Several years ago, I was asked to speak to executive pastors about a senior pastor’s expectations for their role. Now, as I am transitioning out of the role of senior pastor, I probably have even stronger insight into the subject.
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 to better understand this post.
I continued my talk to executive pastors by sharing how other staff members within the church can support the position of senior pastor. I realize none of the churches where I have served would have been successful without the creativity, diligence and leadership of the staff with whom I served.
The question I was asked and echoed repeatedly was this:
What does my pastor really expect of me and the rest of the staff?
A healthy staff requires a team approach. It requires everyone working together. As I attempt to lead a team, there are certain expectations I have for those who serve on a church staff in supporting the leadership of a senior pastor.
Here are 10 expectations I have for supporting 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. The less you concentrate on your own “needs” the more we can work together to help other know the surpassing greatness of our Lord.
Some people are wired for a supporting role and some are not. This is why so many are planting churches these days. They wanted to be able to do things on their own – lead their own way. You may be able to serve in a supporting role for a short time, but not long term. There is nothing wrong with that. 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 their back. And, that’s not a self-serving statement either. It’s what’s required for a healthy team. If you can’t support the person move on as soon as possible. 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.
This is huge. 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. I’ve seen this so many times where the struggle of a staff member is they want to be the senior leader. They aren’t in the role, but they want to be – now. It causes them to question everything the senior leader does.
I’m not trying to be cruel. And I’m not suggesting one position is superior to another. On a healthy team every position is equally important. I am simply facing reality. When someone has the senior pastor position there will be expectations placed upon them, which come with the role – even sometimes expectations they wish they didn’t have. It takes a great deal of humility to submit to someone else’s leadership, but it’s important to know who you are and how God is calling you to serve Him in this current season.
Don’t pray for, wish or try to make your pastor something they are not.
Most likely, the basic personality of your leader is not going to change. Your decision to stay should accept the fact that some things you hope will be different in years to come likely won’t. I always tell our staff I hope they never stay for a paycheck. That’s not fair and it’s not operating as people of faith.
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. The fact is you may learn more in these days which will help you in future days.
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, the pastor 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 and on a team also.
Be the best version of you you can be.
Especially if you know you want to be in the senior position someday, don’t wait until you are in the number one position to make a difference in the church. This helps you, the pastor and the church. But, regardless – even if you know you always want to be in a supporting staff position – do good work. In fact, do your best work. In fact, I always like to encourage people who work with me to keep building their resume, for whatever might be next for you. I’ll even help you build it if you let me. This isn’t about building “my” team. We are in a Kingdom business.
Be a compliment to the pastor.
Most likely, you are needed for your abilities, which are different from the senior pastor. Use your gifting to make the church better and improve the overall leadership of the pastor. Help fill the gaps the pastor can’t fill and may not even see. Learn to “lead up” so you can take responsibilities off the pastor when you are able. Volunteer without being asked. 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 something about which you disagree. Ask yourself if the battle is worth fighting for or if this in the hill on which to die. Be a supporter as often as you can and a detractor as seldom as you can.
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 – good and bad – 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. When you can no longer support the pastor or the organization, or you begin to affect the health or morale of the church and staff, it’s time to go.
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.