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5 Ways to Help the Church Even When You Struggle to Support the Pastor

By September 12, 2016Church

On a regular basis, I receive an email from a staff member of a church with the same question. They are in an awkward position where they don’t respect the pastor, but love the church. They feel loyal to the church – even called – and don’t want to hurt the church, but they simply struggle to support the pastor – whether because of personal issues or leadership issues. Their question is: How do they respond to a leader they can’t support, but who is their boss and the church’s called leader?

I once had a staff member emailed me to say his pastor was extremely popular in the church, but consistently received recognition and support others the team deserved. The pastor, in this staff member’s opinion, often took advantage of the church’s support of the pastor and the church didn’t realize it. The staff member knew he probably didn’t have enough power to do anything about it – and, again, he didn’t want to hurt the church. But, he also doesn’t respect his pastor. His question was: What’s the best way to respond?

Great questions. I wish there were easy answers.

Here are 5 suggestions to help the church when you don’t support the pastor:

Don’t talk behind the pastor’s back

It would be easy – and maybe natural – to share your frustration, but chances are doing so will only backfire against you and cause tension in the church. People in the church will have the same struggle you have, feeling a sense of loyalty to the pastor. Putting them in an awkward position isn’t fair to them or the pastor. And, it certainly isn’t the biblical approach. 

Be honest to the pastor’s face

It’s never easy, but it’s always best. Conflict is hard. I’ve learned it’s often avoided in churches. But, unless you are going to suck it up and say nothing, the first person you need to share your frustration with is the person with whom you are frustrated. It’s conflict resolution 101, and it is the biblical way. 

This should be planned and you should think through how you will approach this with respect, grace and truth. You should address the issues which concern you about the pastor directly – and, you should certainly own anything you need to improve upon. (There is always the chance the problem is more you than the pastor.) And, if you’ve already acted in disrespectful ways against the pastor you should apologize. The fact is, however, the pastor may not even realize why you would be having a problem. We only know what we know. (I’ve written before on how to lead those who are supposed to lead you.)
Find other voices to invest in you

One role of the leader is to invest personally in the people being led. Most likely you’re missing out on this – either because the pastor isn’t doing it or you aren’t allowing the pastor to influence you. This is understandable, but you need to find others who will invest in you. You would be surprised how willing other pastors may be to assist you if they are asked. They will be honored you thought of them and willing to help you think through your current situation. You will need this help. If not a pastor, find a respected business leader in the church or community who can coach you through life and leadership.

Find a place to vent

Surround yourself with some people with whom you can be brutally honest. It’s probably best these people be outside the church, but you need a place to share your heart. You’ll wither and die emotionally if you bottle up your current emotions for too long. Be selective who you bare your soul to, but be vulnerable enough to share your concerns with a few others – emphasis on the few. It will help keep you from burning out in ministry.

Leave when you can’t respect the leadership (and tell the pastor first)

Again, this is hard, but you need to be mature enough and responsible enough to consider the bigger picture. You will never fully support every decision any leader makes. You may not even be best friends with the pastor. And, I can’t tell you how many people have left our staff to go somewhere else only to realize after they were gone our environment was better than they realized when they were with us. The same may be true for you. The grass is often greener on the other side until we are on the other side. 

When, however, you have no more respect for the leadership, unless there is a moral issue at stake, you need to consider the welfare of the church ahead of your own. Have the hard, honest conversation, but leave before your lack of respect is evident to those around you. It’s the right thing to do.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Dee says:

    I forgot to say thank you so much for bringing the hard questions and discussions to the front burner. This platform also give an opportunity and place to vent, listen and learn. I can’t help but wonder if Pastor’s know or perceive people are having these challenges with them?
    Do you have a write up that helps highlight how Pastors can identify this issue and suggest what approaches they can take to open the door to resolve same?

  • Dee says:

    Only the Holy Spirit could have led me to this article because it is just the topic and discuss I was looking for an answer to. In addition to making myself accountable to another Pastor, I have also consciously distant myself from the main Pastor.
    I have done all but 2 (Be Honest and Leave). With regards to Being Honest, (which I dread and do not believe my Pastor is ready for, having seen him ask people to leave the Church as his go to style of conflict management) I will borrow from your write up on “5 Questions to Help Pick Your Battles”, to guide me on if and when I should be honest to my Pastor’s face. Until then, I will let patience have its perfect work in me and keep praying for my Pastor. Leaving will however be a last resort that must certainly be God guided.

  • Rebemaegarc says:

    We are in a church where the pastor is an amazing teacher and is straight as an arrow when it comes to doctrine and convictions. I have learned a lot from his Bibical teaching. Both he and his wife, however, get angry very easily and do rash things when angry. They correct in anger and in turn, make the person they are correcting angry! Then they admonish and scold and teach endlessly on how we are defiant and insubordinate. Never a Sunday goes by but what either he or his wife, who is the music and choir director, give a speech about authority and how we need to submit. Sometimes the Pastor sets illogical rules, like the the older youth who are adults, but yet unmarried, have to attend the entire youth camp for a week, or else they cannot go at all. (They have jobs and can’t always get off for a whole week.) In cases like this, if they go and ask permission to go for half the week, or some similar request, he tells them they can do whatever they want, but that they will be in disobedience and acting out of insubordination. A year ago, he appointed a young minister and his wife as student pastor over the youth and young adult group. Our youth group has grown both in size and spiritually in an outstanding way. Many kids, who formerly weren’t participating, began to attend every function and service. This young minster had a gift for counseling and helping kids with problems. When a young person wold be hurt by an angry tongue lashing from the pastor or his wife, this dear young minister would help them to forgive and “submit” and keep on serving God. Last Sunday, the Pastor fired the student youth pastor BY TEXT. He texted him after morning service to get his belongings and turn in his key. He ended the text with, “Good luck on your future.” The youth are reeling. My daughter has oscillated between anger, sadness, and confusion all week. She has lost all respect for our pastor. What should we do?

  • Bill Gaines says:

    If you don’t support the Pastor, you are in the wrong church. If you try to control or manipulate the pastor, The Bible says that It is the same as witchcraft.
    The Bible says that ‘He will give you a Pastor after His own heart’, therefore you must be in the wrong church.
    If you cannot support the pastor of the church that you are in, you should leave.

  • Zack Clinard says:

    There is much here to unpack, so in my poor attempt to give feedback to this staff member I would begin with two questions, "What are you most afraid of when this pastor/leader accepts recognition falsely?" Followed-up with, where do your true loyalties lie??"
    The second question seems easier to me to answer in that we are here to support Gods mission and the church body first, and not our personal desire for whats 'right or fair' in our own eyes. It is the 'body of Christ' who is led by this pastor, so unless he/she is doing something illegal, unethical, immoral, or an affront to God… get on with the mission. Make the mission the priority. Support your co-workers. Support your church body. Support your pastor. If you are so uneasy with it, then seek an internal mentor to share your concerns with, or a counselor if you feel uncomfortable doing so.
    The first question often regards our ego- 'will there be enough for ME if this person takes all the honor/respect/recognition that I am owed'. In the bible, Joshua could have tried to usurp power from Moses when he learned that Moses would not cross into the promised land. David could have killed King Saul, or tried to overthrow him forcefully. Both men trusted God, so let God sort out the issues. Trust Him to figure it out. For now, focus on what He assigns you to handle.

  • Anthony says:

    Words of wisdom here. Thanks for putting this out so that many can listen to this. This can be a difficult situation in ministry. Sadly this is happening too often. I agree with Ron's advice here.

  • Ron! Those are great insights. I see this happen in business organizations too. It all boils down to the pastor/ leader for whom we work. I recently read that around 85% of the employees who leave their organizations leave because of their immediate/ reporting supervisors.

    Applying the same analogy, I feel that it would be better to move when one is not able to respect the pastor (for I believe that ministry is all about relationships.)

  • Kathryn says:

    Now you have rally stepped off into deep H2O. Churches and many organization experience this. It is difficult to distinguish some human traits from others. Jealousy comes to mind. The leader does receive a lot of praise sometimes because of the position and many times does not remember to share the "team effort" idea. And some subordinate staff members are probably striving to get that recognition for some inward motivation and are sometimes over sensitive perhaps. It happens here in the business world. What to do? Here in the business world we tell them to grow up. If they refuse or we suspect internal sabotage we fire them. Plain and simple. In a church, wow, now that is difficult for us business guys. But the boss may not always be right but he is always the boss. Same for the senior pastor. Glad to be just a business lady some days. Are we too harsh and cold? I wonder. This has made me think.

  • kmac4him

    Difficult place! I agree with Pastor Edmondson, you need to go to them 1st, that is the way God showed us. Human perspective is a “tricky” thing, so before you go, pray, pray and pray and did I say fast, fast, fast… Clear your motives, "fleshing them out" until they are of God's Mind. Ask God for the clarity only He can bring, ask God for a "Godly Appeal" wait… until you get it. Wait on God's timing! You want to respond in Christ, you don't want to "react" in flesh. Humility God lifts up, pride He sits down. Then go… with God in all humility and with great love for your Pastor, because God loves HIM right where He is at and He loves him more.