Years ago if anyone had told me I’d be in full-time ministry, I would have said they were crazy. But God had other plans (as seems to be the case for most of us church staffers), and I’ve served alongside my senior pastors for almost 13 years now. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about each other, including what makes us tick and what ticks us off! Every lesson has been invaluable beyond words. I’d love to share some of those lessons with you.
Every church has a unique DNA. We’re all called to develop Christ followers, but how that is done varies from church to church. Each church’s culture and DNA is downloaded from God to the senior pastors. They’ve been entrusted with a huge responsibility, and they need our support to do the big, hairy, audacious thing that God has called them to do.
This is my third year in the role of executive pastor, “vision carrier” as I see it. (In fact, I describe myself that way on my Twitter profile.) Our senior pastor casts the vision, and I’m responsible to give the vision arms and legs—to make sure everything we do reflects who we say we are. My job is not to tell my senior pastors how to run the church. Instead, it’s to support them as they execute the God-given vision in the way they believe He is asking them to do it.
For example, I can confidently say Freedom House is most known for two things in our community. First is healthy relationships. We believe that because God exists in community (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) and we have been created in His image, then we too were created to be in community and do life together in a healthy way. We follow the Matthew 18 model, and while it can be hard and uncomfortable to be honest and real, we believe there’s no substitute for truly healthy, authentic relationships. It’s why we do the hard work to develop them. We’re also known for excellence. The word average does not compute on our team! We believe “good enough” is the enemy of “best.” If God gave His best to us, then we’re responsible to always give our best service to Him.
These values are important to our senior pastors, so they became important to me. And as I carry that vision to our entire staff and leadership, it has become important to them as well.
Anytime I hear church staff members imply that they could “do it better” if they were in charge, my response is always, “But you’re not in charge! You won’t have to give account for this ministry; your senior pastors will.”
The church staff is the army going into battle together with our senior pastors every day. We’re the defense system there to guard what God has entrusted to the senior pastors (and by extension to us). If we don’t share the senior pastors’ commitment, then our priorities are in competition. There’s an old saying: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. If you try to focus on competing priorities, you’ll accomplish nothing. Ultimately everybody loses. Those of us who serve as staff members in the church will make our senior leaders’ lives so much easier once we understand that our job is to carry the vision.
That doesn’t mean the staff or I are “yes men.” My senior pastors and I don’t always agree on everything, and we’ve had our share of heated discussions. But I do my best to express my opinion in a respectful and honoring way. I never try to get my way for the sake of getting my way; rather, I try to bring a different perspective for the good of the organization. It’s not about me winning or getting my way; it’s about the church as a whole winning; it’s about the vision winning.
In particular, one of my senior pastors and I are polar opposites. Our personalities naturally clash, and in the early years our differences had the potential to be a huge divider for us. Our instinct was to dismiss one another, and I for one was tempted to walk away from God’s calling because of what was, in the grand scheme of things, a small personality difference (despite how big it seemed).
We had a choice to make: we could walk away from each other and never deal with our differences, or we could look at them as an opportunity for both of us to grow. Thankfully we chose the second option! Instead of holding our differences against each other, we chose to see them as complements to ourselves: Where I’m weak, she’s strong; where she’s weak, I have strengths to offer. We’re a good complement to each other, and each of our unique gifts has played a role in what Freedom House has become. Accepting and even employing our differences has helped us do ministry and life together in ways neither of us could have imagined.
As I walk in the shoes of the executive pastor, I feel like I win when the vision wins. When I see our culture healthy and thriving—when leaders demonstrate our core values in their actions and conversations with others; when volunteers go the extra mile because they understand that’s just how we do what we do; when staff members allow their differences to drive them toward growth—then I feel I’ve done my job well. I’ve given legs to the vision and heart of my senior pastors, and those legs are moving the vision forward to accomplish what God has called us to do.
I’ve had a lot of time to learn my pastors’ heart, and I’ve found it’s essential to vision-carrying. Knowing their heart means knowing what’s important to them, then doing everything you can to make sure that’s what is being done. Their heart adds life to the vision, and knowing the pastors’ heart will make carrying the vision that much simpler. The best advice I could offer any church staff person: Learn your pastors’ heart! Once you know their heart do all you can to make sure their heart and the vision is being expressed in your church. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did and your church will be the better for it.
Follow Makeda Pennycooke on Twitter: @makeda619