Treatment Of Subordinate Staff Members:
Principles Of Spiritual Leadership From The Salutations Of Paul
Sam1 sat staring into his coffee cup. The look on his face told me his ministry experience had proven painful. His hurt was caused by a promising youth pastorate that had gone sour. At first, not even a 60- or 70-hour workweek could dampen his enthusiasm. He could not believe he was doing the work of the ministry and was getting paid for it. Although his primary responsibility was youth ministry, the senior pastor gradually shifted more and more responsibility onto his shoulders. He dove into each new task with joyful diligence. Sam especially enjoyed the few times he preached on Sunday nights when the pastor was on ministry engagements outside the church. The people seemed to enjoy his preaching and were most affirming.
After a year Sam sensed coldness and stiffness in his conversations with the senior pastor. The senior pastor had become critical of the smallest details in Sam’s ministry performance. Sam intensified his efforts to please the pastor, but to no avail. After less than 2 years, the pastor informed Sam that due to staff restructuring and budgetary constraints, he was being let go. The inflection of his words betrayed the dubious nature of those reasons. With watery eyes, Sam left the pastor’s office.
I cannot count how often I have heard similar stories during my 20 years of college and seminary teaching. Sam’s story is obviously one-sided. However, it raises the serious problem of pastor-staff relations and their incredibly complex dynamics.
A few years ago I began studying the principles of spiritual leadership in the New Testament and was drawn to the example and writings of Paul. In particular, my interest first landed on Paul’s treatment of his fellow workers. The launching pad for my study came from a most unlikely portion of Scripture — the closing salutations in Romans.
Oddly, in Romans, Paul is writing to a church he had neither founded nor visited. In Romans 16:1–16, however, he greets or mentions 27 individuals by name. It is likely Paul had met these people in his missionary travels, and they had moved to Rome. Some were probably converts whom he had personally discipled and trained for ministry. As apostle, Paul was a spiritual leader to the churches he founded and the people he trained. Upon closer scrutiny, this passage provides insight into Paul’s treatment of and relationship with subordinates — believers who were not his apostolic peers.
Paul’s Use Of Commendation And Acknowledgment
Paul was quick to commend and free with his praise. Look how often this is the case. Phoebe has been a helper or “servant”2 not only to Paul, but also to many in the church (Romans 16:2).3 Priscilla and Aquila “risked their own necks” for Paul (Romans 16:3,4). Tryphaena and Tryphosa are called “workers in the Lord” (Romans 16:12). Mary was singled out as a hard worker (Romans 16:6), as was Persis (Romans 16:12). Paul, it seems, goes out of his way to affirm his subordinates and acknowledge their praiseworthy contributions.4
Paul Put The Emphasis On Equality
Paul often regarded his subordinates as equals. He did this by attaching the Greek preposition sun (together with) to a noun. They were “fellow workers” in Christ (Romans 16:3,9, compare 21). Andronicus and Julius were “fellow prisoners” with Paul for the cause of the gospel (Romans 16:7). What we observe here is the perspective Paul retained throughout his writings. Titus is Paul’s “partner” (koinonos, meaning sharer or partaker) in the work of the gospel (2 Corinthians 8:23). Epaphroditus was not only Paul’s “brother” but a “fellow worker and fellow soldier” with Paul (Philippians 2:25). While Timothy was Paul’s spiritual “child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) and his “beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2), Paul nevertheless regarded him as an equal and a “fellow worker in the gospel of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 3:2).
Careful scrutiny of Paul’s epistles yields a remarkable discovery. Paul did notregard his subordinates as subordinates. They were colaborers or fellow servants of the Lord. Paul did not emphasize his apostolic calling, position, or authority when relating to those he served5 as an apostle. Paul understood his authority as an apostle, but he did not mention it except when he needed to deal with churches or groups that were opposing or threatening the work of the Lord.6 Paul was even reluctant to use his apostolic authority for purposes of discipline. Even when rebuking the troublesome Corinthians7 Paul reminded them: “For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I neednot use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
Paul Knew His Subordinates
The salutations of Romans 16 clearly indicate that Paul knew these people personally. To recall an old saying, “There is no sweeter sound to a man’s ear than the sound of his own name.” Paul not only called them by name, but many were also intimate acquaintances. Paul could call Epaenetus, Ampliatus, and Persis “my beloved”8 (Romans 16:5,8,12). He also knew them well enough to commend them individually.
Elsewhere Paul could say that no one bore the same spirit of concern for the Philippians like Timothy (Philippians 2:20). Tychicus was called a “beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:21). He noted the constant prayer life of Epaphras (Colossians 4:12) and that Titus was “earnest” (2 Corinthians 8:17), “tested and found diligent in many things” (2 Corinthians 8:22). Paul had witnessed their faithful service and was able to tailor his commendations to highlight their strengths and contributions to the work of the Lord.
Principles Of Spiritual Leadership
The above analysis yields no new ground-breaking theology, only some practical counsel regarding the treatment of subordinate staff members drawn from Pauline principles of spiritual leadership — principles often lost sight of and in need of remembrance.
The wise spiritual leader nurtures his subordinates and works to build close relationships with them
Leading is most effective when it is done in a relationship of love and trust. While Paul acknowledged his right to use his apostolic authority to exhort the Thessalonians, he preferred to remind them of his parental love and concern for them as his spiritual children (1 Thessalonians 2:7,8; compare 1 Corinthians 4:15). The senior pastor is called to lead, but if he does not personally know the people his leadership will be impaired. Pauline leadership requires a deep commitment to relationship building and personal mentoring.
The wise spiritual leader affirms and publicly commends his subordinates
Public commendation and personal affirmation that is sincerely given9 promotes the good will, edification, and motivation of subordinate staff members. It not only builds the confidence of subordinates, it also helps them build credibility with the congregation. In addition, public commendation communicates an important value to the church — members ofthe Body are needed and appreciated within the Body for their gifts to the Body.
The wise spiritual leader works to promote a team concept of leadership that emphasizes equality among team members
Paul’s perspective of spiritual authority and his perspective of the church as the body of Christ shaped his understanding of spiritual leadership. Paul’s perception of spiritual authority reminds one of Jesus’ teachings that authority in the Kingdom was given for the purpose of serving others (Mark 10:42–45). Great responsibility requires greater authority. Authority does not derive from the office, but from the functional responsibility entrusted to the office.
Paul’s perspective on the church as the body of Christ was developed from his own teachings on the organic unity and interdependence of members within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). God’s design makes every member of the Body important and necessary to the overall purpose and function of the Body. Thus, there is no place for attitudes of inferiority or superiority (1 Corinthians 12:15–25). This explains why Paul takes issue with the Corinthian exaltation of apostolic leaders such as himself, Apollos, and Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4–6,22; 4:6). Such distinctions and attempts to elevate one person above another do not take into account that members may differ in function, but each person has a singular purpose and is God’s fellow worker toward that end (1 Corinthians 3:8,9).
An inherent dialectic exists between authoritarian structures and the egalitarian design of the Body that Paul teaches. Hierarchy left untended undermines collegiality. Ecclesiastical structure or polity that communicates a hierarchy of status, position, and authority works against building a ministry team of equal, colaborers in Christ. Those who have inherited that structure may want to consider altering or modifying it by implementing policies, procedures, and practices that mitigate the tensions of hierarchy and promote a cooperative team spirit and collegiality.
These are noteworthy principles of spiritual leadership extracted from the apostle Paul. Exactly how they are implemented is best left for pastoral practitioners to decide. Nevertheless, for those who seek to respond to the instruction of Scripture, they are principles that should not be ignored.
- This ministry situation is based on a true story. Names and details have been changed to protect the people involved.
- The Greek word used is diakonon. Although it can have the meaning of servant or minister, it can also refer to a deacon in the church. Paul uses it in this sense five times: Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12,13.
- Scriptures are NASB.
- This is a common practice of Paul as his epistles amply attest. For examples, see 2 Corinthians 8:16–23 (Titus); Philippians 2:19–21 (Timothy); Philippians 2:25 (Epaphroditus); Ephesians 6:21 (Tychicus); Colossians 4:9 (Onesimus); Colossians 4:10 (Aristarchus); Colossians 4:12 (Epaphras); and Colossians 4:14 (Luke).
- Paul has imbibed the spirit of Kingdom greatness taught by the Lord himself. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and theirgreat men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28).
- See 1 Corinthians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 4:1; Titus 2:15.
- See 2 Corinthians 2:3,4,9; 7:12. This so-called “tearful letter” is not 1 Corinthians, but one of the “missing” epistles of Paul written to Corinth. See also 1 Corinthians 5:9. Paul would much rather appeal to them as a spiritual father or parent (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:7,8).
- Another legitimate rendering could be “beloved of (or ‘by’) me.”
- Some senior pastors gushingly praise staff and church members in a way that is out of proportion with reality. When that occurs, the praise appears insincere and loses credibility and its positive effect. Note that Paul in his salutations mentions several people without comment or commendation (Romans 16:15,16; compare Demas in Colossians 4:17). Paul does not feel compelled to praise everyone, only those he knows well enough to truthfully praise or commend.