By Thom S. Rainer
The early church, according to Acts 6, was experiencing phenomenal growth. The author, Luke, simply says, “the number of disciples was multiplying” (Acts 6:1, HCSB). Then the distraction arose. The Hellenistic Jews complained that their widows were not being included in the daily distribution of food.
The need was real. But the complaints had the potential to move the leadership from their primary tasks and thus hinder the momentum of the church. The leaders realized the danger of the distraction and declared to the entire body: “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle the financial matters” (Acts 6:2, HCSB). Their solution was brilliant in its simplicity. They selected seven wise men of good reputation to handle this matter.
The leaders then returned to their priorities: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4, HCSB).
The Problem with Distractions
Distractions take our eyes off those things that really matter. For a pastor, the health of the church is greatly at risk when he loses his focus. I recently commissioned Lifeway Research to do a major project on pastors. Over 1,000 pastors were included in the research.
One of our major foci was on the issue of distractions. Are there specific matters that distract the pastor more than others? Is their widespread agreement among pastors on these issues? The pastors answered affirmatively to both questions. They told us in overwhelming numbers that dealing with critics was a huge distraction. To a lesser extent, but still significant, the pastors said conflict among staff and key leaders was a significant distraction as well.
The Big Two
The numbers are telling for these two big distractions for pastors. Here is a more precise breakdown:
- 79% of pastors say critics distract them from their ministries. Nearly 40% strongly agree that they do.
- Though pastors of all church sizes felt this way, pastors of churches with over 250 in worship attendance were more likely to struggle with the critics.
- 48% of pastors say conflict among staff and/or key lay leaders is a significant distraction.
Pastors in the South are more likely to have conflict among staff and/or key lay leaders than pastors in other regions.
Nearly eight out ten pastors struggle with critics to the point that they admit it’s a distraction from their ministries. While I was not surprised to see the issue raised, I was taken aback by the magnitude.
In comparison, the issue of staff and/or key lay leader conflict appears small. Still, nearly half of the pastors pointed to that issue as a distraction in their ministries
Almost every pastor in our survey named one or both of these issues as a distraction. We could wish the problems would go away, but they are likely here to stay. How can we then respond to support our pastors?
We can make other church members aware of the challenges pastors face. Perhaps they will then be slower to criticize and quicker to encourage.
- We can encourage pastors. We can be diligent to give them written encouragement so they can read it in those times when they need to hear something positive.
- We can pray for pastors. Indeed we should be praying for our pastors daily.
- We can speak positively about our pastors to those who criticize them.
Pastors are not perfect. Pastors will always be subject to criticisms. But the magnitude of the conflict is obviously distracting pastors from what God has called them to do.
*In the months of April and May 2012, 1,066 SBC pastors participated in a survey asking a number of questions. The sampling was weighted to represent accurately churches by worship size and geographic location. The sample provides a 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.0%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups