8 Underappreciated Leadership Traits Vital For Great Church Leaders

Being a church leader isn’t easy. There are near-constant demands from every direction. You’re expected to be everything for everyone. But you’re only human, with the same flaws and faults as those you seek to help.

So how do you pull off leading a church? You may think that being a great church leader depends on your speaking ability, planning skills, or maybe your deep knowledge of Scripture. Those things are good, but there are other traits that are vital to being a great ministry leader, some of which may surprise you.

1. Listening

As a church leader, you probably have to talk a lot. You may have to preach every Sunday. You’re likely people’s first option to pray at gatherings. Like it or not, you need to take every opportunity to tell about your ministry. But amongst all of this talking, don’t ever forget to also stop and listen.

Talking is relatively easy. Listening is harder.

Just about everyone can share their own opinion. But it takes a special kind of leader to carefully listen to others. Listening takes time and effort. Listening requires us deferring to someone else. Taking the time to hear someone shows respect.

Learn to listen to the advice of others. Listen so you can learn from example. And sometimes you just need to listen when another person needs to share. There will always be time to talk. Making time to listen requires intentionality and care.

2. Empathy

Effective listening not only takes time, it takes empathy. It isn’t enough to hear the words others speak, you have to understand why they’re important to that person. Empathy is all about understanding the emotions and needs of others.

Having empathy is crucial to building foundational relationships that will strengthen your leadership. People will not follow you if they don’t believe you. They won’t listen if they don’t trust what you say.

Conflict is inevitable in church leadership. But you can work with those you disagree with if you show them empathy. Try to understand their perspective. Learn how to compromise to find the best solutions for everyone. Work together with people by understanding their passions.

3. Humility

Being a leader takes confidence. All that talking you have to do as a leader means you have to believe what you’re saying. And when you’re being asked to lead a group of people, you’ll need to display a conviction that what you’re doing is right.

Confidence comes naturally to most leaders. Humility isn’t always as easy to come by.

Don’t confuse humility with self-deprecation, which can undermine your leadership. No, humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself—only thinking of yourself less. Humility doesn’t mean putting yourself down—it means elevating others up.

Humility is just an outward display of selflessness. It means thinking of others first. Great leadership requires a delicate balance of confidence and humility.

4. Boundaries

Some leaders have humility in bunches. They’re great at putting others first. They rarely think of themselves. But this can come at an extreme, too.

Leaders do crazy things in the name of self-denial. This displays itself as late nights in the office, not being able to say ‘no’ to anyone’s requests, and constantly thinking about work while at home or on vacation. They give themselves no margin.

Not having boundaries with your leadership may seem noble, but it’s suicidal. Without having any breathing room in place, any leader is heading straight for burnout. Good leaders work hard, but have a healthy work-life balance. They understand there are busy seasons, but those are the exception, not the rule.

Set clear boundaries in your leadership. Not only to protect yourself and your family, but also to demonstrate this to others as an example.

5. Dependence

Strong leaders are tempted to think they can do it all themselves. If you want it done right, you’ll have to do it yourself. It takes longer to explain it to someone else and they’ll probably mess it up anyway. Might as well take care of it on your own.

But good church leaders understand that they need other people. They are willing to sacrifice some of their independence for the healthy dependence on others.

Building and maintaining healthy boundaries means you can’t do it all yourself. You never really could, so admitting this to yourself is half the battle. Being a great leader means learning how to depend on the help of others.

When you rely on others, you’re empowering them to become leaders themselves. Trying to do it all by yourself means you deprive others of that opportunity. Show that you believe in those around you by entrusting them with leadership responsibility of their own.

6. Humor

Leadership is serious business. People need to revere, even fear, you. Never let them see you bleed, or even smile. Laughter is a sign of weakness. If you joke, they’ll see you as a joke. Humor is the devil’s tomfoolery. (Hopefully by now you’ve noticed that I’m kidding.)

No, humor isn’t the most important trait a leader needs—but it’s still a great tool to have. Humor takes the edge off. Humor helps people relate to you. Laughing with someone is one of the best ways to build rapport and trust.

No doubt, there are horror stories of leaders taking humor too far and getting burned. Jokes can be inappropriate and offend people. It’s safer just to avoid comedy altogether and remain uptight. But when you understand the line of what’s appropriate, adding humor to your leadership style can help you connect with others.

7. Flexibility

Sometimes we’re lead to believe that a good leader never wavers or doubts a decision. You must have absolute certainty and confidence in every action you make. Act without hesitation, but be sure to make the right decision or there will be consequences. That’s a lot of pressure.

Decision making is one of the most difficult things you’ll have to do as a leader. People will look to you to make the right choice, show them the right path to take. But you aren’t always sure. And you don’t want to waste precious time thinking. Or worse—making a wrong decision.

Which is why you have to be flexible. Understand when you’ve made a wrong choice and be humble enough to admit it. Be willing to adjust when the situation requires it. Know when to listen to others and allow them to help you make a decision.

Being seen as wishy-washy can undermine your leadership. But so can being seen an inflexible. Strike a balance between those two extremes.

8. Kindness

Perhaps the most underappreciated measure of any relationship is kindness. This is especially true in leadership. Who ever said that leaders have to be kind? Not everyone is going to like you, so why bother trying?

True, you’re never going to have everyone like you—that’s one of the burdens of leadership. The more influence you have, the more people will question your abilities. But don’t let that harden your heart. Don’t allow the criticism to drive you to unkindness.

Relationships and trust are crucial pillars to any leader. And nothing corrodes these pillars like unkindness. Nothing drives people away from you like a short temper and a hot head. Leadership is stressful, but that shouldn’t turn you into a different person.

You’ll never become too important to treat people with kindness and dignity. Jesus was the most important person to ever live, and yet kindness was one of his defining traits. What if the same was true for you? What if people looked up to you because of your kindness?

What do you think? Which of these traits do you need to work on?

About Robert Carnes

Robert Carnes is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.