5 Reasons a Pastor May Not Be Leading Well

I remember talking with a concerned man about his church. He was concerned the church was wasting a lot of resources and accomplishing little towards its vision to make disciples. They have a large building and staff. There is a rich history of Kingdom-building, but the building sits empty most days of the week. There is a steady decline in baptisms and Sunday attendance. The church lacks momentum and he was concerned in 20 years the church would be gone.

He blamed it all on the leadership of the pastor.

I can confirm his concern. Some statistics tell us almost 90% of churches are in decline or plateaued. I have been 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.

In my experience, the number one issue churches appear to face is leadership — specifically pastoral leadership. In fact, many would say if the pastor isn’t leading well, the church will likely suffer at some level.

But when a pastor isn’t leading the church well, I believe there’s usually an answer as to why. I’ve listed some of the ones I’ve observed.

5 reasons the pastor may not be leading well:

Ignorance

I don’t mean this one to be cruel, but we only know what we know. Most pastors don’t learn everything needed to lead a church in seminary. 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 is training, mentoring, and growing by experience. The church should be supportive of opportunities for the pastor to develop. Plus, the pastor needs to be humble enough to admit the need for further training.

Innocence

Many times the pastor simply doesn’t see what you see. I learned as a pastor I was 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 was less likely to know about it.

I always suggest pastors develop the discipline of asking questions. And staff/church cultures should be created in a way where people have channels and the encouragement to share needed information. (Without complaining or arguing, because that’s 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.

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 demands placed on the pastor and consider the pastor’s family. One of the best things a church can do is give the pastor significant enough downtime to recover from the demands of ministry.

Structure

I hear from pastors frequently who feel they are handcuffed to tired, worn out, traditions that keep them from accomplishing their God-given vision for the church. 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. Many times the restraints placed against a pastor prevent effective leadership.

If the pastor is expected to lead, then latitude and freedom to lead needs to be afforded without constant fear of retribution.

Arrogance

Some pastors assume more control than has been afforded to them. Others refuse to allow anyone in the church to really lead. In either case, people naturally resist leadership, stir controversy, and resist change.

Every pastor needs people around them who have authority to speak into their life. And every pastor needs to guard their heart against foolish pride.

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 4 Comments

  • Warble says:

    Oops, had a misplaced/unedited paragraph there, below my screen. Was going to add something about people not understanding how different pastors with different gifts and personalities will have very different — but very effective — leadership styles. But thought I had deleted it as it was getting long. Maybe you can edit and fix all this…

  • Warble says:

    Very good article, thought-provoking for pastors and ministry leaders. I’d respectfully suggest/request another article on the crucial role of the congregation and lay leaders in their pastor’s success.

    IMHO, while this article is a good challenge for pastors, it could become fodder for unsupportive church members, feeding their desire to critique their pastor without addressing the crucial roles the church members play in the church’s success. (Sorry, been there, experienced it, have the T shirt).

    What about more of the ways a good (and even proven-with-effective-previous-experience) pastor is prevented from succeeding in his vision by the congregation and/or the lay leaders? Only one of these entries really addresses this (structure). Again, I realize the article is written from a different angle from my suggestion. Thus, a request for another article on another aspect of the problem.

    Thanks for your godly and insightful food for thought!

    To phrase it another way, it would be interesting to see more of the reasons and ways a congregation’s criticisms, and unsupportive lay leaders who are second-guessing everything the pastor does, can undermine a pastor’s effectiveness. And then there’s people expecting a pastor to lead

  • Dave says:

    The one issue I see most often is arrogance. I just left a church where the pastor refuses to allow anyone else to make a single decision, right down to what gets put into the weekly bulletin. His favorite saying whenever someone voiced an opinion different than his own was “it’s my way or the highway”. How does anyone get by with such an attitude? Because he has surrounded himself with hand picked board members who wouldn’t dare challenge him.

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