Much of my adult life has been spent as a staff member in various ministry contexts. I’ve served with and under leaders who I’ve not known very well and others who I consider a part of my own family. In both scenarios, the greatest challenge I’ve faced is how to rightly frame relationships that oscillate between matters that are personal, professional, and spiritual. The cost of inattentiveness here has often meant undue stress in my life or in my pastor’s life – stress that occasionally spilled over into other relationships on staff as well.
All told, it does a staff member well to learn exactly what it means to be both alongside and underneath the care and leadership of his or her pastor. While it is impossible to pinpoint consistency between multiple people’s experiences as part of a ministry team, there are some general rules and guidelines worth abiding by to ensure we’re fulfilling our roles faithfully.
These principles could surely be applied by most anyone within a local church context, but the encouragement here is aimed most expressly at those sitting around the staff meeting table who do not occupy the “first chair.” With this audience in mind, here are four ways church staff members can lovingly support their pastor’s ministry:
1.) Pray for your pastor and his family.
Of all the things you can do for your pastor, praying for both him and his family is the most important. Give earnest, thoughtful time in prayer to God for your pastor’s health – mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Pray for his wife and the load she often unduly carries while walking beside him. Pray for their family as a whole – for unsaved children, and parents with declining health, and all manner of other trials they may be encountering.
The plight of your pastor will likely only be known fully by those closest to him, though the anxieties and struggles of many are, regrettably, never shared at all. Be keenly aware of this fact as you think of him, encourage him, disagree with him, etc. Pray for your pastor often and with an assumption that there may be something he is dealing with that you do not yet know about. If your context allows for it, ask into his life when appropriate, identifying the specific ways you can pray for him.
2.) Bring your complaints to your pastor directly.
Should you make the point above a regular practice, you will likely find fewer occasions for having to practice Point #2. Even still, nothing breaches a wall of trust built between a pastor and staff member more pointedly than second-hand information and hearsay. Let it be stated clearly: you will, at times, disagree with your pastor on any number of different things – theology, church practice, key decisions, minor decisions, etc. Further, some of the disagreement and critique may be warranted. Your pastor is not beyond the need for godly accountability.
Perhaps you have a trusted friend, mentor, or someone else you confide in about your own struggles in ministry. The helpful person in this role will ultimately encourage you to have the necessary conversation with your pastor so the matter can be resolved peacefully and in accordance with the principles of biblical conflict resolution as laid out in Matthew 18:15-17. If there is no resolution, or if conflict perpetually arises, there are other steps that can and should be taken to invite the wise-counsel and assessment of other, more objective parties.
The goal, then, is not to avoid having disagreements entirely; it’s to ensure those disagreements are not expressed or enacted upon outside the relationships in which they surface. More simply put, if you find yourself in disagreement with your pastor, be sure your pastor hears about it from you, and not from someone else. And when he offers of his time and energy to meet with you to hear your complaint, offer your criticism graciously and ask good questions. It’s possible you’re not seeing the whole picture or may not know some otherwise hidden detail. Approach your pastor with much humility and with the goal of unity in mind.
3.) Speak well of your pastor in public.
Point #3 walks hand-in-hand with #2. Not only should you avoid letting your disagreements manifest themselves in public, it is wise to counteract the temptation to do so by choosing to speak well of your pastor in public. The danger here often lies within life’s subtleties.
A reactionary comment while out to lunch with a church member. A passing comment made during home group or Sunday School. Seemingly harmless statements made as to how things can be done differently or better.
Opportunities to take shots at your pastor and other leaders are seemingly endless, but doing so will certainly undermine their leadership, credibility, and influence. Additionally, while some may be gluttons for this type of gossip and even willing to share frustrations of their own, others will be unwillingly roped in, causing the effects of your sin to move well beyond the callousness created in your own heart.
4.) Keep your ministry agenda in check.
Maybe you’re the staff member with bright eyes and big plans – your current position is yours for only a season before you move on to other things. Perhaps you’re the man or woman on staff who has seen things done more effectively than how they’re currently being done in your context and your aim is to right the ship, to turn things around for God’s glory and the good of others. Your perceived God-given hopes and dreams in ministry are not, in and of themselves, virtuous. What is virtuous is seeking to maintain unity amongst your staff team and within the church.
What does your pastor hope for as far as the church is concerned? Where does he see things headed? What’s his greatest desire for the spiritual growth and discipleship of the people under his pastoral care?
Ask these sorts of questions, then pray for God’s grace in helping you fold your ministerial ambitions into those of your pastor. I wouldn’t assume your pastor’s “vision” is impassable; I’m only encouraging you to take time to figure out what he has in mind before deciding it’s your God-given task to supersede his pastoral output with your own grandiose visions of ministry-done-rightly. Oh the untold wonders of things that may be accomplished from a unified gospel-front within the local church. Ask your pastor how you can help the church get there.
These pointers barely scratch the surface of how you, as a staff member, can love your pastor well. But doing even just these four things will permit you to be the kind of steady, faithful, supportive presence both your pastor and your church desperately need. As Jared. C Wilson rightly notes in his book, The Pastor’s Justification, the church already has an accuser. Your pastor has one, too. By God’s grace let’s not usurp the title and let’s love our pastors and their families well.