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In Search of Timothy: Traits of Great Supportive Ministers
By Tony Cooke
God the Father and Jesus are perfect in every way. Yet, both encountered problems in their leadership. Were their problems the result of poor leadership or poor follower-ship? The reality: Even great leaders cannot achieve optimum results without good follower-ship.
When Leaders Lack Support
Pastors often feel pressure because they do not have enough help. This problem is not new. Moses complained to the Lord: “I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me” (Numbers 11:14).1
Paul was a great leader, but he did not always have the help he needed. Writing to Timothy, he said, “For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:20,21).
Even great leaders cannot produce great followers without cooperation. Had it been solely up to Paul, he would have generated dozens of Timothys. Many leaders have compelling assignments from God, but they struggle because potential helpers are consumed with seeking their own and will not help carry the leader’s vision.
No One Else Like Timothy
Paul needed a representative — someone to reflect his heart. A hireling would not meet the need. This person must genuinely care for and serve the best interests of others. Paul had only one person available and capable of doing this — Timothy.
Paul described Timothy as “like-minded,” a word meaning equal soul. Timothy knew and shared Paul’s heart, values, priorities, purpose, convictions, and attitudes. Timothy was not self-promoting or self-willed. He had no personal agenda; this is what made him so valuable to the apostle Paul. He wanted to serve God by helping Paul. How tragic that Timothy’s attitude was an exception when it should have been the norm.
God is raising up a great company of Timothys today to surround and help senior pastors in Kingdom work. We all recognize that God calls some people to supportive roles just as He calls others to top-level leadership roles.
Learning To Be Like Timothy
When I was in Bible school, I had certain aspirations concerning how God would use me in future ministry. Instead of placing me in a high-visibility position, such as pulpit ministry, the Lord wisely placed me where I could grow in character and learn the significance of serving. Working as a janitor in a church helped me identify several issues: I had immaturities and pride that needed to be dealt with; and, I needed to cultivate a servant’s heart.
There were times when my attitude was wrong, and three times the Lord graciously spoke vital words of correction to me. Those words helped me form core values and shaped my view of supportive ministry.
The first time the Lord corrected me, He said, I want you to treat this job as though it were your ultimate calling and as though it were the most important thing you could ever do for Me.
Another time the Lord challenged me, saying, If you were the pastor, what kind of janitor would you want working for you? It was easy to make a mental list: As a senior pastor I would have high expectations of those working for me. Then I sensed the Spirit say, You be that janitor.
Another time when I let my attitude slip, I was doing my job externally, but I was grumbling internally. I remember standing in one of the restrooms cleaning the mirror when the Holy Spirit spoke to me, Clean this restroom as though Jesus himself were the next person coming in here. Suddenly, I realized I had not been doing my work as unto the Lord.
The Traits of Great Supportive Ministers
Later, when I became an assistant pastor, I repeatedly read Paul’s letters to Timothy. I noticed that Paul told Timothy to bring Mark with him, because Mark would be profitable to him for the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). That struck a chord with me, and became the basis for a prayer I often prayed: “Lord, make me profitable — beneficial and useful — to the man of God for whom I work.” This should be the heart’s desire of every staff member and volunteer in every church.
What are the characteristics of a profitable assistant? While godly character, competence, intelligence, longevity, and many other qualities are important, 10 essential traits are found in long-term supportive ministers who thrive and are effective in their work.
Great supportive ministers are loyal
An elderly lady I was visiting at the hospital said, “Brother Cooke, I want to thank you for coming to see me. The senior pastor hasn’t been by to see me.” A critical and cutting tone of voice revealed her offense toward the senior pastor.
I could have exploited that situation to promote myself. I could have said, “Well, I’m here because I have such a love for the people.” But it is never right for a staff member to make himself look good at his pastor’s expense.
One of your jobs in supportive ministry is to represent your pastor in a favorable light, especially when others make unfair criticisms. I said: “I am glad to be here, but I came because the senior pastor asked me to visit you. God has given our pastor the wisdom to know he cannot be everywhere at once, and that is why he selected people like me to be part of his staff. He asked me to stop by and check on you because he wants to know how you are doing. I am here on his behalf, as an extension of him, because he cares about you.”
Your job as a staff member is not to promote your own popularity, to build your own following within the church, or to make yourself look good by making someone else look bad. As you carry out your assignment, be sure to promote the pastor and encourage people to follow his leadership. Connect people to the pastor and the church, not merely to yourself.
Great supportive ministers have excellent attitudes
The importance of one’s attitude cannot be overestimated; this major factor determines the quality of a supportive minister’s contribution to the church. As an assistant, I observed that the senior pastor had to continually deal with many responsibilities and problems. I chose not to add to his list of problems. I endeavored to lift him up, not drag him down. I wanted to make his job easier, not harder. Every supportive minister should endeavor to be a low-maintenance, high-output team member.
Having the right attitude not only makes a supportive minister a blessing to the senior pastor, but it also helps motivate the rest of the team. Good attitudes are contagious; they inspire and encourage others. Bad attitudes are also transmittable; they can create a negative and hostile work environment in which others feel they must walk on eggshells all the time.
You choose what you focus on. Every organization has flaws and imperfections. If you choose to dwell on these negative things you will remain agitated and frustrated. Instead, concentrate on the good things that take place.
You may have great talent, but if you do not have a great attitude, your ultimate contribution will be greatly diminished. Attitude is a choice — a choice to be positive, encouraging, pleasant, cooperative, and supportive.
Great supportive ministers are faithful
Some ministers fail the faithfulness test because they do not value what they believe are small tasks. They think, When God gives me an important assignment, then I’ll be diligent and faithful. Jesus, however, made it clear that being faithful in small things is essential (Luke 16:10–12). A faithful person:
- is careful to fulfill a promise. He is reliable; you can believe him.
- is dedicated in carrying out his duties and responsibilities.
- is diligent in his work.
- is dependable in completing his assignments. You can count on his work being done.
- is thorough. He is not just a good starter, but also a good finisher. He does not drop the ball halfway through the project.
- pays attention to details. He does not let things fall through the cracks.
- is punctual. He shows up on time and meets deadlines.
- is consistent and constant. He is not up one day and down the next.
- does not just look good on the surface, but is solid through and through.
- is honest and trustworthy. He is not underhanded or sneaky.
- meets and exceeds expectations. He does not do just enough to get by; he is willing to go the extra mile.
Great supportive ministers play well with others
In the first few grades of elementary school our report cards had a category: Plays well with others. As a supportive minister, this skill is particularly vital to maintaining healthy working relationships with three main people or groups of people.
First, a supportive minister must get along and work well with the pastor (or his supervisor). In addition to having a submissive and cooperative attitude, supportive ministers need to know the pastor. Those who assist him need to know his values, vision, and style, and they need to work in conjunction with — not against — the pastor’s philosophy of ministry.
Second, a supportive minister must relate well to his coworkers. This involves teamwork. A good team player gets along well with the rest of the team, not just with the coach. Teammates need to operate under the philosophy that we is more important than me.
Third, a supportive minister must have a good relationship with church members. As he supervises others, he must use diplomacy. Occasionally, a person allows a position or title to go to his head. Ministry then becomes a power trip, and he becomes bossy, domineering, and offensive. A supportive minister will cease to be an asset when he continually creates collateral damage among the people and makes messes the pastor must clean up.
Great supportive ministers have a servant’s heart
Ministry is not about titles, positions, recognition, and prestige. It is about serving others with the love of God. The highest commendation Paul gave Timothy may have been when he wrote, “You know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22).
Occasionally, people in ministry lose their eagerness to serve and become particular about what kind of work they are willing to do. They develop the attitude that they are too good to do certain tasks. At times, people may have the privilege to specialize by serving in a particular area, but they must be willing to serve wherever they are needed to get the overall job of ministry done.
Experienced pastors have learned to be leery of people who seek authority, power, and control. Pastors know that those who are the greatest asset to the church are those who seek to serve; they are not jockeying for a position or pursuing prestige.
Great supportive ministers are energetic and enthusiastic
No leader likes to pull dead weight. Pastors want supportive ministers who exhibit passion, zeal, eagerness, and enthusiasm in their work. They want people who are industrious and bring energy to their work. Pastors desire workers who have fire in their belly. Such workers are self-starters and hard workers. They take initiative without trying to take over.
Great supportive ministers are flexible and growth oriented
Great staff members maintain flexibility and pliability in their lives; they do not get stagnant and stuck in a rut. The words of a dying church (also the words of a supportive minister who is becoming outdated) are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
What are the traits of growth-oriented, flexible people? They:
- are lifelong learners.
- are willing to address and overcome weaknesses in their lives.
- are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
- adjust graciously to unexpected developments.
- adapt to other people.
- are willing to embrace new assignments or relinquish old roles for the good of the church.
- continually seek improvement.
Great supportive ministers exercise wisdom in their pulpit ministry
Not all supportive ministers will have opportunity for public speaking. If preaching is part of your job description, here are some important guidelines.
- Avoid giving direction or correction. As a general rule, direction and correction for the church body need to come from the senior pastor, not from someone in a supportive role. The task of a supportive minister in the pulpit is to communicate basic truths of Scripture and to provide instruction that is edifying.
- Avoid controversial subjects. The pastor does not need to be clearing up confusion created by other speakers. If you are uncertain about a particular topic, ask the pastor before you speak.
- Do not be flashy. Supportive ministers should not try to outdo the pastor or dazzle the congregation with their preaching skills. Avoid flamboyance. A supportive minister’s goal is not to garner popularity or create a following for himself — he is to supplement the ministry that is taking place. Use any pulpit opportunities to bless, not to impress.
- Do not rearrange the furniture. You would not go into someone’s home and rearrange their furniture. Treat the church with the same respect. What you teach should be consistent with the beliefs, doctrines, and vision of the church and pastor.
Great supportive ministers demonstrate discretion
Discretion is having a keen sense of the right things to say and do. A discreet person avoids saying the wrong things at the wrong time to the wrong people. He also avoids taking inappropriate action. A discreet person uses good judgment — sensitivity to what is fitting and appropriate — and behaves accordingly. Discretion is also the ability to maintain confidentiality and responsibly handle sensitive information.
Great supportive ministers avoid staff infection
Whether it is the betrayal of Judas, the dishonesty of Gehazi, or the rebellion of Absalom, Scripture is filled with stories of people who missed God’s will for their lives. Not every case of staff infection is this dramatic. Some infections are less serious, such as the disciples bickering among themselves.
What are the traits of supportive ministers who have developed a strong spiritual immune system? They:
- avoid having unrealistic expectations.
- guard their joy in serving.
- have learned to deal with frustrations and disagreements in mature and constructive ways.
- know they can disagree without being disagreeable.
- keep a good attitude and give their best effort even when something is done differently from the way they would have done it.
- do not wear their feelings on their sleeve and refuse to get offended.
- have determined to avoid attitude problems, strife, and any undermining behavior.
- realize that Satan’s greatest weapon is to get supportive ministers into a spirit of criticism and faultfinding, and they resist those temptations.
- choose to focus on the positive, and keep moving forward for the good of the team.
Becoming God’s Dream Team
If you are a supportive minister, I trust you are striving to be profitable to your pastor. Work to develop the traits described above. As these virtues are established in your life, they will make you a healthy, effective, and valuable member of God’s dream team. When good follower-ship partners with good leadership, it pleases God, maximizes our corporate potential, and raises us to higher levels.
Tony Cooke is founder of Tony Cooke Ministries, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Tony Cooke Ministries focuses on strengthening churches and leaders across the country and around the world. The ministry is committed to helping pastors, staffs, and congregations achieve new levels of excellence, effectiveness, and productivity for the kingdom of God.
1. Scripture passages are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.