Monday, June 23, 2008

Leadership Issues - Church Hop #4

I serve a church that is affiliated with a denomination notorious for both church hopping and short-term pastorates. If a scientific study were conducted, my hunch is that there is a correlation between the two. IE, churches that are constantly in the "pastor search" mode are also churches where the back door opens just as frequently as the front.

Leadership in the church is no less crucial its health and growth than it is in any institution. Everything rises and falls on leadership. That may sound very "secular", but check out the many instances in the Bible of how leaders impacted their nations, churches and families both in positive and negative ways.

For reasons perhaps only He knows, God's design is for there to be human leadership in those institutions.

Yet here are some realities in the church:
  1. Not everyone in a leadership position is either gifted or called to lead. I've met lots of square pegs in round holes. Just because someone has the title doesn't mean he can. And if he can't, that poses a genuine threat to the future of the church.
  2. Some who are called and gifted but are in churches where they've been hog-tied. They want to lead. God's given them vision. But there's a refusal among the sheep (or the deacons) to follow a shepherd. Rural churches often are plagued by this. I've tried pastoring a church where there was a small control group who battled me. Those kind of churches are legion in my denomination.
  3. Some leaders have no clue what it means to lead like a shepherd. Sheep are led from the front and follow the shepherd. They scatter when a shepherd tries to push them from the rear. They see themselves as the 4th person of the Trinity and never know what it means to love those they are called to serve. Those kind of pastors are common in many churches. Shepherds "serve" and are willing to give their lives for the sheep.
  4. Other pastors see themselves as hired staff with a temporary position and their current church as a stepping stone to something bigger and better. So they really never bond with their congregation and always have their resumes out. With every pastor the church takes a step forward, and with his exit two steps back.
  5. Some pastors are just plain lazy. Maybe they've got a comfy job and are satisfied with the status quo. Maybe they've got just a few years left until retirement, so they're short-timers mentally and spiritually. In any case, they need to move on if they're not going to lead.
  6. Some have outlived their effectiveness. That's a snare for older pastors. Personal growth hasn't been a priority. They remember how it was in the old days and think nothing has changed. So the church stagnates while the culture moves on by.

So what to do when there is a real problem (as opposed to perceived) leadership stalemate or vacuum? Do you leave and find another flock? Maybe. But first I'd ask some questions.

  1. Is this the historical pattern for this church? Is there a constant power struggle that never ends? Do we change pastors more often than what seems right? If so, why is that, and am I part of the problem or part of the solution? (Maybe that last one isn't such a good question because it's rarely answered objectively.) Fact: some churches are never going to change. Power struggles are ingrained in their congregational structure and DNA.
  2. What's the vision the leadership has for the church? Where are we going? How are we going to accomplish our mission? (Note the use of the word "we", not "you".) Ask the pastor or elders or whoever leads. If you can't get a real answer guess what? You got your answer. Better yet, ask this question before you ever hook up with a church. It'll save a lot of heartache later.
  3. Is there a real chance things are going to change and get better? If not, then you should consider making a quiet exit. But if there is a chance, then pray and serve and encourage the leaders. The last thing the church needs is for people to bail when God's about to make a difference. Revivals are a God thing, and you don't want to miss out on it. But if you're part of the problem, maybe revival won't come until you leave.

I realize that some of my comments and suggestions put some in a quandary. You're in a denomination where the hierarchy moves pastors around every few years. The facts, however, don't lie. The healthiest churches have long-term pastorates. The good news is that some denominations are catching on to that and changing their policies.

But for you in independent, non-denominational or autonomous churches (like Baptists) the same holds true. Yet I doubt the average length of stay for a Baptist pastor is 3 years. That tells me there needs to be some real introspection regarding our views of leadership within the leaders and the congregations.


~j~ said...

Good Morning.
after reading this mornings post I feel so incredibly grateful for my pastor/s hearts. We are a young church (5yrs this sept)and growing in a truly healthy manner because I believe just that, there is a strong committment from the leadership to the body. We are not coddled by our pastors in any way, but as a ongregration we know we are loved as well. I am in the "older" catergory of this body and have seen my share of flaky leadership so I truly appreicate Pastors who are daily putting themselves out there and teaching the solid truths of the word.
I think you would really appreciate our church (only a stones throw from the beach!) as I have sensed a great similarity with our churches that sit on opposite coastlands.
Praying for all you Pastors who have been called to fulfill this great commission!

JonesFam4 said...

My husband is in a non-denom. setting. His brother is as well, and his dad was (retired). They have each stayed pretty long term at all their sites. Especially when in the senior ministry role. It has benefitted the churches very much! His dad was at his last church 25 years, his brother is pushing 17 and we're...well we just moved and hit 1 year :), but the last place was 10 years and hard to leave. ANYHOW, there's something to long term. In many ways its harder, you are more vulnerable. The longer you stay, the more you care or rather the more you are woven into others lives. You create friendships that are deepened by experiences that can only happen over time. Thus, you are more vulnerable. You have much more capacity to disappoint the longer you stay, because, face it, our "company" behavior only lasts so long. But the beauty is that you can really love and serve so much better (it seems to me). I don't know, in my short experience it has proved that its less of a "job" the more you are invested in the actually daily lives of your church (people, not building). But, you know someone's going to point out that Jesus only had a "ministry" for 3 years :). So, I suppose we'd better get on it, ha. Enough can SO tell the kids are watching a movie.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

One other issue is if the pastor is a control freak, often caused by serious insecurity. That can stop people in the church growing into their own leadership roles - if the pastor has to run every Bible study group and prayer meeting, how do the congregation learn to lead Bible studies or prayer meetings?

I do thank God I'm only a preacher, not a pastor.... I can see I'd make every mistake in the book, and then some!

Jessica said...

I am 100% in favor of long-term pastorships. The only hard thing that comes of that is when a beloved pastor leaves/retires/dies the void left is more strongly felt. The pastor coming in behind him will have a harder time as he will always be compared.

But, I still think it is the way to go- pastors and congregations can get more done if they are comfortable and committed to each other.

00 said...

Interesting post...the three largest churches in my small community (representing two different denominations) have all had their senior ministers for I'd say, at least 15 years. One has had the same guy for....oh my....maybe even 30+ years? The church that's probably the next largest has had its pastor for I think 6 or 7 years, and before that, had someone for probably 6 or 7 years. While I think that it can be very good to have the same leadership in a church for years, does the "lead pastor" (or whatever that church decides to call it) really NEED to be the same person? I mean, if he does his job and equips the body of Christ while he's there, then if he leaves for whatever reason, it seems to me that the church shouldn't fall apart.

Jessica said...

I certainly don't think most churches should/would fall apart without a long-term pastor. The church is primarily the people in it- regardless of the leader or building or whatever.

BUT I think that the reason it can be so liberating to have a pastor for so many years is intimacy and the ability to work together to reach long term goals. Think about the people that teach you the most in your life- they are generally the people that know you in and out and have spent some time earning their keep (so to speak). I am a lot less likely to listen or respect the leading of some stranger who I don't feel cares about me or isn't invested in my local church and it's future.

I like the feeling that I am not just being preached at on Sunday morning but that our pastor is part of the church and that we are all "in it together". How can someone lead us if they don't really take the time to know who we are?

Jessica said...

Rick, are y'all Baptists?

Jessica said...

I just remembered that you mentioned be Baptists a few posts back. You don't have to answer me :)

Bill and Peggy said...

Have you ever noticed that when a pastor gets "the call" to go to another church it is never to a smaller one?

Rick Lawrenson said...

That was who I was thinking of in point #3.

Some of the most insecure people I know are pastors, btw.

I've noticed that, too. God gets blamed for a lot of moves.

Apple said...

I have been involved in a situation where people holding very visable leadership position in a church were also business men in the community. Which is fine, unless they are known for being rude, untrustworthy, and a gossipmonger. Then you have to ask yourself if this is who you want representing your church and your faith in the community.

Anonymous said...


I'm wonderding what advise you have for a church hopper who used to be involved in ministry. after nearly a decade of being the wife of a minister, we left the ministry and came away with some pretty gaping wounds from an ego-filled leader in the church (that also would be a topic I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on... a pastor/leader who is fueled by the big-business aspect of the church). How does one stop church hopping when the wounds go so deep?

Rick Lawrenson said...

Sorry to hear from you what is a too familiar story.

How about sending me an email?
One question I have is why your wounding enables church hopping. Are you still going from church to church?

Anonymous said...

My pastor confirmed me (Lutheran) in the 8th grade. Then he spoke at my high school graduation. He married my husband and me and baptized our children. He just recently retired. I am so sad, but hopefully my children will have the same memories of the one who took his place!
Houston, TX