Introduction to Church Leadership Roles

Church growth is tied to church leadership. In this introductory lesson, the various Biblical roles of leadership are identified and compared to one another.
Class by:

In order to reach its full potential, each congregation of the Lord's church needs to cultivate and have good leadership. No group or organization be it business, military or the church can rise above its own leadership. Jesus said,

A disciple is not above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.
- Matthew 10:24-25

On the subject of leadership Jesus is saying two things:

  • In context He is referring to Himself as the teacher and master that we are to strive to be like.
  • In principle He is saying that in the church we are not in competition with our leaders, we are striving to be like them.

In this way the growth and quality of each congregation can be measured by the growth and quality of its leaders. This is why church growth is tied to leadership. When leaders grow, the church grows. If you want the church to grow, you must first help the leaders to grow. Seeing leaders pursuing growth is one of the factors that stimulates growth among the followers/disciples.

Most of us want the church to grow so we can honor God, confess Christ and build up the kingdom by winning souls.

This book about elders, deacons, preachers and saints will describe the work and responsibilities for each of these roles in the Lord's body. Hopefully, this will help those already serving to become more fruitful in their service, and motivate others to strive to new levels of commitment and leadership in the church.

Roles in Ministry

10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
- Ephesians 4:10-12

This passage mentions every specific role in the church except that of deacons.

Verse 10 – This refers to the divinity and therefore authority of Christ; He descends from heaven to earth (incarnation). He ascended to heaven after his death and resurrection. What He did to fulfill all is contained in the following verses.

Verse 11 – He gave, meaning Jesus set into place, referring to verse 8 (gave gifts); Jesus sets into place or gives to the churches certain gifts. The gifts are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers that Jesus gives or sets into place in the church along with the grace to carry out their ministries. Note that not everyone in the church has these ministries, just some. Also, each has a different ministry according to the grace given by the Lord, but all serve one purpose.

Verse 12 – They all serve the purpose of equipping the saints with skills that will enable them to build up the body of Christ, the church.

Here are some roles mentioned and information about each:


Messengers, one who is sent, like an ambassador. These were the original witnesses of the baptism, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:22). Their original ministry was to testify to the resurrection of Jesus and confirm their witness with signs and miracles (Acts 3:14-15).


They foretell future events, speak God's word. Their original ministry was to serve as living Bibles in the early church (I Corinthians 14:3-5).

With the completion and distribution of the Apostles' witness and teaching preserved in written form, these two ministries were replaced by the Bible itself. It is not that these two roles ceased to exist, they merely exist in a new form, the written word of God (Jude 3).

Preacher or Evangelist

These words means "to proclaim." The preacher's role is to announce or make public (as the word suggests) God's word. Another task of the preacher is to establish and organize the church (Titus 1:5). This is the natural outgrowth of what follows the proclamation of the word. The word produces the church, and by the word the church is sustained.

This ministry continues today, only the methods have changed. Modern communication systems and a change in social and cultural habits see the word proclaimed in new and different ways. However, even in the modern age, the church needs to be set according to the New Testament pattern and that is the work of the preacher.

Pastors and Teachers

These are not two separate categories but only one. Pastor, elder and bishop are all terms describing the same person, and this person does his work by teaching (Acts 20:17; 28). Pastor and shepherd refer to a manner of work; bishop and overseer refer to responsibility; elder and older refer to maturity. You could say that pastors are elders who oversee the church, or that elders are overseers who pastor the church.

This ministry saw people providing wise and experienced leadership to the church through accurate teaching and holy living. You can be a teacher without being an elder, but you cannot be an elder without being a teacher.

This role also exists today, and is exercised within the context of our modern age. However, no social or technological change nullifies the need for wise and holy leadership (Acts 20:28).


The role of deacon is not mentioned here but can be found in other places (I Timothy 3:8-13). The word deacon means servant or slave, and was used in connection with Jesus (Romans 15:8), the Apostles (I Corinthians 3:5), as well as certain people in the church who rendered special service to the body such as benevolence, maintenance, etc. This role also exists in today's church.

We will examine these various roles in more depth in the chapters to come.

What is the difference between elders, preachers, deacons and regular members?

This question always comes up when we discuss these matters.

First of all, we need to note that the difference is not power.

42Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
- Mark 10:42-45

Many churches follow the organizational charts of human organizations, and assign power to various levels of church hierarchy. The New Testament church is a body and the hand is not more important than the foot. Each member has a place to serve, and all are directed by the head: Christ.

Ephesians 4:10-13 says that God gave certain people certain gifts and roles to fill in order to help the body serve itself and grow until it reaches a maturity level equal to the head, which is Christ.

There is a difference, however, because if it were not so, the Holy Spirit would not have specified a variety of roles within the church. All would be "saints" and no distinction would have been drawn. So there are differences that we can determine.


One difference has to do with responsibility. The different roles do not represent power, they represent levels of responsibility.

All are called to serve but some have the task of mobilizing, organizing and directing that service as well as serving in a special capacity. In Acts 6:3 the Apostles had the church select certain qualified men who could be "put in charge" of the task of feeding the poor. These deacons were given special responsibility.

All are called to share their faith in the normal course of their lives, but some have the unique task of proclaiming the gospel as the central point of their lives. Some say that we are all evangelists. That is true in the sense that others must see Christ and hear Christ in all we say and do, but it is also true that some abandon their careers in medicine, business, factories, etc. and give themselves entirely to the work of proclaiming and spreading the gospel. All Christians must be evangelistic, but only some Christians become evangelists.

The same is true for pastors/teachers. We must all teach and encourage one another, and all are responsible to learn the word.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
- I Thessalonians 5:11

But to the older, more experienced, more enlightened Christian men goes the responsibility of leadership, and this is done not by power but by teaching and example.

And so, we see that the difference between the various roles in the church is the degree of responsibility attached to each. Deacons direct tasks, evangelists spread the gospel and organize, and elders direct and nurture the body.


The second difference is one of aptitude. Different people have different gifts from God, or combination of gifts.

4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
- Romans 12:4-8

This passage demonstrates that the different roles are marked by the different gifts given to each. One who has no ability to teach cannot lead because this is the task of leadership. One who is poor does not have the means to sustain the church financially (he can be generous in his own way, but not liberal). One who has no organizational or administrative ability will not be responsible for the bookkeeping, although he may be well suited for other ministry.

In Timothy and Titus there are passages that describe the qualities possessed by pastors, evangelists and deacons. I think these are guides to help direct us into our roles, and help us discover our gifts. Timothy and Titus also provide much information concerning the evangelist and his role, and we will be studying these in the following chapters.

Everyone is a saint, everyone is a member, everyone is a servant, but certain ones have particular gifts that give them a particular responsibility within the body.


The third difference is that elders, evangelists and deacons are appointed to their tasks.

  • Acts 6 – The special servants were chosen for their task based on their qualifications. It was not just volunteerism.
  • Acts 13:3; I Timothy 4:14 – Evangelists were separated and commended to their tasks.
  • Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5 – Elders were chosen (the method depended on the circumstances).

People are not elected to their positions based on popularity, they do not just volunteer to be elders. These people are chosen from among the brethren to be responsible for certain tasks of evangelism, service or leadership because of clearly demonstrated qualifications. If there is no appointing, there is no anointing.


A church cannot grow unless it has good leadership, and you cannot have good leadership unless you have biblical leadership.

The next few chapters will see us explore biblical leadership as it is exercised in the roles of elders, deacons and preachers, outlining the work, the qualifications and how the three work together.

We will also discuss the special role of the wives of these men, and spend some time in describing the response of the church as well as our role as saints in the body of Christ.

In the end let us hope that leaders will be renewed, and have a clearer vision of their responsibility, and also that these lessons will plant the desire to lead in the hearts of many who need to take on more responsibility, but have not yet stepped forward.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the following questions related to congregational leadership:
    1. How do you define leadership?
    2. Why is congregational leadership important?
    3. Who is our example of leadership and why?
    4. Explain the meaning of Matthew 10:24-25 regarding congregational leadership.
  2. Read Ephesians 4:10-12 and answer the following questions:
    1. Why does Jesus have ultimate authority over the Church?
    2. What is the primary purpose of the leadership roles listed in verse 11?
  3. What is a frequently sought-after human characteristic not a part of a congregation's leadership and why?
  4. Discuss the differences in responsibility of the various leadership roles in the church as outlined in scripture.
  5. Discuss the differences in responsibility of various congregational leadership roles.
  6. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?