Pastor Fred had been in post for a number of years, and had recently retired. Pastor Mike was the replacement, and was struggling with the dynamics, of both the church and of the small staff team. Elaine was the listening ear.
The trouble is,’ said Mike, ‘that no-one’s doing a good job. The volunteers are tired, and lots of them are out of control. I’m being negative, I know, but I reckon most of the staff are the wrong people, and some are the right people but in the wrong role. And the result is that I’m spinning everyone else’s plates for them. Which means I don’t get to do my role well either. It’s very frustrating.’
‘Fred would never appoint anyone who’d be better than him,’ said Elaine, tartly. ‘That’s the root of it.’
Pastor Fred was committed to expository preaching, leadership and evangelism. My observation, because I knew the situation a bit, would be that the most accurate ranking of him would be: he was best gifted at evangelism, most attracted to leadership, and most duty-bound at preaching.
But, the actual priorities of the church didn’t match his listing: they wanted preacher first, leader second, and evangelist last.
At which point, things got murky, because although Pastor Fred came across as confident, the reality was that his default was defensive, and anxious. Take preaching: he wasn’t the best, and I suspect he knew it. But he walked in circles where that was usually the top-rated zone of ministry, and there were some much more gifted preachers to be found.
And the church had high expectations of him
Now, a sillier man would have simply puffed himself up. But Pastor Fred wasn’t silly, and he didn’t pretend.
What he did – and I’m not sure if he knew this, but it was consistently observable over those years – was make sure, consciously or not, that no-one who was a better preacher than him became the assistant pastor.
So he was the best.
The same was true of the other areas which were Fred’s responsibility; outside those, he appointed staff and volunteers who were rock stars, but within his circle, he was like one of those grand Victorian actors – the spotlights on everybody else on stage were dimmed when he came on, to make sure he was noticed.
Brighter, by contrast,
Now, that provokes an interesting first question: are we willing to use or employ people who are better than us, and in areas where we still have to work? Because if not, we are doomed to be the best person in the room, and if we aren’t that exceptional in the first place, standards will not go up.
When I look around, who is the most gifted person in the room?
Now, think about the plight of Pastor Mike. Because he’s come in with the gifts and priorities that match what Pastor Fred thought he ought to do. So Mike is a better preacher, probably about the same as a leader, and not as good as an evangelist. But he finds himself expected to be the best preacher, and leader, and the best evangelist in the room. What’s more, because Fred wasn’t a good administrator (but wouldn’t let a more competent person into the office), Mike is, by default, the best administrator. Ditto, children’s worker. Ditto, tech person. Ditto…
You get the picture. No wonder Pastor Mike was frazzled. Now wonder Elaine, a long-term member, was so sharp.
Which provokes an interesting second question: how would you help Mike to prioritise, given that any decision to spin this plate, will cause the sound of smashing crockery over there? His real gift and duty, preaching, is being stretched thin, because of doing so much that he’s not superbly good at, but is probably better at than the person in charge.
Given enough time, of course, Mike has room to manoeuvre. Staff will move on, eventually. Volunteers will stand down, eventually. At least, you hope. I know of one person on a hospitality team who has been a nuisance for decades, and no-one’s been able to replace her; the current pastor was almost in tears with me, because she’s been ‘sacked’ twice, and she refuses to stand aside. Hey ho, that’s another blog post.
But there is a third interesting question: how can you and I make sure that – even as senior leaders – we have people in the church we look up to? I know some of us work in small or struggling churches, with few resources, but I’m more concerned with our mindset for the moment.
- Who in your church is better than you at something? Something you think is important, and maybe even think you can do?
- Whatever your answer, what has been your part in designing it that way?
- And, how could you design it differently?