8 Steps To Being a Better Assistant Pastor

1. Make Your Senior Pastor Look As Good As Possible As Often As Possible

If you have it in your power to make your senior pastor look good – do it. It’s healthy for the church to see good qualities in their pastor and to have a good view of them. It’s healthy for you to see good qualities in your senior pastor and to have a good view of them. If you want to build your church, build your senior pastor. Be his/her cheerleader. Every good leader raises morale and it’s easier for an assistant pastor to do it for the senior pastor than it is for the senior pastor to do it.

If your senior pastor ever overhears you talking about him, would you want to be saying something positive or something negative? If you find out something that could hurt someone’s view of your senior pastor then bury it (unless you have a moral, legal reason for sharing it). Let’s be honest, we could all find bad things to say about you. A wise and good assistant pastor will highlight their senior pastor’s strengths and won’t ever be caught tarnishing his image.

If you always have their back, chances are, they’ll be in your corner when you need them. And if they’re not… at least you can trust that God has been paying attention and your wise choices won’t go unnoticed.

2. Do Your Best To Always Say Yes

My senior pastor looks over my sermons. He does so because he’s had more education, more experience preaching, and more years on this earth and not only that but he’s more responsible for what gets said from the pulpit. And chances are, if I do a bad job or say something that he’s learned not to say (he’s been tending to our flock a lot longer than I have), I don’t hear about it… he does. So one day he asked me to come up with a funny introduction for one of my sermons. I told some youth pastors and asked for ideas.

Here’s one comment I received: 

Why do you need to tell a joke? If you don't feel the need for one don't put one there. Do you have a personal story of not expecting something?”

Here’s another:

“Then he should supply the joke. You shouldn't have to spend 2 hours to make him happy. Maybe it's Gods way of saying you don't need one.”

Here’s one more:

“Given that the topic is about Jesus's resurrection, which is an important and serious thing, I'd refrain from telling a joke. It sets too light of a mood given the fullness of what the event means.

Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. You don’t need to listen to your senior pastor. Plenty of people don’t listen to their bosses or even their spiritual authorities. However, if you want to honor God, you should be jumping at an opportunity to make your senior pastor happy. Even Christ equates obedience with love.

I understand that sometimes senior pastors and churches demand too much. But you should do everything in your power to say “yes” to as much as possible. Even if you can’t find time in your schedule to do what he asks… maybe you can make a few phone calls and get someone else to hang the Christmas decorations. I’m not saying do everything yourself, work yourself to death, and neglect your priority to your family. I am saying to do as much as you can when you can, even if that means asking other people for help.

3. Find Out Your Senior Pastor’s Pet Peeves

This one is easy and you can do it tomorrow. Write it down. Find out your senior pastor’s pet peeves. My Senior Pastor hasn’t liked it in the past when other assistant pastors have gotten to church late on a Sunday morning. Even if they’re just getting in 5-10 minutes late on a Sunday morning...  He doesn’t appreciate it. It’s a pet peeve. Not all pet peeves will be justifiable or make sense or will seem fair. That doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to find them out and avoid them. It shows love, it shows humility, it shows that you’re going beyond the call of duty to make his/her relationship with you more enjoyable.

4. Know Your Role

You’re an Assistant Pastor. It’s your job to assist. It’s easy to come to a new church and have new ideas and desire to start your own ministries. It’s easy to get inspired by the last conference that you went to and to come back wanting to implement changes. Unfortunately… that’s not your primary job.

Your primary job is to give your senior pastor the time and space that he needs in order for him to implement new ministries and get inspired. He hired you so that he could be freer to do the things he loves to do. If it feels like you’re getting stuck with all of the work that he doesn’t want to do… It’s working. I don’t mean to be harsh but that’s part of the reason you were hired. He was just like you – new ideas, exciting times with God, sensing God’s direction and guidance, and wishing he had more time to do all the awesome things he wants to do with God’s church. So he hired you to help carry some of the burden.

Don’t be the assistant pastor that says, “This is your burden, I’ve got too much of my own stuff to work on.”

5. Create Sustainable and Unified Ministries

When the person before me left the church… he wasn’t there to pass his ministry off to me and there wasn’t really anyone else to do so either. You’re a steward of not only the time and resources that God gives you but also the office that you’re given. You’re to honor the place of the last person and you’re also to desire the success of the guy or gal who comes after you.

My goal has always been to create sustainable ministries. When God calls me to leave… the next guy has a committee of youth leaders who can not only show him the ropes and let him know how it’s been done but they’re also sharp enough and equipped enough that they can even run the show if they need to. I’ve been intentional about sharing the labor and not for my own sake but for my church’s sake. They didn’t hire a one-man-show super-hero-youth-pastor-renaissance-man. They hired Keith and when Keith doesn’t have help, he’s not all that.

We also need to be creating unified ministries. My youth group isn’t a ministry silo. We don’t see ourselves as a separate community. We’re a valuable part of the church. We’re not running a separate show. The church hasn’t hired us to start our own church on a different night in a different room. So we don’t have a worship service and we don’t pretend to be “enough” for our student’s spiritual growth and development. I know if my students or my college group are never a part of the church then when they graduate, they’ll have nowhere to go and no community where they feel welcome and comfortable. You’re not doing your church any favors by having a youth group of 200 if none of them know your senior pastor’s name.

6. Never Seek Any Glory

My biggest flaw is that I desire to be extraordinary. I want to be a missionary like St. Patrick and bring a whole country to Christ. I want to have an awe-inspiring story about how I got up and followed the Spirit and gave up everything and started from the bottom but rose to heights that I never could’ve dreamed of. I want to be like Moses who spoke to a burning bush or like Peter who walked on water or like Paul who used to persecute the Church but then became one of its most influential leaders. I want to be a mega church pastor who started from a church plant in his studio apartment.

What’s the problem with this? The problem is that God loves and values and uses and cares for the pastor with a church of 50 just as much as the pastor with a church of 5000. The problem is God doesn’t value fame or power or fortune or success the way we do. He doesn’t see it the way we do. He’s probably more impressed with the quiet, meek, faithful, strong, dependable, humble, servant pastor who has loved and valued and equipped and cried with and celebrated with the 25 sheep God gave him more than any famous pastor we know by name.

God might call me to minister to a small number of middle class Americans for the rest of my life. He might have mediocrity in store for me! And the truth is – I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy to be a janitor of a church, let alone a pastor! I’m not worthy to tie or untie Christ’s sandals. I’m not worthy to serve communion. I’m not worthy to baptize. I’m not worthy to preach. And may God kill that ugly part of me that is waiting for more.

God’s jealous for His glory and you don’t deserve any of it so don’t even try. Get it out of your head. Nail it to a cross.

7. Focus On The Vision

Plenty of youth pastors can tell you the vision statement for their youth group but they can’t recite the vision of their church. Why two separate visions? Why isn’t the youth group focused on fulfilling the mission of the whole church?

If you don’t know your vision statement… find out. Even if your senior pastor isn’t a visionary leader… you can champion your church’s vision statement. Before you do anything new… ask yourself if it’s the best way to fulfill your church’s vision.

All churches exist for a different reason. We’re not a college church. We’re not an inner-city church. We’re not a mega church. We’re not a traveling church that operates from a trailer or an 18 wheeler. We’re not an online church. We’re a family church in a small town in Western PA and most of our church members live within 20 minutes of us. What’s that mean? It means our ministries need to be focused on those people, which means I have to know the needs of my community and address them.

What kind of a church are you? Why do you exist rather than joining forces with the church down the street from you? If there are plenty of churches around you than you need to ask and know why God has you where he has you. There’s no reason for you to exist if you can do a better job by joining with the church down the street.

8. Take Conforming to Christ’s Image Seriously

I’m an assistant pastor and a youth pastor… which you’ve probably gathered by now. I’ve met a lot of youth pastors who have seemed to be under the impression that they only needed to be more mature than the youth they’re ministering to. It’s a horrible mentality to have.

A.W. Tozer was an awesome man of God. C.S. Lewis was a remarkable Christian. Martin Luther did some great things for Christianity. I love some of John Wesley’s theology and his passion for evangelism is to be admired. What do all of these people have in common? They’ve sought to look like Jesus Christ. What else do they all have in common? They’ve fallen really short. There’s no reason for you to try to look like John Piper or Tozer or Lewis or Stott or Wright or Driscoll or Shane Claiborne or that guy from Switchfoot. They all fall short. But you need to be constantly dying to yourself and passionately pursuing Christ-likeness.

Let me encourage you in this. God is sufficient. All good things come from God. When we sin it’s because we want the good that the sin has to offer. Yes, it’s perverted and yes, it’s ugly and yes it falls short of God but generally speaking we’re attracted to the good we see in it. Adam and Eve saw that the fruit was good for eating and pleasing to the eye. They were attracted, not to all of the bad the sin had to offer but all of the good the sin had to offer. Every time we choose sin, we’re forgetting or not trusting the fact that God has what we want – only better. Whatever good I found in my addiction to tobacco – I’ve got to trust that God has a better version of that goodness. Whatever good we find in lust – we’ve got to trust that God can offer a better version of that goodness. He’s sufficient for you. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!