I recently attended a gathering of church leaders that began with the facilitator asking us to introduce ourselves by giving our name, church, and ministry. I was sitting in the front of this gathering of about 30, and was third to go: “I’m Joe and I’m the associate at Tri-Lakes.” Some introduced themselves as pastors, others as office administrators, and some as lay leaders in their congregation. There was another group who after giving their name, said something like, “I’m part of the pastoral team at [my church].” I knew most in the crowd, and noted that everyone who introduced themselves that way that was not just part of the team, but were the lead pastors of the congregations they served.
[pullquote]Do not downplay your role as the leader[/pullquote]As an associate, I appreciated what they were trying to do. I like when my lead pastor views me as part of the team, but please do not downplay your role as the leader of that team.
Maybe the most important, yet the most difficult to describe, need of staff ministry members, is good, strong leadership from their lead pastor. To borrow a transportation metaphor, the crew will be able to function more effectively if they know who is driving the ship. Do not take this role lightly.
Many lead pastors become frustrated when staff members do not “fall in line,” follow, or appear to be challenging them for leadership. While it is true that staff members have a responsibility to follow well (I will write on that in the future), it is also true that it is impossible to follow someone who is not leading.
Let me share several examples of the leadership we staff members need:
- Clear communication of mission, goals, and priorities of the congregation: As staff members, we need clear communication of the mission, goals, and priorities of the congregation. Where are we going? What are we trying to do? What is most important in the overall vision of the church we serve? It is a mistake for the lead pastor to assume his or her staff understands this. Some of us will pick it up quickly, but others are so focused in their ministry area, that we might miss the clues. Sure, we know the basic ministry of the church, but each lead pastor has a different focus within that overarching mission. Please share yours often.
- Clear communication of goals for the ministry area for which I’m responsible: Staff members can sometimes struggle to understand how their ministry fits into the whole ministry of the congregation. It can be devastating to the working environment when goals go unspoken, and my thoughts do not match yours. Share what you think, and listen to the staff member’s thoughts as well. For example, as a youth pastor, I would like to know if my lead pastor is looking for a big, flashy program that attracts crowds, or a depth of ministry that grows individual students but whose numbers might not be as great. Clearly communicating your vision opens up room to dialogue and arrive at goals we are both comfortable with.
- Tell me how you want to participate in the ministry area for which I am responsible: This can be a touchy one. Our assumption is that we have been hired to “do this for you.” We don’t want to ask you to participate when you have so many other things to do. On the other hand, we also do not want to shut you out of a ministry area to which you feel called and gifted. Please let us know what role, if any, you would like in our ministry areas. Also share how much you want to be involved in decision-making, and what decisions you want brought to you.
- Check in on staff members. I have had lead pastors who would come into my office and sit down for a chat from time to time. Others never did that. I always had to go to them, and sometimes was even required to make an appointment with the secretary. I functioned far better with those who would stop by my office to ask about my ministry, my family, and my life in general. Sometimes we would just shoot the breeze, talking baseball, movies, or the weather. Other times the lead pastor would stop outside my doorway at just the right time for me to unload something serious that was going on.
- Let us help you. I find that many lead pastors do not want to appear vulnerable before their staff. That is a mistake. Bonding among the ministry staff members occurs when we open ourselves up to one another. You can drop the persona from time to time, and just be human with us. Seeing your struggles and frustrations is helpful to us when we experience the same. Some of your staff may have tremendous gifts for listening and counseling. If we can help you, we would love the opportunity. A healthy lead pastor is a better lead pastor. So that benefits us both.
While each of us may not express it this way, your staff members want you to lead – passionately and effectively. This is not a skill taught in seminary or developed as the sole pastor of a congregation. Please do all you can to further your knowledge. Read books on leadership and management skills, and/or attend seminars that will help to sharpen those same skills. Those will be continuing education time and dollars well spent – for both of us.