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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

09 Nov '11

What gets pastors into trouble with their congregation

Pastoring today is one of the most challenging jobs on our planet. You have as many expectations as you have parishioners, there are strong opinions on almost everything, church unity is easily disrupted and spiritual battles are always being fought. 


All of that is true but it is also true that pastors can cause pain for themselves if they do not pay attention to a set of core disciplines or practices. Those non-negotiable core disciplines include the following:


One: Not putting adequate time into message preparation. Yes I know that the seminary lingo that one should put an hour into every minute of speaking is generally impossible and that the bar on preaching has been raised dramatically in the past three decades as good preaching and teaching has become available to anyone who looks via radio and the Internet. 


However, when I hear complaints regarding preaching it is almost never that their pastor does not live up to some well known and gifted speaker. Rather it is that they do not preach messages fully rooted in Scripture and applicable to the real issues of life. Our people will give us great grace in not being the greatest preacher in the world but they will not forgive us for not rooting our messages solidly in God's Word and making its application to real life clear. Preaching rooted in God's word has power regardless of the skill of the speaker as God's Word changes lives. Pop theology and psychology does not change lives - the Word does.


Two: Not building strong team among staff and volunteers. Disunified staff or lack of alignment of staff and key leaders causes lack of unity and alignment in the church. Too many pastors see the job of building a strong team as an afterthought rather than a central part of their role. It matters because a cohesive staff is necessary for a missional direction and well planned ministry. Lack of staff unity or alignment will eventually cause a lack of unity in the church that will come back and bite the senior leader.


Three: Not being able to articulate a clear vision and direction for the church. When there is not clarity over who we are or where we are going, churches start to drift and that drift is uncomfortable for many in the congregation even if they cannot articulate it. For leaders in the congregation (elected or not) it is a huge issue because they understand that clarity of direction is key to getting healthy ministry done. Congregations are not looking for pastors who have the leadership skills of some high profile mega church leaders but they are looking for clarity of direction - and they have every right to expect that from their leader.


If a pastor is not gifted in defining a clear vision and direction, it is critical that they bring around them people who can help them do so. When this is not done well, congregations not only drift but they turn inward and conflict often results. Lack of direction will eventually compromise a pastor's ministry.


Four: Poor Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Poor EQ translates into poor relationships, defensiveness, inability to develop a culture where robust dialogue is encouraged, a need to be right, being unapproachable, inability to deal with people who disagree with them, personal insecurities, hubris, narcissism and so on. EQ issues will catch up with a pastor because their ability to lead always comes back to healthy relationships and personal influence. Where healthy relationships are not the norm, conflict results, good people gravitate out of the church and the culture of the church starts to reflect the dysfunction of the senior leader. In addition, healthy people spot poor EQ easily and are often not interested in working closely with leaders of poor EQ.


Healthy and wise pastors pay a huge amount of attention to these four areas because the lack of health in these four will, without question, compromise their leadership and may even become the cause of having to leave their church. When pastors get into trouble it is not always the fault of others. It can be the inattention to key issues of leadership that define their role. These four are always central.