One question that rarely gets asked in church leadership is whether the senior pastor, as the leader of the church, should be viewed as a boss or friend to his staff. In many churches, the senior pastor is clearly viewed as the boss. He sits at a desk behind three different closed doors, he is not to be bothered, and the majority of his staff maintains a distant, professional relationship with him. While I do not think that is the best practice for a chief executive function of any organization, it is certainly not the way of those entrusted to lead the Church of Jesus Christ. I truly could not imagine an office culture where the staff sees themselves strictly as my employees. Are they my employees? Yes. I believe a church staff belongs to the pastor, rather than the church. I desire, however, to build a culture where that never has to be said. In this culture where the pastor has strong relationships with his staff, the trust and respect are present enough to allow difficult conversations and conflict to happen without compromising friendships. While church staffs should hold high standards of professionalism, a church is different than a business. Before you “work” together as a staff, you are foremost ministering together as a staff.
As a pastor, I am an elder of my church before I am a leader of the staff or organization. The day I lose sight of that is the day I have employees before I have co-laborers in the work of the local church, and that is a problem.
This is easy in the beginning phase of church planting, because everyone is a volunteer and friends with the pastor. Those first twenty people who agreed to come are key volunteers serving in staff-like roles, and the whole team is regularly together, so they likely form great friendships. Over time, the church grows, the demands on the pastor change, and what was once a group of excited friends becomes something closer to a corporation with a CEO, rather than a group led by a friend with a vision. In this process of growth, there are certainly parts of the organization that must change. These differ depending on the church and model of leadership, yet for any church staff, the relational leadership must remain. As a pastor, I am an elder of my church before I am a leader of the staff or organization. The day I lose sight of that is the day I have employees before I have co-laborers in the work of the local church, and that is a problem. For example, if there were a moral issue or personal crisis with one of our staff members, a boss would be the last person they would want to know. A friend and pastor would be one of the first. I truly desire to be a leader who lives life with his team, rather than a boss who is appeased by his employees. I don’t see that anyone said, “Make sure the pastor doesn’t find out,” about a church elder in the Scriptures. I desire to mirror the New Testament before I resemble a Fortune 500 company or a school principal.
This gospel is the very thing that unites a team of leaders for ministry, and also preserves friendships, enriching the work and building the relationships as leaders serve together for the gospel.
I have learned a few things along the way about the dynamic between leading as a boss versus leading as a friend: Trust is earned, but respect is given. If anyone on the staff doesn’t respect your role as the pastor, they don’t need to be on staff. Friends are people I want to work with. Is there anyone better to trust with the vision God has given you for the Church than those closest to you? Healthy conflict can still happen as friends. If your friendship can’t handle conflict or difficult conversations, it is safe to assume the friendship wasn’t all it was hyped to be in the first place. Clear professional expectations are essential. This is important in any workplace, but especially when working with people who are your friends. People are more likely to put it all on the line for someone they see as a friend, more than a boss.
If your friendship can’t handle conflict or difficult conversations, it is safe to assume the friendship wasn’t all it was hyped to be in the first place.
Friends keep you grounded. In the current church climate, some pastors have become a little too big for their britches. Surrounding yourself with people who see you as a friend keeps you grounded because your friends aren’t caught up in the attention and accolades you may receive. Maintain close relationships with a few, if not all. The larger the staff, the more difficult it will be to know everyone well and have true friendships with all staff members. Don’t let that stop you from still having those close relationships with a few. This balance between leader and friend may be a struggle for some. Still, I can’t think of a more biblical way of leading a church than through high standards and strong relationships. How is someone going to tackle the task of reaching a city with a bunch of employees? It takes a bond of trusted, committed friends who together want to do whatever it takes to make the gospel known. This gospel is the very thing that unites a team of leaders for ministry, and also preserves friendships, enriching the work and building the relationships as leaders serve together for the gospel.
Published January 26, 2016