Ivan L. Williams, Sr., is the North American Division Ministerial Association Secretary.

Leading spiritually is challenging. Spiritual leaders today serve under significant pressure due to the rise of secularism and societal norms with a worldview that is not just nonbiblical, but in many ways antibiblical. Church elders, deacons, and deaconesses serve in an environment characterized by a lack of trust. Trust is an attribute no longer freely given to anyone with a church leadership title. Trust costs; it has to be earned through relationships over time with those we serve and those we do ministry alongside.

If you have been asked to serve as a church leader in your congregation, do you know what is required? Is there a code of ethics? What leadership examples should be lived? And in these polarized times, how can a church leader navigate the nuanced gulf of differences to bring the congregation together?

Here are a few leadership best practices and what I call “life-lived” spiritual norms for the church elder, deacon, and deaconess to put into action while serving in ministry.


Ideally, the church needs both character and competence in leadership. But if you had to choose between the two, what choice would you make? Character’s goal is Christlikeness for every believer. It is the essence of biblical spirituality, and to live as one professes is much more influential than any knowledge or spoken words. Competence is a learned or practiced ability for successful outcomes. Character is only given and grown at the feet of Jesus and manifests itself through compassion, love, humility, and grace. Character builds more authentic spiritual momentum and can grow to be congruent with competence; however, competence without character cannot be trustworthy of spiritual leadership.


Can you be counted on to be present through the ups and downs of the church’s life? As stewards of God’s grace, faithfulness is required (1 Cor 4:2). If you have accepted the call to serve as a church elder, deacon, or deaconess, to be present or consistently available shows a commitment that speaks of faithfulness. Don’t underestimate the power of showing up to a meeting or church service. Presence can have a powerful spiritual influence toward righteousness. A prayer, word, response, smile, or show of support goes a long way. Show up even if others do not.


The church is not a club. The gospel is not exclusive or confined to Christians only. It does not belong to an “in crowd” or “out crowd.” Christ’s instructions included sharing with the entire world—every race, language, tongue, and people. The mission to touch and tell the world consists of connecting with everyday people, churched and unchurched: those who choose faith, as well as those who have spiritual doubts, question faith, and are skeptical of religion.

Its essence is to multiply, grow, and share the good news. It was set in motion by Jesus when He told His followers to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19, ESV). Fueled by the gospel, the church’s lifeblood continues forward by this “sending” or “going.” Though Jesus didn’t marry us to a particular method or solidify a specific means or way of reaching people, He did model with His life, sent out followers two by two, and taught us how to love and live, which is the essence of discipleship.

The isolated way of keeping the good news to oneself is not an option. It leads to the same failed missional results of those who lived before us, as expressed by Dragutin Matak, who writes, “The ancient Jews could not fully achieve their mission to the world because they claimed their rich history for themselves, instead of sharing it and appreciating that their Benefactor was ready to bestow wonderful blessings on them and all the earth. They mummified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses in their history instead of sharing the spirituality of the patriarchs with the whole world.”1


Transparency is the new currency of trust. It confronts a double life. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the church in Corinth: “We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God” (2 Cor 4:1–2, MSG).

Spiritual leaders have nothing to hide. It doesn’t mean we betray people’s confidence, but it should express an open approach to church ministry, including its business practices. Building a culture of transparency raises credibility and relevance in any organization.


Continuously practiced isolated ministry is not what Christ modeled to His followers. He chose twelve (Luke 6:12–16) to mentor and coach to become scientists for people. He sent out seventy disciples (Luke 10:1), two by two. His witness to us was one of collaboration. He showed that working with others was essential to mission accomplishment.

Jesus is our model. Desire and seek out the willing to join you in your ministry endeavors. Be flexible, adaptable, and communicative in vision casting. Don’t be tempted to place people on your team who think just like you. Groupthink may appear attractive at first, but having a diversity of thought always yields better long-term results and missional outcomes.

In conclusion, to be elected to serve as a leader in your congregation is not a right, but a great privilege. Spiritual leaders should lead with integrity. Lowell Cooper, retired General Conference Vice President, best summed up this essence. He said, “The call to function in a role of (spiritual) leadership assumes that one will be able to live and act above the level of self-centeredness,” and “a trustworthy God is never made known by an untrustworthy representative.”2

1 Dragutin Matak, “The Misuse of History through Religious Exclusiveness as a Major Obstacle to the Transmission of the Gospel,” in Faith in Search of Depth and Relevancy, ed. Reinder Bruinsma (London: Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists), 349.
2 Lowell Cooper, PowerPoint presentation, Adventist Risk Management Symposium for NAD Presidents, Silver Spring, MD, October 30, 2014.

Ivan L. Williams, Sr., is the North American Division Ministerial Association Secretary.