When I “retired” as a senior pastor, the denomination moved Nancy and me into a “Pastor at Large” roles. That is a nice way of saying in addition to leading FaithSearch’s Ministry Team, I also continue to occasionally serve as the ‘pastor’ who ministers to pastors and churches in trouble. Inevitably this means that I am helping a pastor who is struggling with a serious career-ending issue. At other times a pastor may be facing burnout, interpersonal and relationship issues with staff or boards that collectively are contributing to a dysfunctional ministry.
We have discovered a pattern as we are called in to help these pastors and related ministries, no matter the church, its location or pastoral staff. It is largely impatience on the part of the pastor that sets him or her up for a pattern of repeat failures. For instance, pastors who are participating in a formal program designed to help address underlying problems in character or personal style begin to make progress toward their goals, but quickly become impatient to return back to their ministry. They see progress and believe that they should be able to skip ahead to the finish line so they can get back to their ministry. After all, it’s their calling.
Clear, long-term solutions have been identified for the challenges they face, but they would rather take a shortcut than deal with the underlying systemic issues that may be administrative, organizational, educational, or vocational in nature.
In addition to these structural issues, I find that most pastors are unwilling or at least reluctant to work on their own spiritual formation or character development deficits that triggered their problems in the first place. Once the fix, so-to-speak, has been identified for the current issue they see no practical reason for further engagement and resent it when we tell them they aren’t yet ready to return to full-time ministry.
They are unwilling to admit that their omissions or commissions were not primarily structural in nature and that what really needs to change – above and beyond what they do or how they do it – is who they are as a person.
Over the next several issues of this newsletter I will delve into the problem, the root causes and some practical advice that addresses the above challenges. Stay tuned.