10 Red Flags When Choosing New Leaders

4779009114_37a08ba853_bOne of the roles of a ministry leader is choosing other leaders to lead alongside you. Whether you’re hiring a staff member or recruiting and screening new small group leaders, getting it right when it comes to selecting leaders is crucial to keeping your teams healthy. One of the most frustrating parts of this process is when a leader seems to have the gifting, skill set, and background to make a great leader on paper, but later on they prove to be ineffective or even damaging. While we can’t always (or even often!) predict such situations because it’s simply a part of the messiness of working with people, hindsight sometimes shows us that we missed some warning signs along the way. Here’s a list of red flags you can look for when choosing new leaders—compiled mostly from my own mistakes:

1) Lack of transparency

I don’t expect a potential staff member or volunteer to bare their entire soul in a half hour conversation, but when someone won’t let others have even a glimpse into their life—especially the difficult stuff—it may not be the time for them to step into a role where they’ll lead others.

2) Criticism of other churches

I’m wary of potential leaders who criticize other churches or church leaders—especially those in our own backyard. It’s one thing to formulate opinions about different approaches to ministry, but it’s quite another to tear fellow Christians down. Critical hearts don’t make good teammates.

3) Church hopping

This one’s related to #2, because chronic church hoppers often lay the blame for their departure from churches anywhere but themselves. If someone hasn’t stayed at a church for more than a year or two, there’s probably a reason, and you need to find out what it is before handing them a leadership role.

4) “I’m a totally different person (than I was yesterday)”

I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for a person who has just gone through a significant season of sin and rebellion to seek a new start by trying to jump into a leadership role. If there hasn’t also been a season of healing, you’re not doing them a favor by thrusting them into leadership. It doesn’t mean someone has to be perfect to lead, but they do have to show they can lead themselves well before leading others.

5) Talks more than listens

Listening well is a non-negotiable for every ministry leadership position I can think of. If you can think of one where it’s not, let me know.

6) “I’m going to be the greatest _______ you’ve ever had”

Confidence is a great quality in a leader. Cockiness is not. I’m looking for leaders who want to prove themselves, not those who think they already have.

7) Takes a looooong time to fill out the application

This one applies more to volunteer leaders, since you probably wouldn’t hire someone who wasn’t interested enough in the position to get around to filling out the application. Why would you enlist a volunteer you have to nag just to fill out a simple form? Just because you won’t be paying them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t act professionally. If they don’t show much initiative before they’re in the leadership role, will they show much initiative once they do have the position?

8) Unkind to the barista

As a small groups pastor, I interview a lot of potential leaders at coffeeshops. If you’re not nice to the underpaid college student making your drink, the interview was over before it began.

9) Lack of knowledgable references

If someone’s going to be leading others, I check their references. It’s not a good sign if they can’t (or won’t) list references who can attest to their character and performance in a similar position or situation.

10) Complains about their boss

You can tell a lot about how someone will treat a person in authority at your church (including you) by how they treat authority figures in other areas of their life. Their boss might very well be a jerk, but a person with integrity can share about a difficult work situation without being unkind.

Bonus: Your gut says “no”

Sometimes you just get a feeling that someone should not be in a leadership position. It may be that God is nudging you in that direction, so listen to your instincts when something in your head or heart is telling you to put on the brakes.


What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.


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