Roles and Responsibilities

Church Leadership Roles and Responsibilities


Evan Forester

Life on Life Associate


One question every pastor needs to answer is this: What are the church leadership roles and responsibilities?

In other words, who does what? What roles should be done by the church staff? And what roles should be done by church members? And how do you reach the greater community?

In this article, we will share an analogy that illustrates the different roles in the church and equips members to be leaders who do ministry.

In fact, this is the same analogy we’ve used to help churches all over the world start a discipleship movement in their own communities.

Let’s talk about church roles and responsibilities.

Who is the Customer, Employee, Employer, and Owner?

A business always knows who its customers, employees, and employers are. But I believe most church members don’t know who takes these roles in the church.

We ask people the following questions during our discipleship training workshops:

  1. Who is the church’s customer? We repeatedly hear a variety of answers—nonmembers, seekers, other believers. Even people who answer accurately display a lot of uncertainty. Then we suggest that, since we don’t have agreement, we move along to the role of employee.
  2. Who is the church’s employer? The only time we get unanimity in response is when we ask whom they see functioning in the role of employer. Everyone agrees that God is the employer—until I ask them who the owner is.
  3. Who is the church’s owner? Of course, we explain that within a business you may well have an owner and employer being the same person, so technically they can be right.
  4. Who is the church’s employee? You can probably guess the answers: staff members, church members, and ordained pastors are all frequently given.

But, assuming a four-tier organization as listed below, I ask them to begin at the top with God as the owner and to work down, seeking to determine who fulfills the roles of the other three, to “fill in the blanks.”

Owner = God

Employer = ____________

Employee = ____________

Customer = ____________

Church Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

When we work from the top down to determine church leadership roles and responsibilities, people usually agree that the staff serve in the role of employer (in our church they serve with the elders and under their authority).

The members of the church, they agree, occupy the role of employee. Then, when all agree that the unchurched are our customers, we explain that church members are also our customers because we are also called to minister to one another.

church leadership - roles and responsibilities

Now, look at the filled-in blanks below and answer the question,

Whose responsibility is it to reach the customer?

The answer, employee, becomes obvious. So what is the role of the employer? The answer: to invest in the employee in such a way as to enable that person to do his or her job adequately. This means that church leadership roles and responsibilities involve leading and equipping, among other things.

Owner = God

Employer = Elders/Staff

Employee = Members

Customer = Unchurched and Members

The Scriptures tell us that the same is true in the life of God’s church. Ephesians 4:11–12 explains that pastor-teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Judged by the actual practice in most churches, you would think that God gave pastor-teachers to do the work of ministry. To the degree that equipping remains an optional duty and the saints become an insignificant middleman in God’s design for ministry, the church will not prevail.

Distracted by Benefits

Keeping our business illustration in mind, imagine that I am the regional sales manager of a large company. I have just gathered my sales team for quarterly sales reports.

I begin, in roll-call fashion, to call out names. “Jo Anne?” Jo Anne responds simply, “No sales to report.” Shocked, to say the least, I show restraint and say nothing, simply moving to the next name. “John?”

As before, the response is simply, “No sales to report.” Now I am flabbergasted. This is, after all, a sales report meeting!

After hearing the next five employees give the same response, I look out over the audience of salesmen and women and ask, with great frustration, “Who has had any sales? Raise your hands.”

church leadership - shrinking sales

Not one hand goes up.

So naturally I begin railing at my sales team for their laziness and irresponsibility. In the midst of this, Scott stands up and speaks for the rest of the team. He says, “Randy, don’t be so alarmed. We want you to know that we have all worked very diligently this past quarter.”

I interrupt, concerned. “Oh no, I can’t believe it! Our competition must have overtaken us. They’ve bettered our product.”

Scott speaks up again and says, “No, we still have the best product in the market.”

More confused, I blurt out, “Oh no, my worst fear! There’s no longer a market for our product.”

Again, Scott corrects me by saying, “Randy, relax. Wrong again. We have worked hard. The market is wide-open and we have the best product at the lowest price.”

“I surrender,” I say, and throw up my hands. “Help me out. I don’t understand.”

“Randy, we have been working hard this quarter,” Scott replies, “but what we’ve been doing is spending our time trying to come up with new and improved employee benefit plans. We’ve got some great ideas to suggest to you and then the management. Aren’t you excited, Randy?”

“Not in the least!” I answer, practically screaming. “That’s not your job.”

The Importance of Pastoral Leadership

In much of the church today, members are spending much of their time working to enhance their own employee benefits and failing to give themselves to the task of reaching the customer. This is one of the main issues creating ineffective churches.

Having read the scenario above, you might expect me to rail against lax church members.

Church members are not the primary problem, however. Employees tend to be successful when they have good employers.

In other words, if we want to see church members focus on reaching their communities, it starts with better leadership in the church.

Pastors have several roles to fulfill, and one of them is to be a leader.

The Role of the Pastor as a Leader

I believe that the pastor’s leadership job description should include four primary responsibilities:

1. Spend time with God to discern His leading for the church.

The pastor is to spend time with the Lord discerning His leading regarding the future direction of the church.

Quite a while ago, I read that the president of an Ivy League school said something like this: “Unless 20 percent of my time is spent with my feet on my desk, I can only manage this organization—but I cannot lead it.”

In other words, he had to spend time away from the day-to-day responsibilities that robbed him of the time to think about the future.

church leadership - feet on desk thinking

In the early years of our church, the elders told me they wanted me to spend four weeks a year away from my regular responsibilities to spend time talking and listening to God, thinking ahead, planning for the future, and sharing this direction with our leadership.

I have kept this practice now for decades and have never regretted the time spent away.

2. Set goals for the church

The leader-equipper sets goals for the church according to the will of God. In our church polity, the elders ultimately approve our goals, but they rely on the church staff to wrestle with the initial formation of those goals and then to make recommendations.

3. Share the vision and goals with the people

The leader-equipper shares vision and goals with the people, seeking their enthusiasm and ownership.

If the members do not understand or accept their highlighted words to roles in the church, the system will break down.

This is one of the most difficult assignments to accomplish in any church—especially in a large church. Finding the appropriate time and place is the issue.

Doubtlessly, the most significant time to do this, for us, has been a special series of banquets offered prior to the beginning of our new ministry year. Everyone is urged to attend one of these banquets where, in addition to outstanding food and music, I share the vision and goals for the coming year of ministry.

Obviously, vision can be cast in many different venues, but this has proven to be our most effective setting.

4. See that each church member is equipped to help in accomplishing these goals

Finally, the leader-equipper sees that each member of the church is properly equipped to do his or her part in accomplishing these goals. Too many churches send their members off to do ministry and fail to equip them – this leads to frustration and burnout for church members.

Why Discipleship Matters for Church Leadership

If you’re wanting more guidance on how to equip your people for ministry and build stronger leaders in your church, then we highly recommend the model that Jesus showed us:


Leaders are not built at a single event. They are not born when they are given a new job title or assigned to a ministry.

Through discipleship, Jesus turned a group of uneducated fishermen into some of the most effective ministers in history. When church leaders invest in their members through life on life ministry, they build new leaders who can do ministry where they live, work, and play.

If you’re interested in building a discipleship movement in your church, then we recommend our 2-year training and coaching process.

We’ve worked alongside churches around the world to help equip disciple makers. How do we do it? Not through a single event, and not by handing you some curriculum. Instead, we believe the best way to help churches become better disciple makers is through…discipleship.

For more information about church roles and responsibilities in discipleship, contact us or apply to join an upcoming training cohort today.

* This blog post is based on a portion of chapter 11 of The Intentional Church, by Randy Pope.