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I live in a strange world. I’ve spent most of my professional life pastoring churches. Churches large and small. Churches large enough for multiple staff and multiple worship services. Churches so small that I had to wash my own feet at communion. (Think about it.)
These days I’m not pastoring. I’m training pastors and members. I live in that grey area between pastor and member and I hear the comments and concerns of both groups. Of course, people are different. What turns one member on, turns another off. What makes one member happy makes another miserable.
But I want to share with you some comments about pastors that seem to be fairly consistent no matter where I go. These are some things that members may not tell pastors directly, but they wish pastors knew. Incidentally members, before you get too excited, your turn in the spotlight is next.
We Need A Pastor, Not a Preacher!
Now they really don’t mean that. What they actually want is both. But something has shifted. If I had a dollar for every time I heard this comment I’d be a rich man. “All these pastors today want to do is preach. But they can’t pastor!” Since my default is to protect pastors, I try to listen without being defensive. But it’s impossible to ignore the comments.
Fairly or unfairly, many members think that priorities have shifted and we are producing better preachers than pastors. Some of this is nostalgia, a selective memory of the “good old days.” But some of this is probably true. Preaching resources and workshops are everywhere. Gifted preachers are on line and on television. It’s probably a lot easier to be a great preacher these days and the rewards seem greater.
But we live in a broken culture that’s begging for healers, for listeners, for pastors. Ministers function in many roles, but the role of shepherd is desperately needed today. The shepherd certainly feeds the flock through effective preaching and teaching, but the shepherd also loves the flock, leads the flock, tends the flock, and protects the flock.
Given the size of our churches, it’s not possible for one person to shepherd the congregation one by one. It seems that even Jesus could only reasonably attend to 12. But according to Ephesians 4:12, the primary work of a pastor is to make sure that the work is being done. Shepherding is a shared responsibility, but it must start at the top.
We Want You To Succeed
The vast majority of members want their pastors to succeed. Now, I’m not talking about the weekend warriors. The frustrated few whose purpose in life seems to make everyone miserable, especially the pastor. Frankly, those are largely people who are badly broken and deeply hurt. And it’s true that hurt people hurt people. But in the main, members want their pastors to succeed.
Most members want the pastor to be productive and happy. Most members want the pastor’s family to feel loved and supported. Most members dislike long and unproductive board meetings. Most members hate out of control business meetings. Most members want the church to grow. Most members want visitors to feel comfortable. The problem is that the handful of complainers can seem like the crowd. But they aren’t. The vast majority of church members sincerely want the pastor to succeed. When he or she succeeds, so do they.
You Don’t Know Everything
It’s the curse of leadership. Omni competence. The idea that because I can do one thing well, I can do all things well. It is a pressing problem of leaders from the local church to the General Conference. It is particularly problematic for local pastors. Why? Because pastors are immediately confronted with people who know more about the church, the city, the context than them. There are certain things that the members absolutely know better than the pastor!
There is a distinct difference between the school house and the church house. Some things that fly in a classroom fail in the church. When a pastor arrives at a church, any church, some things will be working and some things won’t. Even if it’s working for the wrong reason, there’s a reason that it’s working and the pastor needs to discover the reason. Pastors who are convinced that their way is the only way or always the best way will eventually find themselves proving it. Alone.
We Don’t Know Everything Either!
Here’s a little secret that many pastors don’t know. Most of the members know that they need help.
· They know that some of their friends are nuts!
· They know that the church isn’t growing as it should.
· They know that only a handful are showing up for business meeting.
· They know that the bathrooms are dirty or in disrepair.
· They know that prayer meeting is boring.
You get my drift. Pastors can get the feeling that they are living on an island with no visible or vocal support. But the reality is, most members are busy Christians trying to navigate their own crazy world. Many of them are experiencing some of the same issues as the pastor where they work. They want to do better, but they need help to do better. And they want the pastor to help them do better.
We’ll Be Here When You Leave
Most members have seen pastors come and they’ve seen pastors go. Some churches have been the “science experiment” of many a starry-eyed pastor. Other churches have been the “training wheels” for many a young pastor. They have heard it all and they have seen it all. Since most of them will be there when the pastor leaves, the pastor should keep at least two things in mind.
· Make changes that will last – Don’t move things around solely because of your taste or comfort level. Make changes that are consistent with the culture of the church and community. If not, the church will “put all of the furniture back” when you leave. And it will create a mess for the next pastor.
· Don’t start fights you can’t finish - Even necessary change is challenging. Every pastor will have battles. The problem is that people take sides. These people will be living and working and worshiping together long after the pastor leaves. Pastors should work to resolve conflict, especially conflict that grows out of changes they started.
So, there you are. What do you think? Anything else you think members wish pastors knew?
Jesse Wilson is an associate professor of religion and theology at Oakwood University and director of PELC/Pastoral Evangelism and Leadership Council. You may also want to read his article What Pastors Wish Members Knew