Special Problems of Assistant Leaders

Persons serving in a subordinate leadership position do have special problems. Staff members such as educators, musicians, and age group workers can find themselves with distinctive kinds of problems that senior pastors do not have.

These are problems that are unique to the subordinate staff position.

1. The Leader. One of the basic problems of an assistant leader is the leader who he assists. Sometimes this is a major problem. The leader who seems to be glory hungry and takes all the praise for work well done and never gives credit to subordinates is hard to work for. The leader who is insecure and is constantly afraid that subordinates are attempting to undermine him is a problem to work for. The leader who is not as well educated, or as experienced, or even as old as the subordinate staff can be difficult to work for.

2. The Job. A misunderstanding about the nature of the job is also a major problem for an assistant. An assistant needs to know exactly what he is expected to do. His understanding of his responsibility needs to be the same as that of his supervisor and of others on the team. Many times, if a pastor is asked about the youth pastor and how he is doing his job, one can get very different impressions. The pastor might have been looking for someone to wash his car and pick up his kids after school, while the youth pastor is expecting to be an extension of the pastor.

Closely related to this is the problem of the assistant who doesn’t understand what the limits of his authority really are. How much “weight” does his voice carry? What does he need to ask permission about? These types of questions need to be answered where all can hear.

3. No advancement probable. An assistant can also have a problem when he is in a situation that ceases to be a challenge and where there is no chance for advancement in sight. A growing assistant leader in a stagnant situation can become very frustrated.

4. Morale. The assistant leader who feels that he is not being treated fairly has a real problem. Salary considerations can be a special problem about fair treatment.

5. Insecurity. The assistant leader who doesn’t feel secure can be a problem and cause problems. He is trying to justify his position and may become a “boot-licker.”

Advice to assistant leaders

1. Identify and adjust to your supervisor’s leadership style. His style may be autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire. He may give orders, give suggestions, or simply let you do what you think best. He may have a formal weekly staff meeting, or never meet with staff. If at all possible, determine his leadership style before accepting a subordinate position, and be sure you can work under that style.

2. Recognize and accept the goals of the church and pastor. A pastor and a church have goals, priorities of ministry, and a vision. The assistant must buy into these. Also the goals of any assistant must fit under the bigger picture of the total organization.

3. Never surprise your pastor with your plans or programs. Keep him informed of progress and plans. Parents of young people or lay leaders in program organizations should never ask him about anything that you have announced, and he not know something about it. Keep him informed of what is going on in the church he is leading.

4. Remember you are a subordinate. Subordinate does not mean inferior. It is a way of relating. It is a way of establishing a chain of command in an organization. The pastor can give orders, but the subordinate can only offer suggestions.

5. Demonstrate personal and professional integrity and honesty.

6. Be dependable and meet deadlines.

7. Be loyal or leave.

Special Problems of Women Leaders

What does the Bible teach about women in leadership? This is a serious question for today. Much discussion is going on in the church world. Two extremes have developed. Some say that women should serve as pastors. Others say that women should be quiet and do nothing.

General Bible teachings on women

The Bible does teach that the woman is to be in a submissive and subordinate role to the man. That does not mean she is inferior to the male. The pastor is to be subordinate and submissive to Christ. The church is to be the same to the pastor, a child is to be the same to his parents, and a citizen is to be the same to the government. There are specific regulations set forth for the woman’s position in the home and in the public worship services of the church.

The Bible gives many examples of outstanding Christian women: Phebe and eight others in Romans 16; Dorcas in Acts 9:36; Lydia in Acts 16:14; and Pricilla in Acts 18. It is obvious they played an important part in the early church in teaching (Titus 2:4–5), personal instruction (Acts 18:26), giving testimony (John 4:28–29), and in hospitality (Acts 12:12).

The Bible also places restrictions on a woman teaching. A woman is not to teach the Bible or theology to a man. This does not prohibit her from teaching other subjects such as education, history, music, language, etc. This does not prohibit her from teaching children; in fact both parents are to teach children. This also does not prevent her from teaching other women; in fact, she is even commanded in the Bible to do so.

Most fundamentalists today prefer the position that women are not to teach the Bible to men.  However some hold to the idea that women may teach men if the men come voluntarily and it is not in the general assembly.

“Usurp authority”

The major thing to be addressed here is not the role of women, in general, nor is it the place of women teachers. The major problem to be treated here is the role of women in church leadership. The basic Scripture passage to deal with is 1 Timothy 2:12 which says, in the King James Version, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The two words “usurp authority” will provide the major problem in the leadership role of women in the church. What does “usurp authority” mean?

These two words are from a single Greek word, authentein. This is the only place the word is used in the New Testament. There is very little agreement on what the word means. Translators have tried various concepts to make the meaning of that word clear:
New International Version and Revised Standard Version “have authority”
New English Bible “nor must women domineer over men”
Living Bible “never let women…lord it over (men)”
Williams “married women not permitted to domineer over husband”

Incorrect teachings

Various sources can be used to support different meanings of the word, or teachings about it, which appear to be a twisting of the intended meaning.

1. This teaching is simply something that belongs in the past.  Times have changed and this is no longer a valid concept any longer as it was a cultural one and not a theological one.  This approach lumps the issue in with others such as the length of women’s hair, wearing jewelry, and wearing head coverings.

2. Some hold that Paul’s teaching is a contradiction of the teaching of Jesus.  Because Jesus was greater, Paul’s teaching should be disregarded.  This calls into question all of scripture by saying that there are contradictions or inaccuracies in it.  Likewise it strikes at the heart of the scriptures being inspired by God.  God would not inspire Paul to write something that was in contradiction to what Jesus taught.

3. This teaching is aimed only at married women.  The word that is translated as man can also be translated husband.  This argument says that a married woman should not have authority over her husband and does not speak to the issue of the church at all.

4.  Finally, some teach that this excludes women from working in any ministry of the church that involves men.  Such a view forces women into the nursery and children’s departments.  While many women do great work in these areas they should not be relegated to just these areas as some women do have gifts of leadership that must be put to use within the church and not just one small area.


1. The woman should not act in a position of authority over a man as either a teacher of biblical material, or as one who settles doctrinal disputes.

2. The woman should not use an autocratic or dictatorial style of leadership, especially where men are involved. This does not mean she is not to lead, but rather that she should use a more democratic or laissez-faire style of leadership.

3. A woman should not act on her own authority in a church leadership position. This is probably the most important teaching for fundamentalists today. Several of the commentaries picked up this concept, and defined “usurp authority” in terms of a self-actor, self-doer, or an independent actor, or one acting on his own authority. No woman today who serves under the overseer concept of pastoral authority will be able to act as an independent agent. She will always be under the pastor’s authority. The Scripture is teaching that they should never act on their own, but always to recognize their position as being under the authority of the senior pastor, and any others he designates. It does not teach that a woman should never lead, just that she should lead under authority. This does indirectly teach that a woman should not be a senior pastor, but stronger evidence against this teaching can be found in other places in the Scripture.

Special circumstances

Ryrie, in his book Role of Women in the Church, p. 80, presents one aspect that needs to be considered in some situations, especially foreign missions. He reminds us we do not live in an ideal world. Many times there are not qualified men available to do the work. He says it is better to do the work with qualified women than to sit back and do nothing. However, he does say that in those situations, women should not continue after qualified men are available.

General Hazards of Leaders

Being the leader is not an easy job.  While some may mistakenly think that a pastor only works one day a week leading the church is a time consuming job that places great amounts of stress on the pastor and his family.  Here are some problems that all church leaders face.

Loneliness or isolation

The leader must be ahead of the group, and this distance produces tension. The leader must remain separated from the group to continue as the leader. Isolation generates resentment; sometimes this is called “positional resentment.” He cannot be “one of the gang.” The leader must identify with the group, and not become a part of it. This delicate balance must be maintained.  There are biblical examples for this loneliness. Christ felt it––even the 12 did not feel with him. Elijah felt it––“Only I am left,” he said. Moses felt this––he had to stand against the crowd, alone.

A pastor will really feel this. He cannot afford to form real social friendships within his church membership. He must maintain some distance with his staff. The other pastors in the same town usually are a poor choice of a close friend. He really needs to establish a relationship with Christ, with his wife, and maybe a seminary friend to help over the rough spots.


There is so much to be done that it will be impossible to do it all. Leaders have some areas of work they enjoy more and will have to be careful or else they will spend so much time in those that other areas are neglected. Pastors must spend time in preaching, administering, pastoral ministering, soul winning, counseling, and other duties. A balance should be maintained, but personal preferences are a problem. Staff members will have similar problems, especially the “combination man.”

To maintain a balance, the leader must determine his objectives, rank them in order of priority, and schedule his time to reflect the priority assigned to each objective. It is also important to see that each program of the church is working toward the accomplishment of the objectives of the church: all sub-goals should blend into the major goals. Also, the advancement of all programs should be somewhat equal. When one part gets ahead of other parts, you can expect problems. Maintain a constant program of evaluation.

Work or long hours

The leader, especially a pastor or church worker, must expect to spend many long hours in his job. They are on call 24 hours each day, and never get caught up. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount to be willing to go the second mile. A leader in our society today puts in 8 hours a day for survival; when he goes past that he is making an investment in his future. You have to give up something to go up in this world, and the higher up you go, the more you must give up.  Priorities must constantly be evaluated and followed. A major priority must remain the church worker’s family and time must be spent with them. Every minute needs to be squeezed to try to get 70 seconds from it. The Bible says, “Redeem the time.” Try to save every minute. The leader should delegate as much of his work as possible.


While the leader is out front ahead of the group, and especially if he is doing something, some of those in the ranks behind him will find fault, criticize him, and oppose him. There is probably no way to avoid criticism. The saying goes, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.” Opposition will come from outside (persecution in Acts 4) and inside (problems in Acts 5). Many will misunderstand the leader’s actions and motives. They will say that his desire for church growth is a personal ego trip for his own betterment.

The leader should expect opposition. He shouldn’t be surprised, but, in a sense, be pleased when it comes. Satan has no need to cause opposition against someone who is doing nothing to bother him.  When you are going forward, you will make waves. One should avoid opposition where possible, and be a lover and not a fighter; however, when biblical convictions call for a stand, the good leader will stand.

Disappointment and discouragement

Disappointment affects many church workers, and wipes some of them almost completely out. A program fails to be accepted, and the pastor is ready to quit. The attendance does not increase as fast as he had hoped, or as fast as some other church, and he becomes discouraged. Problems develop in the church and the pastor becomes discouraged. A pastor may be disappointed in himself, in his staff, and in his lay leaders and become discouraged.

Having unrealistic goals and expectations can bring on disappointment. Goals should be challenging, but attainable. Goals that are unattainable should be revised, instead of becoming a cause for disappointment. Goals must have action plans or strategies if they are to be achieved. Good planning will help prevent discouragement.

Good leaders are positive-minded. Paul said to be content in whatever state you are in. He also said to be thankful for all things. If a leader ever feels disappointment or discouragement creeping into his life, he should go to the closet, close the door, and pray until he and God have the matter under control.


Success can be a problem or a hazard. The leader who succeeds too rapidly or easily may become content with too little. He may be impatient with others who have to work harder for success. He may become too filled with self for God to be able to use; adapting an attitude of “look what I have done.” He may begin to take things easy and abandon the conduct that has won success in favor of less demanding and efficient methods––tend to forget all the prayer, visitation, promotion, and preparation that caused growth. A tragedy of our day is the large number of “successful” church workers who have failed and lost their testimony and/or ministry. They seemed to begin to think they could do no wrong, or anything was all right for them.  History has repeatedly shown how men rise from poverty to riches. Many times the fame and success that are achieved early are lost. Rarely does a child from a self-made father have the drive to be successful.

Success will be a problem if it is too easy, or if the next step seems too big, or if the leader sees no new horizons, no new worlds to conquer. Alexander the Great actually cried because he knew of no more countries to conquer.

The successful church worker must constantly be aware of God’s role in the scheme of things. God deserves, and should receive, the praise and glory for what He accomplishes through our lives. A church leader needs a “divine discontent” always in his life. There needs to be a peace, satisfaction, and contentment from being in the right place, but never a feeling of “I have arrived,” or “we have it made.” There will always be lost people to reach and saved people to help and train. The church leader needs to avoid surrounding himself with “yes” men. They will lull him into complacency. “Hardheaded,” challenging associates will make a leader prove every idea and stay strong. It will further help the leader to overcome the problem of success to recognize and acknowledge the part the associates play in his success––it is a team effort.  Satan is a special problem for the successful Christian leader. He may not know all pastors, but he knows the successful ones, and works to defeat them.


Women may be the number one preacher-killer. Counseling is probably the number one preacher-killing activity. Secretaries are also a big problem. A mistake here will probably cost a man his ministry. It is hard to make a comeback. Women staff members don’t seem to have the same problem here.

Be extremely careful in any private situation involving a member of the opposite sex. Think about the difference in the stories of David and Joseph. “Avoid the appearance of evil.” Never go inside a house where a woman is alone without someone with you. Don’t ride around with a woman alone in your car. Be extremely careful where your secretary is involved. A glass window in the office door is a good protective devise.


Preachers, plumbers, and painters are considered the worst credit risks, and that is terrible. So many preachers get to owing everybody in town, and even leave town owing people money. Many say that preachers can’t be trusted with credit. Many reputations are hurt here. When looking for a staff member, a credit check is a good investment. Many preachers also leave ministries because of financial conditions they let themselves get into because of a desire for things.

The successful Christian leaders will live on what God gives him and not on what he thinks he deserves. He must watch credit buying. Credit is dangerous for anyone, but it can be deadly for a preacher. He should be careful to set a good example, not only in prayer and soul winning, but in money management. He must watch his priorities on money and things.