Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sharing Your Leader's Burden

This idea of sharing my leader's burden has been floating around in my mind the last few weeks. We have just gone through a process of evaluating why our numbers have fallen off in our attendance at our two campuses. We are further realizing the need for further spiritual transformation as we feel like our people are not renewed, are entangled in the world, and need to be called to repentance. Much of this evaluation was forced onto us by our pastor, as he called our staff to prayer and laid upon us the burden of this situation.

Like it or not, he laid upon us his burden. Most of the second chair leaders on our team didn't like it at first. They thought his rationale for getting us to this place was misplaced. They didn't identify with his burden and couldn't understand this tension. For me, I completely understood where he was coming from, but didn't completely share his burden, because it wasn't as "alarming" for me as it was for him.

In this process, my team of second chair leaders began to discuss and pray about how we might share his burden. We struggled to fully understand it, and much of the way we approached the understanding was clearly a generational difference. With many younger second chairs following an older first chair, there is often disagreement and misunderstanding. Nevertheless, we began to pray that God would help us to carry his burden.

God did!

As we approached this with this spirit, our leader could see that we genuinely wanted what was best for the church, and we were willing to go with him into battle and deal with whatever it was that needed to be dealt with. This gave him a confidence in our counsel, helped him feel like he was not alone, and gave him a place to rest his burden as he grew weary.

I am reminded here of the story of Moses, Aaron, Hur, and Joshua as Joshua went out to fight the Amelekites (Exodus 17:10-13). It states:

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
These guys carried Moses' burden. They did this because they were following a leader who had a burden for the safety, health, and survival of Israel. One went into battle, risking his own life, while the other two propped up their first chair before the Lord.
One of the things that God continually impresses upon me is that I don't feel what my first chair leader feels. I am not burdened like my senior leader, because I am not the senior leader. I can't fully grasp or understand the burden. But I can ask the Lord to give me what I need to help carry his burden. And when I do, and when the team does, God is glorified and the first chair is strengthened.


Clayton Bell said...

Great post, Roger.

I know that when I was just beginning to be a part of the leadership team at our church, before I was in second-chair role, I struggled to understand why my senior pastor could have such a different perspective on situations that I did, or why he thought something was important when no one else could see his side. Now, almost three years later and in a second-chair position, I see that he was helping us see from his perspective as the senior leader, and as someone who was nearly 10 years older than everyone else on the team.

One of the responsibilties that I have is to set sermon topics for the church, since we rotate who on the team speaks. The ironic thing is that I don't preach as of yet, but I'm responsible for setting the schedule of topics! I always ask my senior for his input, reasoning that he's the spiritual head of the church and God would speak to him what we should preach on, but he always rebuffs me and tells me to come up with the topics. This has shown me two things: One, I need to think like a leader, and carry the burdens of the church and listen for the will of God in matters like this, not just rely on the senior to do it. The other thing that I've realized is that there are other situations where I find myself thinking "He's got no idea what God wants!" How can those two dynamics exisit? Because there are alot of times when I'm after my interest, so I rationalize what God does and does not speak to him. I don't want to be soley repsonsible for sermon topics, so I claim God speaks to my senior about that, but when he says God led him a certain way on topics I disagree on, I question his hearing from God.

I need to be consistant to both carry the burden of the Lord for the church, and always defer to my senior pastor. I need to pick up the burdens he has for the church, believing in faith that they are from God. I beleive this is the subordinate-leader paradox? What a great challenge...

Roger Patterson said...

Clayton -- you are starting to get it! Don't you just love the tension of the paradox? A great mark of a secure leader is that he or she will give power away. Apparently, your leader sees something in you to help influence the congregation as a whole in the area of topics/communication. This is a great trust that he is giving you and i would suspect, he is only doing it because he is secure as a leader. He also wants what is best for the congregation, so, he probably knows to be great, you guys need contributors from all over. So, maximize the opportunity. Make the most of it, and other opportunities you are dreaming about will also come.

Jay said...

I'll be the first to admit that this is an area that I need to grow in as a second chair. I don't carry my pastors burdens the way that I should. It is rare for a pastor to come in a share his burdens with his staff and its hard for the staff to understand. Maybe they don't want to show weekness or maybe its because we don't ever ask them how we can pray for them or maybe we're too busy taking things to them. On those occasions that I've asked him how things are going, he has shared things with me that are burdens to him and I think its been good for him to be able to talk to someone. Maybe part of a second chairs role should be to intentionally ask how they can lift their First Chairs burdens.

What do you guys do to lift your pastors burdens?

DivaD said...

I agree with Clayton - excellent post. That particular passage of scripture is one that God spoke so clearly to us when our family came to this church. When we first heard the vision - which resonated with us... in the very depths of our spirits - we knew that we knew that God was bringing us here to be like Aaron and Hur and uphold the arms of our Pastor. Given what we consider to be a mandate, whatever area(s) we have served in, our priority has always been to support him. We have been involved in ministry for years and have seen pastors struggling to do what they feel God has led them to do, and having no support in that vision or calling. And we've seen pastors fail... the hope that is in them shrivel up and die.

It's been a difficult journey thus far... The church was new when we first came and is still portable, with lots of internal issues that have come from church transplants wanting to make our church like *they* want it to be, instead of like the vision that our pastor has. It's been difficult for him especially.

However, it's also been difficult because of the internal "tug-of-war" that happens inside of me when I think that I can see clearly a direction that would "get us out of this mess quickly", and I feel that he knows the correct end result, but hesitates to step out strongly. This is really where the rubber meets the road with the Aaron and Hur 'call'. Because those are the times that, inevitably, he is going to ask my opinion about what to do. There are so many times that, because of current situations or circumstances, I know that he is asking for nothing more than affirmation that he has support and that there is belief that he is leading well. And, there are other times when he is wanting honest, blunt, feedback about where I see 'gaps' in leadership because he knows that I will tell him what I really think and do so in a spirit of love. He trusts that I want what's best for him both as the leader of this church and as an individual, and that I want what's best for the church.

The conundrum at times is discerning which situation I'm in when being asked my opinion. I've missed it a few times! However, because my pastor has experienced loyalty, support, love, and truth from us in the past, grace is extended when I discern wrongly. (Thank God!)

At times, it can feel 'unfair' that *I've* got to be the strong one and be his encouragement during the tough times and criticism. There are days when I want to say "You're the pastor - YOU encourage me!" However, I'm always reminded that it is a specific, and difficult, calling to be Aaron and Hur to someone else - especially when you have a strong gifting for leadership yourself. And, as my pastor does encourage me quite frequently... God doesn't give a big assignment to small character.

For any second chair leader... God gave you the opportunity and the privilege of serving in this capacity because He trusts you. How incredible a thought is that?

Jay asked "What do you guys do to lift your pastors burdens?" A couple of things that I do specifically....
1. Send him an email every couple of weeks with specific scriptures and other things that I am praying for him.
2. Listen. Without comment a lot of times... listen.
3. When you've earned trust - speak the truth when asked. Don't beat around the bush or sugar coat things, but speak with absolute love and care for your leader. The catch is, speaking the truth is one of the things that helps build trust so that you can speak more truth with each other and build more trust...
4. Find out what his/her love language is. Seriously. My pastors top 2 are words and gifts. So - I encourage him with words a lot... a post-it note that says "I believe in you", or a card that says "I am learning so much from you", or an email that says "I'm with you". Also, quite frequently I go and purchase him a bottled Coke (he's a coke fanatic, and because we're a portable church we have a small office in a rented building without a kitchen) and put it in our mini-fridge. When he's frustrated, or having a long day, often he'll come out and distractedly peek in the fridge. Cokes work wonders for encouragement on those days. That's specific to him - but it's the little things that work best.
5. Be fiercely loyal. Your first responsibility, with an Aaron and Hur calling, is to support him - to hold up his arms. Don't allow others to tear him down in your presence. (NOT blindly loyal - excusing sin, abuse, etc. - but fiercely loyal recognizing that God has called this man to be the point leader at this time and you'll stand before God for how you supported him).

Those are some of the simplest things that help lift my pastors burdens. And ultimately, when I'm helping lift his, mine are lifted in the process as well.

Aaron and Hur... what a privilege!

harmonicadan said...

Tension is this area is good, because sometimes the “burden” of a Sr. leader is not fully formed. In fact, the larger the church the more likely the Sr. leader’s understanding is not as complete as it needs to be to shape appropriate responses. The reason a staff or team is formed is to use their collective gifts of the group to honor God and the mission of the church. Sr. leaders need others for discernment and clarification. They are not Moses – they don’t get verbal instructions from God. We are to function as the Body of Christ, each using the gifts entrusted to us to build the Kingdom. The best plans are formed with many spiritual gifts seeing the problem from several different perspectives. A study of Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development principles is helpful to see the importance of reflecting all of who God is in our decision making.

Good leadership creates discontent by communicating urgency that compels others to use their gifts to address the right problem at the right time. If a staff team following a leader doesn’t share his or her urgency, there is most likely a good reason or maybe many! Often Sr. leaders send mixed messages, change course too frequently or they don’t take the time necessary to fully understand the implications of what they are asking for. Have you ever experienced this when your Sr. leader comes back from a conference or reads an inspiring book?

If you struggle with adopting your Sr. leader’s burden others may struggle too – dooming the work to failure. Don’t dismiss this response as rebellion on your part. It could be your gifts at work, appropriately discerning and shaping the response of the church. Sr. leaders must take the time to bring his or her staff on board. Sr. leaders will not be successful in getting others to follow if they don't recognize the need for this step and follow some basic steps for visioning people. Aligning the burden with the mission and vision of the church, drawing staff into the burden by challenging them to use their gifts and creating the appropriate climate (time and resource allocation) for participation are all important steps in this process.

I support my Sr. leader best when I remind him of these things. He gets into all kinds of trouble when he marches ahead without considering them. Overtime he has learned it’s best to enlist the collective support of his leadership team to shape any initiative. Having just completed the 40 Days of Community, we have learned this catch-phrase – “We are better together”!

BurkeBlogger said...

I cannot tell you how helpful your book has been to me. I read it all months ago and it describes my situation perfectly. I thought I understood it - but some recent challenges drew me back to the book and I am so thankful it was there! I am a woman/unpaid/main lay leader/worship team leader/media person for a small but rapidly growing rural church. My first chair leader is an incredible pastor that I admire greatly and I consider it an honor to be able to serve as I do. But we couldn't be more different! Most of the time this is a real blessing and we have learned so much from each other. Right now I am really being challenged as I am drawn to some different ways of "doing" worship. Reading a book from Ginghamsburg the other night spoke to my heart so strongly I was nearly in tears with frustration. BUT....I returned to the third paradox....contentment/dreaming and it helped so much. I was able to give thanks for where I praise God for what He is already realize that what I see is not the total picture. I can still do the best possible work that I can do - in the role into which I have been placed. I can still dream about what the future may hold. But I also returned back to the question of what does my first chair need from me right now? How can I support his dreams and how can I learn to listen more, grow more, prepare more for what the future may hold. Your book gave me permission to feel the frustration - even express it (gently and with respect) to my first chair leader - but also to let go of it and to look with new eyes towards the work to which I have been called. Thanks -

Roger Patterson said...

Marie -- Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your struggle with us. We knew you were out there when we were writing the book and we trust that you will be able to find that contentment as you wait. Don't forget to be active and responsible (psalm 37) for this time as you wait and find contentment. For me, recognizing and expressing the frustration appropriately are some of the first steps toward liberty even when constrained by my first chair. I am so excited for you and the days ahead. You will learn so much and it will catalyze more of who you are for God's work. Listen to his leading as you wait and look forward with great anticipation.

As an aside, i want to invite you to listen to a message I gave to start the new year on the seasons of life and waiting on God. Much of the message comes from Psalm 37 which we highlight in the contentment-dreaming paradox. Here is the link, and the message is entitled, "Seasons of Life." I hope it adds value to you.

I will be praying for you today.


Clayton Bell said...


Glad to see we're getting some traffic on here like we talked about!

I was wondering if you could address this in a blog, or maybe just email me. Because of the "business" of church these days, in terms of the structure and the way it's run, could you address how to deal with your first chair as both a pastor and a boss, and what happens when they're good at one and maybe not as good as the other role?

Jay said...

What I've realized as an associate pastor is that so much falls on your shoulders. So many details, so many responsibilities, so many ministries, so many leaders, so many events etc...the list goes on and on. How do you balance the demands of the "Catch All" role? Because your hands are in so many pots and people demand so many things it always seems that the critism falls on me and very little encouragement. Its draining. Anyone else feel this? Have you discovered how to resolve it?