Senior Pastor as Servant’s Servant’s Servant
How can a senior pastor best serve his staff? To answer that,I did the unthinkable: I asked my staff what they needed from me as the senior pastor. Below you will find a few of their responses. Who knew such a simple question would lead to such helpful wisdom for the lead minister?
1. Model prayer. Make prayer a central feature of your staff culture. My team treasures our weekly staff prayer gathering. We meet for an hour and a half to humble ourselves together, carry one another’s burdens, and cry out for God to work in our church members’ lives. I’ve come to believe that these regular prayer times are the single most important factor in our staff’s cohesion and effectiveness.
2. Love them. My team overwhelmingly told me they wanted me to care about them as people. That caring includes things like hearing their concerns, helping them guard their family time, checking in with them regularly, and even sharing my own life. While they don’t expect me to be their best friend, they seem to want their senior pastor to be a pastor.
3. Dream and develop. In a closely related point, my youth pastor expressed his desire for me to support his further ministry development. My staffers apparently aren’t satisfied being cogs in a ministry machine. Imagine that! They want to grow in response to God’s call. Where could each of your team members be in five years? We can serve them by dreaming about their futures with them, and then shepherding them toward those callings.
4. Flee favoritism. God hates partiality (Deut. 10:17; 17:19; Jas. 2:1-10). Your staff won’t like it either. While there will be different levels of responsibility and accountability among staff members, we must lead and make decisions with impartiality and justice.
5. Be stable. I was surprised to find how many of my co-workers said that my emotional and spiritual health is vital to them. My consistency, or inconsistency, in walking with Christ, nurturing my family, and protecting time for my own rest impacts the staff. When I watch my own soul well, I become the kind of leader who brings health to my associates. It seems the senior pastor needs to be the most stable person in the room. Don’t make your staff wonder which version of the boss is walking through the door today.
6. Empower and unleash. Believe it or not, none of my staff wanted me to control and micromanage them. Instead, they wanted a level of guidance and direction, but also freedom to run with their ministries. Now that I think about it, that’s how I prefer to be led as well.
7. Be clear. Speak the truth in love, but speak it nonetheless. Make goals and expectations clear, address problems quickly and frankly, and communicate often. If one person needs correction, take it up with him or her rather than lecturing the whole team and hoping that one person will get the drift.
8. Get off the bridge. Sometimes I challenge my staff members to get out of their little ministry compartments and join the senior pastor on the “bridge” of the church to look out at the congregation’s overall direction. But the senior pastor also needs to come down from on high and be familiar with the challenges of his team’s ministries. Hang out with the youth group one night. Serve in Vacation Bible School. Pop in on a worship team rehearsal. Let someone else preach next week and go hold a baby in the nursery.
9. Use their gifts. God has given complementary spiritual gifts to the congregation (1 Cor. 12:27-31). You see this in microcosm in a church staff. Serve your staff not only by celebrating their unique gifts, but also by leaning on those gifts to fill in for your deficiencies. Help them see that your own ministry can easily become warped without their gifts balancing yours.
I could easily go on. If you want more suggestions, just ask your own staff, “How can I serve you better as your senior pastor?”
When we senior pastors serve our staffs well, we not only bless them, we also demonstrate humble, Christ-like leadership to the entire church family. Many people have been so wounded by selfish leaders that they can’t imagine authority being used to give life. But there is a kind of leading that heals and produces joy. Our Lord taught us that the one who wanted to be first must be the servant of all (Mk. 9:35). If Jesus would stoop to wash our feet, then his under-shepherds can do no less (Jn. 13:12-17).
Gregory the Great, the influential sixth-century bishop, strove to lead the church in his day with a kind of humility that would mark him as a “servant of the servants of God.” May we senior pastors lead our teams in such a way that we will be marked as servants to the servants of the servants of God.