As I pastor, I typically have thick skin. But there are definitely days, and weeks, where the skin gets thin and things hurt more than normal. Or when enough things pile up to pierce the toughness that is typically there. Many pastors I know are like me in that if 99 things are going well but one thing is upsetting, we will fixate and focus on that one thing. This is not a good thing, but it’s typically where I/we live. With that said, if you’re reading this and attend Crossroads, I’m fine. You are most likely one of the 99 things going well so don’t second guess me or you too much. I’m just human and sometimes it’s helpful to write things out. In doing so, I hope I can help myself, my congregation, as well as other pastors and churchgoers out there as I think most people don’t know what it’s really like to be a pastor, unless they are one.
- The American Christian Motto often seems to be: Put on a Good Show. Require Nothing of Me.
- The American Church’s Motto then often seems to be: We will put on a good show. We will require nothing of you.
This makes being a pastor incredibly hard. As much as we fight against it and know it’s biblically wrong, our job is often simply to please people. We don’t want that to be our job, but church folk can often inadvertently make it our job. For example:
- We want to do missional outreach as the Bible tells us to. When we do too much outreach and ask/expect our people to join in, members can feel uncared for. When they feel uncared for, they aren’t happy and complain. It’s not always complaining, but sometimes it is. It’s not always wrong of them, sometimes it is. That’s the hardest thing about being a pastor: you don’t know how much is too much of one end of the spectrum or the other. Typically what you think is a good balance is way out of whack for a group of your members. (and ironically, another group thinks it’s way out of whack in the opposite direction)
- We want to care for the poor the way the Bible tells us to. When the poor show up at our church, we ask our members to talk to them rather than only talking to their friends. People leave the church because of this, meanwhile we are just trying to do what the Bible tells us.
- We want to be a multiracial church as we believe the Bible tells us to be. We add cultural elements to the worship experience which makes some people uncomfortable and leave our church. But we are unable to pull these things off the way the people we are trying to include would like, so they are leaving too.
- You can let the members vote on everything and be called a passive leader who doesn’t have a spine, or you can make decisions and lead and be called a controlling micro-manager who gets second-guessed and gossiped about because you made decisions that some people didn’t agree with.
It’s really easy to say to myself, “Well we are just trying to do what the Bible tells us to do.” And I genuinely feel like we are. Or to say, “Don’t try to please people, only focus on pleasing God (e.g. Galatians 1:10, an awesome verse).” But here’s the thing: I’m just a dude. I’m not Jesus, who is God and thus everything he said had the full 100% holy authority of God. Nor am I a prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah, where God audibly told them exactly what to say to the people. They could get rotten tomatoes thrown at them, beaten up, or rebelled against, but they could endure it knowing without a doubt they were simply saying what God told them to say.
I’m just a dude. I have the authority of the Bible behind me, yes. And I’m trying my absolute best to communicate it the very best I can. But I know I’m fallen and fallible and bring loads of bias to the text. Bias that I try to remove but bias that is tattooed to me by 31 years of living on this planet in the contextualized ways I have experienced it.
So when I get rotten tomatoes thrown at me, I have to second guess myself: maybe they are right?
To not ask this is to be arrogant and prideful.
To ask it is to lose sleep and worry about pleasing people.
Because if you don’t please people, they leave your church and/or you get fired.
“Let them leave! Please God and not men!”
I’m with you. It’s how I get into this sort of trouble: preaching and asking things of people they don’t like. Jesus did this in John 6. He miraculously feeds 20,000 people. They want him to feed them again. He tells them he didn’t come to put on a good show and to require nothing of people. They don’t like this. So they leave. He turns to his twelve disciples and says, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
He wasn’t going to change God’s word.
But it’s really not that easy, trust me. I could drive every person out of my church in the name of “not changing God’s word” if I wanted to, if that were the goal. But that’s not the goal.
Being a pastor is very difficult.
The irony is most people think we just prep a sermon and sit around drinking coffee all week when we’re not going to conferences in exotic locations.
Here are some hurtful things you can say or do to your pastor:
- Ask him what he does all week
- Act surprised that this is his “only” job
- Say “must be nice” when he gets to do something like a vacation or a conference
- Second guess and criticize his decisions, especially if you have no ministry leadership experience at all
- Gossip about him. When you complain about things going on in your church or about decisions your pastor made, yes, that is gossip.
- Assume the worst about him. When there are multiple options as to why he might have made a certain decision or why something wasn’t communicated in A+ 100% best communication possible or when he forgets something or when he’s really busy, assume the worst things about his motives and character. And then go tell others about what you have deduced.
The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I want you to be careful when you complain to your pastor and to be careful when you complain about your pastor. Your pastor doesn’t have all the answers. Neither do you. Stop acting like it. Stop acting like you can do a better job than him, it’s most likely that you probably couldn’t.
Being a pastor is the only job I can think of that requires legitimate schooling, legitimate experience, and legitimate biblically laid out qualifications, yet you frequently find people who don’t respect your leadership and think they can do a better job than you. Another fun thing about being a pastor: What other job are people allowed to second guess everything you do, criticize you, critique you, insult you, talk condescendingly to you and about you, and leave your church with you having to respond to each and every blast with a meek and loving smile?
It’s like being the President of the United States without the paycheck and the Secret Service.
Your pastor will never be perfect. Your pastor is not Jesus. Your pastor is not the Holy Spirit.
Ways you can and should judge your pastor:
- Is his heart sold out for Jesus?
- Is what he is doing for Jesus’ glory or for his own self-glory?
- Is it for God’s Kingdom or for personal gain and ambition?
- Is he firmly committed to the Bible as God’s authoritative word?
- Is he trying his best to preach the accuracy and the fullness of the Bible?
- Does he leave parts out or does he preach all of the Bible, even the hard parts, the controversial parts, and the parts people actually deal with in life but don’t want to talk about?
- Does he care more about what God thinks of him or what people think of him?
Have you ever felt like your pastor doesn’t listen to you? How do you define “being listened to”? Do you define it by the pastor doing what you tell him? As if the pastor doesn’t do what you told him, he hasn’t listened to you. This is not the definition of being listened to. Being listened to means he respectfully heard you, prayed over what you said, sought wise counsel, sought his fellow leaders, discerned the Holy Spirit’s leading, and did what he felt was best for the interest of God’s Kingdom. Which may not have been what you told him. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t listen to you.
The irony is he may have ended up doing what someone else told him, which puts him in a tough spot is “being listened to” means doing what someone said.
- What things offend you?
- What things are you sensitive to?
- What things do you complain about?
- What things would you leave your church over?
- Are any of these things biblical?
- What things do you need to stop being offended by, stop being sensitive about, stop complaining about, and simply chalk up to realizing your pastor simply can’t make everyone happy, which includes you.
Why do you think pastors change churches every 3.6 years on average? (Lifeway Research, Dennis Cook, July 18, 2011)
Why do 90% of pastors end up quitting and changing professions at some point? (Duke University, Kanipe, 2007)
I’m super blessed to work with another pastor where we are the elders of the church and co-lead together (there’s no “senior” or “lead” pastor). We’ve had this structure for 2 years or so now and are bringing up others to join us on this elder team. It’s funny though how he gets treated the same as me (see above) now and sees what it’s like for me. Which isn’t unique. What I mean is, he sees what it’s like to be a pastor. Something nobody knows about until they do it.
I found a great article entitled “How Churches Can Prevent Pastors’ Suicides.” The title of the article is quite a bit more intense than the helpful points I found within it. I promise I’m not suicidal. I do agree with almost all of the ten points they list out though, which have a much broader help for your pastor than only preventing suicide:
1. Pray for your pastor and his family as much as or more than anyone else on your prayer list.
2. Deal quickly, firmly and biblically with unfounded criticism and the critics that promote it.
3. Give your pastor a minimum of three weeks paid vacation.
4. Give your pastor a paid four-week sabbatical every five years.
5. Provide counseling options for members other than the pastor.
6. Make church wedding costs official church policy.
7. Allow your pastor two ministry weeks a year minimum to be used for revivals, teaching opportunities, mission trips and the like.
8. Stop acting as if your pastor and his family will never do any wrong, and stop judging them if they do.
9. Build solid walls around his glass house to ensure a measure of privacy.
10. Provide for your pastor’s emotional health.
The moral of the story is: Encourage your pastors. It helps. Help the 99 good things be louder than the 1 bad thing. Remind us of the 99 good things. We are only human, after all.
As someone who has been helped and inspired and blessed by good men who pastored well, don’t do it. . . don’t try to please the people. We need men who have been with Jesus who have been equipped by God to lead us into Christ. If the body could do that on its own then maybe we wouldn’t need pastors, but we can’t so He does. You may not be Jesus but you’re to be like him, and you may not be the Holy Spirit but you’re to be filled with him. We are too, but man, you especially get to be there as an example to the body of Jesus and to lead us to more of him cause you’re there with him already. It’s not just that you bring messages but that what God’s done in you in a real way is itself the message. . . we want to see Jesus in/thru you.
I’ve heard pastors say that they wish they didn’t have the title Pastor or Reverend so that when they talk with others outside the church, people would treat them like anyone else and the conversations could be unguarded. Get that, but pastors get to speak words that are spirit and life that are more than good advice but mean life, and people are looking for and need that more. Don’t tell us what we want to hear, speak the things that mean Christ and mean life, and we’ll answer Jesus’ question about leaving like Peter did, “Where shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Being an architect, I don’t understand how pastors deal with the all the uncertainty of dealing with people. I design a project, it gets built and I move onto the next one. There’s always that point where the building is up and the reward of that. You guys deal with people whom you may minister to and put a lot into and yet they move on and you don’t get to see the fruit of that. Or they don’t grow but go away from Christ and the heartache of that. But the other side of that is that you deal with souls that have eternity at stake, I just deal with buildings that will someday be replaced or crumble. Beyond that, you have the disadvantage/challenge of being in American culture in a time where church and pastors are often disrespected, often thru self-inflicted damage.
But if you’re there with Jesus, we’re there with you. We want to hear from you cause you’ve heard from him. We really don’t want you to cater to us, we just want to know that your love for us is genuine. . . that when you say the hard things of truth and when you call us to the hard things that love for each other and others calls us to, that your heart is that it would mean more of Christ to us and in us, that we would more be like him because we listened to you and followed you.
Didn’t mean to third person this all the way thru, just speaking for myself. Have never been to Crossroads so I know nothing of what the body is like there. But I’ve read the blog and watched the videos and God’s made you a pastor. If you’re feeling like you’re at the bottom of the food chain and feel like the least of all, maybe that just means that you’re a true servant, what Jesus says is the greatest among us. Be blessed man, you’re a pastor.
Thanks Alan, that was very helpful. This line was especially helpful as I know I need to do a better job of making sure my members know I love them, but that doesn’t mean you have to send the baby out with the bathwater:
So so many thoughts here but the most important one is that while I like that you are humble enough to allow people’s concerns to cause you to consider whether there is truth in their criticisms, I also want to reinforce what you already know- ultimately it’s up to God to confirm in your heart whether there’s something He needs you to change because it is Him you serve first and foremost in how you shepherd his people. You steward His people for His glory.