Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pastors shooting themselves in the foot

A few years ago as I was leading a conference for small church leaders a pastor stood to ask why so many churches stab their pastors in the back. I responded that I wasn't sure we got stabbed in the back as often as we shot ourselves in the foot. I explained that we bring some of our problems on ourselves. I recently preached in a church where that had happened.

This church called a pastor about four months earlier. He was not from the same denominational background as the church and approached pastoral leadership from a different perspective than is common for churches of this denomination. Although the church was working with denominational leadership to help them find a pastor, they called this person on their own. It proved to be a mistake.

Immediately upon arriving as pastor he began to change the order of the worship service and make other changes in the church. He did all this without going through the appropriate leadership groups in the church. He removed part of the worship service that the congregation felt was important. At this point the lay leaders approached him and asked that this be put back in the worship service.

The Sunday prior to my preaching there he asked to meet with the deacons of the church after the service. In the meeting he presented them with a list of complaints he had about the church and resigned effective immediately. At the start of the worship service on the Sunday I was preaching a lay leader read the pastor's reasons for resigning and briefly addressed them. I worried this might bring the service down, but instead I sensed a relief was felt by most of the people present.

Just before dismissing the congregation at the end of the service, I reminded them that I had told them in the past that being without a pastor is better than calling the wrong person. They had called the wrong person. Any pastor that would resign from a church after four months over the issues he identified doesn't belong in the role of a pastor.

Here was a classic example of a pastor shooting himself in the foot. He had not been there long enough to change a light bulb much less the order of their worship service. He had not been there long enough to earn the trust of the church and needed to work closely with the lay leaders if he wanted to make changes or introduce new things in the life of the church.

I'm sure he is going around condemning the church for not letting him do what he wanted to do. If he is, he's wrong. This is a good, small, rural church that is very traditional. He should have known that going in and respected their traditions. This church is willing to make changes, but such changes will happen slowly and only after the congregation buys into the change.

As pastors of smaller churches we must learn to work within the traditions and timetables of our churches. I found that almost every change our church experienced took longer than I wanted it to, but those changes stuck because the congregation was given time to buy into the changes before they were made. Towards the end of my pastorate there changes came more rapidly as the people trusted my leadership, and I trusted and respected them, so we were able to work together to make needed changes.

Pastors, don't shoot yourself in the foot and blame the congregation for your problems. When you do make mistakes, be quick to apologize and learn from them. Most congregation will give you a lot of grace when you do those two things, and you'll enjoy a long, productive ministry in your church.

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