Skip to main content

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.

Know yourself.

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.

Closing thoughts:

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.

Related Posts

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

More posts by Ron Edmondson

Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • ronedmondson says:

    That's true!

  • As a person on a church staff not in the lead pastor position I appreciate this list. I am the minister of youth and young adults at my church and I have a great relationship with my senior pastor. Do I always agree with him? No. Would I make some different decisions if I was leading? Yes. However, he is the lead pastor of my church and I want to support him in the choices he makes.

  • stephen says:

    could you explain the #8 further? (is that another post, perhaps?)

    • ronedmondson says:

      It could be another post perhaps. Basically what I mean is that as a leader on a team, under a senior leader, you won't always agree with the decisions the senior leader makes…in this case the pastor. So, pick the times to confront those disagreements. Is it major, can you not live with the decision, is it wrong, morally or with the vision of the church…etc. If it's just an opinion, and really doesn't matter either way, why damage a relationship for something minor? Make sense?

      • stephen says:

        sure! I really appreciate wisdom of picking battles – true for many different situations, marriage for one. I was hoping to jump off Ed Taylor's reply – asking about the one that says "Brand yourself in and out of the organization." I am not accustomed to branding myself in my role as an assistant pastor, so I'm curious about the ins/outs/ethics of doing this. My context isn't this way, but I've been in other churches where the head pastor was insecure and saw increase in the popularity of his staff as taking away from his own. How ought we navigate this? And when is it just arrogance to publicize "I did this"?
        Thanks for taking the time to respond!

  • Bob Bachand says:

    Thanks Ron. Good stuff here. In particular, I like the “leave when it’s time” piece. Many think they have to stay at the same church for a lifetime.

  • Hannah yoon says:

    It is really enlightening and eye-opening. Thank you for sharing such a crucial wisdom for the church workers.

  • Jon sterns says:

    I would add:
    When you feeling the leading out if the organization prior to the Lead Pastor knowing it’s time, I would say it is a sign of spiritual maturity to let him in on your secret desire to leave. It might cost you something but it’s right.

  • @LCraigHicks says:

    Having been a staff pastor for 8 years there were a few things that God spoke to me. As long as I was in that position I wanted to be the best #2 man I could be. My goal was to make his job easier. Submission to authority is so vital! We don't have the time to go into it. But I can say I watched other guys fail to honor & submit to their pastors & they failed miserably. My heart was to live & breathe his vision & help pass that on to everyone else in the organization. God has now honored me by allowing me to be a Senior Pastor b/c of my obedience & submission during those years. I know God will one day bless me w/ a great #2 staff as we grow!

  • Ed Taylor says:

    great stuff Ron. I'm a pastor with a precious staff. I shared this with them. I turned it around too as how I can be a good Sr. Pastor to them. I titled it 10 Ways Your Sr. Pastor Will Support You!
    note: Please don't take offense at #8, I just wasn't tracking with you on that one.
    ed taylor —

    1. Have a Kingdom Perspective.
    ME TO YOU: I will maintain a Kingdom perspective keeping my eyes on Jesus so I can be someone that will inspire & encourage you, someone that you will serve and follow to Jesus.

    2. Know Yourself.
    ME TO YOU: I will pray to know you, and the uniqueness of your gifting & talents in Jesus and help you grow in your calling.

    3. Support your pastor.
    ME TO YOU: I will support and love you too. I want to create an environment where your'e respected and loved with the kind of support where you know that I'm with you, not against you.

    4. Realize Your in the 2nd or 3rd Chair.
    ME TO YOU: I'll realize I'm in the 2nd or 3rd chair with Jesus. Although I have responsibilities and oversight as a Sr. Pastor, I also realize that I'm a servant of Jesus like anyone else.

    5. Don't pray for, wish for, or try to make your pastor something he is not.
    ME TO YOU: I'll be careful not to pray for, wish for, or try to make you someone you're not but rather accept you as you are in Jesus, by grace with His undying agape love. If there are areas of improvement needed, I will pray Jesus touches you and uses me to help you grow in Him.

    6. Add value to the pastor & organization.
    ME TO YOU: I will be careful to not view you as a "RESOURCE TO ADD VALUE" but rather as a person that is valuable already! I'll do good work that you can emulate. I'll do the best I possibly can.

    7. Be a friend.
    ME TO YOU: I want to be the best friend, not boss, that I possibly can to you, your wife, your kids, and your grandkids.

    8. Brand Yourself in & out of your organization.
    ME TO YOU: I won't make a name for myself, nor try to draw attention to myself. Please don't do that. (don't like #8 all that much from the author)

    9. Compliment the Pastor.
    ME TO YOU: I will be looking for ways to express my love and appreciation of you and your undying commitment to Jesus often often often!

    10. Pick Your Battles.
    ME TO YOU: I don't want to fight with you so I'm not going to pick any battles. I love you and want to work with you in love, peace, harmony, and grace!

    • bess hanff says:

      Amen Pastor Ed. Just like the leaders in the early church. Point everyone to Jesus and walk worthy so those following after you have a godly example of a disciple of Jesus not caring what your title or position is as long as you are serving with your talents and gifts. Love serving with you. Blessings, Bess

    • Andrew Baker says:

      I served alongside Pastor Ed for 8 years as an assistant pastor, and recently took a step of faith to plant a church. This was not for reasons that I could no longer be #2 or #3, but because we were following direction from the Lord. It was a very amicable parting and would still be honored to serve under his leadership today. It really goes back to #1 keeping a kingdom perspective. Now we both enjoy seeing fruit in two places, and God's hand is all over it.

    • ronedmondson says:

      This is great. I may repost. I\’ll give you credit if I do of course

  • sblumer says:

    good post, definitely not so easy sometimes.

  • This is good stuff. It was great to hang with you on Tuesday. I look forward to getting together with you soon.

  • Jim Dixon says:

    I have served as a staff pastor, senior pastor and now a staff pastor again. Looking from both perspectives, perhaps the most significant attitude the staff pastor can have in that role is understanding the job description means helping the sr. pastor fulfill his vision. You can't do that without true humility and being willing to let go of your own agenda to work with his. I have found that the most effective way for the staff guy to succeed is to be the sr. pastor's servant. Even the Son of Man did not come to BE served, but TO serve….

    • ronedmondson says:

      Absolutely. Good comment Jim. I actually had that verse in one of the points, but the post was getting too long. Thanks for that.