by Dermot Cottuli – ACC State Conference 2012
I’ve had the privilege of serving 3 different senior pastors over my last 24 years of pastoral ministry. I’ve been an associate pastor in 3 different churches for 11 years and I’ve been a senior pastor of two churches for a total of 12 years. If you’re a mathematician you’ll realise that I’m missing a year from my equation. I have no idea where it went. One of the things that used to annoy me slightly as an associate pastor was what I perceived as “The Senior Pastors Club.” It was like you weren’t really a minister unless you were a senior pastor. Now that was probably more of a reflection of what was going on the inside of me than actual reality, but it used to bug me a bit when I was younger.
It was one of the reasons that I set just one goal during my initial term as State President here in Tassie – to see senior pastors bring at least one other team member with them when we gathered together for state functions. I wanted to affirm the role of the 2IC and the team member and also reinforce a value that team was imperative if we wanted to see our churches grow generationally year in, year out. I’m happy to say that for the most part, we have well and truly seen that become a reality in Tasmania.
Now I firmly believe that in God’s eyes we’re all of equal value in His plan and purpose for His church, but over the years, with painful experience, I’ve come to realise that not all positions and responsibilities are the same.
This morning I want to speak specifically about senior pastors and in doing so hopefully help team members see something that maybe you haven’t seen before.
If your church doesn’t have a healthy senior pastor then you won’t have a healthy church.
Acts 14:8-20 (NLT)
While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was sitting  and listening as Paul preached. Looking straight at him, Paul realized he had faith to be healed.  So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.
Now that’s a great day in Church!
 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!”  They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker.  Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles.  But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting,  “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings-just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.  In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways,  but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.”  But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.
But the mood of a crowd can change incredibly quickly – those who deify can also crucify.
 Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.
Now that was a bad day in Church.
How quickly the mood of the crowd changed – some well placed lies and they go from fawning over Paul to stoning him.
Now the question that I find myself asking at this point in the story is “Where was Barnabas when Paul was being stoned?” “Where was Luke who was writing this down or the others who were traveling with Paul?” They didn’t stone Barnabas, they stoned Paul. And they stoned him till they thought he was dead.
Still want to be a senior pastor?
According to Perry Noble there’s no role in the church that’s as misunderstood as that of the senior pastor. Politicians, parents and pastors all have the same struggle. The people they’re responsible for think they know how to do their job better than they do.
As a team member have you ever thought these thoughts when thinking about your senior pastor? “I do as much as he does”, “I carry as much of the load as him.” I have to confess, those thoughts crossed my mind at times as an assistant pastor in two of the churches I served in. I remember as a youth pastor in Brisbane turning up for work at 6am each Friday when I didn’t have to start work till 9 thinking that I was extremely dedicated. I worked Monday to Thursday as a school teacher and then Friday at the church office and then all day Saturday with our youth group. We were a set up / pack up church so I was at church at 7 am to help set up on Sunday and didn’t get home till after 9 pm after packing up from our evening service. From my perspective I worked much harder than my senior pastor who never turned up at the office before 9 and had Saturdays off with his family. He was never there to set up on Sunday mornings and would hang around talking whilst I ran around packing up. Then when I went on staff full-time it got even worse because my job entailed youth, pastoral care, connect groups and weekend services along with running a weekly night time bible college course that I had to not only teach, but write as well. I felt like I was running the church. To make things even more of a stretch for my attitude, I was only on 60% of his salary.
Now this is where we need to be very careful lest we find ourselves guilty of stoning our pastor along with the crowd. Picking up rocks ourselves and pegging them at him. When others are throwing stones at your senior pastor it’s easy to hide yours in amongst all of theirs.
Two years ago just after we’d moved from our two morning services to an afternoon service and crossed over the river into a leased building that we had to set up and pack up each Sunday, things were a little tough to put it mildly. I was sitting in my office praying one morning when the Holy Spirit gave me a picture of a tree being shaken and leaves falling off and I felt God encouraging us as a church that we were passing through a shaking time and everything was in his hand and not to worry. What made me laugh though was the fact that if you’ve ever seen a tree being shaken, the very tip of the tree get’s shaken the most. The closer you are to the bottom of the tree the less you feel the shaking. There’s a price that’s paid by the leader that no-one else experiences.
Who got stoned? It was Paul – it wasn’t Barnabas the associate pastor, it wasn’t the youth pastor or the worship pastor. In the garden what did they do once they arrested Jesus? They let the others go. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” were the prophetic words that Jesus quoted describing his arrest and his disciples response. Guess what? The devil’s well aware of that exact scripture.
Speaking of rocks, here are three rocks that can come out of nowhere and hit you for a six.
The Rock of Distraction – where’s your focus?
There are so many things that want our attention each week – having all your rosters completed, making sure the supplies for the weekend service have been ordered, meetings, phone calls, new signage, ministers fraternals, visits, correspondence, and on and on it goes. But our number one focus should always be Jesus. Yep you might have a perfectly run service each weekend but without Jesus it’s just another meeting. I think we’d all agree but what does it mean in practice?
This week at our office on Monday it was really busy. We had our Monday round of exec and staff meetings to get through as well as the final week leading into the State Conference to organise. Gus was flat out and so was Sarah. Do you know what I did? As I do every Monday at 10.30 after our exec team meeting I headed out of the office to the Gardens to pray and wait on the Holy Spirit. Were there jobs that needed to be done? Absolutely! Did it mean that I wasn’t around to do them, yes it did. Does that stress me? To this day it still does, however I’ve learnt that the very best thing that I can do for our church, for Gus and Sarah and the rest of my team, is to hear from God.
As the senior pastor that’s my responsibility. Is that because no-one else knows how to pray? Of course not. It’s because I’m accountable as Jesus’ under-shepherd for his Grace flock, more than anyone else on my team. There are things that only the senior leader can do that the others can’t because they don’t have the authority – one of those being setting the vision for the church. So you’d better make sure that you’re hearing from God. And you can only hear from God if you take the time to get away with Him. That will only happen if you remain diligently focused on Him, because the tyranny of the urgent will always yell louder than the important.
If you lose your focus on Jesus you lose your mandate, your authority, and your anointing. And eventually you’ll lose your church.
The Rock of Deception
“I work 75 hours a week, cause I’m super pastor.” – no, you’re stupid – the bible calls those who will not work lazy. The bible calls those who will not rest, disobedient.
“My family will be fine if I’m putting Jesus first.” That’s true but too often we end up serving our ego or the expectations of others and fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing it for Jesus and when that happens it’s our family who suffers. Don’t use ministry as an escape from a troubled marriage. On your day off do you spend time with your spouse? Your kids? Husbands love your wives like Jesus loves His church. If you don’t love your wife you shouldn’t be leading your church. You love your wife, let Jesus love His church.
“If it wasn’t for me, this place would fall apart.” It’s the theme song of workaholics. As a very wise man once told me, “The graveyard is full of indispensable people.” It’s easy in a misguided kinda way, to feel like this when things are going bad because we feel responsible. Don’t let your sense of responsibility morph into a Messiah complex.
The Rock of Discouragement
When you’re done the normal people go home.
“Pastor don’t take this personally . . . .” Criticism hurts. Criticism implies judgement. God doesn’t criticise, He corrects, huge difference. The emotional pain of criticism can sideline us – we’re all susceptible to it.
Are you letting disgruntled people determine how you lead? Out of any 100 people in a church we’ll have at least 6 of them at any given time who won’t be happy with the way things are regardless of how perfectly you lead. Do you lead them or the 94 others who are with you? The ones you focus on will be the ones you lead. Human nature automatically focuses on the critic. We’re not called to lead the critic, we’re called to lead the faithful. It takes great discipline of your mind and regular waiting on God to deal with the residue of criticism in our lives.
Listen to your coaches not your critics. Are you going to listen to the armchair critic or the coach of your team? Or those who are playing the game with you? Maintaining your emotional integrity during the tough times is a topic all of its own but let me say this – how you feel is more powerful than how you think so it’s imperative that you train yourself to take captive every thought that exalts itself above the knowledge of Jesus in your thinking. It’s why it’s called the fight of faith. And it won’t be over till you’re dead. At least that was the Apostle Paul’s experience. “I have finished the fight . . .” When did he say that? Just before he got beheaded.
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.
 But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town.
We need to be leaders that others want to rally around
- Lead with integrity and authenticity – follow through even if it hurts, be dependable in public and vulnerable in private. Be true to yourself and don’t try to be someone else.
- Love Jesus openly – let it be seen on your face, in your words, by your actions. People will forgive your little idiosyncrasies if they see you genuinely love Jesus.
- Be sexually pure
- Energy – Andy Stanley says that one of the top 5 pieces of leadership advice he’s ever received was from Bill Hybels “The best thing you can bring to your team is your energy.”
- Continue to improve – let your progress be seen by all
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.  But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town.
When your team gathers around their leader it’s amazing what he or she is able to accomplish. Paul got up and went back into the town that had just stoned him a few hours before.