Good Assistant Pastors are hard to find. In fact, I think they may be more difficult to find than good Senior Pastors.
A good Assistant Pastor must be marked by the same things as any other pastor. He should 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 not only serves the congregation, but also the Senior Pastor. Whatever his “job description” may entail, he understands that he is assisting. His ministry is tied to the Senior Pastor’s ministry. In fact, it proves helpful if the Assistant Pastor understands his ministry as an extension of the Senior Pastor’s ministry. He may supplement gifts that are lacking in the Senior Pastor or possess similar gifts that are needed in more abundance.
Here are some things a good Assistant Pastor is marked by:
1. Unflinching 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 always refrain 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 he is not enamored. He is the Senior Pastor’s man, but he is not his worshipper. He is a co-laborer, not a sycophant. He ultimately labors for the Lord and His glory.
2. Listening friend but winsomely speaks. 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 he proves 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.
3. 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 remains 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 willingly 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.
4. 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 focal or visible like weekly preaching, administering 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 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.
1. Support your Senior Pastor. This is your duty as an Assistant Pastor in the local church. Yes, you have a responsibility to pastor the people under your care, to fulfill your job description, and to oversee your appointed ministry area, but all of that should be accomplished as you seek to support your Senior Pastor. This remains essential to your call. Not supporting him harms the church more than most young Assistant Pastors realize. It can disrupt the church’s unity and peace in monstrous ways. I am not overstating the importance of this point when I say that an Assistant Pastor can either be the greatest asset in the local church or its greatest liability.
2. When the struggle persists. If you are an Assistant Pastor and consistently find yourself unsettled when the Senior Pastor leads and casts vision, spend time in concerted prayer asking for wisdom and humility. You may want to talk with your Senior Pastor and discuss the points of tension with a humble spirit. However, if this struggle persists, then move on quietly. It could be a source of pride or arrogance, so make sure to examine yourself for unrepentant sin. However, the Lord often uses this inner angst to move us on to other fields of labor.
Many young Assistant Pastors hold on too long. Instead of quietly leaving when they feel this inner disquiet, they begin to agitate for change within the local church. They subtly (or not-so-subtly) begin to work against their Senior Pastor’s vision and reputation in the name of “caring for the church.” Don’t fall into this trap! You will come to regret it. Unless an issue of orthodoxy has arisen or the Senior Pastor is steeped in gross sin or the elders of the church have come to you requesting your leadership, don’t raise the banner of insurrection. Even if such circumstances present themselves, you should proceed with caution. In most cases, peaceably and graciously moving on is the best course of action.
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.
Editor’s Note: Portions of this article first appeared at the Christwaard Collective, a blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and in a book authored by Jason, The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Baker, 2015).