I spend time in God’s Word and in prayer virtually every morning. On weekday mornings, I also listen to at least two or three of my favorite podcasts.
One of them is by Thom Rainer, the former CEO of Lifeway. His podcast is simply called, “Rainer on Leadership.” In my estimation, Thom Rainer has the credibly to talk about leadership because of the successes he has achieved in the various organizations he has led.
Today, his podcast was entitled, “Five Ways Churches Are Unintentionally Forcing Pastors Out.” While we lament the fact that the average pastorate lasts no longer than 5 years at any given church, Thom points out that it may not be all the pastor’s fault. There are things that churches unintentionally do that keep the pastor from staying longer.
If you want to listen to the 25 minute podcast, simply click here.
As I listened to the podcast, I couldn’t help but think, “Been there, done that.” So, let me share the 5 points that he mentions and then elaborate just a little bit on each one.
(As I write this post, I am so grateful that God has given me a ministry in writing. So far this year, my blog has had 10,991 hits and has been viewed by folks in 49 different countries. So, I am writing for a wide audience and it is always my hope that what I write will help people locally and around the world.)
Finally, before getting into Thom’s five points, I want to note why I am writing this post. It is for the purpose of:
- creating understanding in non-pastors,
- giving a voice to pastors, and
- pointing to ways in which these five problems can be resolved.
Five Ways Churches Are Unintentionally Forcing Pastors Out
1. Not compensating them adequately
According to the Fast Facts page of the SBC, the average American SBC church attendance is 111. But, when you realize that factored into those numbers are some massive churches that have weekly attendance of well over 10,000 people, the median SBC church size would probably drop to around 70 or 80 people in attendance.
As we would expect, when the median church has under 100 people in attendance, there just isn’t going to be enough money to pay the utility bills, purchase curriculum, support missions, and many other things as well as pay the pastor well. That being the case, the pastor will probably end up being bi-vocational. Bi-vocational simply means full-time work for part-time pay. Pastors of small churches are heroes!
Fortunately, in my case, this has not been an unresolved problem. In the first church I pastored, we didn’t make much money but the church graciously ended up paying our insurance, paying for a new car engine to be installed in our vehicle, bringing over vegetables from their gardens, and so much more. They were so kind to us!
In our second church, we moved to Florida and realized that it was a whole lot more expensive to live there than in Kentucky. Within the first year, the church graciously gave us a substantial raise.
Now, in my third church, we are fortunate that the congregation graciously compensates me for doing my duties as their pastor.
But not all pastors are so fortunate. Most pastors are pinching pennies and cannot afford even the simple necessities of life.
What You Can Do About It…
- If you want to look at an American compensation study done within the Southern Baptist Convention to get a better understanding of what your church could/should be doing for your pastor, click here.
- Just make sure that you are paying your pastor well. While he should not be in the ministry for the money, the church would be served well by a man who wasn’t stressed over how to make ends meet.
1 Timothy 5:17 (NLT) “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.”
2. Unreasonable expectations on the family
Being in the pastorate is different than essentially any other profession. In virtually no other career does an employer assume that the spouse will be involved in the work of the one they hire. Yet, in the pastorate, churches get a steal when they get “two for the price of one.”
The wife may have to work a full-time job to make ends meet (or to remind herself that she has her own identity and isn’t simply valued for who she is married to – “the pastor’s wife”) but she is still often expected to be at all of the ladies events, to teach a Sunday School class, to volunteer in the nursery, and any number of other things. She is also expected to be a counselor, available every moment of the day. When she is absent from a church service because she is emotionally and physically drained and just doesn’t have anything more to give, some people wonder where she is and why she skipped church.
The pastor’s children also have undo pressure placed upon them. In my ministry, I can remember a time when my boys were harshly corrected for doing something that the other church kids never got corrected for (it was assumed that the pastor’s kids should know better). I can also remember a time when one of my sons was mercilessly, verbally mistreated by a member who was upset at me – they simply chose to take it out on him. I can also remember some times when church youth were engaged in a sinful activity and then looked at one of my boys and mocked them because they were “the pastor’s kid” and couldn’t do such a thing. My heart still breaks when I think of those times when my boys were much younger and they would come to us, start crying, and say they couldn’t bear the pressures of being a preacher’s kid. (“Preacher’s kid jokes” are funny to everyone except preachers and their families.) I could go on and on.
Fortunately, I have been blessed with a wife whose love for the Lord and people is deep and real. I have also been blessed with sons who have weathered the storms and are becoming men of character and competence. But, it hasn’t always been an easy road.
What You Can Do About It…
- In your church, protect your pastor’s family.
- Realize that a pastor’s wife will desire to serve in the church in some capacity and that the pastor’s children need to show that their parents are raising them well (1 Timothy 3:4-5). But, also realize that no one is perfect and there are pressures on the pastor’s family that you may not realize or understand. So, protect them.
- Correct anyone who tries to hold the pastor’s family to a different standard.
- Certainly stop someone who is verbally (or in any other way) abusing the pastor’s family.
- Be your pastor’s family’s biggest ally. Your church will benefit by having someone protect the pastor’s family from such undo mistreatment.
3. Comparison Comments
Pastors are often compared to others.
Sometimes, they are compared to pastors who lead much larger congregations. The pastor of the larger congregation is said to be a better leader or a better preacher. People don’t necessarily come out and say it. They just tell the pastor how much they enjoy “that” pastor’s ministry – while neglecting to ever encourage their own pastor. Their own pastor comes to feel like he can never measure up.
Sometimes, pastors are compared to the former pastor or the interim pastor who filled the pulpit before he arrived. One of the many internal jokes among pastors is that if you want to know how much your congregation loves you – leave. People will tend to gloss over your ministry and then compare the next pastor to you. And, if you just so happen to be an interim pastor who never makes any difficult leadership decisions or preach hard truths from Scripture (so you don’t develop too many enemies), almost certainly the church will compare their next pastor to you and he won’t stand a chance.
What You Can Do About It…
- Don’t compare your pastor to others. He has his own skill set. He has his own areas of giftedness.
- Let your gratitude and praise for him be specific and frequent.
- Recognize how God has gifted him and where his weaknesses are … and then help him. Make it possible for him to get continued education. Help him to surround himself with people and resources that help to shore up his weaknesses.
4. “Death by a thousand cuts”
Someone once said that our success in leadership is in direct proportion to our ability to tolerate pain. To lead any organization is to bring pain upon yourself. When you lead and make changes, some people won’t like it. When you lead too fast or too slow or aim at different targets than what some people desire, some people are going to take it on themselves to nail you. The only way to get away from the pain is to get out of leadership. Leadership is pain.
That’s why the pastor needs to be certain of his calling to preach and lead God’s people. He must train God’s people to do the work of ministry and help them on their road to holiness. He must move the church to ever increasing levels of health and effectiveness. And that will cause pain for him. Some people won’t like it and they will seek to harm (verbally, financially, emotionally, etc.) the pastor. But, he must love the Lord and His people and the people who are not yet saved enough that he is willing to endure the pain to accomplish his task.
What You Can Do About It…
- Demonstrate your love for your church and your pastor by confronting and stopping gossip and slander against the pastor wherever you hear it.
- Work to calm the critics and get them to see that grumbling was the one sin that ticked God off the quickest during the 40 year Israelite wandering in the wilderness.
- Look for ways to encourage your pastor and his wife to help offset the pain of leadership.
- Make it possible for the pastor to have one day off a week when ministry is taken care of by someone else (Associate Pastor, Deacons, etc.). Friend, even Jesus got away periodically to the mountains or to other desolate places to be alone and with His Father.
- Encourage your pastor and his family to take all of the vacation days he is allowed each year. Let him have that time to get recharged … but realize that he isn’t going to start relaxing until at least the 2nd or 3rd day of vacation.
5. Failure to ask pastors questions of care and concern
As I listened to this part of the podcast, I couldn’t help but think that a pastor’s wife experiences this, too. In my case, Kim experiences the negatives of this point much more than me. People can sense that Kim genuinely, deeply cares about them. More on this in a moment.
Pastors are called to shepherd (care for) the flock (church) God has entrusted to them. That means that they give. They listen. They are constantly being poured out. And if the pastor is truly God-called, he is going to care deeply for the folks in his congregation. When they hurt, he wants to know about it and hurt with them.
(As I write this, I just finished a meeting with a precious lady who is a member of my congregation that recently found out that she has stage 4 lung cancer. It is in both lungs and is also in her lymph nodes. My heart is breaking for her and I was honored that she brought me into her pain and asked that I pray with her.)
A pastor and his wife are brought into people’s pain virtually every time they show up to church. Whether it is a wayward child, a serious health diagnosis, the loss of a job, or a sore toe, people bring the pastor and his wife into their pain.
In some ways, as I mentioned above, it is an honor that people would do this. This means that they know we care. They know we will listen. They trust us, believing that confidential matters will remain confidential.
But, the problem arises when people unload their cares upon the pastor and his wife … and fail to care about what’s going on in the life of the pastor and his wife. There have been a few times in my ministry when someone noticed that Kim seemed discouraged – so I told them to watch my wife while she was at church. I told them to shadow her from a distance and observe how many times folks simply (solely) unloaded their problems on her as opposed to how many times people showed genuine care for her. It was noted that virtually every conversation that someone had with Kim was one-sided and very few expressed concern for her. Being at church hadn’t filled Kim’s water-well … it had drained her dry.
I suspect that people feel as if the rules are different for a pastor and his wife. They suspect that the minister and his spouse are super-human and have an endless reservoir out of which they do ministry. But, the truth is that if people simply “take out” of the pastor and his wife without feeling compelled to “put back in,” their pastor and his wife will eventually hit empty. They will have nothing else to give. They may even get to the point where they superficially go through the motions of caring but their emotional tank is completely dried up.
What You Can Do About It…
- Show genuine, heart-felt care for your pastor and his wife.
- In fact, be a “pastor” to the pastor and his wife and family. As they serve you, serve them back.
- Ask them about them (even though they are not at liberty to share all that they are feeling).
- Send them cards with words of (specific) encouragement.
- Take them out to eat … and keep the conversation warm and relational.
- I’m talking about relationship stuff. Make them feel valued and affirmed.
- Because the more you pour into them, the more they have the ability to pour back into others. If you ever let them hit empty, your church will suffer for it.
I hope this has been helpful to you. Again, the purpose is not to whine or to simply be negative. It is intended to provide understanding, to shed a little light on the world of the pastor and his family, so that you can come alongside to assist them.
After all, generally speaking, the healthier your pastor is, the healthier your church will be.
Hebrews 13:17 (CSB) “Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (emphasis mine)