At a pastor's conference I was leading one time a pastor asked why pastors so often get stabbed in the back by people in their churches. My response was that we probably don't get stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot. I have known many pastors who were treated poorly by their churches. Some churches are serial pastor abusers and don't deserve a pastor. But, I've known many other pastors whose troubles came about due to mistakes they made in leadership.
Pastors, and anyone in leadership, are expected to be proficient in several things, and their success will be directly proportionate to their abilities in those areas. However, one thing more than any other factor is essential for a leader: integrity. A person may be extremely competent in every area of leadership, but if he or she lacks integrity his or her leadership will never rise to the level it should. People, especially in a church, have to know they can trust their leader before they will follow that person.
When a person demonstrates integrity they earn the trust of the people they lead. If the leader demonstrates that he or she lacks integrity the trust level required to lead will never grow to the level it needs to in order to have an effective ministry.
How do we demonstrate integrity? It begins by doing what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it. People will overlook the occasional situation that might prevent us from doing things in a timely manner, but if we have a history of failing to do what we say we will do they will determine we cannot be trusted.
Integrity also is shown when we refuse to keep secrets. By this I don't mean that we violate confidentiality when it's required. Pastors are told many things, especially in counseling situations, that we are required to keep confidential. In fact, to violate that confidentiality would show a lack of integrity.
A church is only as healthy as the secrets it keeps. The same is true of a pastor. I've known pastors who were able to get things done without going through the proper committees or boards, but eventually their efforts caught up to them, and they lost the trust of the congregation. As a judicatory leader I was occasionally amazed when churches told me of some of the antics their previous pastor pulled. When those antics were revealed their ministries were doomed because they had lost the trust of the congregation.
One final way to be a person of integrity is being willing to work hard. Most pastors I know work too many hours, but I have also known some that did very little. I've often said the ministry is a great place for a lazy person because we don't punch a time clock. People in our churches assume we are doing ministry somewhere and very few churches hold their pastors accountable. However, a lack of integrity in this area will eventually be revealed,, and when that happens the pastor seldom lasts much longer in that church.
Although it takes time for trust to be established between a pastor and the church, it takes much less time for that trust to be lost. Once it's lost it becomes very difficult for a pastor to ever regain it. It just takes too long. Be honest with people. Be upfront with them. Work hard. As we continually demonstrate integrity our people will follow us and we will enjoy a long, productive ministry.