Lies Pastors Believe
It’s a funny thing becoming a pastor. We are called by God to this vocation and confirmed in that call by the church. Along the way we receive our training from seminary, or a Bible college, or in a thousand more informal ways. Somewhere in the mix of that training we often come to believe some lies about ministry. I was tempted to think that ‘lie’ was too strong of a word. But I don’t think so anymore. I think it is appropriate to call some things lies even when they weren’t intended to be so. They are lies because they diminish our ability to be in effective ministry in today’s context. I’ve listed four of those lies below. There are more. Many more. These four have come up so often in conversations with pastors and lay leaders that I wanted to address them here. Let me know what you think!
Here are four lies pastors believe:
- Make no changes in the first year. Another way of saying this is, “you need to make relationships before you make changes.” This sounds right, but is not. When a church is experiencing the change of pastors, then change is already in the air, change is expected. It may seem counterintuitive but it’s true, change is easier in the first year of ministry at a local church than it will be at any other time. After a year has gone by expectations are set, routines are ingrained, and change becomes less likely. This is not to say that you should just start changing everything without reason or strategy or cause. You should not just change things because you can. Rather, it is during this initial season of ministry that substantive and needed changes will meet the least resistance. In other words, yes change is easier early in the new ministry, but wisdom is still needed. Be wise.
- The pastor is responsible for developing the vision. “We want a pastor with vision,” is often a plea of the local church. And many pastors are trained in the idea that he or she is responsible for developing the vision for the church. The image seems to be that the pastor, like an old testament prophet, should go off to a high mountain, or out into the wilderness to pray and listen. And then they’ll have an amazing vision that they now have to sell to the congregation. But when it doesn’t work like that the pastor can feel defeated and the congregation may feel cheated. More and more we are beginning to understand that vision for the local church doesn’t develop in isolation, but rather, vision arises from a particular community context and is heard and confirmed by the faith community. The pastor then becomes the chief steward and communicator of the faith community’s collective vision.
- You can’t be friends with church members. This misunderstanding developed in the context of the ‘professionalizing’ of the ministry. There was a time, and it still exists today, where pastors were taught and believed that they should see themselves as professionals in the same line as doctors and lawyers. And like doctors and lawyers they should maintain some professional distance from their parishioners. Friendships should be with other clergy, but not with the laity in your church. This has contributed to the degeneration of authentic Christian community in the church. Seek and develop friendships within your congregation. Yes, it will be painful when it’s time to move to another church, but moving is always filled with a bit of grief. Yes, on occasion leadership decisions will become a bit awkward, but then again, they usually are. Make friends in your congregation; it’s worth it!
- Conflict is always bad and should be avoided. I’ve known pastors who when there is conflict in the church believe they’ve failed in some way. Now we all know that there are some churches and pastors for whom negative conflict is just a way of life, and we’ve known others who are just plain conflict-avoidant. Conflict is not always negative. Conflict is often just the process we go through on our way to a great decision, or a great new future. And it doesn’t have to be negative in process or orientation. Pastors would be wise to think through how they will process, lead, and manage conflict in a way that honors all perspectives and personalities but still allows for positive forward movement in the church. Conflict done well can make us better!
Well, there are the four lies pastors believe. What do you think? I know there are many more. What other lies would you add to this list? Why? What lies have held you back in your role as pastor? How did you deal with those lies?
Grace and Peace, Rich