Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ten ways pastors and congregations irritate one another in serious ways

Pastors and congregations always have issues with one another, at least among certain individuals. Having worked extensively with both sets (including church leaders as congregants) I would suggest that the following set of five irritants for each party are worth thinking through. It might also make for a robust board/pastor discussion. These irritants may be real or perceptions but either way they are real to those who experience them.

Five ways pastors irritate congregants:
One: Defensiveness. Many congregants or church leaders feel that when they address concerns with their pastor that the response is not a healthy open dialogue but defensiveness as the pastor may take the concern as an attack or criticism of him rather than a suggestion or observation for the ministry. I have seen long term members leave their church (with sadness) because they did not feel as if their senior pastor took their concerns seriously, or even cared they were there. We all know that not all concerns can be addressed but defensiveness or lack of concern causes great irritation on the part of congregants.

Two: Personal agendas. Congregants and church leaders all have a vested stake in what happens in the ministry of the church. When they sense that their senior leader has his own agenda which they feel he is imposing on the congregation without process, feedback or buy in it is deeply discouraging. Yet it is not an uncommon issue, especially as new pastors come in with their dreams and hopes and philosophy without taking into account the dreams, hopes and history of the congregation.

Three: Dismissiveness of the past. New pastors (especially) often talk and act as if all things good started with their tenure and ignore or dismiss the prior history of the congregation. All of us who lead stand on the shoulders of others and it is irritating and discouraging for congregations to hear from their senior leader all of the faults of the church and how he is going to make the church what it needs to be. Of course churches need to change and sometimes it is radical change that is needed but wisdom places diplomacy and graciousness at the top of the list rather than criticizing the past. Ignoring history is always disempowering because it ignores the very individuals who made the church what it is today.

Four: The inability to disagree with people and still stay connected to them. Way too many senior leaders see people as either "for them" or "against them" based on whether they agree or disagree with one another. This reflects bad Emotional Intelligence and poor relational skills. Once this happens, many good people find that they are no longer listened to or even appreciated. It is painful for a faithful leader to be marginalized simply because he/she has disagreed with the senior leader who cannot live with that disagreement and stay connected relationally.

Five: Introducing changes too quickly and without proper process. Most people are change resistant which means that if change is needed (and it often is) a process must be run with those impacted by the change to bring them along, answer their questions and calm their concerns. Many senior leaders are highly deficient at the change process and the lack of process produces anger and disenchantment in the congregation. Pastors often then demonize those who they feel are resistant when the resistance was actually a result of their own lack of process in the changes they brought.

Five ways congregations irritate pastors
One: Pettiness. When working with churches in conflict I am always amazed at how petty many of the issues people want to talk about are. Choices a pastor and their spouse make in their lifestyles or the fact that they don't do what the last pastor or spouse did or something said in the pulpit - there is no end to the pettiness that some parishioners can have and are willing to make their opinions known, sometimes widely.

Two: Unwillingness to change in the face of evidence that it is deeply needed. Admittedly, this is often a matter of the skill of a senior leader to negotiate needed changes but there are plenty of congregations who have resisted change leading to three or four pastors facing the same issues in the church and leaving in discouragement. Congregations that resist needed changes will eventually die and it can be deeply frustrating to healthy leaders who are doing their best to bring health to the congregation.

Three: An inward focus rather than an outward focus. Healthy leaders will never settle for an internal focus when the community around them is absent a relationship with Jesus. Yet many churches are inward focused and see few people coming to faith in Christ. There may well be growth but in many instances it is simply transfer growth. Healthy leaders want both new life in Christ and life transformation. When they are kept from moving in this direction it is disempowering and frustrating and I have to believe to God as well.

Four: A divided board that is unwilling to police its own members. Hardly a week goes by that I don't get a call or an email from a pastor (or board member) about a dysfunctional board that will not police its members. What is left is often a divided board that literally accomplishes nothing of significance. It's mission has been hijacked by its ongoing dysfunctionality and the pastor is often a hostage to that stagnant leadership group. Pastors are dependent on a healthy board for healthy leadership and ministry. When boards won't police their own there is little a pastor can do.

Five: A stingy congregation or board. Pastoring a local church is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. You have as many bosses as you have congregants, you have people who feel free to say the most inappropriate things, you must accept all who come, there are constant crises in the lives of people and you get to preach each or almost every Sunday. No pastor goes into ministry for the material benefits but congregations show their appreciation by being generous and their lack of appreciation by being stingy. I have seen many examples of both but the latter sends a powerful message of a lack of appreciation to their pastor.

A great response to this blog would be a candid conversation between a board and their pastor. Both might learn something of significance.

Posted from Phoenix, AZ

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

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