I recently celebrated five years as Lead Pastor at Open Door Church and shared some reflective thoughts here www.stephenmizell.com. As wonderful as my time as Lead Pastor has been, the time that I spent as an associate pastor or staff member was extremely beneficial to me in the current role where I serve. My previous role evolved from worship pastor to executive pastor prior to becoming lead pastor. In those roles where I was not the senior leader, there were some things I learned that benefit me immensely today. I do not claim this to be an extensive list, but these are things that apply to every single staff member and will certainly be of great benefit if you become the senior leader.
You don’t get all of the credit you deserve
And every staff member in every organization said, “Amen”. There is usually no less work required in a supporting staff role, however the recognition for the work that you do is often missing.
Occasionally it is intentional because the senior leader is insecure, however most of the time it is not intentional. The person at the top usually gets too much credit, but they often get too much blame. The ultimate responsibility of an organization falls to the senior leader and his fate is often tied to the success or failure of the organization. Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here”. It was his acknowledgement that he was ultimately responsible. However for success to be achieved, numerous other people and circumstances have to be present. The person at the top usually gets too much credit or too much blame. In support roles, that can be exaggerated as well. Those roles can suffer from very little credit and way too much blame. Unfortunately, there will not only be times that you do not get the credit that you deserve, but you get blame for things over which you had no control. Good work eventually gets recognized and rewarded, so keep doing your best and the rewards will eventually follow.
You are at someone else’s mercy
In most organizations, you serve at the pleasure of, or mercy of, the senior leader. This means they often have control over not just your fate but your daily schedule. This can be unnerving at times to know that much of your family’s financial well-being resides in the opinions of another person. If you are a high performer, they usually do not want you to leave, even if they feel threatened or frustrated by your influence. However, there are times when egos or emotions override common sense and you suffer because of that. Real leaders are servants first, so serving someone else should not bring fear, but fulfillment.
Integrity is critical
Though you would think this is obvious, sadly it is not. People often use their positions as a means to an end. The end being more important than the integrity of the position. Moving up the ladder at the expense of your character is too high a price to pay. As John Maxwell says, “Talent may open a door for you but character will keep it open.” There will be times when your motives and integrity are challenged at every level of leadership. I found that over time, integrity always wins. In our current era with social media and information overload, it is even more important to act with integrity in the roles where we serve. Integrity is critical, even if it costs you your job.
Do what is best for the organization because it may be yours
Occassionaly you may be faced with a difficult or complicated challenge. In those instances, it may be tempting to choose the path of least resistance because you believe that the burden of the decision will fall to the senior leader or if the work required to make a particular change or start a specific initiative looks overwhelming you may choose what is easiest. When you are in a support staff position, you should always try to do what is best for the organization. First, it is an integrity issue. Second, you may eventually end up being the senior leader and the wise choices you make now will benefit you later. I experienced this on several fronts where difficult choices that were made while I served as an associate were of great benefit to me and the church when I became the senior leader. The right choices now will make your job easier in the long run, especially if the organization becomes yours to lead.
I am grateful for the things that I learned serving on staff at Open Door. I believe I am a better Lead Pastor because of the choices I made before that was my title. There are lessons to learn on every step of the leadership ladder. Learn them well and they will benefit you long term.