If someone were to pull the curtain and find out what goes on behind the scenes at your church, what would they find? Would they find a staff team encouraged, enlivened, and emboldened by those who lead them or would they discover a staff team that’s fearful, forlorn, and whose passion for ministry has been diabolically removed by an abusive executive pastor or senior pastor?
I continue to find myself in conversations with church staff members who are broken men and women. Either the executive pastor with oversight of the staff team or the senior pastor is an intimidating figure using overly aggressive body language, patronizing tone of voice, demeaning statements, and/or condescending remarks, to keep the team under their thumb. And if a staff member doesn’t seem to be caving to their intimidations the overseer reminds the staff member that they are higher up the food chain than is the staff member. Oftentimes, leaders of this type will, during a staff meeting or in other public settings, purposefully humiliate a staff member and have no qualms about it.
This week I’ve had two such conversations. One of the young men I spoke with was seeking his next job, not ministry position. He’d been beaten down in two churches and was, “leaving the ministry.” The saddest part of this… He was a gifted, humble, Christ-centered, biblically knowledgeable guy. But, there was no convincing him that his next stop might be better. And the sad part, I couldn’t promise him 100% that it would be better.
During another conversation the very impressive staff member I was speaking with said to me, “My executive pastor is either super insecure or is an egomaniac.” What was interesting about this was that a close friend of mine once served under this same pastor and was abused in the same ways that were being described to me. This exec found two churches that allowed, evidently even appreciated, him leading a staff team in this way.
In each of these conversations I had to point out that these men should never have been given ministry positions. Okay… I know some of you are cringing right now. Please allow me to explain. If someone is going to be called a pastor they must first exhibit the characteristics of an elder found in Scripture. Some of the qualifications of an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 include, “must be above reproach,” “self-controlled,” “sensible,” “respectable,” “hospitable,” “not a bully but gentle,” “not quarrelsome.” In Titus there are a few other expectations that relate to this post, “not arrogant,” “not hot-tempered.” Bottom line, anyone carrying the title pastor (a term synonymous with the term elder) should meet the qualifications of an elder and these are some of those qualifications.
Peter said in 1 Peter 5:1b -2a, “I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you…”. We find an illustration of the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23, which should be a guide for elders/pastors concerning their attitude and the role they fill as they relate to all people in the church, even church staff members. Read it slowly and take in the love, kindness, care, and concern an elder has for those under their watchcare.
The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
2 He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
4 Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.
Before each of the conversations mentioned in this post ended, I shared with the pastors I was speaking with why the overbearing church leaders they had been ill-treated by were like they were. What is the answer to that question? These Executive and/or Senior Pastors had never been discipled and, because of this gap in their spiritual journey, they were not yet spiritually mature. Because of this they were incapable of exhibiting the characteristics of a mature Christ follower.
A mature Christ-follower exhibits these characteristics, “… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22b -23a)
How will you know if you are in the small minority of church leaders that fall into the category of Executive Pastor or Senior Pastor described in this post? If you realize after reading this post that you treat the staff you lead in the ways mentioned and you’re thinking, “This guy just doesn’t get leadership,” or “He doesn’t know my staff.” or “This guy doesn’t know how to get things done.”, you’re probably in this category. Or, if you wish you could give me, “a piece of your mind.”
Please know this. If you are the leader described and you want to change, find someone to disciple you. As you grow spiritually you’ll grow a more caring, kind, and compassionate heart.