The STRANGE Complexities of Church Leadership – part 1
Some say church leadership is hard, and there are endless blogs on the sorrows and pains of church leadership. While I sympathize in many ways, I also slightly disagree with this claim. I don’t really think Pastoral leadership is hard as such; it’s more that it is “complex” and “unusual” in ways that many don’t spot before they enter ministry.
You see, it isn’t that taxing on skills or intelligence, certainly not in any way that wouldn’t be taken care of by some fairly basic training and learning. Church leadership is not unusual because of the necessary communication or leadership skills, but rather because it is complex emotionally.
Very few jobs, other than those that demand intense communal living, carry the same complex emotional and relational strings as pastoral leadership of a church.
A Pastor is like a Doctor. But a doctor cares for the sick then says “next,” while a Pastor is expected to care for the sick, but also befriend the patient, care for the family through traumatic seasons, issuing not simply advice, but hugs and love too. The pastor even mourns while the family mourns, yet performs the necessary duties required while mourning. While this is fine when caring for one family, when many congregation members look to a Pastor for this, it becomes complex emotionally.
A Pastor is often like an employer. But when an employer lays someone off, they can realistically expect to never to see that person again. A Pastor is an employer too, but when he/she has to fire a worker who will not function properly, a pastor must follow up by asking “And how can we pastor you through this difficult time of unemployment?” – rounding off with “See you in church next Sunday!” This is why many “end of employment” moments in churches end in staff leaving the church altogether (along with their families!). It is indeed like firing a member of your own family! Complex!
A Pastor is like a teacher. But when a school teacher teaches a class, a year later they say “next” – as the class moves on and a new crop of students enters in. A pastor teaches, but is expected to become a friend of the family, through thick and thin, sometimes for decades to come. When the lifelong teacher is a lifelong friend, the good times are usually great, but then moments of discipleship, correction, discipline and change become… complex.
A Pastor is like someone running a small to medium sized business. But while a business owner knows they are doing well because of the end of year financial results, a Pastor never quite knows how things are going, as the measurables are more mysterious. Sometimes pruning and subtraction are exactly what God wants, so it’s hard to look at a chart and assess our success or faithfulness before God. How do we know we’re doing well? Complex.
Pastoring a church is also complex because….
Church members want church to feel like family… and many leaders feel like it’s their job to make it so. But the same church members who demand a family feel one month, will leave church with less care than leaving their gym membership the next! For some, church is family, but only when they want it to be. Strangely, it can be the people you invested in most, caring for them through sickness, child troubles, backslidings and set-backs that leave the easiest, without even a thanks or appreciation. And because the Pastor has indeed created family bonds with these people, because that is the expectation, as the “leavers” head off to the joys of a new church and new season, the Pastor is left with the grief of a lost loved one they cared for deeply and invested in emotionally. They then discover the care was very one sided. Complex.
Social Guilt – Pastors care, but in reality they can only personally care for so many. All leaders of churches above 150 members experience social guilt, because no-one can sociologically fully befriend more than this number. And yet all the social signals of a church can be that we question the Pastors motives or care if they are not easily available or at our social events. Rick Warren, leader of the 30,000 strong Saddleback Church in the USA once stated “When our church had 150 people in it, I related to 150 of them. Now it has 30,000 in it, I still relate to 150 of them” as it is sociologically impossible to do any different! This creates great emotional tension and social guilt in many leaders, when they pass that size threshold where they cannot know everyone’s names.
Of course, on top of this, the potential expectations, both spiritual and relational, of a Pastor are unrealistic. We might expect a Pastor who is readily and relationally available at the drop of a hat, but deeply spiritual, having drunk deeply from prolonged times in God’s presence. Some hope for a Pastor who will perform miracles one moment, and do DIY for us another! Who gives lots of time to all our own children, but whose own family is happy and stable too. We want an introvert who loves to delve deep into the bible and excavate inspiring revelation for us on a Sunday, and an extrovert who will turn up at our parties Saturday night! We want a Pastor who is young and energetic, yet mature and stable. Who has the fresh pioneering zeal of a 25 year old, but the experienced leadership skills of a 60 year old! To add to it all, the modern world allows us to compare ourselves with the websites and TV shows of the very best the world has to offer too, leaving many local pastors feeling less than the sparkling TV displays of the global greats! Such comparisons always steal a leaders joy….
So what can we do?