For this pastor appreciation month, allow me to help you understand and appreciate a unique challenge faced by Lead Pastors.
I was a Lead Pastor for ten years. I saw God do many incredible things among the people I pastored, while also enduring some of the most head-scratching, baffling, and painful experiences in my life. And much of these painful moments are unique to Lead Pastors—or whoever it is people mean when they say, "My pastor." So, allow to me address the other pastors in the room.
Lead Pastors Lead in Being Mistreated
While you elders/pastors have plurality with each other, you don’t with the church. It is critical to navigate this complexity. Here’s what I mean: Whoever is upfront and out front the most will catch the most flack, harsh criticism, unnecessary complaints, and cruel expectations. It is vital for elder teams to thread this needle.
Lead Pastors get emails from members who are angry they didn’t attend a high school graduation party. Lay pastors don’t get that email.
Lead Pastors get gossiped about for not going to dinner with a wealthy family because he had to decide between finishing a sermon and keeping a counseling appt and going to his son’s school presentation—or pleasing a powerful church member. Lay pastors/elders don't get that treatment. And in many cases, other pastors may not have even been invited to the dinner. Why? Because the Lead Pastor is perceived to have a locus of significance and power, and that’s what some people are after. They want to be in that orbit, in that inner ring. Lead Pastors are often prostituted for egos.
Unhealthy Church Cultures
Unhealthy church and leadership cultures dehumanize a pastor. They can treat pastors like they don't need sleep, like they don't have families, like they don't have personalities that differ from their preferences or assumptions. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our pastors is to recognize their dignity and humanity.
I recently said on Instagram that the most gossiped about person in a local church is the Lead Pasor and his family. You wouldn't believe how many messages of affirmation, "Thank you," and laments I received. God help us.
The elders must do what they can to absorb, deter, and disciple through this insane culture. Do not give in to the gossip, fear, and the posturing silverbacks in the congregation. You need a tender heart, a steady hand, and unflinching eyes.
Fear of man is a sin that will hollow out the meaning of "shepherd," causing its leadership to collapse under the slightest change in the atmospheric pressure of the church. The more you give in, the more you feed the problem, and then you burn out a Lead Pastor because he isn’t omnipresent or omnipotent. I’ve been in this awful, soul-draining space. Many pastors are there too.
What You Can Do
Have this talk as an elder team, so you can:
- Acknowledge any imbalance in the group.
- Help the Lead Pastor weather storms with encouragement, prayer, and protection.
- Disappoint people’s unfair expectations at a safe speed.
- Create a new culture.
That’s when you have true plurality. Theory meeting reality.
If you are a member:
- Give your pastor a break.
- Repent where needed.
- Cut him some slack.
- Pray for him.
- Bless him.
I appreciate what Lead Pastors endure for our joy, I hope you will too.