Recently I had the privilege of speaking to some executive pastors about a senior pastor’s expectations for their role. Part of a healthy organization is recognizing the individual roles and responsibilities of the others on the team. I felt it was important that I first help them understand the pastor better, so I shared 10 Things You May Not Know about the Senior Pastor. You may want to read that post first.
I continued my talk by sharing how other staff members within the church can support the position of senior pastor. I realize our church would have never been successful without the creativity, diligence and leadership of the staff at Grace Community Church. Part of our success has been the way our staff has assisted my co-pastor and me in our work, but the role of a senior pastor is unique also.
Here are 10 expectations I believe are important for those who serve on a church staff in supporting the leadership of a senior pastor:
Have a Kingdom perspective. It’s not really about either one of you…it’s about God and we get to play a part in His Kingdom work.
Know yourself. Some people are wired for a supporting role and some are not, which is why so many are planting churches these days. You may be able to serve in this role for a short time but not long term. It takes a great deal of humility to submit to someone else’s leadership at times. Know who you are. Being in the second (or third) position in an organizational sense doesn’t always get to make the final decision. Are you comfortable with that fact?
Support the pastor. That’s an obvious for this list, but unless the senior pastor is doing something immoral, you should have his back. If you can’t, move on… You should make this decision early in your relationship, preferably before you start, but definitely soon into the process. Resisting the leadership of the senior pastor is usually not good for you or the church.
Realize you are in the second (or third) chair. If you don’t want to be, then work your way into a number one seat, but while you are in this position, understand your role.
Don’t pray for, wish or try to make your pastor something he is not. Most likely, the basic personality of your leader is not going to change.
Add value to the pastor and the organization. Do good work. Even if you are not 100% satisfied where you are at in your career at the current time, keep learning and continue to be exceptional in your position. Be a linchpin.
Be a friend. This is a general principle when working with others, but especially true in this situation. If you aren’t likable to the pastor, he isn’t going to respond likewise. Have you ever heard, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”? That works when working with a leader too.
Brand yourself in and out of the organization. Don’t wait until you are in the number one position to make a name for yourself. This helps you, the pastor and the church.
Compliment the pastor. Most likely, you are needed for your abilities that are different from the senior pastor. Use your gifting to make the church better and improve the overall leadership of the pastor. This will serve you well also.
Pick your battles. Even in the healthiest organizations, there will be conflict and disagreements. Don’t always be looking for a fight. Ask yourself if the battle is worth fighting for or if this in the hill on which to die.
Learn all you can. Most likely, the pastor knows some things you don’t. Sometimes you will learn what not to do from your pastor. Let every experience teach you something you can use later to make you a better leader.
Leave when it’s time. Be fair to the church, the pastor, and yourself and leave when your heart leaves the position, you can no longer support the pastor or the organization, or you begin to affect the health or morale of the church and staff.
I personally understand the frustration of being part of a team, but not feeling you have the freedom to share your opinions or the opportunity to help shape the future of the organization. Real leaders never last long in that type environment. There are certainly leaders who will never be open to your input. Again, I recommend discovering this early and not wasting much time battling that type insecure leader.
The goal of this post is not to sound arrogant as a senior pastor, but to help the organization of the church by addressing issues, which will help improve the leadership of the church and the working relationship between staff members.
I’d love to hear from senior pastors and those who serve on a church staff. What would you add/or delete from my list?
(I realize I have female pastors reading this blog. I didn’t try to exclude you, but went with the masculine sense for readability.)