Bruce Hills (far right)

The marks of effective Christian leadership

World Outreach International is committed to equipping and mobilising an emerging wave of extraordinary leaders across the globe for local church ministry and mission.

What distinguishes a great Christian leader from an average leader?

What qualities, capabilities or skills set effective leaders apart?

To answer these questions, I propose a list of ten characteristics that fall within two categories: inward marks and outward marks. In different words, the marks of who, firstly, an effective leader is (within) and, secondly, what an effective leader does.



Before Christians can lead others, they must be followers of Jesus Christ – they lead as they are being led. leaders who distinguish themselves demonstrate measurable growth in their spiritual lives. This is evidenced by things like: Christ-likeness, godliness, fruitfulness (of character and godly influence) and intimacy with God. In short, effective leaders are those who have a vibrant, intimate and growing walk with the Lord.


Howard Hendricks observed, “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership and the greatest crisis of leadership is a crisi of character.” Godly character is the essential ingredient that qualifies Christians to lead others.


Leadership begins with self-leadership. Before Christian leaders can lead others, they must exercise leadership in and over their own lives. Christian leaders don’t just lead by words, decisions, directives or power, but also by the example of their own lives – who they are. A leader’s authenticity produces credibility.

Self-leadership consists of four basic areas: (a) self-awareness (having an accurate and honest knowledge of one’s self), (b) self-discipline (exercising personal discipline in all areas of one’s life), (C) self-control (exercising high standards on one’s personal living) and (d) self-development (the intentional development of one’s personal and professional growth)

Bill Hybels once said that the “most difficult leader you’ll ever lead is you.” Effective leadership begins within – with self-leadership.


There are many qualities that define outstanding leaders. Who a leader is influences people as much as what a leader does. Here is a representative list of personal qualities I admire in high calibre leaders: authenticity, composure, consistency, courage, dependability, integrity, love, passion, patience, sincerity and transparency (just to mention a few).

Effective leaders display qualities which install confidence, trust and security.



Effective Christian leaders are visionary women and men. Vision is a God-given capacity for leadership. Aubrey Malphurs defines vision as a “clear, challenging picture of the future of the church, as leaders believe that it can and must be.” He writes that vision communicates not what is, but what could be. Vision is a revelation from the Lord of His unique purposes in a leader’s life and ministry. Vision gives intention, direction and navigation to one’s leadership.


Effective leaders are often characterised by the calibre of leaders they build around them. I use the word “build” intentionally. It takes time to build relationships, rapport, trust, understanding, loyalty, and a sense of team.

The process of building leaders includes: fostering personal relationships; helping with personal development; and positioning and empowering leaders. It takes time and effort to build leaders.

Effective leaders think long-term and develop a strong core team with whom they will build fruitful churches.


Some say the true test of effective leadership is followers. This is true to a certain extent, but true leadership requires more than just having followers, because some followers may be disengaged or disempowered.

Alternatively, developing (training), equipping (empowering) and mobilisation (placement) of followers is what really sets effective leaders apart. One of the central goals of Christian leadership, as expressed in Eph. 4:9-16, is the equipping of people within the local church to fulfil Jesus’ mission for and through His church.


econd only to serving God, the motivation of Christian leadership is to lead and serve people. God loves His people, so He calls women and men to love, lead, and minister to them . Therefore Christian leaders must seek to be people-centred in all they are and do. The greatest example of this is the Lord Jesus who radically redefined the nature of people-centred leadership . In short, effective Christian leaders are those who connect and communicate with people in a personal and personable way.


Effective leaders also distinguish themselves through the intentional development of leadership skills. Leaders don’t grow by accident; they grow because they put intentionality into their growth. Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are self-feeders. If a leader is to maintain a trajectory of personal and professional growth, he or she must intentionally keep developing his or her leadership skills.


The final of ten marks of an effective Christian leader is an evident anointing on the leader’s life. “Anointing” is a word we use in Pentecostal vernacular as a synonym for the Spirit’s empowerment. Above every other quality, the anointing of the Spirit is indispensable. Christian leaders should hunger and pursue a daily dependence upon the Spirit’s enablement to discharge their duties and call as leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.

See John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; John 1:14; John 13:2-5; Matt. 19:16-22; Luke 5:17-26; Matt. 8:1-4; Luke 7:34

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