5 Reasons Your Pastor may not be Leading Well

I was talking with a concerned man recently about his church. He’s concerned the church is wasting a lot of resources and accomplishing little towards its vision to make disciples. They have a large building, a large staff, and a rich history of Kingdom-building, but the building sits empty most days of the week and there is a steady decline in baptisms and Sunday attendance. There is no momentum in the church and he’s concerned in 20 years the church will be gone. He blames it all on the leadership of the pastor.

I can confirm his concern. Statistics tell us almost 90% of churches are in decline or plateaued. I’m told it takes 30 years for a declining church to die.

I don’t know, however, if it’s completely fair to always blame the pastor. Keep in mind it could be you have a difference of opinion in regards to how the church should be led and how the pastor should be leading. Many times this is philosophical as much as anything.

Certainly, however, leadership is a critical part in the success of any organization — including the church. Let me be clear here — I believe Jesus is the head (and the leader) of the church, but God uses men and women to lead people within the church. It’s the subject of another post, but regardless of what you term it, leadership, as a concept among God’s people and the church, is exemplified throughout Scriptures.

About half of my readers are pastors. (I’ll apologize to you in advance for this post. My goal is to help pastors, not injure them more. I’m a firm believer, however, until you identify the problem you have a hard time finding a solution.) I frequently hear from staff ministers and church members concerned about the direction of their church. The number one issue churches appear to face is of leadership — specifically pastoral leadership.

In fact, many would say if the pastor isn’t leading well, the church will likely suffer at some level.

When a pastor isn’t leading the church well, there’s usually an answer as to why. I’ve listed some of them I’ve observed here.

5 reasons the pastor may not be leading well:

Ignorance

I don’t mean this one to be cruel, but you only know what you know. Most pastors don’t learn everything we need to lead a church in seminary or any other school, for that matter. Many pastors never developed leadership skills prior to being assigned a position of leadership within the church, so much of pastoring becomes on-the-job training. Because much of a pastor’s job involves people, the realm of possibilities a pastor might encounter are as wide as the differences are in people.

The solution for this reason is training, mentoring, and growing by experience. The church should be understanding and supportive of opportunities for the pastor to learn from others and the pastor needs to be humble enough to admit the need for further training. This requires great humility on the part of the pastor to allow input into their leadership.

Innocence

Many times the pastor simply doesn’t see what you see — or for that matter, value you what you value. I’ve learned I’m often the last to know of a problem within my church. If there’s an issue in preschool ministry, for example, if someone doesn’t tell me about it, I won’t know about it. I don’t have preschoolers anymore, and most of the time, while I’m preaching preschool ministry is in full function. Now I value preschoolers, so I would want to know if there is a problem in that area. There may be other areas of ministry that the pastor doesn’t spend time thinking about, because it isn’t an area he’s passionate about. This doesn’t make the ministry wrong, or unimportant, but it simply may not have the pastor’s first attention. Many times the thing you think the pastor should be addressing is on the list of the things of which the pastor isn’t aware there is a problem or simply hasn’t been considering that area as an issue of importance.

The pastor needs to learn the art — and again humility — of asking questions to see what areas are struggling and what’s important to people in the church. The church needs to find ways to share information more readily with the pastor, without arguing and complaining — because that’s not the Biblical way.

Burnout

In a survey of pastors who read my blog a few years ago, 77% said they were presently or had been in a burnout situation. Burnout is when you aren’t healthy enough to function at full capacity. When a pastor is facing burnout, leadership will suffer. The pastor needs to be diligent in remaining healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally, and needs to seek help when any of those areas begin to slip beyond the normal stress of life.

Pastors need to learn how to recognize the signs of burnout and address them early, before they significantly impact their leadership. The church needs to be mindful of the amount of demands placed on the pastor, consider the needs of the pastor’s family, and build a structure that invests in and protects the pastor. One of the best things a church can do is give the pastor significant enough downtime to recover from the demands of ministry. That need will vary based on the level of demands placed on the church, pastor and pastor’s family at the time.

Structure

I hear from pastors weekly who feel they are handcuffed to tired, worn out, traditions that keep them from accomplishing their God-given vision for the church. Many times the restraints placed against a pastor prevent effective leadership. A pastor is restricted when there are too many unnecessary rules, the committee system is cumbersome and inefficient, or when the demands of the church on the pastor are unrealistic. Pastors and churches are often threatened by power hungry people and extreme resistance to any change.

If the pastor is expected to lead, then latitude and freedom to lead needs to be afforded without the constant fear of retribution. Church members should ask the question, if the church expects the pastor to lead, does the structure of the church allow the pastor to lead the church? If not, then the church will either need to adapt the structure or lower the expectations placed on the pastor’s leadership.

Arrogance

Let’s be honest. Some pastors confuse a call to a position for a mandate of dictatorship. Jesus is the head of the church. God allows men and women of God to lead in His church, but some pastors assume more control than has been afforded to them. If a pastor is not careful, pride will take over and humility will be absent. When this is the case, people naturally resist leadership, stir controversy, and resist change.

The pastor needs to build an accountability structure of people who have been given the authority to speak into their life. As for the church’s role, I believe this type issue is handled best with one or a few people approaching the pastor first, rather than making it a Sunday afternoon, “sit around the table and bash the pastor” event. If the pastor is struggling with arrogance, however, it needs to be addressed as it is not honoring to God and could be the “pride before the fall”.

I realize I’ve just scratched the surface on each of these — and possibly offended a few of my pastor friends, even with a sincere heart to help. I’m happy to dialogue about them more in the comments.

What are some other reasons pastors don’t lead well?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 51 Comments

  • DEMETRIUS GREEN says:

    Put him in his place! He can get checked……

    • lsume says:

      The Truth is in The Word of God The Father.

      Heb.8

      [11] And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

      1John.2

      [27] But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

      Obviously, once one has Truly been born again, The Word Above in 1 John 2:27 applies to everyone who has been visited by Christ after having been called by God The Father and has begun being taught directly by Christ. The mysteries in God’s Word are revealed over time. All of The True Church of Christ know who they are. The born again experience is something that you will never forget and when Christ comes to you as a thief in the night will be the most exciting day of your life. I had always to my memory professed Christ but I did not live it. What The New Testament shows is that it is absolutely impossible to follow Christ and be obedient to The Word of God without being born again. When Christ teaches that thinking a sinful thought makes one guilty of the sin by thought without actually physically acting on it. When readers were presented with The New Testament, it should show how impossible it is to be obedient to The Word without Christ. It should break everyone and bring them to their knees begging for Christ to raise them. Once a person is Truly Born Again, Christ protects that person from himself as well as from the world. It is impossible for me to explain how that happens. However, it is very true and very real. There are no free rides when it comes to sin. The more you know, the more liability you must shoulder.

      Luke.12 Verses 47 to 48

      [47] And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
      [48] But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

  • kelly says:

    my pastor does drugs and think it does not affect the church because that is his personal issue and he feels God is still blessing him and the ministry but there is a lot of people in the church that has addiction. I refuse to stay at the church and support him as a minister and he feels im out of the will of God. im confused and want to be obedient to God not man. he say the bible say no matter what he does I suppose to support him because he is the pastor.

  • Pete says:

    I have a youth leader who is always prideful and acts like what I say is the dumbest thing ever (even though what I say isn’t blaspheme or hypocrisy). I have facts to prove my points usually, but he still acts like I’m stupid. What should I do?

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Pull the leader aside and be honest. Start there. Share your heart – this is how you make me feel. Allow them to respond and go from there. You can’t win everyone of this and much will depend on the maturity of this person, but always start openly and honestly.

  • pray4israel says:

    I understand that the photo in this blog is a stock photo. But the photo shows a pastor that does not read his Bible. A pastor need to know God and know his Bible well to lead in the spirit.

  • […] 5 Reasons Your Pastor May Not Be Leading Well. Ron Edmondson writes “When a pastor isn’t leading the church well, there’s usually an answer as to why.” He lists five reasons he has observed for this. […]

  • tomwhetstone says:

    When I was in seminary, I asked Dr. Norman Harper, "What is the greatest temptation for a pastor?" He pondered and replied, "Lack of humility."

  • tomwhetstone says:

    You identify real problems, but I detect an incomplete view of leadership. Strong churches endure and grow from pastor to pastor. The pastor should not see himself as the sole or even the primary leader under Christ, although too often this is presumed by pastor and congregation. A major leadership responsibility of the church pastor (n.b. Ephesians 4) is to "equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). The church pastor cannot know everything or every problem, but he is wise to help educate and train leaders and future leaders to work with him. He might focus more on building a spiritually strong and gifted team (e.g., elders in Presbyterian congregations or board of deacons in congregational churches) that will join together to lead the church over time. My interpretation is that the pastor should focus more on teaching and mentoring a spiritual team, rather than on assuming too much of the burden of being the "leader." The well-led church will endure beyond the time for which any one pastor is called.

  • S. Clement says:

    You’re missing a big one that I’ve seen play out time and again in over 25 years of ministry: insecurity.

    I guess it’s really a subtle form of arrogance as its focus is on one’s self, one’s own sense of security, control or self-worth.

    It is the root sin that brought down Gideon, Saul and Rehoboam.

    It’s one of most insidious issues to address as the one who struggles with it generally holds a deeply entrenched defensive posture that takes most any kind of approach as a potential attack.

    It is most destructive!

  • Ahaef says:

    Hi, I do not know if I am too late to post on here, because I see that all of the comments are pretty old, but it's worth a shot. I am a younger member of my church, currently twenty and I have been attending since I was a baby, but my father has been at the church since it was started. He is considered an "elder" even though we do not have titles like that at our church. My problem is that these elders, who have essentially helped build the church are being disrespected and pushed out by the younger "leaders." For example, we have a fifth Sunday of the month potluck that our church puts together to bring the church together for a meal, it is a wonderful tradition that we have been doing for about a year and a half. My father and the head of the food ministry Roosevelt have been completely in charge of this event since its conception, getting the food together and putting it all out, usually spending two entire days to get the event together, because the help at our church is very limited, so there are only a few of us working together to make it all happen. Last month, our pastors decided that we needed to change the fifth Sunday potluck, and he put the youth ministry leaders in charge. Mind you almost none of these leaders were ever present to help at any time throughout the year and a half we have been doing the potlucks. So they come in and tell my dad and Roosevelt that they do not need them and they are in charge now because the pastor said this is the way it is supposed to go now. They were completely disrespectful so my father and the food ministry leader left, leaving just a small crew of us to finish the entire thing. And as a bonus, the people who told them they were no longer needed did not even stay to help. They just left. Our problem is that they did not tell any of us they were doing this, and did not even have the respect to let us know and help us for all that we did. They threw us all out to dry, and treated the people who have been faithfully serving at the event like dirt. I simply do not know what to do. My father and I are constantly serving behind the scenes, and these people are no where to be found. They did not help at all with the potluck, and then they bragged afterward about how amazing it was, and that it was the best potluck so far. I feel that this is so disrespectful and that they need to apologize before we lose all of the people who helped build the church. Our music has also become so contemporary and loud that it is driving people away as well. Thank you for any help, I just do not know how to go about this, should I speak with the pastor? I am just lost.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I don't know that I can answer specifically, but I can answer generally.I would do something. Not sure what exactly — certainly talking to the pastor makes sense, but I would do something, because it's obvious your heart is injured from this and the longer you wait the more injury will occur.Whatever you do, make sure it's in an effort to be helpful to the entire church, not self-serving, and carefully prayed through. Don't gossip about it, be direct with truth and grace, but address the issue. If nothing changes, perhaps it's time to consider another church rather than continue to live in an environment that may eventually cause harm in your walk with Christ.Hope that helps.

    • Jane Doe says:

      I've been through something similar to this.

      First thing I would do is pray. Prayer does wonders. Keep praying. Spend some time every day in the Word.

      Before I act, I would ask myself, "Who *really* needs to know what happened?" I will tell a few trusted friends what has happened. You need time to cool down and a shoulder to cry on. I would rely on friends who are not part of this church and can be trusted not to gossip. If you tell a church friend who is not in a leadership position what happened, he or she is likely to gossip. If this problem can't or wont get resolved informally, you will need a short, succinct and sanitized version of the story that contains the relevant facts. Reasons why I left churches are: I caught the pastor misappropriating funds and had to report it–the church was audited and pastor disciplined… The church became the pastor and his family's private fiefdom–and they sealed the deal by putting the pastor's daughter, who lives in the parsonage, on the five person church board. I was the only member who had the courage to oppose it–so I had to leave… Pastor refused to discipline a volunteer leader who was bullying and threatening other volunteers–multiple witnessed incidents. The church board did nothing… These explanations contain all the information someone on the outside needs to know but does not burden them with details. that they don't need to know yet.

      Do you feel comfortable talking to the senior pastor? If you do, I would want to meet the pastor in a neutral, public location, such as a coffee house. Since both of you are in a public place, you (and the senior pastor) are more likely to behave politely. I was in a similar situation where I had to report bullying / abuse of power (witnessed) to the senior pastor and he threw a very scary temper tantrum in his study. Be polite, but make sure you let the senior pastor know that the youth ministry leaders bullied Roosevelt, your father and yourself. Tell him that this is inappropriate and you will not allow yourself to be bullied. Tell the pastor that you see that a lot of people are leaving the church and you think one of the reasons they are leaving is that certain people in leadership positions are bullies. If you don't feel comfortable meeting the pastor to discuss this, write him a letter.

      Let's assume the pastor gives you lip service or does nothing. The next thing I would do is talk to an elder / member of the church board. See what that person has to say. I would talk to all the elders / church board members I feel comfortable with. They might be able to help. They might have already identified the problem and are working on it.

      If you agree to meet the bullies in order to rebuke them, do it in a public place, such as a coffee house or over lunch at a casual place (diner, Panera's, etc.) and not at church. Bring a witness–and not just the pastor or elder who arranged the meeting. Don't go alone.

      Let's assume that nothing happens or meetings go badly. I would take a sabbatical from this church and spend time in prayer. I'd be interested in seeing who calls / writes me. I would consider visiting other churches, because I need worship time. I would not choose churches that are in the same town as this one, nor would I attend a church in the same denomination as the one I'm having problems with. You don't want to add fuel to the gossip fire if you can avoid it. I would also consider getting pastoral counseling–if you have access to someone trustworthy. I did–and it helped a lot. My pastoral counsellor was a well-respected retired theologian who did not want to return to the pulpit or the classroom.

      Unfortunately, I don't think the denomination's hierarchy will be helpful. Although upsetting and hear wrenching, bullying like this is not considered a serious offense. (I've been in churches where the pastor was a drunk and where I caught the pastor misappropriating church funds and the church board / elders refused to act. I reported these problems to the hierarchy and these pastors were disciplined.)

      If nothing is done about the bullying, you will have to decide if it is worthwhile to stay. Only you can do that, prayerfully. If you do change churches, decide how much of this you want to share. Initially, use the short, sanitized version and don't name the church or the pastor at least while you are feeling out the new church. If the senior pastor and / or bullies are respected members of the denomination's hierarchy, you will not want to go to a church in that denomination. It might be problematic for you to attend a church in a denomination that is friendly / similar to the denomination you just left. If you choose to leave, be careful at how much detail you tell, at least at first. Go slow and feel out the new pastor and congregation.

  • Uduakabasi says:

    Just discovered this blog & its so helpful. Thanks

  • 1LJ says:

    There is a group of concerned members.. toward burnout and innocence.. we love our pastor and fast and pray for he and his family.. and are all holding our tongues in prayer as the accountability is "selective".. and nobody can speak into his life without invitation.. we are unaffected in that we stay focused on Jesus and can remain steady in our walks, yet we remain concerned for others and the direction some processes are bending toward.. we know they are not scripturally correct and.. I wonder if it is okay to remain in prayer or is there responsibility that we or one of us is avoiding. One of us has frequent window to speak, but they are young and will likely be dismissed as "youthful" or directed toward the scripture of the implication of questioning God's annointed …or another mechanism/reaction has been defensive -to withdraw from those he once sought counsel from. Do we continue to pray or is there a further responsibility to our immediate body and our pastor and his family?

  • henry says:

    in uganda i have realised that it’s not about God with some pastors but much of the focus is put on how they can leave and their families hence causing more trouble between pastors and believers infact, it’s one reason why most of them leave church because a number of these pastors don’t have jobs and the worst of all,they don’t even want to look for the available jobs but instead wait for the sheep to bring the tithe and the seed which is now turning out to be meaningless due to false agenders behind it. Henry from uganda you can contact me for more details by reaching me at henry_mukie@rocketmail.com

  • AnitaS says:

    Do you perform weddings, funerals/memorials for departed ones within the realm of your church. I was always taught that that was one of the most important functions (aside from a good, meaningful sermon EVERY time the congregation meets) that a pastor could offer his flock. I am struggling with whether to leave a church where the pastor (and this is a fairly large congregation for a rural town) was there for those events. I thought that was what taught in the Bible. I am totally confused and seriously considering leaving the "real" church". Too much hypocrisy, too much money involved, too much ego, etc. etc. Sorry, I really loved this church until this came out after a dear friend lost a disabled child and was told "NO!" to a memorial. How is that God-like?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Yes, I do. Of course, the larger the church is, the fewer I'm able to do, so often someone else on staff does some of them, but the churches I've pastored certainly do this. Praying for you. Please don't give up on the body of Christ. There are no perfect churches, but He is a perfect Savior and He hasn't given up on His bride.

  • I feel many times it's the bad attitude that pulls down a God's servant. I believe that's why it is explicitly told in Philippians 2:5 that " Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus".

  • Cliff
    Twitter:
    says:

    Good stuff! I think another one could be fear…fear of making decisions that could have a tremendous impact for the kingdom of Christ for fear of offending a few who don’t see God’s bigger picture.

  • Kevin says:

    Why does your article lack any reference to the Bible? What does Paul Timothy to do? Preach the Word 2 Timothy 2:1-10. I fear for the American church where the emphasis is placed on leadership but not godliness.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for your comment but I think you'll find the totality of my online ministry very Biblical. I don't quote Scripture in every conversation but hope my life and heart is grounded on Biblical principles. Doesevery conversation you have reference a Bible passage? Just curious. God bless.

  • Dave says:

    These are so true. I might also add "lack of confidence." I am a pastor in my 30's and have consistently struggled with a lack of confidence when making decisions. I guess this could be a fruit of ignorance as well. Thanks for the post.

  • Its hard to be a pastor. The job is never the “job” most never learn to negotiate those waters…

  • Bad sheep… It can be difficult to lead well when you're focusing tons of energy on the one or two bad sheep of the congregation.

  • Greg Martin says:

    Great post. This may be a subheading under ‘Innocence,’ but I’ve found that unclear expectations create tremendous tension. The congregation is waiting for the pastor and/or leadership to provide clear guidance in a certain area, and the pastor is unaware of his perceived responsibility in said area. And the sniping begins…:)

  • Eleanor says:

    This is great Ron. I think it's a fair look at a challenging issue.

  • i could also be a leadership capacity issue. a pastor is able to lead the church to a certain level with a certain level of complexity, but then the church outgrows their capacity to lead, manage, preach, etc. at that level. we see it with staff members who aren't able to lead at the next level (and hopefully call them on it). but it's difficult to call the senior/lead pastor on the reality of capacity, especially one who has been "the builder" up to this point. every leader has a lid and the kingdom is better served when we personally realize our lid and choose to operate in our sweet spot.

  • Darren says:

    Good article! You said, "When a pastor is facing burnout, leadership will suffer. The pastor needs to be diligent in remaining heathy physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally, and needs to seek help when any of those areas begin to slip beyond the normal stress of life. "

    But seeking help is sometimes hard because who do you speak to…we have to vulnerable on a level that is difficult to go to because the people expect you to be above certain problems that in reality you are facing each day…

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks Darren. I hear you. I think the pastor in these cases must be proactive. It may start with someone he trusts outside the church…another pastor, for example, or select individuals in the church, but the key is if it's not addressed, it will only get worse and eventually the pastor may have more to worry about than being vulnerable to a few.

  • @burkedaniel says:

    Very well written and thought out; guessing you learned a lot of this "on the job" over the last several years, which makes it an even better read to me. I'm guessing church staffers will love this article and shy away from forwarding it haha

  • Mike Ingram says:

    Good Post Ron! I would say another one would be: Influence! All leaders need the influence and fellowship of others that may have better skill sets then themselves. The fruit of this is that it gives the directional lead pastor the confidence to staff the ministry with those with stronger skill sets knowing he can lead them as well!

  • Rob says:

    Maybe add strategy. Great vision but no strategy. thanks, good post.

  • Melissa says:

    Trying to be someone they are not. Be genuine. If a pastor has failed and acknowledged it, they are right there with us, not trying to be above us.

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