The All-Powerful Pastor (a rant)

Posted: December 17, 2010 in advocacy, church, leadership, life, preaching, priorities, productivity, ranting, spiritual formation

I’m sick of it!

And if you’re a pastor/preacher/minister, you’re likely sick of it too. You’ve seen all the tweets and articles in magazines that act as if the pastor is a singular human in their organization, capable of creating and sustaining wonderful health and growth all by his or her own lonesome.

Here are some of the doozies I’ve heard lately:

  • As the pastor, you should be the happiest person in your church.
  • Pastor, what’s your staff culture? Remember, you set the culture for your staff.
  • If you don’t have 5 evangelistic relationships going on, how can you expect your congregants to have any?

On and on the lists go. It all adds up to this: As the leader of your organization you’re expected to have a great family, exercise daily, be studied in theology, history, culture, music, Bible and the local and national news. You’re also solely responsible for the culture and spiritual growth of your staff and congregation, as well as their intellectual and emotional health and growth. By the way, how up-to-speed are you on fund-raising and systems thinking and implementation? What about addiction, co-dependency, visitation, guest-services, and community activities. Oh, before I forget, don’t you have a sermon to preach this weekend?

The problem with these little maxims is that they are partly true. As a pastor and leader, you do carry some level of responsibility for all these things. Yet there are so many things to be responsible for that no human can do them all well. I don’t mean to be snippy toward our mega-church leaders who hand down their tools of the trade. Rather, I would like them to consider some real-world limitations that many leaders have to deal with and sometimes can’t be overcome. While these considerations run the risk of being labeled excuses, for many people they are the water they swim in. They are real. In nearly 20 years of working near, around and in churches, I know these considerations to be depressingly true.

  1. Many pastors have no say over their staff. Who they are? How well trained? How committed? They can neither reduce salary for underperformance or increase it for a job well done. They do not hire and fire, and can’t even make recommendations to do so. What’s more, for many people, the staff is inherited. Thus, the staff culture is inherited. While a good leader can change the culture, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
  2. Some church systems are anti-leadership.  The pastor is NOT the leader and no one wants them to be. Decisions are largely made by committee. Believe it or not, some folks think that’s the Biblical way to do it, even if it’s not efficient. Plus, it’s not as easy as you think for people who’ve gone through the process of education and the processes of becoming ordained, just to pick-up and leave their church or denomination. This becomes more difficult when children and family are involved.Many were reared in these churches, went to camp in these denominations and are deeply rooted relationally. To leave isn’t merely a job change, it’s a life change!
  3. Many pastors are flying solo. While some have no say over their staff others have no staff at all, save volunteers. Surprising as it may sound to you, sermon preparation takes just as long in a 20-member church as it does a 200-, 2,000-, or 20,000-member one. And the clergy-person in the 20-member church has to oversee building concerns, adult ed, children’s ed, the youth group, processes for spiritual formation, pastoral care and nearly everything else. While some jobs in the church do scale with the size of the organization, some do not, and when you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re doing it all by yourself.
  4. Most ministers aren’t starting from scratch. I’m a big-believer in church-planting, but that’s not what most clergy are doing. Most are working within existing cultures and systems. If you asked them, they could name 50 things they’d change tomorrow if they could. Why don’t they? They have chosen being pastoral over being a CEO-type leader. Pastoring means walking with people, guiding them along — often at a slow pace. I’m struck with a little referred to story of Jacob meeting Esau. As they leave for Sukkoth, Jacob – who was traveling with his wives and children – ask Esau to go ahead of him so that he can care for his children and flock. Jacob tells his brother he needs to slow his pace to the speed of the children. This, my friends, is ministry too — slowing down for the ones who cannot move more quickly. Some ministers choose to do so in order that we all arrive to worship God together.

These are just the beginnings of ministry in the real world. Again, I’m not saying that much of the counsel offered by church leadership gurus isn’t valid. It’s shaped who I am and how I lead. I am saying that I’ve not always been in the kind of context I am now, and I remember what it was like to work within other kinds of systems.

So, I  question whether much of what is flippantly stated in church-leadership conversations is realistic. More so, I question if it’s dismissive of the context the majority of ministers work in. If so, our gurus are speaking to a very small audience. It doesn’t mean that these men and women won’t show up at your conferences and buy your books, it just means that the beautiful meal you’re serving is going uneaten.

Perhaps it may be time for many of us to recalibrate our leadership message from, “what works for me” to “what can work for you.” Maybe we need an orientation that sees ministry in live-action and on-the-ground, rather than from the preaching Pentagon.

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Comments
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Palmer, Redwood Church. Redwood Church said: New Post. All-Powerful Pastor (a rant): http://ht.ly/3r0Qc […]

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for this, Sean.

  3. WesWoodell says:

    Good post. Careful writing things like this though – you run the risk of convincing someone you know what you’re talking about!

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