the shape of leadership

Who Should Have Access to the Senior Pastor?

Leading a congregation while guarding your time

Chris Colvin on June 21, 2018

When people approached Peter and the other apostles about a problem in the Early Church, the leaders gave a response that may sound strange to us today.

In Acts 6, those who were in charge of distributing food were neglecting the Greek Christian widows. When the issue made its way to the apostles, they looked for someone else to handle the problem. After all, they were busy with the more important matters of preaching (Acts 6:2).

While meeting the needs of those around us is the heart of ministry, how we accomplish that often depends on our particular skill set, the team we have around us, and our God-given vision. Peter’s point wasn’t that helping those in need was below him, but that it could distract him from fulfilling God’s call on his life.

As a pastor, you may encounter a situation where someone steals your time and distracts you from your primary ministry goals. As a staff member, you may find it difficult to find time to get with your pastor to finalize ministry plans. Both of these issues are really about the same question: Who should have access to the senior pastor?

The answer may seem simple enough, but it can be very difficult to live out. Once, while on the staff team at a church, the senior pastor took a few of us aside to ask for some help. The church was fairly large — over 1,000 in attendance on any given Sunday — and after the service, he was swamped with people wanting some of his time.

“Most of these people don’t need to talk to me; they just think they do,” he explained.

Another staff member could easily handle the questions they had or the requests they were making. And the point was that trying to talk to everyone meant the senior pastor couldn’t talk to those who really did need him.

Who Needs the Pastor?

Do you, as a senior pastor, have an open-door policy? If so, you may want to consider closing it. The advantage of smaller churches is that the pastor is easily accessible to nearly everyone. But even then, you may encounter people who want too much of your time.

Even in larger churches, though, you can reach nearly everyone who really needs you. There is a pastor of a multisite church with weekly attendance over 10,000 who still makes personal phone calls to each and every visitor. That personal touch is not only unexpected, it helps make the church feel smaller.

Senior pastors need to think about who has access to them and when. From weekend worship services to office hours to lunch meetings, a pastor’s time is valuable. It’s important to spend those hours the right way.

If you have an open-door policy, you may want to consider closing it.

Of course, you should never play favorites. But clearly there are certain people who should have more access to the pastor than others. Long-time members, for instance, have earned the right to meet one-on-one. Close friends of the pastor would also have access.

When it comes to staff members, access should depend on their specific responsibilities. An organization chart can help decide who has unfettered access to the pastor for critical needs.

Watch Out for Time Stealers

When it comes to deciding who has access to the pastor, it’s all about avoiding those who want to steal your time. First, weed out salespeople and marketers. Steer clear of those who are chronic abusers of your schedule. And be on the lookout for people who just want to shoot the breeze without any real agenda.

For those who actually do need to speak to a minister, consider some other options. Can someone else on staff handle this? In fact, there may be someone more qualified than the senior pastor. If you have a benevolence ministry, whoever heads that department may be the most knowledgeable and prepared to help.

As a pastor, ask this question when someone wants your time: Does it require my immediate attention? If not, then maybe an email will suffice. Or a phone call. If the matter is important, then it’s important to be free from other nonessential meetings so you can be there.

Keep a Lockdown on Your Schedule

Decide what is the most important use of your time, and then fill in the edges by meeting with those who want to gain access. For instance, three areas you should block out on your calendar weekly are staff meetings, leadership mentoring and sermon prep. Make time to speak to the whole staff, raise up new leaders, and prepare to address the whole church.

Leave blocks of time open on your calendar for spontaneous meetings, counseling members or answering questions. Develop a chain of command that can help determine to whom the individual wanting access actually needs to speak.

Don’t be afraid to use your own wisdom and discretion in denying access. It’s not unspiritual to guard your calendar. But it is disrespectful when others don’t honor your time.

You may want to institute a monthly meeting where new members can meet the senior pastor and ask questions. Setting aside a specific time and place for this can actually forestall any problems with time robbers in the future.

Much of this discussion can feel counterintuitive to the goals of ministry. Our ideal may be that we meet with any and every person who wants access to our schedule. But if we do that, we may find we don’t have time for what’s important.

And the members who seem neediest aren’t always the ones with the biggest needs. If you fail to guard your time, you may overlook someone who really needs you.

Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You aren’t rejecting people by setting boundaries. You’re creating an environment of trust and honor, where you can retreat when you need to recharge, and where those who sincerely need your help will get it.


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