Posts Tagged ‘church staff loyalty’

There is a problem in Christian churches that I keep hearing about.  It’s not an issue that most of us think about very often, if at all, but it’s one that demands attention if the kingdom of God is to advance in our day.

How loyal should staff members be to the senior/lead pastor?

Throughout my more than three decades in church ministry, I’ve viewed this issue from both sides.

As a staff member, I did not always agree with the senior pastor, and I served under five of them.  Sometimes I didn’t like what he said from the pulpit.  Other times I disagreed with his private assessment of the direction the church needed to go.  One pastor I worked with worked way too hard.  Another hardly worked at all.

Being the Number Two Man in each of these churches placed me in a position of trust.  I saw and heard things that few other people knew about.

But that was the whole point.  I was hired for those positions because the lead pastor felt he could trust me, and I always believed it was my job to reciprocate that trust.

This was especially a problem when someone from the church tried to “triangle” me into a problem that they had with the pastor.

In one church, a man approached me and made a threat against the pastor.  I was uncertain if he wanted me to join his cause or pass the message on to the pastor himself.  When our conversation was finished, he knew that I would not join his cause.

How could I ever do that?  In all five churches, the pastor chose me to serve alongside him, and I chose to serve with him as well.  In my mind, we were a team – as long as I kept doing my job.

In each situation, I worked for the pastor, and the pastor worked for the board.  I did not work for the board, and the pastor did not work for me.

While I privately had reservations about some of the things my pastors did and said, I kept those to myself.  He needed to know that if everyone in the church turned on him, he’d have at least one person standing by his side.

So when I became a pastor myself, I was able to see the pastor-staff relationship from both sides.  But the staff members – none of whom had ever been a pastor themselves – were only able to see the relationship from their side.

And some of them made choices that eventually demonstrated their disloyalty.

Let me give you an example of the kind of problems that pastors are having today with staff members – especially associate pastors.

Jack has been the pastor of a church for three years.  At first, he was able to juggle all the leadership, administrative, teaching, counseling, and pastoral duties, but the church gradually grew to the point he couldn’t handle things anymore.  Both Jack and the governing board agreed that they should hire an associate pastor as soon as possible.

So the board appointed a search team, and since there weren’t any suitable prospects inside the church, the team eventually recommended several candidates from the outside to Jack, who settled on one in particular.  Since the top choice had some concerns about coming to the church, Jack engaged in a sales job that proved successful.

While still in sales mode, Jack welcomed the associate to the church and spoke glowingly of the church’s future and the way the associate could make a difference with his gifts.  And at first, that’s exactly what happened.

But just a couple months after the associate’s arrival, Jack began to notice some things that bothered him.  For starters, the associate had a habit of showing up late on Sundays – and then he’d leave as soon as the last service was done.  Jack believed it was important for all staff members to mingle with the congregation on Sundays, but the associate just wasn’t doing it.

So Jack spoke to him about it.  The associate promised to change, but a couple weeks later, he was doing the same thing.

In addition, the associate left a mess everywhere he went.  If he used a room for a meeting, the next person to use the room would complain that they had to spend 15 minutes cleaning up before they could arrange the room the way they wanted.

Once again, Jack spoke to the associate directly and swiftly, and the associate promised he would change, but a few weeks later, he reverted to his previous behavior.

Now every staff member has their flaws.  Some are messy with rooms but incredibly effective with people.  Others hang out at the church all day but never get anything done.

The wise pastor – conscious of his own failings – has to decide which issues he’s going to press and which he’s going to let go.  He has to both model and set the boundaries.

And he has to treat all staff members with fairness.  If he requires all staff members to show up at 8:15 am on Sundays, then the associate needs to show up at 8:15 as well – because if he shows up at 8:50 instead, the pastor will hear about it from the other staff members – guaranteed.

As the months went by, the pastor spent a lot of time with the associate pastor, discussing the church’s future and trying to plug holes in the ministry.  It appeared as if the two of them had negotiated their differences and were working well together.

But after the pastor returned from a vacation, he discovered that the associate had allowed people to do things that the senior pastor expressly forbade.  So the senior pastor sat down with the associate to discuss what happened.  During their time together, the associate demonstrated insubordination and defiantly said that his decisions were correct and should not have been questioned.

The senior pastor was shaken.  While the associate deserved to be fired, the pastor realized that he’d need board support to take that action.  If the board backed him up, the senior pastor knew that some people would leave the church and that momentum would grind to a halt – at least for a few months.  But if the board didn’t back up the pastor, wouldn’t that just empower the associate all the more?

So for the time being, the lead pastor did nothing but pray and seek counsel from colleagues outside the church.

But while the senior pastor waited for divine wisdom, the associate went on the offensive.

Knowing that the senior pastor would have to go to the board to dismiss him, the associate contacted several board members that he sensed were on his side and told them he was having trouble with the lead pastor.  He told these men that he couldn’t sleep, that his wife was barely functioning, that his kids were feeling the stress, and that he was thinking about leaving the church because of the senior pastor.

This is the point at which the entire future of the church is at stake.

If the board members take the side of the associate pastor, the senior pastor’s future in that church is in serious jeopardy.

If the board members take the side of the senior pastor, the associate pastor’s fate is probably sealed as well.

The best decision for the church is for the board members to support the senior pastor.  If they do, the associate won’t have many options left.  He can either apologize to the senior pastor and vow to fully support him or make plans to leave the church.

The worst decision for the church is for the board members to support the associate pastor.  If they do, then they have betrayed their senior pastor and their decision will eventually manifest itself.  If the senior pastor comes to a board meeting to discuss his problems with the associate, the board members who met with the associate will either fail to support their pastor or veto any recommendation for dismissal.

Protestant churches are designed for the lead pastor to work closely with the church’s governing board.  In most cases, staff members – including the associate pastor – work directly for the senior pastor and do not attend board meetings.

The senior pastor is the key to everything.  He must get along with both the board and the staff.

But if staff members form covert alliances with other staff or board members against the senior pastor – that church, and its entire leadership structure – is in serious trouble, and ripe for a satanic invasion.

I do not pretend to offer easy answers for these situations.  Sometimes if the key players pull back and look at matters more objectively, they can work things out.

But these situations are usually about one thing, and one thing only: who is in charge of the church?

I’ll write more about this issue in my next article.

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