If you are a pastor you must ask yourself this question, am I running on fumes, is my tank empty? I found several diseases among pastors and Christian workers that I have worked with and observed over the years; and each disease I have personally felt when I have gone unchecked. If we do not understand the dangerous traps we can fall into, or how to guard ourselves, then we will be totally ineffective to function in the body of Christ. Not to mention to be unable to lead it. This applies not only to pastors and leaders, but all Christians. Our tanks must be full to be effective in the kingdom of God. We are driven by joy and passion for what Christ has called us to do, if not; perhaps it is time for some self-examination and retrospection, and lots of prayer for what your call really is. Or you may just need to reprioritize your schedule, and learn better people and administration skills; or you just need to go to Disneyland. God's leaders must not go around frustrated and wounded, because this only serves our enemy, and the destruction of the church.
This disease is extremely dangerous and destructive to the body of Christ. It is dangerous to any person, especially the Christian, and doubly for the pastor and leader.
If we are wise and discerning of ourselves we should realize what our limits are and what we are capable of doing. When we lose this control of who we are, and when we no longer feel in control of our circumstances, then the results are that we become angry and frustrated. Sometimes the anger turns within us, which is depression. Because we lost control, and we no longer trust ourselves, and the only recourse becomes our emotions that are forced to strike out or strike within. We become distracted and distant from our relationship with God, therefore we become disillusioned with our role and ourselves in ministry. What happens is we lose our perspective of who we are to God, just as that pastor did that I had lunch with.
Anger is something I personally know very well. I'm the type of person that can go through a great crisis un-frayed, I can do many tasks at the same time, be in a lot of stress and handle it fairly well, until the one straw that breaks the camel's back. Usually it is something simple such as, I can't find my keys or I misplaced my meeting agenda; then, I lose it! Fortunately over the years I learned the warning signs, and I stop what I am doing and fall to my knees and pray, do a few breathing exercises and get control over myself.
A lot of people in full-time ministry have a problem with anger, because we are in very stressful situations, dealing with complicated issues and various personalities all striving for our attention. All too often the pastor becomes overwhelmed and blows. The Lord has personally shown me over the years the destructive power of anger. I observed it many times in other people and have seen myself come very close to just teetering on the edge of my own personal destruction. Over the years I learned to control this area, as God has graciously given me scriptures and insights and techniques to help me control the raging beast that dwells within all of us.
Anger is formed within us when we lose our perspective of ourselves, which indicates we are not happy and do not feel God's blessings. Some of the symptoms of this are when we burst out in anger over something significantly benign, which becomes directed at a family member, spouse or child. What I used to do was be sarcastic and cynical and even condescending to other people. I was not happy with myself in my situation, so I would cover my anger with inappropriate humor, which I considered being harmless, but it was not.
Anger turned inward becomes depression and many pastors suffer this riveting and paralyzing infection; that cuts us off from effective relationships, and prevents us from being effective for the kingdom of God. We lose perspective of God working in us, we lose the perspective of His grace and mercy, and the power that He gives us to overcome our situation, we lose perspective of hope, and therefore we do not communicate in our actions and deeds effectively. Pastors take on a lot of battle damage from churches, sometimes that damage seems irreversible and irrepairable. So then we justify our inability to pastor and blame those who cause the damage. One of the things I learned over the years was when we take on the damage and the destruction and the blows we need to realize that our God is greater in us and will deflect those blows for us when we realize fully His presence working in us.
The pastor's responsibility is not the hurt that we may receive, or the suffering we go through; rather, our response must be what we give to the situation with our attitude. And to take our lead from how our Lord manifested the suffering and rejection He went through. Too often pastors forget the basics of the faith, and the responsibility we have to be above the pain, and surrender ourselves to Christ in any situation. For me it is always an encouragement to hear the stories from missionaries and pastors overseas who go through immense situations, that most of us in the states can only fathom. It is like going to Mexico and using the bathroom in a barrio, that is a very poor area. Where the local community bathroom is a "stink hole" in the ground; it gives us so much appreciation for the old run down bathroom we may have. If you cannot see beyond your situation and prayer is not helping, then look to others who have gone through so much more, it should give you a better perspective, and enrich your prayer life.
Ephesians tells us, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the Devil a foothold…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ- God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:26-27; 29-31)
This passage is telling us that we must put off our old ways, and to get out of the shell of our old lives and put on Christ. For pastors it is imperative that we have a healthy understanding of Scripture and theology, of how God is working in people's lives. Because if we don't realize the power of our Lord who transforms us, then we will not be able to realize it for ourselves, and we will not be able to communicate it to our parishioners. The result of this lack of knowledge of who we are corrupts us and erodes our effectiveness, until there is nothing left of us but resentment and depression. Because there is nothing else, nothing for us to believe in because there is nothing to fill us, and nothing to empower us, therefore we go through life and ministry like playing charades with the effect of anger and resentment. When we have a healthy understanding of who Christ is, and how He is working in us; then we will be able to guard ourselves by His power so that the Devil cannot get hold of us. There is nothing the Devil likes better than pulling the strings of empty pastors.
Losing control of our emotions
The pastor needs to have a healthy balance of composure, especially in public. I was picking up my clothes at the dry cleaner, when a fellow pastor was in the midst of yelling viciously at the dry cleaner for not taking a stain out of one of his suits, that pastor lost it. The dry cleaner did his best to try to remove the stain, but he was unable to do what the pastor wanted. The pastor would not listen or understand the situation and he lost total control. Imagine what was going through the mind of that dry cleaner, being chewed out by a man representing God. Would that dry cleaner ever want to visit that pastor's church or any church for that matter? Probably not!
Pastors as well as Christians are human, and are prone to all kinds of emotions, and will and should experience all kinds of emotions. Emotions are wonderful, God created them for us to experience life and the relationship to Him and to each other, and we cannot accomplish that without emotions. We are not to be Vulcan's, logical and cold all the time, we are to work on and experience life and the joy that comes from it. But with leadership, as well as with being a Christian, comes responsibility. We must compose ourselves, because we have a responsibility to be stable, as a representative of Christ: this means not only to refrain from yelling at the dry cleaner but modeling Christ with composure.
There are two passages that have ministered to me greatly over the years:
"A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hot headed and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish things, a crafty man is hated…. Better a patient man then a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city". (Proverbs 14:16-17; 16:32)
There's been a lot of news lately on political leaders who have lost control over their emotions and their lust, yet society sees a dualism in these leaders. A decade ago, such a discrepancy would have meant the certain ruin of a political leader. But today people have come to accept that a person's actions do not necessarily reflect their ability to perform their job. The Word of God is not in agreement with this assessment as you can see for yourself. The scary thing is that the church follows the trends of society throughout church history. When society's morals start to change the churches will soon follow.
So it won't be too far down the road where the pastor has an affair and the congregation will quickly forgive and forget without the need of correction and discipline. I've actually seen this take place. In my book Pew Sitting (coming May 08), I mentioned a church I was on staff with when the senior pastor was having an affair and was ousted from the church. What I did not mention is right away he went on staff at another church without any discipline or correction from the denominational authorities, nor any admittance of wrongdoing on his behalf. This pastor left his wife and family, with the attitude of I deserve a better life and a change, with no apologies and no looking back. How soon will our Christian culture embrace such behavior as normative? Once we do, what is the difference between us and the world, what is that we have to offer; certainly not the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the wisdom of the Bible.Discipline
Discipline, according to God, is the mark of a wise person. As Christians, and especially as leaders of the church, we have an imperative to model Christ's character. We must realize the destructive nature of anger. I once worked with an Elder who felt it was her duty to rant and rage and yell at the top of her voice at anyone she did not agree with. She was a person who loved conflict and thrived on it, it gave her the nourishment to her self-esteem, instead of receiving her nourishment from the disciplines of the faith. She firmly believed that the healthy way of dealing with a situation was to raise her voice and engage in uncontrolled emotionalism. Numerous times the pastor went to her with these passages, but she felt that she was right and it was healthy to "let it all out". Therefore she placed her trust on her feelings over what Scripture had to say.
It is not healthy to allow anger to blow up, or let it turn inward and destroy you. What is healthy and wise is to surrender our anger over to the Lordship of Christ. That is what wisdom is: controlling our emotions. Because if we do not we will sit in an empty pew or preach to an empty church or unemployment line, and be lonely, wondering where everyone is. We must have a healthy self-assessment of our personality and how we deal with stress and overwhelming situations. If you feel you do not have a grasp on this, then it is time to seek a professional who can help you through it. There many resources out there, don't be a fool and let it go unchecked; God's Word is clear and paramount on the subject. When we model James, what we are doing is modeling Christ.
James tells us: " My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you"(James1:19-20)
Ancient Greek culture placed a high regard on leaders who were elegant with speeches and proclamations. A Greek citizen can rise quickly in political circles and powers with well prepared speeches that tickle people's ears with quality and interest. The same applies today. God wants us to put our priorities on listening. God has given us two ears and one mouth, thus we need to spend more time listening to people, and not so much time on eloquent speech.
I had a friend several years ago who grew up in a very wealthy household, and just finished his college degree in English. So when he went to church he had the attitude that he was better than the pastor, because he could enunciate words better, and could structure grammar better too. He would always critique the pastor's sermons to his standard of speech eloquence. This particular pastor was a gifted communicator, and on occasion he would let a mispronounced word slip out, or speak in a run-on sentence. My friend would make fun of it, and rationalized he did not have to live the way the pastor was teaching. I tried to explain the message is not so much how it is said, but what it says; he would not listen.
If the pastor and Christian want to grow in godliness, then the fast track is learning to listen, especially listening to the Word of God. It is listening that will progress us in our relationship with Christ and our relationship to other Christians, and our relationships to people around us. When we listen we are holding back our desires, and it motivates us to empathize with compassion and care. Thus the person feels listened to and ministered to. This is an essential call of our Lord, to which we must respond, especially the leader.
The Bible clearly tells us to be slow to anger, when we do this we embrace comfort and we bring calmness to the storm that we would normally start and escalate. Being calm in any given situation will bring sound judgment and stability to a crisis. Just as if you are in an earthquake; would you rather have a leader who is out of control with their motions screaming and bidding for themselves, or would you rather have a leader who is prepared, who stays calm and organizes everybody to safety? This is the job of the pastor, to be calm and collect and in control of their emotions, especially anger. Then they can lead effectively, and model the right path that God desires for us to follow.
One of the biggest problems with young adults is their need for intimacy and care. Not sexual intimacy, which is quickly substituted for the real need; rather the intimacy of listening and caring. Most young people feel they are not listened to. They feel they are not cared for and unloved, the results of that can be disastrous. Such as drugs, alcohol and falling away from the Kingdom of God. When we do a better job of listening, then we will be doing a better job of reaching out to people around us. These people want to be listened to; they want to be cared for, and even ministered to, even though they may not admit it. So we must place our emphasis on our ears and not our mouths. A fruit of this will be a church free of conflict and anger, where people are growing in the Lord, loving and caring for one another!
The Chaos of Competition
Another aspect that pastors need to be on guard for is the competitive nature that dwells in the male Warrior heart. By the way, women are not immune to this. Pastors tend to be competitive with other pastors and miss the opportunities of cooperation, replacing it with pursuits of ambition. Most pastors can be task-oriented, evaluating their self worth based on the numbers of people attending their congregations, or the programs and accomplishments that they may perceive, often comparing themselves to the previous pastor, or the church down the street.
Yes, we need to do our best and give a hundred and ten percent for the glory of God, but also we do not need to be obsessed with the tendency to measure up to the mega- church in the big city. We need to keep our focus on the big picture that Christ calls us to: Teaching, discipleship, and leading. The opposite of this is a maintenance mentality. Or the pastor is going through ministry in a mediocrity pattern, never really giving it their best shot because of the fear of failure. Or the 'why bother' attitude since no one appreciates me and nobody cares. Pastors must be careful where their motivation comes from, and realize it must come from the passion and conviction, and the heart's desire to please God. We are not in the business of pleasing our peers, or grading accomplishments, nor should we be hiding in our closets too afraid to do anything.
Growth statistics are just one aspect of an indicator of a healthy church. True success is being obedient to what God has called us to do, and realizing we are responsible to serve, but are not responsible for the results. Our surrender to the will of God, over our will and desires, is success; to have the focus that God has, and the passion and prayer to follow through, is what we are called to do. These are the marks of a successful church leader.
I worked with a pastor once who was very ambitious and worked 80 hours a week and enjoyed every single minute of it. He had to be in total control of the church and had the attitude of I'm the pastor and no one else can do this but me. This church had over 1100 parishioners and the only ministry staff was a senior pastor and myself, the Youth Pastor. He flatly refused to hire any associates or directors to oversee ministries. His workaholic tendencies turned into alcoholism, then eventually the complete alienation of this family and congregation. This pastor ended up being driven out of ministry in disgrace, the last time I saw him he was selling Bibles out of the trunk of his car like a scene in the movie "Paper Moon".
When pastors have the driving ambition and a 'win at all cost' attitude, it does nothing to glorify God, all it does is tear down each other and what God really wants us to accomplish. Egotism and a warrior nature must not consume us; rather, we must submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ and His glory. We are to seek His love and His approval only. Ministers, pastors, priests, and clergymen must all come together and offer support and encouragement and bury the competition, replacing it with cooperation, to give God the glory. Yes, there are theological and ideological differences; yet, we can have the attitude of agreeing to disagree for the support and community building that the effective pastor needs. I'm not saying we should be in fellowship with cults or aberrant groups, but suggesting that Catholic and Protestant denominations can and should come together in prayer and support.
Beware of the trap of thinking your ministry is just a job
The pastor must not view his ministry as just a job. We must have a clear understanding of the call that God has given us as full-time Christian workers. The call for pastors is to be disciples and children of God, as well as leaders and shepherds of God's people. It's not a job, we're not selling slurpees at 7-11. If you think it's just a job, putting in your 40 hours and going through the motions, looking forward to your day off or retirement; if so, you are not serving God, you are serving your paycheck. Yes, pastors are very underpaid and the church leadership must remedy this situation, so the workmen are worth their wages; pastors need to be paid the same level as a similar position in secular society. Pastors have families to provide for and should have a just income. But pastors are not there to earn a paycheck; but to serve the Lord. Ministry is not the occupation to be chosen by default or accidentally fall into.
Remember the Responsibility of Truth
When the pastor and leadership of the church spends all their time planning programs, building buildings, and solving interpersonal conflicts within the congregation, there is something wrong. We need buildings that can be used effectively, to house the programs. We need programs to reach out and engage people at all stages of life. But when this is our primary focus, then the main task falls to the side. We are first called to be disciplers and equipers of God's people. The point of the building and the purpose of the programs are facilities, instruments and tools for discipleship! Growing people in maturity must be the driving force of the church, not the peripheral things. We are not to be distracted from the primary purpose. All that we will be doing is just tricking ourselves and fooling our flock, if we spend all of our time in trivialities and the busy-ness for the sake of being busy, and not producing for the Lordship of Christ. We must ask ourselves what we are doing. The pastor must be wise with his schedule and time, at the same time be open to anyone who needs to be loved, cared for and listened to.
There was a poll taken by a sociologist named Jeffrey Haddan (Prayer Net Newsletter, Nov. 13, 1998); he polled over 7400 Protestant ministers. He found that 13 to 51 percent of ministers, depending on their denomination, accepted Jesus' physical resurrection as a fact. His poll states between 19 and 60 percent of ministers believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. The poll goes on to say between 67 and 95 percent of ministers believe that the scriptures are true in faith, history and practice. These statistics are extremely despairing. What do these ministers think they are doing, what is their purpose, and what are they trying to accomplish in God's Holy Church? If you are the church leadership and you do not believe in the tenets of Scripture you have no business being in leadership and certainly no business being the Shepherd and teacher of the flock. What you are is a wolf in sheep's clothing, which will be harshly judged by God.
The pastor must be theologically sound. A pastor who does not have a good theology is like an engineer who does not know math; he would totally be unable to do his job of designing. A pastor that is not theologically sound is like a surgeon who does not know anatomy and physiology, would you want them to operate on you? When we are in the pulpit proclaiming the truth of Christ it better be just that, the truth of Christ. Not our inclinations or new ideas, or the latest trend in theological thinking. All these new waves of theology just confuse and alienate the body of Christ, which is the parishioners we serve and are called to protect from false doctrine, and lead to God's truth. Most of these new ideas keep changing and conflicting, and only last a few years until the latest theological fad comes into play. Why play with the fire of that game, when God's truth remains the same, only our creative thinking keeps changing? It's good to be creative, as long as it does not go against the teachings of Scripture.
The Bible is timeless and true, and a minister must have a high view of Scripture that is extremely high if not all we will do is elevate ourselves as the judge of God's Word. And then God's Word becomes subordinate to our way of thinking. Then we become the Bible's judge, and thus do not have to follow its precepts. In other words, without a healthy view of Scripture we proclaim ourselves as god and this is a fatal mistake. The Bible is not a collection of mystical teachings that you can pick and choose from, it is not a smorgasbord. Do not fool yourselves that your new way of thinking is better than 1900 years of Christian doctrine and history. We must stick with the basics and offer deeper teaching and insights, with the challenge and application to promote the growth in Christ for the people we care for.
The pastor's job goes beyond just shepherding, teaching and administering programs. The pastor as protector of the people of God must also protect them with the truth of God. Truth does not change, regardless of what we hear in our seminaries and on TV, and in some of the books that are coming out. Truth is not relative, it is not changing, and it remains the same. The pastor is the guardian of truth, and must have an understanding of this premise. If not, the fallout would be disastrous when we face false doctrines, because we would not be able to distinguish them, and that would lead people away from the truth of God. The people under our care will not be able to discern the difference of false teaching, because we would not know and thus would not properly teach them. We would be unable to protect them as pastors and leaders. Just as a bank teller would not be able to detect a phony dollar bill unless they know very well what a real dollar bill feels and looks like.
It's also imperative that the pastor makes stands on moral and value grounds, especially amongst their denomination. Too many pastors let things go, figuring someone else will say something or speak up; when in fact most pastors do not agree with some of the rulings of their denomination. Morals, values, and purity are virtues that need to be modeled and defended, because that is what we are offering the world alongside the person and work of Christ. Realizing these aspects is so important that there has to be a difference that sets aside the Christian church from the other religions and cults of the world. The gospel is our truth and our difference and it is that difference that models what is real to the non-Christian. This must be demonstrated effectively and be real and not phony. Because the phony Christian, and especially the phony leader, does more damage to the non-believer than just about anything else, besides gossip.
Make no mistake, pastors have a higher responsibility and a higher accounting to God with their actions, especially when it comes to teaching and modeling of the Word of God. The reason Moses did not go into the Promised Land is not just because he had a beef with a rock. Moses was not allowed step foot in the promised land when he disobeyed God, because he knew better. We all disobey God at some point, I do not go through a day without disobeying God, maybe not intentionally or unintentionally, but just the fallacy of being human. Fortunately, we have grace, but we also have responsibility. So the more knowledge you have, the more responsibility you have. When you know God's Word you have the responsibility to live it out. And when you are the pastor you have the responsibility of teaching God's Word with truth, power and conviction. If not, get another job, because that is what you have, a job, and not a ministry, and what you are doing is deceiving God's special people.
The pastor must be on the alert for false teachings as a pastor. A Shepherd of the flock is also a protector of the flock. You need to protect the flock from false doctrines from your own mouth as well as others. Never compromise or bend the Word of God because you feel it may offend someone. Of course the gospel is going to be offending, because it goes against our perceived sovereign view of ourselves. But nevertheless we have a responsibility to teach effectively, to be studious, and to allow God's Word to nourish you, so we can nourish others. The pastor must be disciplined and a guardian of his studies. Get away for a few hours or days to write your sermons and lessons, do not do them Saturday evening.
Accountability; without it we take on Disease
Another main aspect of responsibility of being a pastor is that we must be accountable. Too many pastors seem to think that since they are the senior pastor and chief executive officer of their domain, they see no need to be accountable to anyone. They give all kinds of excuses, such as not having the time, or just not feeling the need. If you do not feel the need, then you really need it! If you do not think you have the time, then it's time to re-prioritize your schedule.
One of the churches I was on staff with had a senior pastor who had what I would call a god complex. He confused the God of the Bible with the god of himself. Right after coming on staff he dissolved all the authority of the board of elders. The elders remained in their positions and posts, but their authority had been neutered. This was an Elder- driven church and the ruling Elder presided over the leadership of the church. The pastor proclaimed himself to be that leader supreme with extreme arrogance of character, thus eliminating any accountability on his part. He quickly made major decisions on a weekly basis without relying on the elders or going through the channels of committees which was part of that church's order. He had such a driving, strong-willed personality, no one wanted to challenge him. The two elders that did challenge them were forced to resign.
This extreme illustration may seem harsh, but it is true and that church is now just a small controlled group of people who refuse to do any thing with their faith. Everyone there is controlled to the comfort level of the pastor and is put in their place. After talking to many pastors and other people in ministry over the years this experience of mine was not too extreme after all, but rather common. The pastor must not be their own boss. And we must not rationalize that God is our boss, and no human is, because this is clearly non-Biblical.
The wise pastor would be in submission and have accountability to their board or some form of governing body or supervisors. To refuse accountability is certainly the red flag sign of the sin of pride. And remember pride is what caused Satan to fall, and our pride is what causes most pastors to fall because they forget who they are. When you forget who you are, then God is no longer your driving force and the temptations of the world will get the better of you, especially the temptation of control. The pastor must have a healthy balancing and working relationship with the elders and leadership as a team, performing and accomplishing ministry together. The pastor is responsible for the leadership's training, equipping and teaching. The elders are responsible for their positions respectfully. The pastor or the elders must not accomplish the tasks and ministry of the church alone; the driving force of personality must not be the driving force of the church. The call of the church leaders is to concentrate on our love relationship with Christ, and our healthy working relationships with each other. This is what accomplishes the work for the Kingdom of God. Not relying on our own efforts, rather working together in the body of Christ.
© 1998, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org