Advice for Pastors
It happened again. There I was meeting with a pastor who I thought was on top of the world, and it turns out his church is a mess (his opinion) and he’s deeply depressed.
With more than 45,000 churches in America (not counting house churches), you’d think that every now and then I’d meet a pastor who didn’t deal with a deep sense of failure and regret and felt her or his church was just fine.
They’re probably out there, but if you’ve been reading my blogs for long, you know that the typical pastor I meet with is one of those who is fed up with church as usual and the busyness of doing things that don’t matter to Jesus.
If you’re a pastor and reading these words, the odds are pretty good that you deal with loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, shame, and you’re probably thinking that if you could do anything else to make a living, maybe you’d give it a shot.
If you and I were sitting across a table in a coffee shop, here’s the short list of what I’d tell you to do:
Give up on the idea that you’re going to someday arrive, have it all together, and that your church will grow into one of those that everyone is talking about. You know as well as I do that you didn’t sacrifice to go into this work because you wanted to be a big deal (And if you do want to be a big deal, get out now before you destroy people!). There was something in you that wanted to make a difference in people’s lives in the name of Christ.
The best time to admit your weaknesses, fears, doubts, and failures is yesterday. Only your humility — trusting God and others with the real you — will earn the trust you need to lead and influence our Father’s children. Take off the mask, take a deep breath of grace, and admit who you really are.
Start telling the truth to your spouse, your board, and even the church (when appropriate). Most of the pastors I’ve talked to who are leaving a ministry have never been honest with their leaders concerning their personal needs and frustrations. It’s one of Satan’s most effective lies that personal conflicts will get better if you leave them alone and just keep “preaching the Word” and leading the church. Unreconciled relationships come undone and they will prove to be your undoing. Do you really want to uproot your family and give up your dream because you didn’t have the courage to be hones with your leaders, staff, and the entitled and petty people who wear you out?
Make disciples! The last time I checked, Jesus is really smart. He told you to make disciples because that is what will invigorate your redeemed heart. You know as well as I do that you sometimes hit Sunday evening asking, “What did I really accomplish for God’s kingdom?” If you’ll make disciples the answer to that is always, “I made a difference in the life of this person and encouraged them to walk with my Savior.”
Find a group of trusted friends and intentionally build deep community where you can receive the type of love that tells you the truth but stands with you on your worst day. Judy and I started our group about a decade ago because we were tired of living alone. If you need help in building this group, I’d be happy to assist you. These three couples (who are not a part of our church) have become the most deeply transformative dynamic in our lives.
Pastors conferences, in general, are run by absolutely wonderful and godly people. Pastors conferences, in general, are really irrelevant to what you’re doing in the trenches of the local church. They are often where leaders just learn new ways to wear out their people as they chase the idol of growth in numbers and budget. It’s way more likely that you will discover the help you need by building relationships with others pastors, especially those with a few decades of leading churches and who just might love you well.
Shepherding a church is a tremendous privilege and experience. It satisfies like no other profession. It gives you a front row seat to the power of the Living God in people’s lives. The church is a living and vibrant expression of the life of Christ. You should enjoy it. Don’t quit.