A Good Assistant Pastor--Easier Said Than Done
Good Assistant Pastors are hard to find. I don't say this, because I am one. I say this merely from observation and as the recipient of too many horror stories. A good Assistant Pastor must be marked by the same things as any other pastor. He must possess a love for God, His Word, and His people. He needs to be strong and winsome, a teacher yet teachable, a man of prayer and action. Yet, he also must possess some additional qualities. He is not only called to serve the congregation, but also the Senior Pastor. Whatever his "job description" may be, he must understand that he is assisting. This is essential. Here are some things a good Assistant Pastor is marked by--traits I strive to gain more and more of in my own life and ministry:
Unflinchingly Loyal, but not Enamored: A good Assistant Pastor never sets himself up as a rival to the Senior Pastor. His loyalty is never in question. There are those in every congregation looking for breaches in this vital relationship. They will gossip about it, feed it, and angle for it. Some will sweetly whisper ego-boosting temptations, "You would have handled that better," "If only you were preaching more," "I could see you as the Senior Pastor of this church someday." A good Assistant Pastor will have nothing to do with such machinations. He will refrain at all times from speaking ill of the Senior Pastor. Gossip, innuendo, and complaints will find no listening ear with him. All know that he is the Senior Pastor's man. But even as he is to be loyal, so it is essential that his is not enamored. He is the Senior Pastor's right hand man, but he is not his worshipper. He is a co-laborer, not a sycophant. He ultimately labors for the Lord and His glory.
A Listening Friend, but one who Speaks Winsomely: A good Assistant Pastor pursues a dynamic, self-sacrificing, and encouraging relationship with the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastorate is often a lonely and demanding position. Any man occupying it craves a reliable friend. Though the Senior and Assistant Pastor may not take family vacations or watch sporting events together, the Senior Pastor has reason to count him as a trusted friend. In a good Assistant, the Senior Pastor finds a kind and listening ear, a co-labor who gives him the benefit of the doubt in conversation, and an encourager who willingly hears his struggles but never uses them against him. The Assistant pastor provides refreshment, ease in conversation, and a support in times of trouble. He is a listening friend. Yet, he will speak the hard word when it is necessary--always behind closed doors and with humility--but willing and courageous enough to do so. No matter how gifted the Senior Pastor may be, he is a mere man. A man in need of wise counsel, gentle correction, and at times a firm rebuke.
Faithfully Follows, but Successfully Leads: A good Assistant Pastor knows his role is one of support and following. He does not lead the church and is perfectly satisfied implementing another's vision. He willingly receives direction from the Senior Pastor. He will not grumble, chafe, or rebel. And when entrusted with tasks or areas of ministry, constant supervision is unneeded. The job will get done. This requires not only the knowledge, but the ability to lead. Others willingly follow him. If congregants do not willing follow an Assistant Pastor, his assistance to the Senior Pastor and the church is limited. The Senior Pastor requires relief, but no relief comes when an Assistant will not or cannot step in the gap.
Operates Behind the Scenes, but Willingly Shields: A good Assistant Pastor doesn't require the limelight. Humility marks his person as he happily labors for the glory of God behind the scenes. He knows and embraces the fact that much of his ministry will go unrecognized. It is not as visible as the weekly preaching, administering of the sacraments, or even leading elder meetings. And he is fine with that. In truth, he rejoices at the Senior Pastor's ministry "success" and recognition. It delights him. Yet, even as he operates behind the scenes, he willingly shields the Senior Pastor from unnecessary conflict and difficulties. At times, he will thrust himself to the forefront in an effort to spare the Senior Pastor and protect his pulpit ministry. And when he does so, he does not play the martyr, but rather the gentle and caring under-shepherd.
A good Assistant Pastor can be one of the greatest blessings a local church enjoys or one of its greatest struggles. He possesses the ability to support or divide, build or teardown, encourage or discourage. He will be a help or a detriment--one or the other--a drain on the energies of the church and the Senior Pastor or one of their greatest refreshments. If you are a good one, keep at it. If you are looking for one, choose carefully. If you have one, thank him.