The phone call just ended. It was a wonderful hour spent talking with the Lead Pastor of a thriving metropolitan church. His next few days included a sermon to prepare, a funeral, the residual effects of acquiring a building, dozens of decisions for the church, guarding his heart as someone who had been sinned against, tending to his growing family and, well . . . you get the point.
This dude was spent and being spent.
“Who cares for your soul?” I asked. He spoke lovingly of his elders, but honestly recognized that none of them, himself included, had been equipped to care for each other. Each elder had been trained within a now-defunct megachurch that emphasized productivity over people and numerical growth over personal care.
It’s a story I hear all too often in my travels. Those who are called to care receive little of it themselves. But surprisingly, and by the grace of God, it was not my experience as a Lead Pastor (which, back in the day, was called a “senior pastor”).
There’s a man named Mark Prater who now leads a network called Sovereign Grace Churches. For many years, Mark was the Executive Pastor of the church where I served as Lead Pastor. And this guy knew how to care for the soul of his Lead Pastor.
Here are some things I learned from being the object of his care:
Care Has Legs
Lead Pastors live busy, frenetic lives. That’s not a critique – it’s actually necessary to fulfill the biblical job description among people who themselves are busy, mobile, and digitally connected. But for meaningful care to hit that kind of moving target, it needs initiative. Initiative gives care legs to run on.
Well aimed initiative toward a Lead or Campus Pastor means those caring for him know his burdens. No rocket science here – you can’t help carry a burden you don’t know exists. Taking initiative is what connects your desire to serve with his need for care. Proverb 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” This means if you want to know what’s swimming in the deep water of your Lead Pastor’s heart, you’ve got to take initiative to drop the bucket.
Mark knew how to drop the bucket. Questions like, “How is your soul? Where is the gospel real to you right now? How is Kimm doing? Where are you being tempted?” were often posed to me during his spontaneous visits to my office. A constant stream of care flowing from a heart of loving initiative.
Initiative includes prayer. Elders, do you pray for your Lead or Campus Pastor? If so, are your prayers informed by his actual struggles because you’ve dropped the bucket and taken the initiative to ask? Mark prayed for me, often sending passages that he thought might encourage me or focus my own meditation. Every text became a reminder that I was not alone; that there was someone who understood the deep waters and was helping me stay afloat.
Care Has Teeth
Lead Pastors live in a tension between two huge priorities: the home and the church. John Piper calls it “pastoral polygamy” saying, “Now this is something to wonder at. Two deep commitments of my life – each wanting more of my time, more of my love, more of my energy, and more of my creativity – but each sticking up for the other and pleading the cause of the other and caring about the other.” Now a healthy pastor like Piper understands the priority of his marriage, but he is using the analogy of polygamy to identify a reality that anyone caring for a lead guy must understand.
Elders, your Lead or Campus Pastor needs your help in protecting his priorities. Sabbath, date nights, sufficient vacation time, exercise, special times with his kids – all of it becomes your business if you’re serious about caring for the lead pastor. You know these are priorities for him because he preaches on it regularly. But sometimes the needs of the church distract him from applying it as well as he preaches it. No worries, God gave him YOU – the elders around him – to serve his soul by advocating for his family. And if he is the rare leader who struggles with laziness, maybe you need to advocate for the church too!
Elders, make no mistake, the best care is local care. If a leader is trying to define his accountability outside of the church, his care will probably lack teeth. It’s accountability-lite – more the appearance of accountability than the experience of it. Elders, who’s been appointed to know the state of the Lead Pastor’s marriage? Who ensures he’s getting time off and not sliding into his mental office on his Sabbath? Who’s looks into whether he’s “getting real” in his small group? Who’s asking about Internet use or struggles with parenting? Who represents the elders in graciously saying, “Bullcrap!” if the man leading your congregation is deceiving himself?
Who gives his care teeth?
Every eldership should know exactly who provides the practical care and accountability for the Lead or Campus Pastor, and live confident that said people are doing their job well.
Care Means Open Hands
Unless your church is confused or unhealthy, your Lead Pastor is in his role because he is uniquely gifted in ways that really help the church. It probably has something to do with preaching, leadership, and pastoring folks. Elders, your job is to make sure he is dedicating himself to those things. This won’t happen unless you open your hands to release him.
Releasing someone is an attitude before it’s an action. It means you see your role as making him effective. It’s what happens when elders, “…count others more significant than [them]selves,” (Phil. 2:3) and, “…look not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). When teams embrace the gospel, those who are co-equal subordinate themselves to another for the good of the mission.
Mark was exceptional at this. He would often ask me what he could take off my plate. He seemed particularly pleased when he could help me to be more strategic and productive. To Mark, his role was not a stepping stone. It was the place where he was called to make others a success.
Elders, you don’t need to be Mark Prater to make a difference in the life of your Lead or Campus Pastor. You have legs, teeth, and hands enough to get started.
So get started. I think you’ll find that even little attempts can have a big impact.