Who would believe that a videotape could change your ministry and life?
It was one of those rare transformational moments.
In the early days of my pastoral journey, I watched a videotape (yes, I am going back a long way) of Simon McIntyre speaking about being The Second Man.
Simon has epitomised the very essence of a successful support leader and he shared his journey as support leader to Phil Pringle, as a Joseph.
Joseph was an exceptional leader even though he never rose to the primary leader role.
He looked after his father’s sheep; managed Potiphar’s household; ran the warden’s jail and ultimately led Pharaoh’s Egypt. He was a man of influence and significance as a support leader.
In contrast, Joshua served Moses and then became the primary leader of Israel.
Jesus put it succinctly: And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? Luke 16.12
Simon’s example and teaching transformed how I looked at myself as an assistant pastor and how I supported my senior pastor, Frank Hultgren.
When we consider church leadership roles and responsibilities we need to look at the qualities of a good church leader who serves in a support role.
Don’t Be This Type of Support Leader
I never reached perfection as a support leader. Maybe I lacked some of these quirky ways:
I think my 13 ways will help you build a better reputation:
1. Pray for your leader
Ask your leader for their specific prayer needs.
Pray intentionally for them.
Keep your leader and their family near the top of your prayer list and regularly intercede for their precise needs.
Follow up with them and continue in prayer until you see answers to your petitions.
Pray especially for your pastor as he looks to grow a healthy church.
2. Be kind
Refuse to be among those who take your leader for granted and neglect common courtesies and kindness.
Encourage and thank them in a variety of ways.
Kindness is as revitalising as the sun’s rays on a cold winter’s day.
Make your encouragement authentic by moving away from the general, “that was awesome” to the specific, “I liked how you framed that story about the young person being baptised.”
Send your leader and their spouse birthday and Christmas cards.
If your leader invites you to an event always RSVP.
If you are going to be away for a few Sundays on holidays, then let your leader know ahead of time.
Be kind, considerate and courteous as a support leader.
3. A Support Leader Solves Problems
A leader faces more problems than a Weight Watcher working the afternoon shift at a Krispy Kreme store.
A support leader can either add to the problem pile or help solve them.
Whenever you bring a major problem to your leader always attach a solution to it, or at least offer a possible approach.
Even if the solution seems pitiful and implausible it will send the message that you are not just uploading problems and that you have at least tried to think of a way forward.
Every leader appreciates it when people show up with solutions.
In fact, every senior leader needs to master the art of asking “what’s your solution to that problem?”
4. Ask questions
After the fall God didn’t immediately rebuke Mr and Mrs Adam.
Instead, He asked three questions. Why?
Was God flustered by their sin? Of course not.
Did He not already know the answers?
God used questions to help them face their situation.
Likewise, questions help you move beyond the surface when you are a support leader.
Questions increase your understanding of them.
Excellent questions will also make them feel wanted.
How can I help you?
How do you do ………?
What’s the best way to make decisions?
What are you enjoying most about our church right now?
How can I improve my …….?
Pastor, is your church positioned for growth?
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5. Know when to push and when to back off
As you spend time getting to know your leader you will work out when you can push them and when you need to back off.
Learn to read their weekly and annual rhythms.
When I was pastoring, I always felt tired and lacked energy at the end of my year.
When this happened, I would warn my staff that I was tired and needed a holiday. I encouraged them to factor that into their interactions with me.
It saved them, and me, some grief.
As a rule, never give bad news to your pastor on a Sunday. They have enough on their minds so wait until later in the week unless it is vital or crucial.
6. Take time out to do personal reflection
I started intentional personal reflection times nearly 20 years ago and it transformed my leadership.
They have improved my focus as a leader and contributed to my fruitfulness in ministry.
You can use my Reflection Toolkit to develop this skill and boost your ability as a support leader.
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7. A Support Leader is a Filter Not a Sponge
People will say things to you that they hope you will pass onto the leader.
Don’t be a sponge who soaks up complaints and grumblings and squeezes it all out onto the leader.
Be a filter who sifts problems, complaints and opinions and passes on that which is essential.
Never use the phrase “a lot of people are saying.”
If there are a lot of people, and invariably it tends to be two or three, name and quote them so your leader has full access to the information he needs to make an informed decision.
8. Let their vision become your vision
Don’t talk about the leader’s vision or the church’s vision, talk about our vision.
Make it your vision.
Cast vision in the same tone and spirit as your leader.
Then work to fulfil that vision in your week-to-week ministry.
9. Be willing to deflect credit to them
In 2 Samuel 12:26-29 David’s army commander, Joab captures Rabbah.
He then sends word to David to come and take the city lest it be named after him.
Joab had enough humility and was secure enough to ensure his leader received the credit for his endeavours.
Likewise, be willing to deflect credit to your leader.
Be happy to take a back seat.
The Lord will always honour your humility.
10. Overlook offence
Proverbs 19:11 tells us that “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence.”
Your leader will offend you.
This is guaranteed.
They may do it inadvertently or even purposefully, and your challenge is not to control their level of offensiveness. It’s to learn how to overlook it.
You must master the art of forgiveness whenever your leader lets you down, disappoints or hurts you.
This can be especially difficult if they are someone you’ve respected and admired.
However, nursing grudges and harbouring hurt will only stunt your personal growth and development as a support leader.
Let the offence go.
11. Lighten their load
A leader’s load can feel more overwhelming than a to-do list longer than a desert highway.
Take a close look at your leader’s workload and see if there is any innovative way you can lighten it.
If you can’t think of a way, then ask them how you can help reduce their load.
Refuse to accept their “I’m ok” brush-offs and assure them that you are genuine in your attempts to take a load off their shoulders.
12. Share the good news
All leaders love to hear the good news about what Christ is doing in their church and in people’s lives.
It’s as reviving as rain in a drought.
Take every opportunity to share good news stories.
It will brighten their day and strengthen your connection with them as a bonus.
Never fall for the trap of thinking they’re too busy to hear it.
A leader is never too busy to hear good things.
13. Adopt the stance of a learner
Whenever you meet with your leader or attend a leader’s meeting come with the disposition of an eager learner.
Bring a pen and paper or a digital device and take notes.
Always ask questions and engage with the teaching your leader is presenting.
Church leadership roles and responsibilities are complex. As you endeavour to operate biblical church leadership be prepared to take up your cross and support your leaders.