When You’re The Pastor But Not The Leader

Funny scared man

I was talking with a 25 year old pastor recently. He is frustrated with the church where he serves. He was brought to the church because they wanted him to help the church grow again — or so the search committee convinced him — but they see him as too young to make decisions on his own.

They won’t take his suggestions, voting them down at business meetings. 

They consistently undermine his attempts to lead.

They expect him to speak each week and visit the sick, but they won’t let him make any changes he feels need to be made.

It has made for a very miserable situation and he feels helpless to do anything about it. He’s ready to quit and the situation is negatively impacting every other area of his life.

It isn’t the first time I have heard a story such as this. I hear it frequently from young leaders in churches and the business world. I didn’t want to be the one to tell him, but I didn’t want to mislead him either. The bottom line in this young pastor’s situation:

He is the pastor of the church but not the leader.

(Of course I’ll get kickback from those who want to remind me Jesus is the leader of the church. I couldn’t agree more, but He does use people to lead His work and this pastor is not the one.)

Perhaps you share this young leader’s dilemma. If no one is following your attempt to lead it could be because:

You haven’t been given authority to lead.
You haven’t assumed the responsibility you’ve been given.
No one is leading in the organization and no one wants anyone to – because that would mean change has to occur.

If this is your situation, you have a few options as I see it:

  • You can live with the power structure in place and complete the role within the authority you’ve been given. And, probably be miserable.
  • You can fight the power structure, lining up supporters, building a coalition in your corner – and be prepared to win or lose.
  • You can figure out how to “lead up” — build a consensus for leadership, confront where needed, win influence and the right to lead — even sometimes learning to lead people who don’t want to be led. (Read THIS POST on how to lead people older than you.)
  • You can leave.

Think through these options and see which feels best in your situation. Every situation is unique and this post is not an attempt to solve your problem — perhaps if anything it can help identify what the problem is in your unique circumstance. You will have to own your response to this information. Obviously, you should spend consistent time in prayer.

And let me add a few other thoughts. If you know God has you there then you must endure until He releases you. He always has a plan. But, I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in the call. Our call is to Him and to obedience. And, most likely, there are thousands of places where God could use your talents and abilities. As I read about the Apostle Paul, for example, there seemed to be more opportunities than Paul’s time would allow. I suspect the same may be true for most pastors today. The potential harvest is plentiful. 

With this in mind, I would say if you are miserable now and things are not improving you shouldn’t wait long without doing something. Life is short and many have left the ministry because of situations like this. Don’t be a casualty. Address the problem!

I would also say – and as hard as this is to hear you need to hear it – you will learn from this season. You may even learn more in this season than in a future season where everything appears wonderful and the church easily follows your leadership. Attempt to soak up wisdom now, which you will use later, rather than become bitter. You must protect your soul and the reality of your calling to Christ. 

One final thought, don’t handle a situation like this alone. Reach out to someone you trust, probably outside the church or organization; someone who has more experience in situations like this than you have. And, don’t let the stress from this destroy your family or personal health. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you were given the responsibility to lead without the power to do so? What did you do?

7 Impractical Leadership Principles and Why I Use Them

Adversaries 1

I talk to pastors frequently who find themselves in a difficult situation. Many times they know the right thing to do, but they can’t bring themselves to do it. Often, the advice I give is simply received with a reply such as, “I know it’s probably the right thing to do, but it seems like it would be easier just to _____”.

I understand.

Honestly, good leadership isn’t always practical. Or so it may seem at the time. Think about it. Sometimes it would be easier just to take the most efficient way. It’s less controversial. It allows the leader more control. It happens quicker.

I’ve learned, however, the most practical way isn’t always the most prudent way.

Let me explain.

Here are 7 impractical leadership principles I practice:

I don’t make major decisions alone even if I have the authority.

I always invite a team of people, many wiser than me, to help me discern major decisions. I realize it slows down the process. Sometimes it even kills my plans, but it has protected me over and over from making foolish decisions.

I try to kill my own ideas.

I wrote about this recently HERE, but I try to find the holes in my ideas and even try to talk people out of it after they’ve already bought into it. I know; crazy, right? Time and time again this process has improved the decisions I make and it always builds a sense of ownership for everyone on the team.

I always respond to criticism.

What a way to slow down progress! Talk about insane. Why listen to people who have negatives to add to the positives? But, I even listen to anonymous critics sometimes. I previously wrote the RIGHT WAY and WRONG WAY to respond to critics, but I’ve learned that criticism often is correct and it always makes me better. Whether I yield to it or not, it forces me to consider sides I wouldn’t otherwise.

I don’t meet alone with the opposite sex.

Unless there is someone else in the office, I don’t meet with females alone. I don’t meet with them for lunch or coffee, except in extreme situations. I know, it’s not practical — and I get plenty of pushback from this one — but it not only protects the integrity of my marriage and ministry, it protects the perception of my marriage and ministry. Which is almost as important.

I give away tasks to less experienced people.

I do it all the time. I surrender my right to decide to one with many years less experience than I have. Some would call that dumb, but I call it genius. The best leaders on our team were “discovered” this way.

I push for best.

It’s always easier and faster to compromise. Settling for mediocre saves time and energy…and it makes a leader more popular! I work through conflict to get to the best solution for everyone. I know, time consuming, but in the long run, the organization wins!

I watch people fail.

You heard me. I’ve let people make a mistake I knew they were going to make. How dumb can one leader be, right? Why not jump in to save the day? I’ve learned, however, that if I do always stop what I see as a mistake, I may miss out on something I can’t see. Plus, I’ve learned my best leadership from the mistakes I’ve made. Others will also.

There! So much for being impractical. Way to waste some time. Good job being Mr. Inefficient! But, if you want to be a great leader, find ways to avoid practicality.

Of course, when you consider the bigger picture – maybe these are actually most practical. 

How good are you at being an impractical leader? What other impractical leadership principles have you seen?

7 Biblical Leaders and their Leadership Tensions


I know people who shy away from terms such as leadership when talking about church. One comment I hear is they don’t want us to become too business-like. They believe Christ is the leader of the church and we are simply servants under His command.

While I agree with their assessment of our relationship to Christ, I see leadership throughout the Bible. God’s greatest servants were significant leaders – with significant examples of leadership challenges I face everyday.

And, as I read their story, I learn great Biblical principles – but also great leadership principles.

Here are 7 tensions of Biblical leaders:

David – Have you ever fought a giant? Did you ever have to recover from a ruined reputation? Do you know what it’s like to feel like the world is against you?

Joseph – Have you ever prepared for a bleak future? Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Have you ever had to reconcile a broken relationship?

Paul – Has a changing culture ever impacted your leadership? Did you ever have problems getting the established leaders to trust you? Do you allow struggles and opposition to fuel your best work?

Gideon – Ever been in over your head? Do you ever feel you are not prepared to fulfill what you know you have to do? Did you land in a position and – honestly – you’re not sure why?

Moses – Is the weight of your responsibility ever overwhelming? Have you been treated with disloyalty? Is someone else getting to complete the work – and enjoy the benefits – of something you started?

Abraham – Have you ever led a team into an unknown? Do family situations ever distract you from what you feel you must do? Do you ever have to wait?

Noah – Do you ever feel you are standing alone? Does the task in front of you seem impossible? Ever feel you’re on an island where no one understands?

Look over the list and see which of these are most representative of your current leadership tension. Then discover things these Biblical leaders did wrong or did right in handling their challenge.

Perhaps some of the best leadership advice is closer than you think.

Recharging – Critical Advice for Today’s Leaders

Man using a tablet computer while relaxing in a hammock

This is a guest post by Jeremie Kubicek – co-founder of GiANT Worldwide – a global company dedicated to leadership transformation through intentional apprenticeship. Jeremie has a new book, which I believe can be helpful for all leaders – maybe especially in the church.


I was taught the importance of hard work from a very young age. Growing up in Oklahoma, I learned from the state’s large agricultural industry that individuals literally, reap what they sow—those diligent to their craft that work hard and place high emphasis on quality, would yield the best crop.

I also learned the importance of this in church. As Christians, we are to work diligently in all we do, not for our own glory but for God’s. Colossians 3:17 says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

We see this work ethic in Jesus’ ministry, as he works faithfully at all times to share the Gospel. He even challenged us to work similarly. John 9:4 says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

But what I didn’t learn early on was the importance of rest, taking a break, recharging and strolling with God. For so long, I heard verses like 1 Timothy 5:8, which advocates the importance of providing for one’s family, and thought my responsibilities as a Christian, husband, father and businessman stopped there.

I was wrong. Many 80-hour workweeks later, I began to realize I had personally accomplished a lot, but not what God wanted me to accomplish.

We know God rested for a day in Genesis after creating the world, and He encourages us to do the same. And Jesus later modeled the critical act of rest. The Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray,” frequently after large events in his ministry.” In Matthew, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert away from the busyness of everyday work to spend time and grow with God. We see him refuel in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and prepare for his next few days of “work.”

I was convicted; although we are called to work hard, we are also called to recharge hard.

Early on, I learned that resting and recharging do not always mean sleeping. Although sleep is a big part of the process, coherent recharge is, too. We are all wired differently and for this reason, each of us must find the way to rest and recharge that best fits our unique makeup.

For introverts, this might include relaxing activities such as reading and meditation or more active things like exercise, gardening, cooking or woodworking.

While these may also enliven extroverts, more social activities such as discussing ideas with a mentor, spending time with family and friends or attending concerts or movies may be just want they need to help them wind down.

At the end of the day, it isn’t the form of rest that is important but the intentional inclusion of it in your day. So take a cue from our God and Savior and find a moment to recharge today.

Check out “5 Gears,” for additional help in balancing life, work and rest.

7 Times I Submit to People I Should Be Leading


I’m the leader.

Are you impressed?

I’m the guy others report to each day.

Impressed some more?

Don’t be. It just means I have a lot of heartburn.

Seriously, I think we sometimes take leadership too seriously. We think without the leader nothing good can happen on a team. Not true.

Don’t misunderstand. We need good leadership. I might even say without leadership — in a big picture perspective– nothing of great value ever happens. I spend a bulk of this blog trying to speak into the practice of good leadership.

But, as much as leadership is important, without good followers — nothing of great value ever happens. (Do you see what I did there?)

Good leadership puts this understanding into practice. 

So, at times, really many times, I submit my authority to people who are supposedly looking to me for leadership.

Here are 7 times I submit to people I should be leading:

When I have no strong feeling. If nothing inside of me says this is wrong or I have no real opinion about it, then I yield to this on the team who have a strong passion. I trust their gut.

When they know more than I do. And, this happens more than you could imagine. I try to surround myself with people smarter than me about different areas. Why would I not rely on them for the expertise they have, which I don’t have?

When I want to give them an opportunity. Now let’s be honest. It could be an opportunity to fail. This may be why some leaders never delegate authority. But, sometimes the only way we learn is by trying and falling short. Some of the best discoveries are learned this way.

When they have thought about it more than I have. There are so many things which happen within our church (and probably your church) where I simply do not have the time or the margin to commit to processing. I have to trust people. Sometimes, I have to yield to other people because they have more time investment in an issue than I do.

When they have to live with the consequences. If it is more about their individual area of ministry and doesn’t impact other areas of the church then I am more likely to delegate authority to them. 

When I’m already overwhelmed. To be effective as a leader — and to last for the long haul — I need to know I can only do what I can do. I have to trust the people God has allowed me to surround myself with with what they can do. And, I know I need their help to help me prioritize my best efforts towards things only I can do. 

Whenever I can. Seriously. Good leadership involves empowerment. It’s delegating authority and allowing people to grow in their responsibility. So, when I have the opportunity, I’ll let people make decisions without my input.

It’s important to understand- as a leader I’m delegating my authority, but I’m not relegating my authority. I’m not diminishing the fact I am the senior leader and ultimately responsible for the overall vision and direction of our church. (Under God’s authority, of course.) My team needs to know they are not alone. I will support them in the decisions they make. 

Those are some of my reasons for delegating authority to others on our team. What would you add?

7 Signs It’s Not Really A Team

power meeting from above

In my world the word team is used almost on a daily basis. Most of us want to be in a team environment. However, in my experience working with churches – and it was true when I was in business also – more people claim to have it than actually do. 

I still see more control than empowerment. I see more internal silos than I see true cooperation. I see rules and policies being used to restrict actions – or so-called “protect” the organization – than I see freedom to explore as individuals within the healthy structure of a defined team objective. 

I’ve learned to look for a few signs when someone tells me they have a team environment. 

Here are 7 signs it’s really not a team:

One person makes all the decisions. Most who think they have a true team culture will skip this one, because many times they don’t even see it happening. But, if everyone has to wait for the team “leader” to make a decision – or if things continually stall because one person hasn’t yet voiced their opinion – it’s probably less of a team than proposed.  On a team, at some point, everyone sits in a seat of authority. There is a mutual trust and empowerment of others. 

Everyone doesn’t have a key role. On a real team – all players are needed. They may not all play the same amount of time and they fill different positions, because everyone is valued. 

There are multiple agendas. One thing which makes it a team is everyone is playing for the same objective. Without this there is more competition than there is cooperation. 

Communication is controlled. Teams share information. They continually update one another on what they are individually contributing to the team and weigh in on decisions. Team dynamics are damaged with only a few people know everything for when the most important conversations are held — or decisions are made for the team — outside the team.  

Conflict is seen as a threat. Healthy teams work through conflict and remain cooperative and supportive of one another.  Everyone is allowed to challenge ideas and offer opposition, but in a way which can make the team stronger and learn how to work better together. 

Every person is for themselves. The greatest value of a team is in the collective wisdom and shared workload. Healthy teams cross-train so they can pick up slack for others when needed. When teams function more as individuals than as a team members can become overwhelmed, frustrated and eventually burnout.  

Celebration is received individually over collectively. It will always be moments where one member is getting more recognition than another. But, on healthy teams, wins are celebrated together. No one claims personal credit for the victories. 

Those are a few clues which tell me it’s really not a team. There are certainly others. (Be a part of my team and add your own in the comments.)

You can call it what you want – could be a group, or an association, or even an organization. 

But it’s not a team. 

And, I’d probably call it a crowd.

One way to process this post is to discuss it with your “team”. Perhaps even let them respond to it anonymously. 

It should be noted. There are times when we don’t need a team. We need a leader who will stand even if alone and lead people to places they can’t yet see but where they need to go. I have found those times to be rare when I have a healthy team. This post addresses teams – and we need them more often. 

5 Shared Characteristics Needed to do Church Planting or Church Revitalization

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

Church planting is a difficult, but rewarding assignment in ministry. So is church revitalization. I’ve been trying to make the case we need both — planting and revitalization. All pastors and planters should operate under a calling of God, but it does appear to me that there are some unique qualifications for those who want to start a church or transition it to grow again.

I’ve been blessed with both experiences. In fact, having only been in ministry about 15 years, my only experience is in one of the two. I’ve been in two churches needing to revitalize and two church plants.

And, from this experience, here are five characteristics I believe it takes to be an effective in both worlds:

An entrepreneurial spirit

There is an element of enjoying risk — certainly of being willing to assume risk — in most church planters and church revitalization pastors I have met. You have to love things which are new and growing. There needs to be an entrepreneurial spirit about them, embrace change readily and becoming bored with status-quo. This characteristic can bring it’s own problems, which leads to number two.

Willingness to be patient

Effective planters or revitalization pastors are willing to be patient for God to do His work. The balance between these first two is a constant challenge, because church planters and revitalization pastors are wired to want continual growth, but to be effective they must develop a good plan, surround themselves with the right people, and then wait as God does His work among them.

Have people who believe in you

Church planting or church revitalization is not to be a lone ranger activity. Without the structure of an established church, church planters must depend on people to help develop ministries and systems. Effective church planters learn to rely on volunteers for success and are willing to share leadership and responsibility with others to plant the church. Revitalization pastors are changing an establishment. This can be brutal. There must be some key leaders in the church who will back them in their work – and be there through the hard decisions where it will sometimes seem they have more enemies than friends.

Healthy family life

Church planting and revitalization is a family activity. In both worlds, to be effective, he or she must have a healthy family life. Ministry is tough — this is true for all ministries, but church planting and revitalization, because of the unique uncertainties and risks involved, places additional stress on a marriage and family. Effective church planters and revitalization pastors must begin with and maintain a healthy families.

Close, intimate walk with God

Church planting and revitalization will test a person’s faith many times. Church planting is not always popular in some church communities and can make a planter feel like an outcast in the church community. Revitalization brings challenge to leadership from within. The risks involved and the waiting process challenge both. Like all ministries, these are acts of faith and require constant communication with God. Effective church planters and revitalization pastors must continue to build and draw upon a strong relationship with Christ throughout the process. When I speak to pastors these days, I close with one word of encouragement: YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR SOUL. No one will do this for you. There will always be more demands on your time than you have time. You’ll have to discipline yourself to regularly sit with the Creator of your soul.

Again, many of these are not unique to church planters or revitalization pastors and are shared by others in ministry — even in many secular settings — but my experience as a planter and revitalization pastor leads me to believe these are critical needs for these ministries.

5 Ways to Deal with Your Past


I’m a huge proponent of moving forward. I’ve never been a fan of remaining in the past.

This could be because I’ve had some past I’d rather not remember.

It could be because I am very forward-thinking.

Either way, and it’s probably the first, I’d prefer to reconcile the past, make the most of it, and get on with my life.

Bottom line, however, is that there are really a few choices when it comes to dealing with your past.

Here are 5 ways to deal with your past:

Forget it – If you choose to and you are really skilled, you can block all memory of the past from your mind. In extreme settings, I have seen people do this naturally, but I must admit, it’s rare. And, because I believe we learn from mistakes, I wouldn’t even recommend it.

Misuse it – You can twist the past for your benefit – gain sympathy, make people feel sorry for you, and use it as a personal advantage. You could be a martyr. The people who choose this option, in my experience, are usually as phony as the story they share. It’s often hard to trust them. 

Ignore it – You can pretend your past never happened. You can make up your own version of your past, make it prettier and live in a false reality. With the people I’ve seen do this it seems you never really know the true person behind the stories they tell. They are always hiding a part of themselves. 

Excuse it – You can blame every bad decision you ever made on someone else or every future mistake you make on your past. After all, it was “his” fault”, right? I’ve known people with this excuse who never own up to responsibility – and they always seem to find a reason for not doing so. They never take ownership of their actions.  

Use it – In my humble opinion, as one with plenty of brokenness in my story, the best way to deal with your past is to use it for a greater good. How could your story benefit someone else? How could God use your brokenness to bless others? What have you learned, which others need to hear? Let your past help build your — or someone else’s — brighter future. 

I’m not pretending this will be easy. It will probably involve hard decisions and choices such as forgiveness, confession, and being vulnerable with people. But, the reward for allowing God to use your past for a greater good and being freed from the weight of your past will be worth it.

Which option are you currently choosing to deal with your past? (Be honest!)