I used to feel sorry for pastors – now I feel sorry for churches

When I was a young pastor (just yesterday, I think), I was convinced that the major problem in churches was the church. It was amazingly clear to me that if only the church would change and get in line, things would be so much better. Just get with the program and stop being so petty, small minded, tradition bound, whatever.

I have changed my mind. Now I feel sorry for churches. Unfortunately, my conclusion is that in most church struggles the source of the confusion and adversarial spirit is the pastor. A bit of an overstatement there for effect, but not much.

Churches have no choice but to pastored by mere human beings who are broken, each in his own way. You don’t get to choose a perfect pastor. And whatever doesn’t work right in the pastor flows into the veins of the life of the church in a way that is true of no other person.

I do not mean that the church is mostly right about this or that and the pastor is mostly wrong. Actually I find that pastors are amazingly insightful and have fairly accurate diagnoses of what ails the church. But that is never enough.

It is what is done, and how it is done, with that diagnoeis that keeps things in unnecessary turmoil. There is such a thing as necessary turmoil. But most pastors don’t manage the “necessary” very well and turn it into “unnecessary.” Managing conflict and patient, tender care of souls get lost when parishioners don’t quickly go along. And before you know it, the issue is no longer the issue. The issue is what the pastor is doing with the issue. And this is the point where I start feeling very sorry for churches that have to endure just plain ole bad pastoral leadership.

Of course, I am pointing fingers at me. I can see things now that I didn’t want to see back then. Not couldn’t see. But didn’t want to see. Blame it on the youth of a pastor, his inexperience, his personality type, or whatever. You still can’t get past the fact the he is the point guard and putting the ball into play so that the team can score is his job. No one else’s job. His job. He is part of a team, for sure, and needs a team. But he stands at a place no one else can be.

Yep, I know the “nobody’s perfect” routine. And I freely and quickly admit it. But what does that change? Not much. The damage is just as real and the consequent suffering just as damaging.

A significant contribution to the damage done is that younger pastors have not had much exposure to pastors who are walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ and able to represent well Christ’s true priestly ministry. All of our models are executive leadership – powerful speakers, persuasive and charismatic personalities, confident and rational decision making, etc. When I look back at the models who shaped me, they were by and large “get it done” kind of men. Most of them got “done in.” The practice of the “exchanged life” was just missing. The life of prayer was nonexistent. The ability to shut up and stay quiet for significant periods of time so God could get a word in edgewise was never developed in any compelling way. The insight into the complexities of the soul was not even on the map.

The fact is that there are many brothers and sisters sitting the pews who do know these things and exercise these virtues. But they aren’t the pastors and are often passed over by the pastors. They don’t look like the shakers and movers. They don’t sign up for every committee and go to every meeting. They don’t enjoy the multiplied battle cries shouted out from the pulpit. They extend grace and support – and wait, wait until the pastor “gets it.” He often doesn’t it. And still they wait.

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