Ten Essential Traits of a Successful Senior Pastor
Transformational leadership requires character, anointing and skills
The link to my actual sermon notes—which this article is based upon—is available for paid subscribers. Look for the link at the bottom of this post.
The Making of a Senior Pastor
I am a pastor. It’s been central to my identity for nearly five decades, and I believe that being a pastor is one of the greatest callings in life. It is a vocation unlike any other. I didn’t set out to become a pastor. I started out working in the appliance business. That was a choice, but being a pastor is unlike most careers. You don’t choose it. It chooses you. A pastor navigates a world teeming with unique challenges. You’re pressed upon from all directions and it requires a delicate blend of character, anointing, and skills to thrive.
All pastors are going to have different personalities, just like every leader is cut from a different cloth. But there are certain indispensable traits that underpin a successful senior pastor. Here are ten of them that have become clear to me:
1. The Anointing of Headship
In the Old Testament, God used anointing oil to set apart the high priest for the work of the Lord (see Exodus 30). Applying oil in this way symbolized the anointing of headship. It also had ties to power and protection. This holy anointing manifests in three key ways. It fosters natural recognition as a leader. It bestows life to those around you. And it offers divine blessings and protection. For senior pastors, this anointing fuels passion for God’s work and defends against stress, burnout, and frustration. The headship of pastors, in the context of the Church, is characterized by an overall vision for the Church, grace in governance, and security in delegating authority and ministry.
2. The Authority of Headship
There are four types of headship authority—delegated, earned, natural, and spiritual authority—and a successful senior pastor must embrace all of them. Delegated authority matches responsibilities and is real, significant, and measurable. Earned authority comes through exemplary leadership and submission. Natural authority manifests when a leader operates in areas of gifts and anointing. Spiritual authority stems from obedience to divine guidance.
3. Submission to God
No senior pastor should pursue the work for personal gain or ambition. Instead, he should be submissive to God in every part of life. Central to this is an active prayer life that obeys Christ and isn't driven by fears or false motivation. The senior pastor should display a strong commitment to seeking and following divine guidance in every decision—and every action resulting from those decisions.
4. Domestic Integrity
I believe a pastor’s relationship to church members will never exceed his own relationship to family. A healthy, balanced commitment means the value placed on marriage and family must surpass that placed on ministry. This flies in the face of a common (but unbiblical) belief that ministry takes precedence over everything else. To be honest, this sets the pastor up for failure. Sometimes it looks like moral compromise. Sometimes it looks like family conflict or marriage problems. The pastor’s family should be shielded from the demands of ministry and not placed under undue pressure to perform or please others. God will not bless your church more than you bless your home.
5. Bearing the Standard
Many pastors spend their energies in a reactive manner rather than proactive. This might be a personality flaw or it might be operating out of fear rather than faith. But a successful senior pastor should bear the standard for the church. True leadership means transferring both vision and values to key leaders. It also requires confrontation and correction on all levels. You can’t be a standard bearer and take a passive approach to ministry.
6. Releasing and Equipping
No healthy, successful church can be a one-man show. A successful senior pastor focuses on the Word of God and prayer, but they also releases ministry to the people by equipping their team members and congregation to serve according to their own gifts and callings. This might look like building a cell ministry structure rather than a top-down leadership structure. This mentality empowers others to live out their callings and contribute to the overall health and growth of the church.
7. Team Mentality
Successful leaders emphasize collaboration. Adopting a team mentality, grounded in biblical principles, always leads to more effective ministry, better decision-making, and a culture of resilience and humility. The strengths of a senior pastor will complement the strengths of their team members, sharing both burdens and successes. This reduces stress and burnout and leads to greater results.
8. Real Accountability
Leadership can be isolating—my decades as a senior pastor showed me this reality—but even leaders like Joshua had the support of Aaron and Hur to help them achieve success (see Exodus 17). True accountability may look different according to a pastor’s church structure, but it requires submission to godly, local eldership, overseers or deacons. It requires maintaining relationships with trans-local authority figures as well, especially those in similar positions and with similar responsibilities. Ultimately these relationships provide a safe place to talk, receive ministry, and maintain a check-and-balance system within church leadership.
9. Character Above Gifts
Gifts or talents may be spectacular, but character matters most. A successful senior pastor will see the value in their own character while prioritizing character in others—especially above giftings in key positions. This is critical for a healthy church, but it’s also a common point of failure. When you promote someone based solely on their gifts, talents or capabilities, you’ll often exacerbate existing problems instead of solving them. Character matters.
10. A Balance of Grace and Truth
Grace without truth is empty cheerleading. Truth without grace is calloused and cruel. A successful senior pastor needs both, and finds a sustainable balance between grace and truth. Students of Scripture will find this balance echoing through the three major biblical offices—prophet, priest, and king. It underpins the overall health and effectiveness of pastoral leadership.
Can you identify with these traits? Do you see them in your own ministry, relationships and leadership?
The role of senior pastor is difficult work but I can attest that it is also spiritually, emotionally and personally fulfilling. Pastoring is an honorable journey in which every challenge is an opportunity for blessing—but only within those leaders who show a combination of character, anointing, skills, and these ten essential traits.
With these ten traits, a senior pastor can guide their flock with wisdom, love, and divine direction. ~ Jimmy Evans
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