Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.
“I resign from the church in my mind about ten times a year. Every time it has been on a Monday.”
It’s a direct quote from a pastor at the Church Answers’ forum. And I’ve heard similar quotes many times.
So why are Mondays so difficult for pastors? Why do they have thoughts of resignation on this day more than others? I’ve heard five reasons consistently.
Sunday is both emotionally energizing and draining. If that sounds like an emotional roller coaster, it is. There are many facets of Sunday ministry that are emotionally charged, but the sermon is the main reason. Pastors prepare with intensity and they preach with intensity. It is typically the highlight of a pastor’s week, but it is usually the most exhausting as well.
Someone made a negative comment before or after the sermon. Some of the most vulnerable moments for a pastor are right before or after the sermon. The pastor is intensely focused before the sermon and typically worn out after it. When a church member selects one of those times to make a snarky comment, it usually carries over to the next day.
There were a lot of meetings on Sunday. It makes sense. You already have a good number of the members available to meet. It helps them with their schedules. But it adds to an already exhausting day for pastors. When they wake up on Monday, they often feel like they played in a football game on Sunday.
Pastors feel like they neglected their families on Sunday. In reality, they often do. They have little time for spouses and children on such a busy day. The following Monday can feel like a hangover of regret.
They had a business meeting on Sunday night. Sunday evenings are the most common time for church business meetings. And church business meetings can get ugly. I spoke to one pastor whose church had a raucous business meeting until 10 pm on a Sunday evening. And he had after-business-meeting meetings until midnight. He was not in a very good mood on Monday morning.
Pastors, if you are ready to resign on Monday mornings, you are not alone. Don’t think you are an aberration or not in tune with the will of God. But give it a couple of days. Today’s sense of foreboding gloom will likely yield to a better disposition in just a few days.
And church members, pray for your pastors. Do everything you can to protect them and encourage them. Their Mondays can be a lot better if they know you care.
Many people have this naïve view that a pastor just has to preach and love people.
Not so. Pastors certainly have to give a priority to preaching and ministry to others, but the pastor’s week is filled with unexpected and multifaceted demands.
Many times pastors need to lead the church in a new endeavor, something that gets the members out of their comfort zone. And sometimes it gets pastors out of their comfort zone.
Relocation. A new ministry. A second campus. New staff and changing staff positions. Purchase of property.
These are but a few examples of leadership challenges some pastors have not seen before. These challenges not only require basic leadership skills, they require leadership skills in often-untested areas.
Change leadership. Financial risk-taking. Breaking of routines. New paradigms.
When pastors face these new challenges, it is not unusual for some to get cold feet. They decide the pain is not worth the potential gain. They get cold feet and settle for the status quo. Why? Here are seven of the most common reasons.
The critics. Major change often engenders major criticisms. Too many leaders will stick with the status quo until their churches are on the path to death. They just want to avoid the critics. Remember, the vote to go to the Promised Land lost 10 to 2. They naysayers yielded to the critics, the whiners, and comfort-seekers.
The energy drainers. These are the people ready to vote no before they hear the motion. They always have a better idea. They want to tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And they will wear the pastors out . . . if the pastors let them.
Lack of knowledge. Pastors are often placed in positions of leadership and relatively large budgets with no preparation. It’s hard to lead a challenging project if you can’t read a financial statement. And while pastors can find more seasoned laypersons to help them, the pastors’ lack of knowledge can be a showstopper.
Prayerlessness. With God all things are possible. But if pastors have gotten too busy for God, they are too busy to lead forward. Frankly, pastors should have cold feet if they have not prayed about their own leadership and the endeavor they are about to lead.
Short-term view. Pastors who don’t plan to hang around long can have cold feet about leading projects that may have a longer view. I have advised many pastors not to move forward on a major endeavor unless they plan to see it through. So cold feet in this case is probably the right temperature.
Inadequate staff and lay leadership. I get this one. I spoke with a pastor this week who expressed concerned about the leadership around him. He was not sure he would have the right team for a major and visionary endeavor. I urged him to look behind his present team and see if God would raise up some other leaders in the church.
Faith-as-idea. It really sounds exciting to take steps of faith . . . until it’s actually time to take those steps. To continue the Promised Land metaphor from point number one, leaders get to the edge of the Promised Land and freeze in their tracks when they see the challenges (see Numbers 13). Any step of faith will have its challenges. The question is: Is your faith bigger than your fears?
We need an army of church leaders who are bold and courageous. We need the spirit of Joshua 1 instead of Numbers 1. I pray for our pastors. I pray they will truly be the courageous people God has called them to be.
We really need to move forward to our Promised Land.
The church member may have meant well, but her words stung the new pastor. After all, he had been at the church for only three months, and he had already heard that sentiment expressed more than a dozen times.
He knew he would be living in the shadow of a legend. He just had no idea how big that shadow would be.
There are several succession situations for pastors that are often more difficult than others, I know. I hear about them almost every day. Here are five of the most common:
The long-term pastor. If a previous pastor has been at the church ten or more years, you can be assured the current pastor will hear many comparisons. Every pastor brings a new culture to the church. It often takes church members a few years to adjust.
The church-splitting pastor. This pastor left mad. Perhaps the pastor was fired or left angry about something that happened in the church. Instead of finding another church in another community, the pastor decides to start a church in the same community. Church members follow the pastor. When the new pastor arrives, he often has to deal with hurting and angry members. Some of the members will actually have family splits over choosing churches. It’s not a fun situation to lead.
The moral failure pastor. When there is pastoral moral failure, church members are hurt. Some are angry. Many of the congregants don’t know if they can trust a pastor again. The new pastor walks into a very difficult situation. He now has to pay for the sins of his predecessor.
The omnipresent pastor. This pastor seemed like he visited every member every month. He was in homes. He attended all events. He visited the hospital fifteen times a day. He counseled people every day. He went to funerals and weddings he did not officiate. He was the superman pastor. Except that his family suffered greatly. Except that the church suffered because he would never let go. He just enjoyed the attention too much. And now the remaining members want to know why the new pastor is not visiting them in their homes nine days a week.
The oratorical pastor. The previous pastor could preach with seemingly unmatched excellence. His sermons were legendary. He had more downloads to his podcasts than the current pastor has hairs on his head. Comparisons are frequent and not flattering for the new guy. And downloads are lower by 97 percent.
Does this situation sound familiar to some of you pastors?
Remember, your identity is in Christ.
Be comfortable in how God made and wired you.
You have nothing to prove in the comparison game.
This season of dealing with the past will fade into new opportunities that will cause members to look to the future with excitement and anticipation.
We leaders often enjoy the affirmation and adulation of others as we express our ideas, provide direction, and set future courses.
And we sometimes enjoy it so much that we only want people to agree with us and affirm us, even if we are wrong.
It’s called echo chamber leadership. Properly defined, it’s an environment in which leaders encourage and encounter only beliefs or opinions that match their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas and pushback are not considered.
For certain, it’s very dangerous. And Christian leaders are not invulnerable to it, far from it. Indeed the evangelical celebrity culture exacerbates the problem.
What are some key issues that help us leaders not fall into the echo chamber leadership trap? Here are six considerations:
It is the leader’s responsibility to avoid the echo chamber. We can’t lay the blame on the shoulders of those who may be under our leadership. Leaders may have firing or some other type of punitive authority over them. Leaders must take the necessary steps, not the leader’s followers.
Sycophants are extremely dangerous. They take the echo chamber to its extreme to let leaders know how wonderful they are. They gush over them, fawn over them, and seek to please them unendingly. Leaders can really enjoy such adulation and attention. They can make the leader seem the paragon of perfection. Such pride is a forerunner to a fall.
Leaders must seek out people who care enough about them to speak truth to them. A few years ago, Brad Waggoner, the number two leader at LifeWay, said some things to me that really ticked me off. I let him know I was not happy. His response: “I care more about you than the consequences of telling you. Go on and fire me.” Such friends are priceless, especially if they work for you. By the way Brad was right and I was wrong.
Social media and blogs can drive leadership to the echo chamber. Because any critic, naysayer, or nutcase can have a voice in the digital world, leaders can be tempted to withdraw to the seeming comfort and affirmation of the echo chamber. But the echo chamber is actually more dangerous than exposure to the critics and the crazies.
The leader’s response to contrary opinions and criticisms will send a message to the watching world. I was in the room when someone suggested a contrary opinion to the leader. He blew up like an implosion with 1,000 sticks of dynamite. We got the message. Don’t say a word unless we agree with him and can affirm him.
Moral failure is common among leaders who dwell in echo chambers. These leaders are convinced they are God’s gifts to humanity. They are the smartest person in the room. After all, everyone has told them so. They cannot fail. They will not be tempted. Then they are tempted and they fall. And they usually fall hard.
Nathan is one of my heroes of Scripture. He had the courage to speak truth and confront King David (2 Samuel 12). The consequences could have been dire and deadly. But Nathan loved David too much not to speak truth to him.
I am thankful for those who have Nathan-like courage. And, at least in this case, I am thankful for leaders who respond like David.
The echo chamber is a siren song. It leads to failure, destruction, and even death.
None of us leaders are exempt. Stay strong in the Lord.
I am having an amazing time reading through the book of Joshua. My pastor (who happens to be my son, Jess) is also preaching through the early chapters of the book in our church.
I just can’t seem to get enough of Joshua. Among the many reasons Joshua is my favorite biblical character other than Jesus is his uncanny leadership. For example, in Joshua 1, he transitions from becoming Moses’ servant to becoming the leader of Israel. It’s an amazing thing to read.
Joshua was one incredible leader.
We have many incredible leaders in our churches today. But, perhaps more often than we admit, some church leaders stop leading. I have spoken with hundreds, probably thousands, of them over the years. I hear common themes of why they put their leadership in neutral. Here are the five most common reasons:
They are weary of conflict and criticism. These leaders have died the death of a thousand cuts. They know when they provide real leadership, the critics and naysayers will come out of the woodwork. Some of the leaders have lost their jobs because they led. They thus move into a defensive posture.
They don’t know how to lead. Joshua had the mentorship of Moses for a generation. He was instructed. He was prepared. He was ready. Many of our church leaders know their Bible. They know theology. But they have never been trained or mentored to lead.
They overreact to autocratic leadership. We all know examples of when the pastor became a dictator instead of a leader. Sadly, that reality takes place in some churches on a regular basis. So some pastors decide they will never be a dictator. That’s good. But some pastors take it to an extreme and fail to exert leadership at all. That’s bad.
They don’t have people speaking into their lives on a regular basis. Any good leader seeks the counsel and wisdom of others. Unfortunately, pastors can become loners as they live on the islands of their own ministries. A few years ago, I began a ministry called Church Answers that provides a place for pastors and other church leaders to speak into one another’s lives in a safe place. It has been transformational for many of them.
They always seek consensus. I want to be careful with my words here. It is wise to see input and counsel. It is a good thing to listen to some outside voices. But every leadership decision ultimately needs a leader deciding. We can’t always lead by committees, consensus, or critics. It is cliché to say, “The buck stops here,” but the buck does have to stop somewhere.
When leaders fail to lead, a leadership vacuum follows. And any vacuum will be filled. It might be filled with a culture that turns inwardly looking after its own needs. It can be filled by disparate, divergent, and disagreeing voices. The people of Israel certainly went through that period: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him” (Judges 21:25). Or the vacuum can be filled with individuals or groups who insert themselves for their own power and agenda.
Some church leaders view leadership as an endeavor to be delegated to others. Such is a path toward an inward focus, competing groups, disharmony, muddled direction, and overall frustration.
Most church members have no idea their pastor was depressed. They don’t know until they are awakened to the reality of some of the dramatic consequences of the depression: broken marriages; sexual affairs; resignation from ministry; and even suicide.
If you are a pastor reading this post and you are struggling with depression, please get help. Too many of you pastors have been taught that depression is a sign of failure in ministry, that it is something that must be hidden from view. Those are lies, blatant lies. Please get help. Now.
But the primary purpose of this post is to explain the precipitating factors to depression. More clearly, these are the five primary causes pastors identified as the reasons behind their depression. Each of the causes is followed by a direct quote from pastors who shared with me their struggles.
Spiritual warfare. “I don’t mean this in a profane way, but there was a point in my ministry when all hell broke loose. I can’t explain the attacks any way other than spiritual warfare. The Enemy was intent on destroying my ministry, and I began to spiral downward emotionally.”
The surprising reality of pastoral leadership. “I wish someone had told me how tough it is to be a pastor. My single counsel was to preach the Word, and I understand the priority of preaching. But, after a year or so in my first pastorate at age 31, I saw the underbelly of local church life. I was just caught off guard. And it took me some time before I realized I was truly depressed.”
Sense of inadequacy. “My church is declining. While I don’t get hung up on numbers, my members started talking about the decline. And when we had to delete a position because we could no longer pay the person, I really begin to hit rock bottom. I felt like it was all my fault.”
Critics and bullies. “Pastoral leadership really can be a death by a thousand cuts. It’s not any one person or criticism; it’s the constant and steady stream of criticisms. It wears on you. My depression came on gradually, so by the time I was in deep depression, I did not see it coming.”
Loneliness. “It’s really hard to find a true friend when you are a pastor. And when you have no one to talk to about your struggles and questions, life can get lonely. That is why Church Answers has been a God-send to me. I get to ask questions and share my struggles in a safe place.”
The pastor in number five mentioned Church Answers, a dynamic community of church leaders. It’s a place where you can get your church questions answered 24/7. And, more importantly, it’s a place where you will never feel alone. I urge you to become a part of this community while it is open this week. It may be one of the best decisions you make in ministry.
Depression is real with pastors. It seems to be pervasive. May we who serve alongside them, staff and laity alike, take a few minutes a day to pray for our pastors.
It could very well be one of the most important ministries we have.
It was not an unusual question at Church Answers. For those of you not familiar with Church Answers, it is a 24/7 resource where you can ask any church question and get a response within a few hours.
Here is the context. The pastor was the only paid staff member at the church, but now funds were available to bring on another full-time staff person. So he asked us in the 2,000-member Church Answers’ community to offer input on what his first hire should be.
I was blown away.
The responses, at least as I write these words, were 100 percent in urging him to get a children’s minister. There were no divergent opinions. One church leader after another exhorted him to go this route.
So why is the children’s minister position is such demand? The Church Answers community let us know, with most of the responses fitting in one of five categories.
Millennials have a lot of kids. The Millennial generation is the largest generation in America’s history (though they may be surpassed by Gen Z). There are 78 million young adults ranging in ages from 18 to 38. And they have lots of kids. If they visit a church, one of their highest priorities is the quality of the children’s ministry.
A healthy children’s ministry usually results in a healthy student ministry. It makes sense. If there is quality teaching and ministry for the children, these children are more likely to move to student ministry better prepared for life and better discipled for God’s work.
A quality children’s ministry requires a large volunteer force. Indeed, this rationale was one of the key reasons the leaders at Church Answers responded in unanimity for calling a children’s minister. Leading the volunteer ministry can be a full-time job by itself.
If churches desire to reach families, they must be prepared to reach children. If the Boomer generation acted like helicopters and hovered over their kids, the Millennial generation is acting like sidecars, and want to go wherever the motorcycle/child goes. You can’t reach a family with kids unless you are really prepared to reach the kids.
Parents insist on safety, security, and hygiene for their kids. We live in a nervous time heightened by the greater awareness of sex abuse, shooters, and germs. Parents want to know the church is a safe place for their kids. The presence of a quality children’s minister is a huge positive statement for these parents.
We saw this trend five years ago. It is now a reality. The staff position of the greatest demand in congregations is the children’s minister.
Not a week goes by when I don’t hear of a pastor leaving one church headed to another. It happens. We all get that. Unfortunately, some of the names or churches mentioned are the same ones I heard just months earlier. For this post, I’ll refer to anything shorter than 6-9 months tenure as a “short pastorate.
While some circumstances do call for quick pastoral turnover, it’s hard not to wonder if some churches fire their pastor (or the pastor bails) too quickly. Regardless of which side cuts the other loose, the church and pastor are nearly always worse off as a result. The unintended consequences of short pastoral tenure take their toll on both sides.
Members lose trust in the pastors, and pastors lose trust in churches. This seems obvious, but if a pastor leaves a church and the church feels like the pastor burned them in the process, the next pastor will find the deck stacked against them. If the pastor is the one burned, there will be a greater scrutinizing and distrust of the next church—if there is a next church.
Your current church will wonder if it will happen to them. If you had a short pastorate at your last stop, the church you go to will inevitably wonder if the same will happen to them. Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Short pastorates eat up trust on both sides of the equation.
The staff is demoralized. Regardless of where the blame for the short pastorate lies, the staff is left to pick up the pieces after a pastor leaves. They have to answer the questions, deal with more uncertainty, and try to move forward in a new normal they weren’t expecting—and one they often contributed little to.
The vision of the church is clouded. When a new pastor comes in, a new vision and direction is usually cast. After a short pastorate, there is great uncertainty about the vision and direction of the church. Do you continue in the direction the last pastor was leading? Do you return to what it was before the short pastorate? Does someone internally rise up and cast a new vision? Those are just three options. And it’s likely that different areas of the church will gravitate to a different one. Then you have a whole new set of problems.
Financial waste. This is the most practical consequence of a short pastorate. Financial resources are expended to find a new pastor only to turn around and spend that much or more to do it again within just a few months. It’s a wasteful use of funds. Money for ministry becomes money for mistakes.
In closing, if you’re in a situation and considering leaving your church after just a few months, I exhort you to reconsider and pray earnestly. Far too often “God told me” becomes a convenient cover for “this is hard, and I want out.” Churches, the same goes for you. Far too often “God told us” becomes a convenient cover for “we don’t want to change.”
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.
As I was trying to discern some of the qualities and characteristics of pastors who are doing really well in ministry, I was surprised that the most common trait was an attitude of abundant gratitude.
Simply stated, pastors who have an attitude of continuous gratitude are doing very well in ministry. They are joyous pastors. They serve joyous congregations. They see a steady flow of first-time guests at their churches. And they are more likely to see many church members growing as more devoted followers of Christ.
Why? Why are thankful pastors doing so well in ministry? As I have come to know these pastors, I see five common answers to this question.
Thankful pastors are focused on that which really matters. We have a limited amount of emotional energy. We can choose to focus on the energy drainers or those things that renew our energy. Thankful pastors focus less on critics because they are focusing on the blessings of God. They are able to see more clearly God’s vision for the church, because they are seeing the good things God has already done through their attitude of thanksgiving.
Thankful pastors have a contagious attitude. The church often takes on the personality of the pastor. If the pastor is legalistic, the church is legalistic. If the pastor has a dreary demeanor, the church follows. But if the pastor is continuously thankful, the congregation becomes a thankful church. That’s a fun and joyous place to be.
Thankful pastors attract those who are not yet in church. They remind me of the passage in the early church where the numbers were growing daily because they were “enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). The unbelieving world is attracted to a place of joy and thanksgiving.
Thankful pastors lead congregations that give abundantly. In the same context of Acts 2 I noted above, the joyous and awe-filled church gave sacrificially and abundantly (Acts 2:45). People give out of a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving, not one of guilt or compulsion.
Thankful pastors tend to have longer tenure. They are so thankful for their present churches that they don’t have the green grass syndrome for other churches. They stick around long enough to develop trust, earn a place in the community, and establish a healthy leadership approach.
It is indeed one of the most consistent characteristics I have seen of successful pastors. Thankful pastors tend to do well in ministry.
By the way, I am so thankful for you pastors and other church leaders. I am thankful for your ministries and your sacrificial service. I am thankful I have the opportunity to serve you.
I asked pastors and other church staff about the amount of time taken for vacations each year. Most of the responses came from pastors, and many of those pastors were pretty intense about it.
They spoke of their dire need for vacation time; of the constant interruptions during vacations; of learning the hard way about forfeiting vacation time; and about some church members who don’t believe pastors should take any vacation time.
After I put the survey out on social media, I received many responses. Here are the reported annual vacation times, mostly from pastors:
None to 1 week 21%
2 weeks 28%
3 weeks 14%
4 weeks 25%
5 or more weeks 12%
The results were fascinating, almost forming a perfect bell curve. But note that nearly half of the pastors take only 0 to 2 weeks of vacation.
We also heard several other issues related to vacations:
Very few pastors take all of their allocated vacation at one time.
Many of the pastors were very sensitive about how many Sundays they missed. Some of them were in churches that would not let vacation time be inclusive of Sundays.
Two factors typically contributed to more vacation time: size of the church and length of pastoral tenure.
One-third of the pastors volunteered that they always take fewer vacation days than the church permits.
Some of the pastors are challenged to take vacation time if their spouse works. Coordination of schedules is not always easy.
Bi-vocational pastors, as a rule, have much greater difficulty taking vacations than other pastors.
What is your vacation schedule? What are some of your thoughts about vacations?
Let me hear from you.
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