Leading from the 2nd Chair


Navigating the Layers of Staff Ministry


A few years ago my wife, Kara, and our girls were flying to New York City for a short weekend trip. Our youngest, Marlena, had never been on an airplane before and Kara, at no time does well on an airplane, probably her least favorite thing to do. So lets just say that there was a little apprehension on several accounts that day.

They were flying on Thanksgiving so their group of girls were the only ones on the plane. This was great for them, and their nerves were calmed by all of the special attention from the flight attendants and pilots, especially after learning it was Marlena's first flight. The flight was uneventful until later when the pilot called the attendant and
Kara immediately saw her turn around and hide her concerned expression. Not a good sign that everything is OK. The captain later made an announcement that wind shear was diverting air traffic away from LaGuardia Airport so they would have to land elsewhere. In discussing “wind shear” with the attendant she confidently explained that
to attempt a landing during unpredictable winds was a sure way to crash the plane. The captain was taking no chances, so he touched down in Pennsylvania where Kara and the girls immediately hopped into a cab for NYC.

As we look up at the sky, on most days we see a cloudless, wide-open space. What we don’t see are the layers of wind that make up our atmosphere in the same multidimensional way that pilots do. Like layers of current that flow at different depths, speeds, and directions in the ocean, the sky is full of similar directional air currents. The speed of the wind on the surface of the earth could be a moderate 5 mph when the speed at 10,000 feet could be 60 mph in the opposite direction. Like wind in the layers of our atmosphere, the layers and dynamics of support-staff ministry can move in several different directions simultaneously. They can be as complex as predicting the air speed at the varying levels of the atmosphere. One staff member may move slowly and methodically while others may burst into directions and speeds that are incalculable. A staff strategy for long-term ministry is needed to navigate these prevailing winds.

1. Know Who Is In Charge
The first layer of staff leadership dynamics is the most obvious. The need for someone to lead is critical. There must be someone bearing the final burden of decision. The Old and New Testament are clear that tasks were divided up to effectively accomplish the mission of God. In the Old Testament, the tribes were given certain tasks.The Levites, for example, were the Priestly clan. They would oversee temple worship activities. In Acts, the tasks were divided up so the disciples could be free to lead. There was always a clear leadership team in place to fulfill all the needs of God’s people and a clear leader must be in place to prevent chaos.

One leader, Moses, lead the people out of bondage as God instructed. He was a reluctant leader, but God saw the potential in him. And when Moses’ calling and life had ended, the leadership role was past on. This is a clear indication that God needs his leadership team in place in order that someone will carry the vision and push the

     After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:  “Moses   my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give tothem—to the Israelites. (Joshua 1:1-2 NIV)

The need to lead into battle takes a strong leader. Note, I stated, “strong leader” and not a strong-willed leader. Joshua and Moses were two different types of leaders. Moses came with the baggage of a criminal history, according to the CSI of Egypt. He was a wanted man. Joshua, on the other hand, was not a man with a criminal record. He had followed closely the leadership of his predecessor, Moses, and was by far the popular vote winner for leadership. With that said, both of these men were chosen by God. This God-Calling is the underlying structure of ministry leadership. This groundwork moves us to a sense of holy respect for leadership. The calling process is God’s framework and in this sense gives staffing a spiritual perspective. If we saw our leaders as those called
and appointed by God, we would take a different approach in our communication, planning, and confrontation with those in charge over us. If God sees potential in Moses as well as Joshua; in Peter as well as John; in Stephen as well as the tyrant Saul, then God’s calling looks very different from our human perspective of leadership. He chooses all types to lead His mission. The leader is there to oversee and lead the community of faith. If support staff can’t get this servant principle, then don’t even attempt staff ministry. Do something else. But if you’re ready to fight the strong will that we all battle to be a follower, then this is your life. Self must be bridled and controlled. Or, better yet, crucified, as Paul would say. God’s appointed person is your leader, and the faster you understand that, the greater your influence in your area of service. Submission to leadership is the staff’s way of serving. It takes a strong leader to follow.
                    They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” (Joshua 1:16 NASB)

2. Know Your Leader’s Style
The second way to navigate staff ministry is style. Your pastor will have a dominate leadership style. Unlike your personality style, your leadership style can change and transform within you over time and in relationship for whom you’re working. A personality is what you are. A leadership style is how you lead.

As support staff, your job is to know your boss better than they know themselves. If you can begin to predict how he/she thinks, then you’re on your way to being a great support to your pastor. Knowing your leader’s standard operating procedure is key to my being effective.

The three main styles of leadership are Be Me, Be A Team, and Be Free. Your leader will predominately act out one leadership style, and a good leader will use all three of the styles at one time or another. Even if your pastor’s leadership style is opposite of your style, you shouldn’t be overly concerned. Remember, we are designed differently to work together like the gears inside a wrist watch, fitting together to fulfill the same purpose.

The first of these styles is Be Me. This is a leader who drives the staff with clear and concise authority. The system of reaching the ministry goals is driven by the “just do what I say and you’ll be safe” mindset. Input from others is not always received because the weight of making a decision revolves around the leader’s discretion. Even though
the pastor is authoritative does not always mean that they are working with only their own interests in mind. It’s merely that the authoritative pastor is driving the decisions and the team may not always know why. The staff pastor will feel like they are working“for” someone and not so much “with” someone.

If your pastor says, “We can do this together,” then you are probably working with a Be A Team leader. With this style of leadership the authority base has shifted to team input. Reaching the ministry goals is important, but reaching the goal together is just as important. Each staff person senses that their input is valuable. Everyone gets to participate in the process of reaching the goals, but the pastor still makes final decision.

The last style is the Be Free style. The place of decision authority is shifted to each staff person. The staff functions as a team but with more autonomy. Personal expression of gifts, vision, and workload are organized by the staff. The staff person may sense an absence of presence from the pastor in this model. If you require more structure and aren’t a self-starter, then this type of leader may cause you some frustration.

Regardless of your pastor’s style of leadership, take the time to identify their style. Once
you’ve identified the style, work within it. This is the rhythm of your staff experience.

3. Know Your Leader’s Passions

The final way to carefully navigate staffing moves us to the heart of your pastor. Let’s not stop at leadership style. As you focus on “how” your pastor leads, remember to embrace “why” your leader leads. What I mean is, look for the passion. Passion is the fuel that drives each of us. The prayer and vision of your pastor will drive how they see ministry. While passion is easier to see in the driven personality, even in a quiet, melancholy leader there is a passionate drive and a heartfelt need to be effective for God. Everyone has a reason “why” they act the way they do.

I have worked with highly driven pastors who operate from a Be Me mentality. It would be easy to assume that they are just out for their own interests. But that’s not always true. I observed one of the most driven leaders with tears in his eyes as he told the staff, “I just want people to come to know Jesus, and I want pastors to care about that as much as I do.” Sign me up! That’s the passionate core of why he pushed us so hard. He wanted us to reach the next level in ministry. He wants what God wants! That’s a leader that I will follow even though their passion surfaces differently than mine. If I see my pastor’s heart, if they love God, and that prayerful heart motivates them, I will serve with greater passion myself. Because in our uniqueness we serve in tandem with one heartbeat.

Throw Away The Survival Mentality

Understanding each of these three “atmospheric” climates of staff ministry can push our ministry to its greatest effectiveness. What’s important is that staff pastors do more than merely survive. The survivor mentality will take away the joy of ministry. It will also frustrate your pastor as he/she leads the church. Support pastors can do more than just “survive the weather.” Throw out the idea that we just hope to survive some staff settings. Survival is not a term for the effective staff person. If you are in survival mode, then you are not in team mode. You are just about self-preservation. Your role as pastoral staff is not to watch out for your own interests but to help your team push
through ministry challenges that arise. It takes a team! This is tough work, but we are called to assist the team in moving through the layers of personality to accomplish God’s mission.

Yes, you can navigate the climate of multi-staff dynamics! Learn to be a follower, learn how your pastors leads, and be in unity with your pastor’s passionate vision. Successful ministry begins there. You can succeed, not just survive, and you can be effective for God’s purposes where you are.

-Jonathan Trees has served in ministry assignments across the United States.  He currently serves as the Worship Arts Pastor at Highland Park Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland, FL.