On a regular basis, I receive an email from a staff member of a church with the same question. They are in an awkward position where they don’t respect the pastor, but love the church. They feel loyal to the church – even called – and don’t want to hurt the church, but they simply struggle to support the pastor – whether because of personal issues or leadership issues. Their question is: How do they respond to a leader they can’t support, but who is their boss and the church’s called leader?
I once had a staff member emailed me to say his pastor was extremely popular in the church, but consistently received recognition and support others the team deserved. The pastor, in this staff member’s opinion, often took advantage of the church’s support of the pastor and the church didn’t realize it. The staff member knew he probably didn’t have enough power to do anything about it – and, again, he didn’t want to hurt the church. But, he also doesn’t respect his pastor. His question was: What’s the best way to respond?
Great questions. I wish there were easy answers.
Here are 5 suggestions to help the church when you don’t support the pastor:
Don’t talk behind the pastor’s back
It would be easy – and maybe natural – to share your frustration, but chances are doing so will only backfire against you and cause tension in the church. People in the church will have the same struggle you have, feeling a sense of loyalty to the pastor. Putting them in an awkward position isn’t fair to them or the pastor. And, it certainly isn’t the biblical approach.
Be honest to the pastor’s face
It’s never easy, but it’s always best. Conflict is hard. I’ve learned it’s often avoided in churches. But, unless you are going to suck it up and say nothing, the first person you need to share your frustration with is the person with whom you are frustrated. It’s conflict resolution 101, and it is the biblical way.
This should be planned and you should think through how you will approach this with respect, grace and truth. You should address the issues which concern you about the pastor directly – and, you should certainly own anything you need to improve upon. (There is always the chance the problem is more you than the pastor.) And, if you’ve already acted in disrespectful ways against the pastor you should apologize. The fact is, however, the pastor may not even realize why you would be having a problem. We only know what we know. (I’ve written before on how to lead those who are supposed to lead you.)
Find other voices to invest in you
One role of the leader is to invest personally in the people being led. Most likely you’re missing out on this – either because the pastor isn’t doing it or you aren’t allowing the pastor to influence you. This is understandable, but you need to find others who will invest in you. You would be surprised how willing other pastors may be to assist you if they are asked. They will be honored you thought of them and willing to help you think through your current situation. You will need this help. If not a pastor, find a respected business leader in the church or community who can coach you through life and leadership.
Find a place to vent
Surround yourself with some people with whom you can be brutally honest. It’s probably best these people be outside the church, but you need a place to share your heart. You’ll wither and die emotionally if you bottle up your current emotions for too long. Be selective who you bare your soul to, but be vulnerable enough to share your concerns with a few others – emphasis on the few. It will help keep you from burning out in ministry.
Leave when you can’t respect the leadership (and tell the pastor first)
Again, this is hard, but you need to be mature enough and responsible enough to consider the bigger picture. You will never fully support every decision any leader makes. You may not even be best friends with the pastor. And, I can’t tell you how many people have left our staff to go somewhere else only to realize after they were gone our environment was better than they realized when they were with us. The same may be true for you. The grass is often greener on the other side until we are on the other side.
When, however, you have no more respect for the leadership, unless there is a moral issue at stake, you need to consider the welfare of the church ahead of your own. Have the hard, honest conversation, but leave before your lack of respect is evident to those around you. It’s the right thing to do.