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April 11, 2017

Leading Up – Part 1

By Chris Kouba

I’m a huge fan of The West Wing. That is not to say I agree with everything the fictitious President Bartlet stands for, but I’m fascinated by the fast-paced, behind-the-scenes musings of a government at work. And though it’s presumptuous to compare the presidency to the pastorate, the principal I want to address today is similar in both contexts.

Leading up is the art of leading and influencing one who is over you. 

Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler may have cornered the television market on this, but campus pastors get the opportunity to lead up on a daily basis within the multisite church model.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a campus pastor is being in a leadership role that doesn’t carry with it ultimate authority.  How a person deals with this tension determines the level of leadership he is able to have within the multisite model.  A second chair leader has to lead like the senior pastor does not exist, while knowing full well he does.

Following another leader can be challenging for many hard-charging, high-energy, type A leaders; and following, while at the same time, leading can be even more difficult.  However, the follower role of campus pastor isn’t radically different than the responsibility and role we are to have as followers of Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, it’s imperative for a campus pastor to realize that if he does not get this area right personally, it will be impossible to get this right in relation to an earthly human senior pastor.

In part one on this subject I’m going to suggest some personal ways a campus pastor can lead up.

Lead with Humility

The opposite of humility is pride. And we all know “pride comes before a fall”. Furthermore, pride impedes your ability to lead up. It can be very tempting for a campus pastor to bask in the idea that he has arrived, and is beyond following or learning from his senior pastor.  Perhaps there’s a sense among you and your fellow campus pastors that your senior pastor represents the past and you represent the future.  Resist entertaining this narrative.  When there is an attitude of humility and recognition of God’s calling on your life to fulfill the role of the second chair you can embrace this and follow your leader as he follows after God. 

Lead Within Your Role, Not Your Wants

I remember when I first became a campus pastor and preached the first few times.  Many approached me saying things like “we love it when you preach” and “I wish you preached every Sunday”. 

Obviously this felt very affirming, on a personal level.  But, how I respond—and how you respond—to these types of comments will either build trust or distrust between a campus pastor and senior pastor.

I learned early on that I could respond one of two ways: I could say something like “well, I don’t decide when I preach, so maybe you should ask the Pastor when you see him” or I should say “thanks, but I’m just grateful to serve in a church where we sit under biblical teaching each week”.  Rather than fan the flame of self-promotion I must choose to build unity and gain trust.  Leading up demands that I stay faithful to the task I’ve been given to lead my campus, rather than angle for responsibilities or accolades that feed my personal desires.

Lead Relationally

The senior pastor of a multisite church may be the most isolated member of the staff.  Once you have proven your willingness to lead with humility and once you’ve gained the senior pastor’s trust by leading within your role, you have a unique opportunity to build relationship.  A great way to lead up is to know your senior pastor, his family and his heart. 

Pray for your senior pastor, and his family.  Ask how you can best pray for him, and then do it.  Don’t allow yourself to become so entrenched in what is going on at your particular campus that you lose sight or don’t even ask about the vision he is casting for the church body as a whole.  Do your best to prayerfully walk alongside him so you don’t unintentionally step ahead. 

Also, allow him the freedom to offer feedback, whether positive or constructive in nature, without being defensive.  Relationships work best when you can set aside the spirit of defensiveness. How I, as a campus pastor, respond to feedback sets the course for all future communication.  It will either get us further down the road in ministry or, worst case, land us in the ditch and stall the work we are called to do.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll continue to discuss Leading Up and how campus pastors can set up senior pastors for success.

Make sure to check out our latest NewChurches.com course, Essential Campus Pastoring, available now!


Chris Kouba

Chris Kouba is the Lead Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church North Campus and has been a part of all campuses of Prestonwood, one of the largest churches in the country. He is a graduate of Baylor University, received his Master’s from Dallas Theological Seminary, and his doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He serves as an adjunct faculty member of Southern Seminary teaching leadership to doctoral students. He is passionate about the local church and seeing it reach his full potential of influence. He is married to Hillary and has four children, Katelyn, Mackenzie, Hudson, and Griffin.


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