Grumpy church leaders are not difficult to find. Apparently, they existed during the apostle Peter’s tenure as well. Even from time to time during Jesus’ ministry, Peter himself was a cantankerous leader. So he knew what he was talking about when he wrote these words:
I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (CSB)
As Peter concluded this letter to help God’s people suffer well for their faith, he turned his attention to local church elders. We often use this passage for instruction on church polity, and it is that. Beyond establishing a model of church government, however, Peter seemed more concerned with the attitude of leaders than with their authority.
The grumpy, reluctant leader, then, who dutifully carries out the assignment is not faithful. The leader who works hard, but complains about the work is not godly. Whether compensated or volunteer, the church leader who serves grudgingly rather than cheerfully dishonors God, distorts His mission, and multiplies a destructive influence throughout the congregation.
So if you think you might be a grumpy leader, consider these six questions:
1. Do you generally respond to needy people with compassion or criticism?
Doing a little work on my car a few months ago led me to a local auto parts store. As I engaged in small talk with the store manager, he soon opened up. His first candid comment was this complaint, “Everyone who comes in here has a problem. That’s all I deal with are problems!” I thought to myself, “It’s an auto parts store!” The only reason the store and that man’s job exist is because people have problems with their cars.
Any of us who are in ministry understand the store manager’s frustrations with the incessant flow of problems that walk in his door everyday. While a few hobby mechanics come in happy with their progress on the hotrod, most people walk in hurried, financially strapped, and over their head. That takes a toll in the parts business and in the pastor business, but at least with respect to the latter, we view people as Jesus did, with compassion as sheep without a shepherd.
Every leader needs rest from the demands of ministry, but grumpy pastors view people as problems rather than as people who have problems.
2. Do you generally dread or dig your assigned responsibilities?
There are some days I dread doing what I have to do in ministry. That’s true in every vocation, but when dread replaces joy, we become grumpy leaders. Maybe you thought serving the church was like Vacation Bible School with the daily Bible lesson, crafts, games, and afternoon refreshments. Maybe you thought the Sunday platform was the primary work of ministry. Maybe you were not prepared for the diverse demands of Bible study, leadership development, organizational supervision, evangelistic prowess, cross-generational people skills, and on and on. I mean, who is?
Ministry is hard work that requires a piece of our soul, and at times it can become a dark cloud blinding us to the joy set before us. We all have bad days, but if we do what we do only because we have to, we will soon become a grumpy pastor.
3. Do you generally work alone or prioritize new relationships?
Most pastors and church leaders love people and are often good with people, but many of us are actually recharged and energized when we are alone. Our time of study, prayer, and reflection is our lifeline that enables us to serve others. These spiritual disciplines, however, are often a convenient place for leaders to hide from meaningful relationships.
Unfortunately, some of the most beloved pastors and leaders who serve their church do so in isolation. They appear as fearless heroes when in fact they are afraid of rejection, loss, and failure. They would rather have the affirmation of others for sacrificial, but average, job performance than to invite others to serve with them. The strategy seems sound, but it soon creates resentment and loneliness, and becomes a leadership lid that sabotages ministry. Isolation creates a grumpy pastor who lacks the relational equity necessary to lead the congregation.
4. Are you generally impressed or depressed by your compensation?
The days of “keeping the preacher poor” are, I hope, behind us. Pastors and churches are more aware and responsive to good financial stewardship and planning, which serves everyone well. There is, however, an interesting phenomenon in this era of church leadership. The average weekly church attendance in America is still about 75, which means that most pastors live on a modest income. Many heroes of the faith, however, who are leading large congregations, writing best selling books, speaking at conferences, and developing ministry tools live well above a modest income. This has always been true, but, it is beyond the grasp of most ministry leaders.
The apostle Peter knew this temptation well. He saw Judas Iscariot walk out on Jesus for the promise of more influence and affluence. We do not ignore sound financial stewardship at this point, but Peter highlighted the need for pastors to examine our attitude toward money. Are we content with what we have? Are we anxious or do we trust God to care for us like He cares for the sparrows?
While leaders should make good financial decisions, we must rest in God’s provision lest we become grumpy at the least or corrupt at the worst.
5. Do you generally avoid or embrace difficult situations?
It is said that an airplane pilot’s job includes hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Pilots make their money during those moments of terror called takeoffs and landings. If a pilot likes everything about the job except these critical moments, then she really needs to find another line of work.
When Jesus explained to his disciples that his way was the way of suffering, they struggled to accept it. They expected him to go a different way, a smoother way, and a more comfortable way. There are seasons of celebration, but the primary work of ministry calls the pastor into spiritual warfare. The office of pastor does not exist to maintain an organization, but to push back darkness.
Spiritual leaders should not be pugnacious or defensive always looking for a fight, but congregations should expect pastors to prepare well and then eagerly, not grudgingly, step into their calling.
6. Do you generally speak with kindness or with condemnation?
Pastors not only lead by example, but whether through preaching, teaching, counseling, writing or tweeting, pastors also lead with words. When Peter reminded elders not to “lord it over” the congregation, he knew our “wordsmithing” comes with the ability to gain an advantage over others who are less skilled with language. We can make our case and win our argument by the quickness of our tongue, even if the merits of our position fall short.
In his warning to those who teach, James asked, “Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (James 3:11). Pastors, then, should be known by sweet, rather than bitter speech.
There is a time to say hard things, but grumpy pastors settle into critical language and a condemning tone that beats down rather than builds up. They inspire a graceless congregation that ultimately misses the Gospel mission.
We may wonder if our work matters which sometimes leads to a grumpy rather than graceful attitude. Peter reminded those who shepherd the flock that the work is not only worth it, but it is the source of eternal delight. He promised the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Himself, will soon arrive and present an unfading crown of glory to those who serve His body. So before we shepherd others, let us look to Jesus, rest in His presence, anticipate His return, and shepherd our own hearts that we may joy in the grace we have been given to share.