Leadership Expectations as a Source of Pastoral Pain

I’m old enough to recall when “leadership” became the latest buzzword among pastors. The key to being a good pastor was to become a good “leader.” I won’t bore you with the history of how it happened, but gradually we replaced “discipleship” with “leadership” as a primary pastoral objective. (Ironically, the seminary that pioneered secular leadership studies for pastors shifted their focus within a decade, and moved on. But the damage was done.)

I believe the shift occurs when we depart from following Him (the core activity of a disciple) and begin to apply secular organizational definitions and metrics to the church. Pastors and staff are expected to “bump the numbers” and get more bodies in the building. If not, they are “failing.” Period. Time to get a new pastor.

The unintended consequences of the shift have been brutal. Pastors now struggle with the weight of crushing expectations from culture, from the church, and from themselves that are unbiblical and untenable. Overwhelmed and desperate shepherds are shamed into silence. Life is endured – it is never “abundant.”

We need to rethink what we are asking pastors to be and do, but most of us won’t. And consequently, I believe that we will be facing an unimaginable, heart-level tsunami of pastoral pain in coming years. This is only the beginning. We’ve got to change the conversation.

Here’s a start. I wrote this in my journal early last year…

We shepherds are bombarded by external and internal expectations that if we are smart enough and work hard enough, we can build a great church. The weight of those expectations is literally killing the heart of our pastors. Jesus never places those expectations on pastors. He actually said He would build His church when we know Him in a way only the Father can reveal! Consequently, the thing I have to remind myself every day can be captured by these phrases… every step from Him and for Him… every step birthed in prayer and bathed in prayer. He has the plan and He calls me to simply take the next step in that plan… a step He gladly gives when I am ready to abandon everything else to follow Him… a daily journey characterized by a moment-by-moment joyful fellowship with my Master.”

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