December 12, 2017

The Second Man: A Unique Breed

Matt Williams

A Study in the Role of an Assistant Pastor
From the book How to Be a Team Player and Enjoy It.

FrontLine • September/October 2007

In the age of ego exaltation and media hype, where is the person who will faithfully serve under the leader of a ministry—seeking only to make his superior successful and to see God’s plan promoted? I hope he is the one who is reading this now, and it is my desire to encourage and challenge him in his efforts.

The Call to Servanthood

Understanding Christ’s paradox of a servant-leader is an absolute necessity for success in the ministry. The Lord Jesus Christ often used paradoxes, seemingly contradictory statements, to highlight the differences in divine and human values. He said in Matthew 20:27, 28 that the one to be “chief among you” is really called to be the “servant,” and He demonstrated that leadership in the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13). Christ, the servant-leader, inspired loyalty and love in His followers. You, who are both servant and leader, are called to do the same.

Consider, by way of contrast, a trip to the driver’s license bureau. Why do I hate going so much? Because of the way people are treated at this local office in our area. There are long lines, of course: one for this paper, one for that test, and another for that payment. That is to be expected, but no one seems interested in helping anyone. In fact, some seem annoyed at every customer. “Get in this line! No, you need that paper! Go over there!” A lack of a servant spirit makes it a very unpleasant place to be.

Now I believe in policies and procedures, standards and rules. There can be no organization without them; however, it is important for us as staff to have a serviceoriented attitude toward those we come into contact with and to train and encourage others in this effort. Whether someone is coming in for counsel or calling in to inquire about the time of a church activity, we must be servants to those whom the Lord brings to us.

A Servant’s Commission

Paul, one of the greatest leaders of church history, had one of the best assistants in church history, Timothy. Timothy was the pastor of the local church at Ephesus, but why was he there? Paul had given him the assignment: Timothy was a “staff member” (1 Tim. 1:3). In the context of this tremendous leader/assistant relationship, Paul addresses the issue we call “chain of command,” but in true Biblical command he goes beyond the outward actions to the attitude of the heart.

First Timothy 6:1 says, “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” This passage begins with the focus on servants, calling them to honor their superiors and to earnestly serve them. Elsewhere, God’s Word says to serve “heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward” (Col. 3:23, 24).

The chain of command in your individual ministry tells you how to operate and gives you certain special targets of your service: those “above” you and those “below” you on the organizational chart. We must serve our Lord by serving these various people. We must do all that we can to help them to be successful in their responsibilities.

A Servant’s Role

First Timothy 6 first deals with the general subordinatesuperior relationship. Then it goes on to an important, specific case: “and they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved.”

With our position, we have three important responsibilities.

Know the pastor’s philosophy.

When you know your leader’s philosophy, you are in a position to effectively coordinate your work with him. This understanding enhances the mutual effectiveness and builds lasting staff relationships.

You learn the leader’s philosophy both formally and informally. Interviews, orientations, and in-service sessions all deal in part or entirely with philosophy. These are formal sessions, but there are many other ways to see what a leader really believes and what his values are. Preaching deals overtly and implicitly with philosophy. Furthermore, as you work through plans and problems, as you discuss people and needs, as you evaluate projects and progress, you are continually moving back and forth between philosophy and practice.

I served with my first pastor for twelve years. In all that time he never said, “Here is my philosophy.” By the end of those years I knew his philosophy—I knew where he stood on issues and where we stood as a ministry. I knew where he was going because I was under his preaching. I worked with him and I spent time with him. Are you grasping your leader’s philosophy? Could you right now write down several statements that would embody the philosophy of your leader or even your leader’s direction?

Believe in the pastor’s direction.

Philosophy and direction are related, but they are very distinct. Philosophy is a set of beliefs and values that guides a person’s actions. Direction, as I am using the term, is an application of the philosophy, the action resulting from it. One philosophy may have many good applications. A philosophy should be based on God’s Word. Therefore, philosophy is right or wrong to the degree that its beliefs and values reflect the truths of the Bible—not so with direction. Direction can be right or wrong because of the philosophies they carry out, but more often decisions of direction are matters of God’s particular leading for an individual man or ministry.

Therefore, philosophy is absolutely right or wrong, but direction is variable—it is often a choice between the good and the better.

Stand for the leader’s philosophy and direction.

You must stand for what your leader believes because you are standing in his place. As you represent him, you should represent him accurately and truly. Loyalty is not a passive quality—it demands action. Loyalty speaks out for someone, whereas disloyalty speaks against or does not speak at all. Always speak up for your superior.

The Call to a Relationship

When we are called to the ministry, we are called to a relationship with our fellow servants. Ephesians 4:1–3 provides a look in that relationship.

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I do not consider my position as associate pastor as a lesser position—I know that God has called me to this position. Furthermore, I know that I can function in this position on the strengths of my gifts and abilities, that I can glorify God, and that I can be an encouragement and a help to the senior pastor.

To keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, two spiritually-minded people are needed. Who are those two? The pastor and you—whether you are called assistant pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, or whatever else—a right relationship allows you and the pastor to exercise your individual gifts and abilities for the glory of God.

The Pastor—The pastor needs to be big enough to give authority along with the responsibilities he assigns. Here is a threefold formula for effective relationships:

Responsibility + Authority + Accountability = Success

When we give someone a responsibility, we must always give the authority needed to get the job done; but with the authority must be accountability. When the pastor delegates a responsibility, perhaps to run a Vacation Bible School, then he must give that person some authority for running it. There must always be accountability. The one given the responsibility must demonstrate that he is capably carrying through on that responsibility. He should keep the pastor up to date on the progress and problems as well as provide a final explanation of the project.

The Assistant—The leader must be big enough to delegate, but the staff member must be big enough to submit. He has to realize that he is not the person in charge.

Understand the working of God here. God calls a man and develops within him a message. That man then gathers around him people with a similar vision—and together they develop a ministry. We must realize that the vision of the ministry— the direction—largely comes from the leader, the person in charge. As a result, most people will identify the ministry with that person.

Surrender Your Rights

One of the most successful staff members of the Old Testament is Joseph. Despite great difficulties proceeding from grossly unfair treatment, he kept prospering wherever God put him. Joseph had learned to surrender his rights. Colossians 3:22 says, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.” We are to be in submission to our authority. We are to be servants. Sometimes we expect those under us to obey with right attitudes and to honor our position, but we do not have a servant’s heart for those over us. This does not work. We teach attitudes to those around us far more by what we are than by what we say.

Avoid Focusing on Expectations

Not only should we surrender our rights but also our expectations. The pastor must be aware of raising unfounded expectations by big statements or unrealistic optimism. The assistant, however, must not cling to his expectations whether they are accurate or not. He must be willing to be flexible. If he has been given an assignment he has not planned on, he should cheerfully and energetically do it. He will find that God blesses that spirit now as well as He did back in the days of Joseph.

Being on staff of a Christian ministry is a great blessing. We can work full-time for a ministry and have our needs met. The only difference between my ministry now and my ministry when I was in the business world years ago is that I have more time to serve. I am not restricted to after hours or working around another job. As a result, I should give myself far more to the ministry than others I know that do not have that privilege.

God’s plans are perfect and we will find our Christian service pleasant and profitable as we follow His plans. I believe that the wise pastor will not just use his staff, but will also develop them. I believe that a wise staff member will get much more accomplished if he really believes his role—at least for this particular time—is to carry out the vision of the ministry where God has placed him in a subordinate role. It takes two big people.

Matt Williams served at Tri-City Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, for thirty-four years, first as youth pastor and then associate pastor. He has written two books, How to Be a Team Player and Enjoy It: A Study in Staff Relationships and Biblical Leadership: Becoming a Different Kind of Leader, coauthored with Ken Collier.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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