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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?