Choosing Leaders: Who to Entrust and Who to Avoid

By Thomas Winborn

Every church planter must learn who to entrust with leadership and who to avoid. Here are eight traits of people to trust and seven of those to avoid.

While a church plant often begins as a dream deep in the heart of a lone church planter, it doesn’t take long for every planter to realize church planting is a team sport. Without a team, the lead planter will find himself quickly drowning in an ocean of work for which he is neither geared or skilled. According to Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird, “88.3% of church planters involved in fast-growing church plants were a part of a church planting team. Only 11.5 percent of planters involved in struggling church plants had a church planting team.”[1]

Therefore, it is imperative every church planter learn who to entrust with leadership and who to avoid.

As a prerequisite, it should be noted that acquiring an honest church planting coach will greatly increase your chances of success in all areas, including leadership selection. Additionally, the process of entrusting others with leadership is not one that should be rushed. Take time to pray for wisdom and to build meaningful relationships with those you have an eye on for future leadership in the church.

It can be particularly helpful to keep in mind the offices of Christ when selecting leaders for the church plant. Jesus is often referred to as holding three offices: prophet, priest and king.[2] The Latin term used by theologians is munus triplex. While Jesus is the only Messiah and Savior, most pastors and church leaders have primary talents and skills that mirror one of the three offices of Christ.

  • Those who are geared more like prophets are mostly concerned with truth and tend to see the world in black and white. These leaders make great preachers/teachers and often are skilled in exegesis and exposition.
  • Kingly leaders often are more skilled in administration, including leadership traits such as planning, implementing, managing and fiscal oversight.
  • Priestly leaders often find themselves most concerned with how decisions are going to affect the people associated with the church. Like the priests of the Old Testament, these leaders often find themselves attempting to intercede on behalf of the people in most situations.

As you choose leaders, be sure all three of these offices are represented on your team. The end result will be a healthier and more robust leadership team, which in turn will serve the church more effectively and efficiently.

Who to Entrust

Most church leaders are familiar with the qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5. While all Christians should strive to meet those qualifications as part of their journey in personal spiritual growth, we can identify some general character traits that all leaders should embody if they are seeking leadership of any kind in the church. Anyone looking to entrust leadership to others should look for these eight traits in those potential leaders:

1. Honest/Trustworthy: If you would not trust them with your family, your money or your reputation, then you probably should not entrust them with leadership in your church. The Scripture declares leaders should be above reproach, which necessitates honesty and trustworthiness, not even having the appearance of evil.

2. Humble/Teachable: If someone isn’t teachable, the time you spend attempting to develop them will likely only result in increasing the frustration and tension between the two of you. Until someone becomes humble and teachable, they should not be a leader in the church. Every great leader knows they don’t know everything. The best leaders recognize God has placed them in leadership for His glory and He loves to use broken sticks to draw straight lines. Any potential leader that reeks of pride should no longer be considered for leadership.

3. Faithful: One would think it should go without saying, but all too often many well-intentioned people seek out leadership positions in the church, only to later reveal they are less than faithful to the roles bestowed upon them. Take time to ensure each potential leader has a track record of being faithful to where God has them in their journey. Faithfulness cannot be faked over time.

4. Available: Seems simple enough, but sometimes people would be great leaders except for the fact that they are just not available. They might have the skills, talents and even the character traits necessary to fill the leadership role, but if they don’t have the time, they will only frustrate the church planter and his team. Make sure not to sideline such people forever, it might be they simply do not have, in this moment of their lives, the ability to commit to the time necessary.

5. Self-aware: Becoming self-aware takes time, intentionality and often conflict. Not everyone who is self-aware is a good candidate for leadership, but anyone not becoming self-aware should be avoided until more growth and maturity in this area can be observed. Leaders who are not self-aware can leave a trail of hurt people in their wake.

6. Spirit-led: Some people are fantastic logical decision makers, but the bride of Christ should only be led by people who are led by the Holy Spirit. When selecting leaders, lean into the people you can tell spend time with God and who are led by His Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, our logic is tainted by our sin, but the Holy Spirit can lead us even blindly through the most difficult of situations.

7. Bleed-Jesus: If the name of Jesus never passes through the lips of an emerging leader, then he should not be considered. You want your leadership team filled with people who, when cut, bleed Jesus. It should be easy to tell Jesus is their first love. They should speak of Him well and often from a heart steeped in the Word of God. If you were to get close to them, they should smell like Jesus.

8. Gentle: Gentleness has been described as “strength under control, power harnessed in loving service and respectful actions.”[3] One who is gentle is not a bully or brutish toward others. Like Jesus, there might be times when it is right and good to reveal strength and power through action,[4] but even then it must be done under control and with great sensitivity and obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Who to Avoid

There are people who seek out leadership who must be avoided, at least until God has had more time to prepare them. This list is not meant to be all-encompassing, but many people to avoid can be categorized in the following seven ways:

1. People pleasers present themselves as loving and helpful, but because their sense of personal value comes through the people they help, they are actually helpful for their own sake. Underneath the surface they desperately need to be liked and have an exaggerated need to be validated. If they feel ignored or under-appreciated, they can become angry and work to create divisiveness within the church. If you put people pleasers into leadership, you will spend much of your time having to please the people pleasers, instead of developing other leaders who can fulfill the mission.

2. Malcontents often enter the scene with great passion and energy, excited about this new endeavor that ‘will be so much better than the last church they attended.’ Their frustration and anger toward their last church should indicate to you possible immaturity and self-centeredness. They will enter your church talking bad about their past church and they will leave your church doing the same regarding you. Never happy and never satisfied, malcontents are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds”[5] not to be trusted for leadership within Jesus’ church.

3. Unreliable people are just that: unreliable. On the surface they appear extremely willing and able to accomplish any assignment thrown their way, but rarely do they actually follow-through. Responding to their failures they can either blame others or their circumstances, or they might even repent and ask for another chance, but they will most likely leave you in the same situation once again with time wasted and the job unfinished. If you attempt to utilize an unreliable person, you have already failed to hold the line in your leadership selection, especially regarding the character trait of faithfulness (see above).

4. Idealists have big dreams about the perfect utopian church, which is not really attainable on this side of eternity. They spend large amounts of time talking about their dreams with persuasive eloquence, yet never actually doing much to accomplish the dream. They believe they know how it all should be done, but they often lack the discipline or fortitude to do any of it themselves.

5. Insecure people like to attach themselves to leaders and work their way toward influence and power. They often believe having a title or influence over others will give them greater importance in the organization and therefore finally make them feel valued. They frequently make sure others know how hard they are working and how great a job they have been doing. They have an insatiable desire to be recognized and encouraged. Often emotionally unstable, their psychological defense is projection where they blame their failures on other leaders (often the lead planter).

6. Seasoned professionals are either long-time church folks or successful business leaders. Just because someone can succeed in business does not mean they are qualified to lead the bride of Christ. They must be rigorously examined in light of the character traits mentioned above. Both long-time church folks and business leaders usually come with baggage. They will smile and nod as you share your vision and philosophy of ministry, all the while simply waiting for their moment to tell you and everyone else why you are wrong and that they know how to do it all better. If the seasoned pros are not humble/teachable, they can lead people astray and create divisiveness throughout the entire church.

7. Wolves salivate for a leadership role where they can influence others and finally attain the respect and honor they deserve. They might dress in sheep’s clothing to get close to other leaders and parishioners so they can undermine the lead planter and his team with gossip and doubt-casting. They might even work undisguised by blatantly inviting church members to their home, where they openly undermine church leaders without shame. Once a wolf has been able to sink its teeth into the church, he will wreak destruction, even being willing to bring the roof down upon himself. If you feel someone in your church might be a wolf, go straight to them and warn them that wolflike behavior will not be tolerated. Directness is best when dealing with predators.

Where to Start

There are lots of opinions on which leadership positions are key to the success of a church plant, but here are the five I believe every church planter should work to attain before launch day:

1. Teaching Pastor

Someone has to be gifted and called to rightly divide the Word of truth, both in season and out. Often, the teaching pastor also is the lead pastor, though not always. This leader is usually the best public communicator on staff, often tasked with not only teaching but also developing and communicating vision. This person often enjoys developing other leaders more than shepherding people. He might be more of a generalist who prefers to influence all areas of ministry, yet does not want to be in charge of any particular area of ministry.

2. Worship Leader

The worship leader is responsible for designing and organizing corporate worship gatherings. Since this person is such a visible leader, the worship leader should be in full agreement with the lead planter’s philosophy of ministry, solid theologically and above reproach. This leader should be adept in overseeing all aspects of the music ministry, including developing and inspiring musicians, and should have an in-depth understanding of technology related to the corporate worship ministry.

3. Groups/Pastoral Care Leader

The Groups/Pastoral Care Leader is responsible for organizing the groups ministry of the church and training group leaders. He also will coordinate the care of members in need and train others to assist him in these duties. Ideally, it would be wise to enlist both male and female leaders to help with more sensitive matters in pastoral counseling, such as those which might be sexual in nature. A spiritually mature married couple would be a great option, so they could work together to counsel couples or split up to work individually with gender-specific issues. These leaders would need to exhibit a high level of confidentiality, spiritual and emotional maturity, and have a great understanding of Scripture and how to apply it in a plethora of situations.

4. Children’s Ministry Leader

Right or wrong, many families join a church because of the children’s ministry, making this leadership position extremely important. Often the lead planter’s wife is thrust into this position, whether she is geared for it or not. While all leaders should expect to work for short seasons in areas where one might not be extremely gifted, tapping someone to lead the children’s ministry when they do not have the skills, talents or training will result in the leader’s quick burnout and the possible loss of families seeking stable environments for their children. The children’s ministry leader should have a love for children and their families, as well as a heart for engaging, equipping and empowering parents to disciple their children in the home. For a church plant, one of the quickest ways to stifle growth is to wait to fill this position. Choose the leader wisely, but do not tarry.

5. Administrator

Because most teaching pastors and/or lead planters are more generalists and not specifically trained in management, it would behoove the lead planter to seek a qualified administrator to oversee and manage all things operational within the church. This leader should be adept in areas such as budgets, facilities, organizational structures, volunteer coordination and communications. The administrator’s job is to make sure the lead planter / teaching pastor is able to do his job without having to worry about these day-to-day operational concerns.

All leaders are responsible for developing other leaders in their sphere of influence, so the church can be scaled as necessary and for the purpose of preparing to send some out to plant more churches. Holding the reins loosely, each leader must make sure not to stifle the growth of new emerging leaders within the organization. Having such a kingdom-mentality will speed along efforts to accomplish the Great Commission[6] and usher in the kingdom of God.[7]

Be wise and intentional in choosing those you wish to develop into the future leaders of the church, for there is much at stake and the kingdom of God is at hand!


[1]Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird, “The State of Church Planting in the United States: Research Overview and Qualitative Study of Primary Church Planting Entities,” 10.

[2]For a more in depth understanding of the offices of Christ, one excellent Puritan resource is Thomas Boston’s The Offices of Christ (West Linn, OR: Monergism Books).

[3]Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 404.

[4]John 2:13-17

[5]Jude 12

[6]Mt 28:16-20

[7]Mt 24:14

Published November 16, 2022

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Thomas Winborn

Thomas Winborn is a church planter in Northeast Dallas and the South Regional Director for New City Church Planting. He and his wife, Carol, are blessed with six children: Hannah, John Thomas, Luke, Wyatt, Kathryn and Alizabeth. Thomas is an ordinary pastor who is extraordinarily committed to multiplying Jesus’ church.