This week I saw a post on a Facebook group that I belong to where the individual is an assistant (or associate) pastor and they said that their role was to make the senior pastor look good. Their reasoning was to ensure that they as a staff pastor and their families survive ministry.
What a sad state of existence for a staff member at a church. Your only sure fire guarantee to survive in ministry and that your family comes out the other side unscathed is to constantly ensure your senior pastor looks good? No thanks. that will be a hard pass for me.
I’m not entirely sure where or when this mindset started (as unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this), but needless to say I absolutely, 100%, disagree with this statement.
Then, as of this morning (November 16, 2021) I began to listen to the latest episode “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill”, and wouldn’t you know it, but the subject matter of that episode was about this very thing (coupled with the concept of who the church actually belongs to – which is a whole other topic that probably requires an entire piece dedicated to it).
It’s really a disturbing concept when you think about it.
The entire premise is built on making the “head honcho” look good no matter what. It doesn’t matter what their flaws may be, or the nefarious things they may be up to, or if doing it makes you feel dirty or cheap or compromises your character and integrity…the job of the staff, according to this mindset, is to insulate and protect the reputation of the senior pastor and ensure that he looks good at all times.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a fringe mindset. It is actually quite common place in churches across all denominational spectrums. The mindset isn’t always communicated in the exact words of “make your pastor look good”, but may take on a less controversial tone but with no less a controversial application. Sometimes it gets communicated as “presenting a unified front”, or “love covers a multitude of sins”, or “it’s OK to disagree with your pastor behind closed doors, but you better not let it go beyond that”, or any number of variations.
Like the person who wrote this post, many church staff have bought the lie hook, line, and sinker and just accept it as part of the territory, as though it is a necessary evil that must be tolerated in order to hold the line. Sadly, I did the very same thing in some churches I was on staff at.
Based on personal experience, I have to think that church staff who participate in “making the pastor look good” are generally doing it from a good place. They desire to be supportive, and present a unified front. Those are good things. We all desire to be supported and we all desire to be unified in our mission. The issue really becomes evident when “making the pastor look good” becomes your sole purpose and mission, elevates a church leader to an untouchable status, and supersedes any harm that’s being done to others (or to church staff) in the process.
Let me just get down to brass tacks here, if a pastor is demanding this of their church staff (however they may present it) they are exhibiting some pretty strong narcissistic behaviors that need to be confronted and corrected rather than simply being ignored and encouraged.
The role of a pastor isn’t to make other pastors look good, especially if those pastors are just using their staff or assistant pastors to shield them from accountability or from pressure from those in their church body. I don’t see that being supported anywhere in scripture.
In fact, I see quite the opposite.
Jesus told his disciples this in Matthew 20:25-28 ESV:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Let me be super real for a minute, if a pastor’s ability to adequately and effectively lead a church hinges on the staff making him look good, then I think we have every reason to question why he is even a pastor to begin with. If the pastor met the qualifications laid out in scripture for an elder, then they don’t need people to make them look good. Instead, their character and integrity will speak for itself.
Something else that often accompanies this mindset is the idea that a local church is bound to some set of “house rules” that are inevitably established by the senior pastor. Breaking these “rules” (no matter how that may look) then suddenly puts you in direct opposition to the pastor and you are now in danger of “correction” or worse. I say this often accompanies the “make your pastor look good” mindset because these “rules” usually include a rule about making the pastor look good. Again, not always worded that way, but the same concept is definitely present.
That said, our role as a pastor or church staff (and as a Christian in general) is to bring honor and glory to God with our lives and make disciples. Period. Our role isn’t to make our pastor look good. We should, however, seek to “love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” and “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:10, 13). This should apply to all believers, not just the senior pastor, and this isn’t the same as “making the pastor look good”.
At times this may mean that we encourage our pastor in the direction they are leading the church. Or it may mean that we respectfully step in and voice concerns about the direction. It may mean, at times, that we have to step into a situation where individuals are bad mouthing or gossiping about the senior pastor, and encourage them to go to the pastor and work out their differences in a right manner (just like we should do if they were doing that to anyone in the church body). But that’s not to make the pastor look good, but rather because it’s the right and Christian thing to do.
Your senior pastor plays an important role. That is a fact. But his role isn’t there to prop himself up and require that everyone “under him” make him look good.
Ephesians 4 says that the pastor is but one of many roles (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) that exist for the following purpose:
“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of god, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…”
And to what end?
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Deceitful schemes like saying your job as a staff pastor or church staff member is to make the senior pastor look good.
So what is our role as believers and church staff within the life of the local church? We should be…
“…speaking the truth in love” AND we should “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped…”
And what is the result when the church leaders and the church body are functioning in a healthy way and becoming more like Christ?
“When each part is working properly” it actually “makes the body [or the CHURCH] grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Simply put, this mindset of “making the senior pastor look good” is unhealthy, unbiblical, and unsafe and needs to be rejected outright and replaced with the wholistic understanding that we ALL work together, not to make the pastor look good, but to make the name of Jesus great!