Over 20 years, I served in various church and ministry staff positions including associate minister, youth pastor, and missions pastor. I also headed a para-church ministry (Young Life) working with urban youth. I worked each of these positions prior to taking the helm as senior pastor. As a result, I gained valuable experience that prepared me for ministry in other roles. Today, I encourage those who desire to serve in ministry full-time, especially preachers, to consider a staff position. The benefits are numerous but let me highlight three ways serving on staff helped my ministry.
Experience. Serving on staff helped me to “practice” ministry. I learned through trial and error in some instances, but with the proper training and guidance, I sharpened my skills in ways I could not see at the time. The time I served on staff helped me truly understand how the church works. Behind the scenes, church work can be volatile and downright discouraging at times. Those who go directly to leading a church may find themselves shocked by the level of tension that arises. Serving on staff empowered me to approach most situations with a calm and wisdom that developed over time. Most importantly, the time on staff gave me a chance to work on my gift. As an associate minister, I fumbled through more than a few sermons and taught at a basic level but had the time and opportunity to study, learn, and correct mistakes without the pressure of being the boss. Thankfully, I had a church family that graced me through those times.
Exposure. While serving as an associate minister under the tutelage of Pastor Maurice Watson, I heard from him (and guests he brought in), the type of preaching that shaped my life and ministry. He allowed me to travel with him at times, which exposed me to ministry at levels that helped me to think beyond my personal context of Omaha, Nebraska. To grow and develop, a staff person has to see things outside of their own church. I attended training at Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches. My Young Life supervisor flew me around the country to learn what youth ministry in urban areas like Chicago and Los Angeles looked like. A leader does well to either take the staff or send the staff to ministry conferences and training that will stretch them and help with personal development. The church will only be as good as what the staff sees and experiences.
Example. The leadership I served under throughout my ministry career became examples of what to do and even what not to do. Being able to watch a man or woman of God lead an organization through change, vision, crises and growth has molded my leadership style more than knowing the theories of leadership or latest church growth models ever will. Staff are able to see firsthand how the weight of ministry can impact a leader personally and professionally. From Pastor Watson’s example, for instance, I learned to preach the gospel with integrity and clarity so that everyone can get it, from the 7 year old to the 70 year old. He taught me about transitioning churches and church growth long before I became certified as a consultant.
The benefits to serving on staff extend far beyond these three I mentioned. In a future post, I will speak to another benefit, education. If only I knew then what I know now about the pursuit of education.
What are other benefits you can think of to serving on staff?