In my talks with pastors and ministry leaders, I have heard some repeated themes. One common theme is they have a story of a failed leadership experience. It may have happened in their first church. There was one church experience, perhaps with a program or a person, which turned from bad to worst. Or, many times it is in their current ministry and the reason for our conversation, which kept them from leading well.
When they have recovered from the experience, looking back, they wish they had known then what they know now. You’ve probably got some of those learning experiences too. It may have been an incident or the entire time in a particular ministry, but there were critical errors, which kept you and the church from accomplishing all God had for you. There were errors in leadership.
Obviously, the main, and most damaging, reasons a pastor doesn’t lead well are always spiritual more than practical. Jesus is the leader of his church and if we follow his instructions the church will ultimately be led well. We are to listen and obey the voice of God—first and foremost. But, God gave us minds and experiences, and we must not ignore the practical aspects of good leadership.
Here’s my question. Why don’t we do a better job as pastors and leaders at learning from each other?
I’ve reflected back on some of those conversations and there are things I have heard consistently over time. I want to share them in hopes we can learn from others.
Here are seven things I’ve repeatedly heard, which kept a pastor from leading well:
1. “I Failed to Delegate.”
Many pastors try to be a solo leader. They know the expectation placed upon them and they know what they want to achieve, and they begin to think if it is going to be done right they must do it. They begin to try to control every outcome. Sadly, it can even limit the leader’s willingness to walk by faith. It doesn’t take long until a pastor burns out, potential leaders disappear and people are never developed and discipled. It’s a recipe for eventual disaster in leadership.
2. “We Couldn’t See Beyond Today.”
Many pastors get a tunnel vision in leading people. They only see what they see. They see current programs, maybe even programs which are currently working. They see the way things have always been done. They see, or realize, the expectations placed upon them by church leadership (or the loudest person in the church or the one who types in all caps.)
They don’t consider the unseen, the yet to be imagined or the hidden gems of opportunity. Again, often this is a matter of faith, or laziness, sometimes a personality wiring, or maybe just falling into a rut of routine. In the sameness of today, things become stale and eventually people become bored, and someday, especially leaders or people who want to see progress, disappear.
3. “I Ignored the Real Problems.”
The real problems aren’t always the spoken problems. They aren’t the obvious problems. The real problems are the underlying reasons behind a problem. They usually deal with heart problems. What people are really thinking, but aren’t saying. The real problems always involve people and often involve perceptions, which may or may not be reality.
For example, in the churches I’ve served, I’ve experienced the reality that over time, people—even good, loving people—can become selfish about what they want. They can become defensive about any change—even needed change—if it is going to impact their personal comfort. Sadly, I’ve even known people who were willing to let the church die rather than let the church change.
Those are the real problems.
4. “We Resisted Change Too Long.”
Change is coming—one way or another. I have always found it is better to be the change agent, helping to craft the direction of change, rather than trying to navigate change when it is no longer an option. Over time, if change is ignored, change will be thrust upon you, and this is never welcome change.
Momentum is extremely difficult to get back if you ever lose it. It’s easier to shift momentum to something new through change than it is to rebirth it when momentum is completely absent.
5. “I Tried to Please Everyone.”
When you do this you really please no one. Your time management isn’t under control. You are pulled in so many directions you do nothing effectively. Instead of leadership there is chaos. The loudest voices win, and the silent ones you actually have a chance of leading disappear. And you end up one very tired, skittish, ineffective pastor.
6. “We Ignored Our Community.”
This one happens slowly over time. No church—or at least I don’t think any church—sets out to ignore their community. It’s a gradual occurrence. As churches get comfortable with their current programs, are busy ministering to the people within, and fellowship becomes exclusive to the people we already know, over time the community is less a part of the vision.
And, frankly it is easier to stay in the confines of our four walls. The community is hard and messy at times. (Okay, it’s messy most of the time.) But, isn’t this who we’ve been called to be? My Bible reads, “Go and make disciples.”
7. “I Neglected My Family.”
This one breaks my heart every time I hear it. Many pastors tell me they started to have problems at home when the ministry received more focus than the family. Almost every month, when I was pastoring in revitalization, I talked with a pastor who was walking away from ministry, because they realized they were going to lose their family if they didn’t. Walking away isn’t always the worst thing. Sadly, too many pastors stay until it’s too late to repair the damage. Very sad.
Again, let’s learn from each other.
Are any of these things keeping you from leading well?
Ron Edmondson is CEO of Leadership Network, former pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and the planter of two churches. This article originally appeared on RonEdmondson.com.