I must confess, being a senior pastor is one of the most difficult duties on the planet. It was one of the best rides of my life and one of the most difficult. I wasn’t perfect for sure. But before I was senior pastor I was a staff member. I loved it. I served alongside one of the greatest senior pastors ever.
Now that I’ve been consulting church leaders for over a decade, I realize that so many church staff members climbed on board a ship guided by a senior leader with little passion for the staff they lead and even less compassion for those same people. Before joining a staff team I would suggest any potential staff member do the following.
1. Find out how long has the average staff member at your level of leadership has served at the church. If the number of people who have left the team having served less than four years creates a cringe factor for you, you may want to seriously consider whether or not this is the place for you. But first… ask if you can do what is suggested in point #2.
2. Ask for the contact information of at least three staff members who left prematurely. Interview them. Be sure they know that your conversation is confidential then make sure it remains that way. If the senior pastor or the team making the hire is hesitant to give you the contact information, you can almost be certain that something is being hidden. When you do the interviews… Ask them about the demeanor of the senior pastor. Ask them how the senior pastor handles situations when they are disappointed in or angry with a staff member. Ask them if the senior pastor is accessible to staff. Ask if the senior pastor is an affirming person, someone who realizes people need and deserve strokes and does so when possible. Ask them how often they were invited to the senior pastor’s home and/or how often the senior pastor made sure the team had times to just enjoy one another and play together or was it all business, etc…
3. Find out the senior pastor’s level of passion for the ministry you will be leading including whether or not the senior pastor is involved in it and whether or not they believe the rest of the church body should be involved in it.
4. Find out what the work ethic of the senior pastor is. If the senior leader is a workaholic you can almost rest assured that what is expected of you will be outrageous.
5. Find out if the senior pastor lives out the fruit of the Spirit as they do life alongside the staff… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. On multiple occasions I’ve heard stories of individuals being verbally abused (There’s no other way to describe it.) by a senior pastor. The senior pastor almost always comes by and apologizes even tearfully. But the cycle continues in some settings. This is not just a sign of immaturity, it is a sign of spiritual immaturity.
Please know that some of this may feel a bit awkward. But I can assure you, a few hours of personal internal awkwardness early in the process is much better than years of discouragement and disappointment for you and your family.