian perspective by folks with ministry experience (all offer remote counseling via Zoom):

Take a nap or a hike. Put that oxygen mask on today by letting your body and mind refresh and replenish. 

Join The Pastor’s Circle. It’s a private Facebook group for those who are trying to be healthy pastors to give and receive encouragement, ask practical questions, and support each other.


You are a leader. Like gravity, you’re exerting leadership force on those in your circle of influence. 

Make the commitment to be as healthy as you can — your life, your family, and your ministry will be better for it.

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