Are You The Backup Pastor?
The best thing about people who are new to Jesus is that they don’t know all the church rules. A few years back, after a Sunday meeting, I was in the front of the room making myself available to anyone who needed to talk. A line began to form of people wanting to speak with our lead pastor. So I stepped in and asked a guy, who was a recent convert, if I could help him with something.
He looked at me.
Then the lightbulb came on and he said with relief, “That’s right! You’re the backup pastor.”
I had the honor of serving alongside my friend Travis Aicklen, helping him lead Radiant Church for six years. Though my job title changed more than my haircut in those years, the title of “Backup Pastor” remains my favorite.
It sounds nice to say we believe in a church led by a team of elders, but most days it would just be easier to have one leader calling the shots. We’ve seen churches say they are committed to being an elder-led church, but then they do some contortionist moves to make that model more efficient...creating things like executive elders, a board of directors or a distinction between staff and non-staff elders.
The fact is, to lead with a team will always be challenging. So what can those of us who aren’t the lead elder do to make our teams healthy, our lead elders happy and most importantly keep our churches on mission? How can we as “backup pastors” be a blessing to our lead elders? How do you lead well when you’re not the leader?
Back him up
Though you may not be the lead elder, you are just as responsible for the church as the leader. Make sure he knows this both in word and deed. Remind him that you are with him and are sharing the load. Then show him you are fully committed by meeting pastoral needs within the church, staying late after meetings and working hard. At the end of his letter to the Colossians, Paul described his fellow workers as being “a comfort” to him (Col. 4:11). Let’s make sure our lead elders feel comforted by how we work alongside them.
Fight in front of the kids
I don’t remember seeing my parents argue much, but I do remember seeing them get frustrated and then disappear into the back room to apparently sort out their issues. They were trying to love us by shielding us from conflict, but those of us who care for the family of God need to lead people through healthy conflict.
If you are leading together well as a team, there will be conflict. Don’t waste your best arguments by keeping them behind closed doors. Bring your church into issues you are sorting out as a team, show them what it looks like to disagree while still loving each other, and allow them to share in the sweetness of unity that follows a conflict. Trust will grow as people see you are transparent as an elder team.
The devil’s advocate is not a team player. Every point of view does not need to be considered and re-considered. Leaders don’t try to prove something by arguing. As a young leader, I find myself trying to find the holes in someone’s plan, being overly critical and arguing for the sake of arguing. This never promotes unity and is rarely helpful. Though there is a time to analyze, eventually we need to make a decision and move forward. Be a blessing to your leader by backing down and getting on board with where the team in heading. Healthy teams grow healthy churches. The lead elder doesn’t bear the weight of creating a healthy culture alone. Everyone on the team plays a part in setting the culture of the church. You might not be the most visible leader, but you get to make an impact nonetheless.