Sometimes, those of us who pastor have a hard time sharing our glory. If we are insecure or lack self-esteem, we can become threatened when a staff member gets attention or praise. We can become obsessed with who gets the credit. God is concerned that He receives the glory. Some pastors want a good staff, but not too good. They don’t want any light to shine but their own. That’s arrogant and egotistical. It is the opposite of Christ who empowered His disciples to do “greater works” than Himself. But then, I’ve met a few pastors who thought they were the first in line for an open seat in the Trinity.
I was a youth minister for fifteen years. I can tell you that the pastors who inspired me were the ones who treated me as if I added value to their ministry and to the church. The ones who looked at me as someone less than a real minister were hard to serve. In that situation a staff member has to remember we serve the Lord first and foremost.
If you want staff to honor you, honor them. Value their input. Seek their advice. Surprise them with a bonus or a blessing. They may have a better idea than you have at the moment. Yes, the pastor is the boss and the buck stops at your office, but be secure enough in Christ to let your staff do their jobs and honor them when they honor the Lord and serve the people. The greatest compliment that can be paid to a pastor is that his people love the staff he has assembled.
When I took a six-week sabbatical a few years ago, our church staff stepped up to the plate. We had additions every week, and our numbers increased. One of the comments I heard frequently upon returning was that the people had a greater appreciation for our staff than before. They were able to shine without me here. They were able to prove to themselves and the church the value they add to the team. If you can’t let go of the reins, you are holding on too tight.
Through the years I’ve met leaders who talked teamwork, but in reality they were driven by their own egos. They made Vince Lombardi look like a ballerina. You can never build team spirit if the ego has to be fed on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to let a staff member preach in your absence. Don’t hold back in acknowledging their good work—publicly and privately. Find ways to tell people you are proud of them. Think of it this way: if the staff is good, it makes you look better. It means you are a good leader. You have the ability to recognize other leaders. If that alone motivates you, then a low motive is better than no motive.
I look back with great fondness on my time serving with Dr. Charlie Draper. It was my first full-time church. I was young and green as a gourd. He loved me, listened to me, respected my opinion and helped me understand what ministry was all about. I am forever indebted to a pastor who took me under his wing and taught me truths I’ll never forget. In many ways my relationship with Charlie was the bar by which I measured all other staff/pastor relationships.
There’s a great book out entitled Hurt People Hurt People by Sandra D. Wilson. It’s an excellent resource if you’ve been burned by someone in the past. Also read the classic, Well Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley. Both of these books have helped me to gain perspective on the times when I’ve been wounded.
We have a choice: we can carry this baggage and hurt into the present and future, or we can let it go. Try carrying a suitcase around for a week. Take it everywhere. Sleep with it. Take it to lunch. Tiring isn’t it? That’s a small picture of what carrying around a hurt can be like. If we are going to last in ministry, we have to realize that hurt goes with the territory. John Mark hurt Paul when he bailed out. Demas disappointed Paul when he left him. All of us have to move on. To love is to risk being hurt. To minister is to risk rejection. To care is to risk being misunderstood. To fail to love, minister, and care is to risk becoming a cold-hearted person who carries the title of minister but doesn’t have the heart for it.
I know what it’s like to be fired from a church staff. I know what it’s like to have a staff member turn on you. It’s not fun. Maybe you’ve been wounded and hurt. For a season it is easy to become defensive and guarded in all other relationships. But we can’t stay there. We have to move on. At some point we must get before God, seek forgiveness, give forgiveness, wipe the slate, and press on.
(If there are persons troubled by a past hurt, I would strongly suggest reading Ron Dunn’s Surviving Friendly Fire. I had the privilege of helping Ron research this book. It is one of the most helpful books you will ever read.)
All of us need to be careful about counseling women when we are alone. The times are different. We are no longer given the benefit of the doubt. My policy is to never enter into a long-term counseling situation with a woman. While I might agree to one or possibly two sessions, I quickly recommend them to a female staff member, a lady in the church who might be able to minister to them, or a professional counselor. All around my office I have pictures of my wife and kids because I want everyone to know I’m committed and off limits.
The battle is in the mind. One of the greatest books I’ve read on this is Warren Wiersbe’s book, The Strategy of Satan. Remember, we are in a battle and the devil is picking us off like ducks in a carnival. David was a man after God’s own heart, and he fell because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time looking at the wrong thing. There are too many casualties in the faith. Why? They didn’t guard their hearts. All have been lured into or enticed by immorality. With one it started with internet porn. With another it began in a counseling session. We can never be too careful. We live in a dangerous time. Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
I’m afraid the longer we stay in one place the more subtle temptation is, “I don’t have to do that anymore.” We can suddenly find ourselves wanting to be treated like a shepherd while treating our people like goats instead of sheep. It’s easy to start thinking, “What can I get out of? Do I really have to do weddings and funerals anymore? Why do I have to go to the hospital?” If we aren’t careful, the thing that will define us is what we don’t do, not what we do.
I’m ashamed of what’s happening to this generation of preachers. We are more excited about what we don’t do than what we do. I’m weary of meetings where preachers brag about the fact that they don’t do hospitals, weddings, or even funerals. Some think they should get the Congressional Medal of Honor for canceling Sunday night services. Pastors, we are here to serve, teach, and equip. We can’t do that preaching one message a week and playing golf five days a week. Get in the trenches. Mingle with the people. Love them. Serve them. Pray for them. Help them. Feed them. It will make all of us better pastors. In return, we’ll have better people.
Someone told me a long time ago, “You’re only as good as last week’s sermon. People have a short memory.” That’s true. Don’t abuse your office. Don’t assume or demand privileges. Jesus came to be a servant shepherd. Are we better than our Master?
(copyright 2011, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.