Category Archives: Church

The Pressure on Pastors

Ever since Bill Hybels said that church leadership was the hardest form of leadership the question of how much pressure there is on Pastors has been brought to light.

On Sunday night I was chatting with someone who has been in and around pastoral ministry all her life. She told me the story of how when she was a teenager there was a discussion at a church meeting which revolved around the Pastors salary. One man stood up and said that the pastors salary needed to be low because he could not be allowed to earn any more than anyone in the church. They discussed how the Pastor needed to be a humble servant, like Jesus. If they earnt more than someone else in the church there might be resentment or even worse, pride in the heart of the pastor.

Now this post is not about a pastors salary. It is about the pressure on the pastor. In those days the pastor was expected to visit everyone in the church, to be involved wholeheartedly in their lives. Things have changed. The pressure comes at a different point.

The pressure is now on the pastor is to be overseeing a large growing church. To be, and here is the contentious word, succesful. Along with the wonderful resource that the internet and media has brought us has also come examples world-wide of your pastors failing. How come the worship is not as inspiring as Hillsong? How come the preaching is not as stirring as Furtick or as deep as Ortberg? How come we are not growing like Saddleback or Willow Creek?

Even pressure to be like the church down the road. The worst words a Pastor hears on a Monday is, ‘this church is just not meeting our needs”. As the family you have cared for takes themself off the roster and moves on to the shiny building down the road your heart sinks.

Reality is that success also brings pressure. To continue to grow, to make each year bigger than the last. And more people with more needs and their own desire to be successful are attracted to you. It can also cover up the need for character. All is forgiven if the pastor is successful. We eat on the fat of success and forgive character flaws because of it.

Everyone has pressure in their work. Everyone. And how could I as a pastor know what pressure there is being something else? From the CEO caring for multiple employees to the nurse caring for grumpy patients to the teacher trying to impart knowledge to disinterested teenagers. Perhaps a unique challenge in being a pastor is that everyone who calls themself a Christian really truly deeply care about their faith, their spirituality, their children’s faith.

And  a pastor who is worth their salt will care about that too. There should be pressure on us. We are leading what is meant to be the primary organisation in the world. If Apple corporation does not get the next iPhone right they might fail financially. If the Church does not get its role right, the world will be in even more pain than it is.

So I suppose I am calling for a radical middle. A radical balance. No one wants a pastor who doesn’t care about their church and their community. Who isn’t aiming to be effective, skilled and fruitful. But equally, no one wants a pastor who fails, drops out, burns out and is rendered ineffective. Perhaps what a Pastor needs is grace. Grace to do their ministry, grace when they mess up, grace when they are not as good as the pastor down the road. Grace which resources.

And this is something we can all relate to.

The best leaders get robust feedback

It has been said that the best leaders are followers.

Others have put it this way, that the best leaders surround themselves with people better than them, particularly in certain areas.

In my team I have staff who are better than me at different areas. My worship pastor, young as she is, talks to me about stage transitions and on stage dynamics. I dutifully listen, because she is more than often right. Other staff members bring skill and thoughts to bear which make our church better.

Being a listener as a leader is the biggest skill I can bring. This can only work if I am not insecure. An insecure leader cannot listen because instead they need to control. After a couple of decades in varying stages of leadership I like to think I am not insecure. I know who I am, who God has made me, and more than that, I want to be better.

Sometimes robust feedback might be annoying. But you have to listen and reflect upon this. Is it annoying because it means you need to change? We like to see change, but change in ourselves is difficult.

In a church context we as leaders are not the point. Jesus is the head of the church. And what matters most is the church. Not us. Not our comfort. This is hard to take because if we are honest we generally like to make sure we are looked after. I have seen leaders reduce their church greatly because they have made it about them.

I believe all leaders should be listeners. It makes them better leaders.

This is the future of church lyrics

Recently I came across this video from Cold Chisel.

The lyrics are not edifying. Let me say that first up so please don’t be offended. The video was posted by Cold Chisel themself and is featured in their live concerts.

It is probably the most popular Australian Rock song of all time by a seminal group. Most Australians could sing along to at least part of this song, but getting the lyrics exactly right could be a stretch. Its the highlight of any Cold Chisel concert, and its basically a huge sing a long where the band and Jimmy play lead conductor. Bit like a contemporary worship service actually!

Which brings me to my point. Note how the lyrics are displayed. One or two sentences, moving backgrounds, emotive, warm, encompassing, contemporary. Better than most. An example of how sometimes contemporary culture is doing it better. A challenge for the church would be getting the timing just right in order to use such a medium. So often our lyrics are displayed more statically, and we like to have a sense of freedom, where if we want to do the chorus twice, we will! But I am sure we could get around that somehow.

When a Pastor says goodbye…..

Being a pastor is a little like a marriage. It is not a job, it is a lifestyle. There is certainly work aspects to it. Things you need to do. There are moments of boredom, frustration and just plain hard work. There are also moments of spiritual exultation, ecstasy and joy.

It can be intoxicating, invigorating and infuriating, all in the same day.

Yet it is a call. For as far removed as the contemporary pastor may be from their first century counterpart, ultimately most pastors don’t do it for the pay, conditions or perks. Its all about God’s call. In my view, there are far easier and less responsible ways to make a living.

What is a pastor to do when they say goodbye to the church they have loved, cared for, prayed for and agonised over? Thankfully this is not something I have had to think about, and have no desire to need to deal with for the next decade or two.

But recent events involving prominent pastors have prompted within me this thought. How does a pastor say goodbye?

Can I suggest they keep it brief. The reality is that it is about the church. It is always about the church. It has never been and never should be about them. If they leave well, celebrate. And then say goodbye. If they leave badly, grieve, and then say goodbye.

Seeing some prominent pastors splash their grief, repentance, desire to start something new all over their not inconsiderable social media following makes me wonder. Who is this about? Them? Or the church?

I can’t answer the question when is it too soon to come back from a moral failure. It seems far too complex to be prescriptive to any one formula. Every situation truly is different.

But say goodbye. Move on. Allow the church to move on. It was never about you. Even when it was.

Changing culture, advancing the Kingdom

Jesus asked that we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven’.

Is the focus and application of this prayer purely eschatological? To actually take place at a future time when Jesus returns? If that is the case what are we to do now? If we take such a view to extreme it can lead to a fortress mentality. A church which hides itself away, protecting itself from a world quickly degenerating, staying holy for the moment when the judge will return. Other consequences may include a view of the earth and its beauty as simply a sponge to be squeezed dry. At its best mission is done because we want people to be rescued and ready for eternity in paradise.

Is the focus and application of this prayer for now? Is the church is to truly become the centre of the social, political and cultural change which sees heaven on earth. Perhaps some see echoes of John Calvins attempt to moralise Geneva. Bible readings with beer anyone? The extreme of this view may be the moralising right with the church wielding its social might to influence politics. We have seen the negative effects of this particular in US elections.

If we reject the notion that Church is to influence culture and cities for Jesus, how to deal with Pauls assertion in Ephesians that the Church is at the centre, the very centre of all things. “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.” (Eph 1.23 Msg) It seems to me this verse is both an assertion and an encouragement.

In times when so many assert the church has lost its political and moral voice, this theme of the New Testament should encourage us to keep going. In a winsome and loving way, promote a better way. Not from a position of moral authority, but an attractive and loving example. I am absolutely convinced that at no other time in history has the church had more opportunity for love, mission and good news. Wherever I look I see churches active in arts, music, design and innovation. At no other time has information, music, vision, been so readily available and distributed. With this so many churches are distributing their sacrifices of praise, relevant teaching and art.

From the local church podcasting to the mega church having their worship leaders performing on prime time morning TV. Jesus is everywhere.

Can we, the church, through the power of the Spirit, make the world a better place before Jesus returns? Absolutely. As I pray that prayer I see Jesus working through churches to answer it.

As we wait for Jesus to return in glory.