The vast majority of churches have only one pastor, but increasingly there are churches with multiple staffs. With this in mind let me talk first about the role of the Senior Pastor, followed by thoughts on the role of the associates.

Senior Pastors

Ultimately, the Senior Pastor is the point person for the staff. Senior Pastors are visible, out front, and speak for the total staff. They frequently get the credit and the blame for what the whole staff does.

The Senior Pastor is the visionary who has the capacity to see the large picture. The senior must then be capable of painting the rendering. I have in my office the artist’s rendering for the new building that Dover Friendship Church of God will build shortly. It is the rendering that sells the project. The blueprints make a project possible but do little to sell it. Frequently, persons with the vision won’t have the capacity to develop the blueprints. So, they must gather around them staff and laity who do have that capacity and set them free to design and implement the strategies that bring the vision to reality.

The Senior Pastor is responsible to communicate and sell the vision to the staff, the leadership, and the whole church. Remember, the vision is just a fantasy unless others buy into the dream. “The capacity to build shared values” is a phrase I like. This represents the ability to bring others on board who buy in and make the journey with the leader. In my early days of training, I was taught to share the whole vision. In more recent training and in my own experience, I have found it more practical to share only parts of the vision while keeping the whole picture in mind. It may be too difficult for others to understand the whole picture, while smaller portions, shared in increasing increments, are quite palatable. Remember, you are not a leader because you are the Senior Pastor. Leadership isn’t positional. The right of leadership is earned. Each victory earns the Senior Pastor the right to share the next portion of the dream.

The Senior Pastor is ultimately responsible for the performance of the whole staff. Sometimes it is difficult for associates and even members of the church to grasp this concept. But the Senior Pastor is accountable for whatever any member of the staff does. This is not always understood but it is and should be fact.

The Senior Pastor is responsible to communicate his/her thoughts with the staff. Senior Pastors and associates need to be talking constantly. This is a prerequisite for a compatible staff to function effectively. The Senior Pastor has primary responsibility to see that the staff is talking.

A lack of communication is a major cause for the breakdown of staff relationships. It is actually more important for associates to hear what the Senior Pastor is saying and thinking than for the Senior Pastor to listen to the associates, as important as that is. Associates must hear not only what the Senior Pastor is saying and thinking but also how he/she thinks. Associates should press their seniors to not only explain what they are thinking but how they arrived at that conclusion. What is their process of thinking? Associates need to know how their seniors think and process information.

The Senior Pastor must listen to what the associates are saying. It must be understood that listening doesn’t mean agreeing. I believe there is a distinct difference between listening and agreeing. Much of our culture implies if you don’t agree with me, you haven’t listened. I believe it is important to listen clearly and communicate that the other has been heard while at the same time disagreeing with what is being said.


Loyalty to the Senior Pastor and to other associates is a high virtue. Disloyalty to the senior is a major cause of disunity on multiple staffs from the perspective of associates. I feel so strongly about this that disloyalty could be just cause for dismissal. There should be no public criticism of each other by staff members. A basic rule in life is that we praise in public and criticize in private. If two associates have difficulty with each other, they must go to each other to resolve the problem. If they can’t resolve the problem, then they need to go to the Senior Pastor for assistance in settling it. Any staff problems must be resolved within the staff.

People dissatisfied with the senior and other staff will gravitate to the persons willing to give an ear, going to them to complain. An associate especially needs to be careful when a parishioner approaches with criticism of the Senior Pastor or another associate. You may listen briefly then say, “It sounds like you have a problem with John or Mary, and you need to go and talk to them.” In every church, there are people dissatisfied with the Senior Pastor. They will seek out an associate for a sympathetic ear. Trouble is on the horizon if they gain such an ear.

The associate staff members should never do something that is a total surprise to the Senior Pastor. Associates should run any significant changes in policy by the Senior Pastor before presenting them to laity. Every effort should be made to keep the Senior Pastor from being blindsided.

The associate staff members should be allowed to be creative. All staff members need to have the freedom to fully use their skills in the advancement of the Kingdom. The use of laity in staff roles, as opposed to clergy, has increased dramatically. There has also been a marked increase in the use of multiple part-time persons as opposed to one full-time person. The later brings the possibility of a multiplicity of gifts.

Each staff person should be accountable for performance, finances, and time. There needs to be a reporting system to provide accountability.

It is absolutely critical for maximum performance that staff members separate their person from their position. This is a critical survival skill. Frequently people take potshots at staff, not really because they are upset with the person but because of the position that person holds.

A multiple staff experience can be a real pleasure when all work together for the advancement of the kingdom.