How to Be Your Senior Pastor’s Right Hand Leader

I have always wanted to be the hero.  And I love being valued and relied upon by my superiors.  Anyone else like me out there?

I grew up in a pastor’s home, and by the time I got my first full time job as a Director of Worship Ministries I thought I had a lot figured out about supporting and working with a senior pastor.

Immediately after I was hired the pastor announced he was leaving (on good terms) to take a new position.  After three-and-a-half years without a senior pastor our church finally hired a new man to take his place.  I might as well have been hired then; I had not had any real time working for a senior pastor up until that time.

Here is how I thought you supported a senior pastor.

  1. Work hard and produce excellent results.
  2. Always have his back in public.
  3. Always have his back in staff meetings when conflict arose.
  4. Always try to see where he was coming from and adjust accordingly.
  5. Have an opinion when appropriate or in my area of expertise.

I could not have been more wrong.

Did I mention I hated conflict?  Not only did my aversion to conflict show up in how I interacted with my family; my conflict averse nature completely informed how I worked on staff.  I didn’t complain.  The church came first.  I tried my best to please everyone, and especially the senior pastor.

At home my conflict averse nature contributed to the breakdown of my marriage, but that is another story.  At church I only succeeded in getting stressed and unintentionally sidelined.  I say unintentionally, because whether or not you are sidelined in your job or your family or anywhere else is completely up to you.  Check out my post  5 Fantastic Ways to Get Burned in Ministry.  I did this “research” during my time at this church we are discussing now.

Here are my thoughts now on working for a senior pastor.

1.  Work hard and produce the best results within your ability and resources.  Your definition of excellence completely determines how healthy your work life will be.  If excellent = absolute best that is earthly possible, you are in for trouble and burn out.  Burnt out leaders are no good to senior pastors.  If excellence = your best effort with what and who you have, you will still have great results, and you will show maturity and understanding, which senior pastors value greatly.

2.  Have the back of every staff member in public.  Your loyalty is not to the senior pastor but to the team.  The senior pastor is the leader of the team and will ultimately guide the team’s direction, but the senior pastor is going to be looking for team players who know how to work together and support each other.

3.  Have an opinion.  That’s right, speak up.  Even the most sensitive senior pastor will welcome your input if you respect his position, and he will not mind if you completely disagree with him.  A senior pastor wants a leader who will push back.  Air your concerns and questions right away; most pastors will appreciate your straightforwardness.

4.  Get on board.  Once the senior pastor has guided the team to a final decision, make certain you can fully articulate the vision and then get on board.  

5.  If you have a concern, deal with it immediately.  Do not wait.  Do not pass Go.  Go straight to the senior pastor (remember Matthew 15?) and discuss the issue.  And this is usually not in a staff meeting.  Your senior pastor has enough headaches with people in the congregation who are holding grudges; don’t be one of them.

If you cannot do these things, you should consider leaving.  Yes, it’s that simple.

After Christ, your calling is to assist the senior pastor in fulfilling the mission Christ has given your specific church; that’s all.  You are a humble servant leader who is privileged by Christ’s favor and grace to be serving in a church and leading people in worship.

So what have you learned about being valuable to senior pastors?