I have been an assistant pastor and as pastor, I have had assistants. They can be a great help in time of need. And they can be a pastor’s biggest headache.
I wish I’d had one in a certain church. I regretted having one in another.
In his book “The Twelve Caesars,” Michael Grant says these rulers of the Roman Empire were one-man shows for a long time. Their burdens were heavy and their duties endless. Most caesars worked very hard, he said. They desperately needed advisors, consultants, and assistants. But therein lay a huge problem. How does one bring on board someone to be his assistant, an up-close and personal consultant, who is in on all the important issues of the day, without him being caught up in all the intrigue, the dramas, the personal animosities and rivalries. How to find out who is loyal.
An assistant can be the pastor’s best friend; an assistant can do a great deal of damage.
I asked a pastor about a staff member he was having issues with. “Are you afraid of him?” He answered, “I’m not afraid of him, but I’m afraid of the damage he can do.”
A friend told me recently that he left a church he had served for many years because two staff members had conspired with strong laypeople to force him out. They succeeded. He did not cause a scandal, did not press his rights, and did not cause an uproar in the church. And yet, he still feels the pain.
It’s enough to cause many a pastor to keep trying to do the job alone. The risks are too high.
In one church I pastored, the work was overwhelming and I desperately needed an assistant. My best friends in the church urged me to find one. If I could have found the right person, I would have. It’s possible that the brevity of my ministry in that church is directly related to the load being more than I could handle alone.
An assistant pastor works for the church and for the Lord. But his specific duties are to serve the pastor, to do whatever he needs, to be his right arm, his eyes, an extension of him. And yet, the assistant is expected to be his own person, to have friendships in the congregation, and to function as a minister of the gospel. And when seductive voices in the congregation begin to urge him to stray–to share inside gossip, to join their little group to oust the pastor, to oppose something the pastor is doing, etc etc–this assistant is going to have to be strong and focused and loyal.
And that may be asking a lot.
Particularly, after the assistant has been on board for a few years and harbors his own feelings pro and con about the senior minister, for him to remain “steady as she goes” is asking a great deal.
We have seen this scenario play itself out again and again. A pastor arrives at a growing church and soon hires an assistant to help him handle the demands of the congregation. For a number of years, they work well together. And then, the relationship begins to sour.
Now, when the pastor and his assistant reach the point where they can no longer work together, it’s time to end the partnership. And, the reality of the situation is that it’s the assistant who has to leave. He’s the more expendable of the two, and should have known that from the first.
Unfortunately, in too many cases, the assistant joins an uprising to oust the head guy in order to make himself the new pastor. Hostile takeovers in the Lord’s church. What’s more, the vigilantes think they’re doing the Lord’s will.
Nothing about this is good. A lot of bodies are going to be left bleeding in the road.
If you are an assistant pastor…
–You can be a great strength to the pastor’s ministry–if you do it right.
–You absolutely must stay close to the Lord and draw your strength from him.
–You should live by scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 4:5 and Luke 17:7-10 which speak of loyalty and servanthood.
–Guard against the temptation to believe you are essential to anything. Some people will fill your head with notions: “You are a much better preacher.” “I wish you were the pastor.”
–If you cannot give your pastor your loyal support, you should tell him so. And be prepared to be asked to leave.
The exception to this–I’m on thin ice here–is when the pastor is destroying the church by his actions and inaction. But if and when that becomes necessary, as the assistant to the minister, you should stay out of it.
–Don’t miss that: You. Should . Stay. Out. Of. It.
Do not get caught up in a movement to oust the pastor. Even if he needs to go, and even if forcing his resignation is the work of the Lord, the assistant pastor is the last person in the church to become involved in it. (The team will object and point out that you are seen as a key leader, they need your wisdom, the church needs you, blah, blah, blah. Reject this. “Get behind me Satan” comes to mind, although I don’t suggest you speak those actual words! Smiley-face here.)
–As with anything else you do in the Lord’s work, it’s always wise to have two or three wise counselor/mentors whom you can call for advice.
If you are the pastor thinking of hiring an assistant…
–Be aware there are ministers out there who feel called to be “a number two man,” as it’s called. They are usually a special breed. Remember the old adage: “The hardest instrument to play is second fiddle.”
–Ask the Great Human Resource Director Himself, the Holy Spirit. He knows them all, called them, and knows who fits best and where.
–Do your homework first. Make plans: what you will want him to do, the terms of employment, etc. Will you want him to preach in your absence? (Be careful about promising this. I’ve known pastors to make that promise, then discover the assistant’s pulpit gifts are not strong and have to renege on that agreement.) Will he function as a flunkie, carrying your bags, or will he have full status as a minister of the church with his own responsibilities?
–Then, ask pastor friends to make recommendations. Other ministers who know you well are the first to know who would be a good fit for you.
–When you have a good candidate, do all the background checks. Leave out no steps, take no one person’s word for anything. Never rush these things, although neither do you want to leave the candidate hanging due to your inability to make a decision.
–Apply the three tests of Luke 16:10-12. Has this person been faithful in the little things? in financial things? in the use of others’ things?
–Have an understanding on expectations on both ends, the conditions of employment, everything, and put it in writing. Every few months, at least for a year, in your conferences, review these.
–He should be answerable only to you, not to any committee or board. This should be understood and spelled out before a search is begun.
–Emphasize the things that are of greatest importance to you, such as: LOYALTY (if he talks to others in the church against you, he should know it will get back to you), INTEGRITY (you expect honesty, truthfulness, Christlikeness), and DEPENDABILITY (if you ask him to do something, you should have full confidence it will be carried out). Tell him you want no surprises.
–Pay him well. As much as possible, keep his salary comparable to the rest of the staff and give raises.
–Have regular meetings. The first week of employment, meet for 30 minutes at the end of each day. Second week, every two days. Thereafter, never less than twice weekly. In your meetings, go over the calendar, report to each other on issues, answer each other’s questions, plan future assignments, etc.
–Finally, make sure you are loyal to him and fully appreciative of his work. In most cases, his work will be behind the scenes and not as visible as the worship leader or some other staffers. But you should constantly make him aware of your appreciation.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor….” (I Timothy 5:17).