A theology of leadership for pastors

Articles December 24, 2019

By Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson

The Bible is filled with instruction on godly leadership. One of the most instructive passages is Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

In the book Principles for Christian Leaders, Ellen White states, “Solemn are the responsibilities resting upon those who are called to act as leaders in the church of God on earth.” She then refers to the situation Moses faced as described in Exodus 18.


Moses was “endeavoring to carry alone burdens so heavy that he would soon have worn away under them,” but his father-in-law, Jethro, gave Moses godly counsel for wise distribution of responsibility, appointing leaders over groups of people—thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.

Criteria was given as to who should be called to leadership. They were to be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Exod. 18:21). Further, they were to “judge the people at all times” (v. 22), taking care of more localized matters so Moses could concentrate on matters affecting the entire nation of Israel.

Commenting on this providential arrangement, Ellen White states, “The time and strength of those who in the providence of God have been placed in leading positions of responsibility in the church, should be spent in dealing with the weightier matters demanding special wisdom and largeness of heart.”

For pastors, this is especially important counsel because training and equipping your local lay leaders and members can greatly increase your own effectiveness and the effectiveness of your church in its God-given mission. Responsibilities are shared, and ownership of the mission is carried by all.


In the New Testament, we see the same principles of piety and justice guiding the leaders of God’s people. Inspiration tells us, “In the work of setting things in order in all the churches, and ordaining suitable men to act as officers, the apostles held to the high standards of leadership outlined in the Old Testament Scriptures.”

Some of the high standards are outlined in Titus 1:7–9. Those called to a position of leadership within the church “must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”

Much counsel is given on how spiritual leaders are to lead in a Christlike way. In 1 Peter 5:23 we read: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” This is followed closely by the admonition toward humility, reminding us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (v. 5).

And in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, we see church leaders working together as a committee, basing their decision upon Scripture (see vv. 15-18) in resolving conflict and focusing on mission.

The biblical book of Acts and its inspired companion, The Acts of the Apostles by Ellen G. White, provide a wealth of information leading to a theology of leadership for the church.


In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we build our theology of leadership and practice firmly upon the Bible first and then the counsel given through the Spirit of Prophecy. Christ is indeed the Head of the church (see Eph. 5:23), and we should remember we are always subject to Christ, the Chief Shepherd, and are not to exercise “kingly power” over those we serve.

How does this work in practical terms? Inspired counsel invites us to cultivate humble dependence: “Men whom the Lord calls to important positions in His work are to cultivate a humble dependence upon Him. They are not to seek to embrace too much authority; for God has not called them to a work of ruling, but to plan and counsel with their fellow laborers. Every worker alike is to hold himself amenable to the requirements and instructions of God.”

The Bible tells us, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” (Prov. 11:14), and this is why committees are so important. The committee system is vital to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and it is the system under which the church operates—starting with local church business meetings; to church board meetings; to committees at the local conference, union, and division; to executive committee meetings; and to General Conference Sessions.


Committees consist of people who each have a voice. They should come to committees with the intent to move the mission of the church forward rather than to promote any personal agenda. Everyone is to work together, allowing the Holy Spirit to impress him or her individually.

All committee members are empowered to contribute, based on their personal spiritual connection with heaven as they ask the Lord to guide. They should not feel intimidated or held back but should feel free to express their thoughts and vote in the way they believe God is guiding them. No one should be told how to vote—this applies all the way from the local church board and business meetings to General Conference Sessions.

When counsel is given from senior administration, it should be seriously considered, but it is not the final word. The final word is from the committee through voting. Of course, consensus is the ideal, and is worth striving for. When there is not a consensus, however, we must rely on the normal protocol of simple majority. That does not always make everyone happy but is the normal way that organizations operate, including religious ones.

The beautiful truth and comforting thought about leadership, whether you serve as a pastor, educator, or administrator, is this—when you put something in God’s hands and move forward in what God has said, ultimately, the truth will prevail. The challenge is to be patient knowing that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).


A humble, living connection with Christ is vital for all spiritual leaders. Following are some areas that can help strengthen spiritual leadership effectiveness:

Study of and literal belief in the Word of God. Take time to daily study the Bible and allow the Word to soak into your very being. Study to show yourself approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). Our church has long held to the historical-biblical method of interpreting Scripture by allowing the Bible to interpret itself, accepting it as it reads.

Know the 28 fundamental beliefs. Know our beliefs and realize they are based on the Word of God. Teach them to others and promote them. Feed God’s sheep the Word of God (see John 21:16).

Study and trust the Spirit of Prophecy.Accept the Spirit of Prophecy as one of God’s greatest gifts to His remnant people and read it daily. It has counsel for nearly every aspect of the Christian life and is as relevant today as when it was written. Believe Revelation 12:17 and 19:10.

Have an active prayer life.As a pastor and leader, you cannot survive without an active, personal prayer life that puts you in contact with the heavenly source of all wisdom and guidance. Pray often (1 Thess. 5:17).

Believe in revival and reformation. Realize we are truly in a Laodicean setting and need revival and reformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. Be willing to humble yourself before God as you seek the power of the latter rain through the Holy Spirit. Let Revelation 3:18–20 be fulfilled in your life.

Share your faith.Be willing to be used by the Holy Spirit to personally share your faith with those in your community and beyond. Hold public evangelistic meetings, which will bring others to a knowledge of and decision for Christ and will increase your own faith. Fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

Lift up Christ, His righteousness, and the sanctuary service. In your daily activities, lift up Christ in all you do. Make Him the focus of your life. Help others realize that only through Christ’s ministry during His life, His death on the cross, and His ministry as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary (Daniel 8:14 and Hebrews) can we have full assurance of eternal life.

Proclaim the three angels’ messages.Proclaim with a loud voice the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6–12. Realize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been given a unique message to proclaim to the world through the Holy Spirit’s power.

Have a sunny disposition and be a unifier. Be positive in your approach to life. Bring encouragement into the lives of others. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Fulfill Christ’s prayer of unity found in John 17, following the counsel in 2 Corinthians 5:1819.

Be observant and affirming.Be observant of the activities and accomplishments of others and affirming in your appreciation. Remember, we are all part of the Lord’s team. Be a fulfillment of Proverbs 15:23.

Trust God’s leading.Do not doubt that God is leading the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is not just another denomination; this is a mighty movement of the Lord. Have an abiding trust in the promises of the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy. God has called the Seventh-day Adventist Church for the unique role of proclaiming the three angels’ messages, and it will continue to the end of time in its special role of lifting up the true worship of God (Rev. 12:1714:12).

Enjoy physical exercise and healthy eating. Realize what you eat and drink and how you conduct your physical life (exercise, sleep, rest, recreation) will greatly affect your spiritual life. Take time for proper physical exercise and appropriate rest. God recommends through His Spirit of Prophecy counsel that for the best health possible, eat the original diet of a good, balanced vegetarian diet and avoid all harmful beverages and other detrimental habits. Follow the counsel in 3 John 2.

Be fair and balanced.In your dealings with people, be known as one who is fair and balanced. Evaluate situations carefully and impartially. Make decisions that are reasonable and based on principles and counsel from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Let Philippians 4:8 guide you.

Be a good listener.A spiritual leader will learn the art of listening, reserving comments for after having heard the “whole” story. Do not jump to conclusions. Wait and listen. Be willing to learn. Follow Proverbs 1:5.

Seek counsel. In your work, ask for counsel from other godly people. Do not think you know all the answers. Earnestly seek guidance from those who know the Lord and whom you trust (Prov. 11:14).

Stand for the right.Be willing to stand up for what is right “though the heavens fall,” even if it is unpopular. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in forming your opinion and belief. Let the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy give understanding. Be respectful and honorable as you share what you believe.

Stand for those who cannot. Be willing to stand for individuals or causes that have no voice but need to be heard. God asks you to be the voice of the widow and the orphan and others who are in need. Follow the ministry of Christ in Luke 4:18.

Ask for wisdom.Every morning claim James 1:5, asking wisdom for your daily duties. Realize you are powerless without the wisdom of heaven. God will give you what you need.

Be a humble servant.In your dealings with others, remember you are God’s servant. Allow Micah 6:8 to rule your actions. Remember Proverbs 15:33, “Before honor is humility.” Fulfill Christ’s instruction in Matthew 20:26–28.

Believe Christ’s coming is soon.Believe in the promises and prophecies that show Christ’s second coming is imminent. Preach about the Second Coming. Understand that the descriptions of Christ’s return in Matthew 24 and 2 Peter 3 are true. Believe with certainty the words of Christ recorded in Revelation 22:7, “Behold, I am coming quickly.”

As you spend time with the Lord each day asking for wisdom and guidance and following His instructions given in His Word and in the Spirit of Prophecy, you will experience the joy of partnering with Him in God-given effective leadership. May God bless as you minister for Him!

  1. All Scripture passages in this article are from the New King James Version (NKJV).
  2. Ellen G. White, Principles for Christian Leaders: Inspired Advice for People Learning to Lead Like Jesus (Silver Spring, MD: The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2018), 32.
  3. White, Principles for Christian Leaders, 32.
  4. White, Principles for Christian Leaders, 32.
  5. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 95.
  6. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 270.
  7. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), 57.