Today is day two of my interview with Bill Search, the senior pastor at Rolling Hills Church, a mega-church in El Dorado Hills, California. As I mentioned yesterday, Bill once served as the small groups point person at one of the most influential and well- respected churches in the country, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Bill is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. Conversations with him seldom remain on the surface and his levels of honesty and authenticity are off the scale. It is for these reasons that I was thrilled when Bill agreed to do this interview.
If I were you, I’d read each of Bill’s responses very slowly and take in every word. He’s giving the small group world information I’ve never seen before, information that will greatly aid you in your relationship with the senior pastor you serve alongside.
Rick: Bill, you and I both know that the relationship between a senior pastor and a small group pastor is vital to the health of the church and the spiritual maturation of the congregation. With that in mind...What characteristics are you looking for in someone when you hire a small groups pastor?
1. Deep, personal love for Jesus
2. Strong relational skills
3. Administrative competency.
I highly recommend The Seven Deadly Sins of a Small Group Ministry by Donahue and Robinson. They give more detail into the ideal groups pastor. That book is one of the bibles of groups life.
Rick: Do you have any expectations of that person's spouse? If so, what are the expectations or characteristics you're looking for?
Bill: I look for Elder/Deacon qualities in a person and their family. But you are hiring one person - so you must (legally and ethically) be careful about what you expect from the spouse. Karyn (my wife) is always supportive but she has her own ministry gifts she offers up to God.
Rick: Now that you've moved from being a small group pastor to the senior pastor position you have a much greater understanding of the life of a senior pastor. So...
Why are some senior pastors hesitant to be in a small group?
Bill: I never understood how vulnerable the senior pastor feels until I became one. I think many senior pastors are reluctant to join a group because they don't know how honest and open they can be. I have been in a small group for 15 years now and I know you don't have to tell everyone everything that is going on. I don't. But some pastors worry that they will be forced to be real.
Some pastors like to keep an image of "Senior Pastor" that can only be maintained if they keep a distance from people in the congregation. While not common, some men feel this and thus avoid intimacy.
And many senior pastors I know are intensely introverted and private. Quite frankly any smaller group environment is uncomfortable for them.
I simply respond to these with "try it and you'll see." You'll see it's not so intimate, not so private, not so scary. BTW, many people who AREN'T senior pastors have these same excuses for not joining a group. Ultimately, respect your senior pastor. You won't get him into a group by badgering him.
Rick: How would you describe a healthy relationship between a senior pastor and the small group pastor? That is, do they have to be "best friends" or "acquaintances" or "co-workers," etc... in order to work effectively together? What term would you use to describe the relationship then please explain why you chose to use that term.
Bill: I believe they need to be colleagues that mutually respect one another. Each is after the same thing (hopefully): to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. With shared vision and goals they should be partners in ministry who trust and support one another. I consider every senior pastor I served a friend and I consider every staff I oversee/oversaw as a friend. We are brothers and sisters in Christ so we should relate as friends.
Rick: Concerning how often a small group pastor should get a personal meeting with the senior pastor... what is realistic?
Bill: In short the bigger the church the less frequent the meeting. However, there are many ways to communicate so utilize those methods to the fullest. Rolling Hill is a church of over 2000 and my groups pastor, Bud, is the master of the two-minute meeting. He values my time and his is precious, too. So he isn't afraid to come to me in my office, over email, in the hall and ask, "Do you have two-minutes?" I don't think there is a formula for meeting frequency. Content should be king - so in seasons where there is big decisions and regular matters to discuss the meetings should occur with higher frequency than during down seasons. Most senior pastors' busy season is over the two big church holidays: Christmas and Easter. Give him space during that time to focus on global church matters.
Focus less on the formal meeting and more on the matters that need to be discussed. Your value as a staff member is not related to the frequency of your meeting with the senior pastor. Honestly, it can be the reverse. If the senior trusts you it just might be his time is reserved for the problem staff he's trying to help improve.
Rick: Why do senior pastors sometimes have to make a unilateral decision that greatly affects the small group pastor's ministry?
Bill: Senior pastors are charged with maintaining the overall vision and direction of the church. They can't afford to play a favorite with one ministry. I don't know a single church that is over-resourced; so we are always applying what we have to the priorities of the season. Sometimes that works in the favor of groups and sometimes it does not. As a senior pastor I try to "read" my church. If I hit one topic too often I'll lose the people. They might not leave but there many ways of leaving a church without giving up your seat. So I have to shift focus and purpose throughout the year.
That's true within a calendar but it's also true within the overall church. The economic downturn over the last several years has forced many churches to go bare-bones in staffing. Within the last year I have noted that many churches are once again acquiring quality groups staff and resourcing the groups departments. I've watched conferences grow in attendance and more books and studies emerge. But during tough times tough choices have to be made. I used to want to know everything the senior pastor knew about the ministry. Now that I'm a senior pastor I look back sentimentally at the era of joyful unawareness of the challenges facing the church.
Rick: How should the small group pastor respond when the senior pastor makes a decision of this type?
Bill: It's OK to ask why - but do it respectfully. Every senior pastor I know is trying to faithfully steward the vision God's given him. So if you attack the pastor (in his view) you are attacking God's vision. That's what is called a "no-win" scenario. So ask, "Can you help me understand that decision? I support you fully but it would help me lead if I knew what went into the decision - if it's OK for me to know." Pray, pray, pray for your senior pastor. I used to think being a small group pastor was the hardest job in the church and now I know being a pastor - any kind of pastor - is hard, draining work! So love your senior pastor even when you don't agree or don't understand.
Rick: Is there anything else you think is important for a small group pastor to understand about the role of the senior pastor or the relationship between the senior pastor and the small group pastor? If so, what would that be?
Bill: All senior pastors want their churches to succeed. They want you to succeed. So help them help you. If you feel they aren't for you it's probably paranoia. I am more busy now than I have ever been. I am thinking of Sunday's sermon, the next season, the next holiday, how to grow the church, what the church will be like in five years, what I want to do when I'm sixty. I'm not thinking bad thoughts about my staff. But when a senior gets stuck at 30,000 feet it can make staff feel unappreciated. Help us by encouraging us and offering us support. Trust me we get more emails and notes telling us we're wrong about something or we're not as good as someone else. Even pastors of very large churches can become impacted by negative attacks. So your supportive words help us experience the love of Christ - and as a result we return that love.
You May Also Want to Read...
Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Small Groups by Mark Howell
6 Statements Many Staff Members Would Like to Say to Their Senior Pastor
6 Statements Many Senior Pastors Would Like to Say to the Staff They Lead