7 Signs of a Weak Leader (Or Pastor)

Rope about to break, a stress concept

A youth pastor emailed me. He’s frustrated his pastor continually caves into pressures of a few leaders in the church. They are not supportive of the youth ministry, even though it’s the fastest growing area of the church.

The complaint they have? The ministry is costing far more than it brings into the church. Young people are coming to the church in growing numbers, but without their parents. Young people don’t usually contribute to the church, so it’s causing an issue with some of the deacons.

The pastor was involved and supportive in the expansion of youth ministries and the church is financially sound, but a few deacons consider it an “unprofitable” ministry.

The pastor’s solution? Cut back on the youth ministry expenditures to keep the deacons happy.

I’d love to tell you this is an isolated issue, but I’ve written about these type situations before. Obviously, I don’t have all the facts, but based on what I do know, it sounds like the pastor is a weak leader.

And, I hate labeling a pastor weak on anything. Certainly I’ve been week on many things. Preaching. Shepherding. Staff development. And, yes, leading. You name it – I’ve been weak.

But, we have to label the problem before we can hope to find solutions.

Have you ever known a weak leader? They’re usually easy to spot.

Here are 7 signs of a weak leader:

Runs from conflict. They avoid it at any cost. They usually say what you want to hear. They are passive-aggressive. They cave to the loudest voices. They disappear when trouble develops. You’ll never see them in the crowd when there’s a controversy looming. They hide better than they engage when people are upset about something or things aren’t going so well. 

Hides all flaws. They have a lot of excuses – and, they often pretend to know it all. They don’t want you to know the “real” them – the them which may be lacking in some area. They will “try to” make you think they have it together more than they really do – and, you might believe it – for a while. These leaders are often afraid if they appear to be weak (how ironic) you may not respect them – or they might even lose their job. 

(Of course, wise leaders learn to build a team which can bring strength around their weaknesses.)  

Can’t accept criticism. They don’t take well to correction. They pout. Get angry, perhaps – may even seek revenge. 

Quick to pass blame. They can never admit a personal mistake. They are consummate fault-finders. It’s always someone else’s error. It’s the economy, or the culture, or the lack of volunteers. They keep people under their authority by labeling others with the faults of the organization. In fact, according to a weak leader, you probably couldn’t do “it” without them.

Leads by control. They want you to believe they’ve “got this”. They don’t, but it feels better to them than the alternative. They keep people under their authority, never empower, and seldom delegate, because they are afraid of losing their power position.

Shies away from difficult decisions. They can’t make the hard calls. They can’t lead in a new direction because the opposition will be too strong for them. They stay in the safe zone – sameness is their friend. 

Appeases critics and complainers. The louder you are the more likely a weak leader will cave to your demands. They don’t want you to be unhappy – especially with them.

I sound rather harsh towards a weak leader – don’t I? But, as I said, I’ve been – and sometimes can be – that leader. I share this as a check for our own leadership. We need strong, capable leadership – especially among our people of faith. Let’s lead. Let’s lead well. Let’s “stand firm” and “let nothing move us”. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

What would you suggest this youth leader do?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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41 thoughts on “7 Signs of a Weak Leader (Or Pastor)

  1. First, he should be praying for his Senior Pastor.
    Second, he needs to be sure he ONLY talks to the Senior Pastor. There should be no crack between the two publicly.
    Third, if the Senior Pastor is willing to be humble and learn, work together. If the Senior Pastor rejects feedback and for whatever reason is unwilling to change, the Youth Pastor should look for a new job. The reality is he will be looking for a new post in the future anyways, because weak leadership nearly always results in Church decline.

  2. Move on brother. You're not going to rehabilitate this 'leader'. Life is too short. Frankly, your efforts to try to fix this guy will likely backfire. He's a narcissist and short of divine intervention, he's NOT going to change. Move on. Save your family and your sanity.

  3. As a pastor’so wife for 34 years. I would suggest he invite some of the deacons to come and share their testimony with the youth. He should have a youth Sunday where the kids lead worship and speak. Show them what their money has done. I bet the parents will attend too.

  4. Thank you for this post, Mr Edmondson. I've recently been slaughtered by a few weak leaders who didn't know my whole story, but they did it anyway in the social media. It hurts very much. I'm praying for you and your ministry and thank you very much for your post, because it pointed out several things I needed in order to help my heart and mind. God bless you.

  5. Some areas of the the church need to be evaluated on a short-term basis, as in, what do we hope to accomplish with this in the next week, month, year, or decade? What is God doing through our church today?
    Other areas of ministry should be evaluated on a longer time line. Five to ten years? Ten to twenty? Longer? What can the church do to plan for the future?
    Money for ministry is important today. And, a different kind of money – an investment in the future – is responsible planning.
    Effective ministry plans are based at least on a clock and a calendar. How long do we expect this ministry to matter?
    A pastor can help staff members understand their role in the history and hoped-for future. Pastors should relate to other church leaders on this basis, too. Expenditures follow needs and results.
    This may not be a great example, but it comes to mind because I was a pastor of a church with this problem.
    Our building had termites. They needed to be treated immediately, but cash was short. Ignoring the problem didn't fix it. Was this a short-term, or a long-term problem? Yes, it was both. But it had be addressed immediately. We found the money, even though we had to cut back on some other things. But we got rid of the termites and thirty years later that building is still in good shape.
    Youth ministry needs money even if it means that resources are shifted from one area to another. Will the youth group always grow and flourish? No, probably not. Sometime that area of ministry may be give up resources for another part of outreach and ministry.
    What parts of a church's ministry are for now, and what parts are for the future? Pastoral and lay leaders should evaluate according to a clock, and a calendar.

  6. Great point! I think that's also why, when someone "leads up" they need to do so respectfully. There's a sens in which those in leadership can be restored by their subordinates for the good of the team.

  7. Frankly speaking, a weak leader isn't a leader.

    I'm aghast that a ministry would be evaluated on the basis of how much revenue it generated for the church. That shouldn't even be a factor. That deacon board needs to be taken out behind the proverbial woodshed. They are on the fast track to a slow, painful death for their church. The end goal of the ministry of the church is the discipleship of its local community, its surrounding areas, and participation in the discipleship of the far reaches of the world. Additionally, discipling the youth is building the church for tomorrow. There's no promise of financial return on these things. It's simply what God has called us to be faithful to do with the resources that he has provided. And he has provided these resources, so we must be faithful to use them according to what he has told us in the Scriptures he wants done with them. To so blatantly refuse to do this is unconscionable.

    That said, this youth pastor is in ministry, and that means typically being in a difficult position. It comes with the turf. He has no support form his senior pastor. He has no support from his church. If he is called by God, he must nevertheless do the ministry he has been called to with what has been provided to him. God, who provides, knows what he needs and will supply according to his own purposes in this particular situation. He needs to pray fervently for his pastor, his deacons, and his church. He needs to work with the little he is given to accomplish what God has called him to do, not so much despite his situation, but because if he is faithful, God will support him to accomplish what God intends. In all this he needs to lead up to fill the missing leadership gaps above him, not disrespectfully, but in a godly way that cannot be denied. David did this with Saul. Samuel did this with Eli. This youth pastor has good biblical precedence.

  8. He needs to put himself in a position to influence from the fringes. Meaning he needs to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee with adults, parents, and leaders of the church. Without much of an agenda he needs to be present with others of influence and gain their respect and trust also.

  9. What should he do? He needs to find a ministry with authentic leadership and get there….far away from this one. Wow.

  10. I would add one more thing, specifically for the youth minister. If he, himself, is not a weak leader, he has built a nice team of lay leaders and parent leaders within the youth group. As I see it, the youth pastor primary work is not with the students, but the adult volunteer leadership of the church, who can in turn minister to students. That's a discipleship chain.

    Those parents and lay leaders can pick up and swing the big stick for him, when it comes to budget and use-of-facilities negotiations.

    Youth ministers, and this one is no exception, really need to honor the vision of the church. Often youth ministry becomes a separate silo within the church, almost a kingdom unto itself. This always leads to some kind of distension. If there is a value or vision conflict between the youth minister and the church leadership, that needs to come out into the open and they need to find a way forward together.

  11. Its tough being the young guy on the block and working under a weak leader – I do it every day. Here are traits I see

    – uses "divide and conquer" techniques among staff and board
    – controls & restricts information
    – controls relationships
    – micromanages projects and administrative tasks
    – can't say no to important stakeholders
    – exercises false humility
    – hides behind others when something unpleasant is communicated (the board wants, the deacons want, i've heard thus and such)

    This poor guy needs to spend significant time in prayer, because a weak leader isn't his only issue here – he also has deacons who clearly don't understand the purpose of ministry and have lost sight of the importance of Kingdom impact. He needs to go first to the pastor, and rather than pointing fingers at him for being weak, discuss how the ability to minister to young people has been impacted, and then help the pastor come up with a plan for restoring ministry. If the pastor won't listen or cooperate, he needs to meet with a deacon who will understand all points of the issue, and go to the pastor with the deacon. If there is still a problem, he needs to be able to discuss with the deacons as a body his concerns and demonstrate how young people are being lost because of their most recent decision.

  12. For one thing, get past the idea he can win, they have already decided for him! It is a battle, in church circles, they don't call them battles, they call them "differences in progression"! Still haven't seen the progress, but ….
    He must also remember that when he has something to bring before them (not just the Pastor, he has to know it is a combined front!), he needs to take it as one individual need to be addressed. They have already shown it is not a ministry that is worthy of their money and time (note the phrase), taking it as a need to be met approaches them differently, from a different aspect.
    He cannot prove the ministry! That is about like proving you have a father!
    I mentioned this last, but it is most important. Having said all I have so far, he must keep this goal in the front of his mind at all times: he is there to reach his kids! He is a Spiritual Warrior, one that fights for and with the Spirit. Every step he takes must alway be in prayer, and it must always be forward!

    God hasn't moved this Pastor; If I could guess, I would say it is probably for ministry purposes. Ministry FOR him, not BY him! His prayers will do a lot. Thought to ponder.
    Twitter: bryankr

    • When I say he can't win, it is in reference to the fact it has nothing to do with winning! He fights against principalities in high places and they are using the purse strings to mis-direct the attention!

  13. Great article and very true! In this case I would probably take the passive aggressive route and hope the problem goes away.. Hahah JK Ron. That is the route too many leaders do.

  14. The biggest warning signal showing problems with a leader, whether weak or strong, is a leader who take credit for success. All good and great leaders deflect credit away from themselves and towards other people, God, chance, anyhing but themselves!!!!

  15. Yes, by the description this does sound like a pastor being weak. There are a number of things he could do to better the situation. But there are so many issues here.

    1. He’s frustrated that his pastor continually caves into pressures of a few leaders in the church.
    …Is the pastor caving or does he agree with those leaders?
    …Are those leaders official or unofficial?
    …Is continually an accurate description?
    2. They are not supportive of the youth ministry.
    … Are they not supportive o the youth ministry in general?
    … Are they not supportive of the strategies and activities of the ministry?
    … Are they just not supportive of the general cost of the ministry?
    … Is the complaint about cost a pretext hiding another issue they are unsatisfied with?
    3. even though it’s the fastest growing area of the church.
    … In membership by baptisms, or just in attendance?
    … Are the youth being integrated in to the whole body life of the church or are they somewhat independent?

    A strong leader should be putting these things in the open and helping find a wise solution. Youth ministers really do need to learn to work with modest budgets, and churches do need to learn to invest in "non-profitable" ministries. Pastors need to keep a focus on harmony in the church.

    Good post

  16. I would encourage him to go to the pastor and express what he did by kowtowing to the powers-that-be. I would also tell him to start looking to move. If this is a pattern of the pastor, one time isn't going to change him. I also think Mary K has a good idea of listing the benefits of the ministry and taking it to the deacons. All the while, start looking to move cuz I suspect they aren't going to budge.

  17. Then, I'd arrange for a meeting with the deacons and the pastor in tow explaining these OTHER definitions of "profitable." It would be good to have a couple of well-spoken youth from the youth ministry available at this meeting to talk with the deacons and explain how valuable they find the resources the church provides. They could also openly thank the deacons for supporting the youth ministry and ask for their continued support. They might add what other activities they would engage in if these youth ministry activities were not available. I say, lay on the guilt as thickly as you can.

  18. Really? This church believes a section of the ministry should be done away with because it's unprofitable? Then why are they a church? Isn't it to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm not in the ministry, but I'm appalled at this attitude.____I'd recommend the youth leader meet with the pastor to set an agenda for the youth ministry, explaining to him a possible timeline for this ministry to become "profitable."

    I would let the pastor know there are many defintions of "profitable:"
    __1. bringing in extra money due to increased attendance_
    _2. providing favorable public relations to the community, increasing awareness of the church
    _3. building up treasures in heaven by spreading the gospel

    • Keep in mind, it's a few leaders, not the church. Not even the pastor. He simply won't stand up to the ones who feel this way.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  19. Hi, my partner-leader in my cell is kinda qualified as a weak leader; sometimes it gets difficult because our youths that we shepherd would pass comments and judgments about my partner and I wouldn’t know what to say to protect her authority over our young ones… my partner has legit reasons for the way she makes decisions, but unfortunately, most of the time they make her seem like such an easy target to push over…