A number of years ago (nearly 40) I attended a summer Bible camp. The camp was unique in that there were no activities, no climbing walls, no swimming pool, and no dodgeball competition. It had preaching all day, from just after breakfast until after supper. My guess is the average day featured 7-10 sermons.
It was a lot of preaching, but we endured to the end.
During one session, a pastor/evangelist preached a sermon entitled, “When Is the Preacher Right?” It was a long, free-wheeling combination of texts and tales, with a primary purpose of undergirding pastoral authority. However, when I encouraged a pastor friend of mine to listen to it a year or two later, his response was, “Sounds to me like he thinks the preacher is always right and never wrong!”
Pastors are not always right.
Wednesday we published an article entitled Six Things to Consider Before Moving a Staff Member Who is Not a Fit. The gist of the article is to encourage pastors not to make a rash decision when having to remove a staff member, especially for non-moral reasons. Two commenters pointed out that we should not overlook the possibility the pastor might be the reason the staff member does not fit. Chris wrote:
I would also add, “Make sure I’m not the problem, or contributing to the problem.” [and] it seems most senior pastors are surrounded by a feedback loop of “Yes men” types who reinforce or acquiesce to whatever the senior pastor may say.
[M]y prayer is that #3 would include the question “Am I part of the problem?”
The truth is that lead/senior pastors do not always make right decisions regarding other staff. Frustration, petty jealousy, leadership inadequacy, training failures, or personality clashes can cause the pastor to want a staff member gone for no better reason than “I’m just tired of dealing with them.”
Pastors are not always patient.
All pastors are works in sanctifying progress. None of us are perfect. One struggle many pastors have—that they share with many other believers—is patiently waiting for God to do his work. This is true whether the work is in us or in others, but it tends to be more frustrating when it is others—obviously!
Leadership training and staff development should be an ongoing process. Staff members often have backgrounds influenced by leadership theory different than what the lead/senior pastor hopes to implement (or they may have none at all). Ideally, the time to cover this ground in-depth is when hiring, but this does not always happen. Consequently, conflicts arise.
A pastor’s impatience with a staff member also may be a reflection of his own unrealistic expectations or lack of personal skill at staff and leadership development. I suspect many pastors know deep down what they dislike in a staff member’s performance is a result of their own lack of training competence. Getting rid of a staff member because of a pastor’s impatience is bad for the exiting staff member, bad for the church, and bad for the pastor.
Pastors are not always teachable.
It pains me to say it, but some pastors simply are not teachable. This intractability is not limited to large-church pastors, although that is a common misperception. There are many “my way or the highway” pastors in small- and medium-sized churches.
Every pastor needs a circle of people who have the authority to say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” or “That’ll be the biggest mistake you’ve made.” Such a circle might contain a qualified leader inside the church, an associate pastor, another pastor confidant/friend, or denominational leader. (In some denominations a board might serve this function.) If qualified leaders deem a decision to be fraught with problems, it is wise to repent of one’s pride and self-assurance, and listen to good counsel.
Pastors are not always self-aware.
In a recent Lifeway Pastors article, pastor Erik Reed notes the need for pastors to be self-aware. “Self-awareness” means that we have a proper understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, desires, motives, abilities, and the like. He suggests that pastors will not be self-aware unless we understand what drives us underneath the surface, recognize our blindspots, and ensure we are mentally, spiritually, and emotionally healthy.
Unless pastors understand themselves well, it is unlikely they will have clarity when looking at their ministry co-laborers. And, clarity is crucial when considering whether a person is not a right fit and should be let go.
Balance is needed.
Often these situations find either a bull-headed pastor intent on making a bad decision, a wise pastor who is inhibited from making the right decision by internal politics or weak leadership support, or an uncertain pastor who tries to avoid any decision, thereby perpetuating a difficult situation. Not every pastor is a budding authoritarian with a raging ego. But, most lead/senior pastors have wide-ranging authority, an arrangement that can be a blessing and a curse to all serving under it.
For the health of the pastor, the staff, and the church, guidelines should be installed that 1) allow the lead pastor to lead, with any attendant limitations clear and in writing, 2) create a healthy working environment for the staff, and 3) instills confidence in the entire body. There should be absolute clarity where the authority lies each step along the way so the politics are kept to a minimum and no one can “play both ends against the middle.”
The larger a church becomes with additional staff being hired, the greater the possibility some staff pastors truly will not be a fit or will reach a point they cannot adapt to increased responsibilities. Firings (or “helping someone leave”) are inevitable along the way. Patience, teachability, self-awareness, and clear processes will go a long way toward helping pastors make the right decision in each case.