This is one of my most popular posts of 2014. I hope you find it helpful again.
During a Q&A session at a bivocational pastor's conference I was leading a few years ago one pastor asked why so many churches stab their pastors in the back. I responded that I wasn't so sure that we get stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot. While I have encountered some mean-spirited individuals who caused problems for every pastor they had, I have met even more pastors who made poor decisions that were the result of their difficulties. In some cases, these pastors left a trail of such decisions behind them as they went from church to church, never learning from their mistakes and never understanding why their ministries were so troubled.
I know one pastor who got into trouble with his church because he played golf 4-5 times a week and was seldom available to church members except on Sundays. Another pastor found himself in trouble over comments he made in social media that seemed unduly harsh and critical to the leadership. A third pastor created problems over his inability to follow through on promises and tasks that he agreed to perform. A fourth pastor refused to visit persons when they went to the hospital, and on the rare occasions when he did visit he would not pray for them. The list goes on....
The root cause of each of these problems was a lack of self-discipline. These pastors failed to discipline themselves to perform the ministry they had been called to do. Even when they were confronted by leadership in their churches about their behavior and given specific steps they needed to take to make things better, they refused. They saw this as an attack on them, not as an effort on the part of their church leadership to help them succeed in their ministry.
Tim Irwin writes about this same issue in his excellent book Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (NelsonFree). Irwin explores the reasons six well-known corporate leaders failed and eventually lost their jobs. While he writes about corporate leadership, there are many principles that easily transfer into ministerial leadership. If I was the head of an organization this would be one of the books anyone in a leadership position would be required to read. At the end of the book he lists five lessons that can be learned from these failures, but in my mind a lack of self-discipline is at the core of each failure.
Self-discipline will help you say the helpful thing, not the first thing that pops into your mind when you are upset or disappointed. Self-discipline will enable you to complete the task you are working on as well as keeping your promises to others. Self-discipline will help you take the high road in a conflict and look for a way for both parties to win whenever possible. At the same time, self-discipline will give you the courage to stand for what is right and not back down when tempted to compromise your values or vision. In the end, self-discipline will help you succeed in all your efforts.