It has been my privilege to lead churches since I was 18 years old. Â I have watched both movements and movers move on and off the scene. Â The American church landscape has been painted, erased and painted over many times, yet in all these years and in the passing of all that time, Iâ€™ve heard almost nothing about, what I consider to be, Â the American churchâ€™s dirtiest little secret.
The churchâ€™s dirtiest little secret is not the scandal of flock fleasing pastors jetting around at their churchâ€™s expense. Â Nor is it the outrageous salaries or even the oft expected and oft over-enjoyed sex scandal and subsequent fall from grace of a once revered leader. No, the real scandal of the American church is something much deeper, and more pernicious than any of those tragic, isolated events. And I do mean isolated, because they are a very small percentage of what really goes on day in and day out, week in and week out in the hundreds of thousands of Christian churches all across this country. No, the real dirty little secret in the American church is that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders. Youâ€™d have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to notice the long line of, once effective and admired, leaders limping toward the exits. Â It was Peter Drucker who once said the four hardest jobs in America — not necessarily in this order — are President of the United States, a university president, a hospital CEO and a pastor. Â Amen, but for those called to it, we at least donâ€™t expect to be shot in the back by our own team? Why isnâ€™t anyone talking about this? Â Maybe itâ€™s because those who talk about church leadership, no matter whether theyâ€™re founding pastors or high-ranking staff members, have one thing in common: weâ€™re all employees of our churches–leading without real power. Â Pastors have the responsibility to lead their church to growth with none of the power to actually do so. Churches, in our society are designated â€œnon-profitsâ€. Â The â€œownershipâ€ of these organizations are held in trust by the men and women who fill leadership positions whether elders, deacons, or board members. Â Â So the naked truth is that pastors and staff donâ€™t carry the ultimate decision or have enough legitimate power to affect much change. We are so obsessed with the abuses of the few, that we have cut off our leaders at the knees. Â As a result, the American church is being crippled by mean, petty, power hungry bully’s whose abuse of power is the great scandal Â no one wants to address. What does this abuse look like? Â Here are the 5 most lethal ways we kill off leaders we donâ€™t like:
- We starve them. Â Because of the abuses of a few, we think that paying our pastors and staff members a livable wage, a fair wage, will somehow corrupt them. Â So without money to cover the bare necessities, some have to divide their time between the sacred calling, and keeping their family fed and clothed. Â How tragic that while some abuse money, the vast majority simply donâ€™t have enough.
- We have outrageous unreasonable expectations of our leaders. Â We expect them to work seven days a week, to be on call all the time, to have all the answers, and to be able to fix all our problems. Â And while these expectations can be understandable, they are totally, outrageous, unreasonable, and just more evidence that we donâ€™t listen to the teaching of Scriptures or take them seriously.
- We strip them of power. Â Again, we are so afraid power will corrupt them, we strip them of it, while holding them accountable for the success of church. Â As a result, our leaders have very little, real power to make the strategic changes essential for the churchâ€™s future.
- We let pretend leaders bully them. Â Call them elders, deacons, or whatever, too many â€œlay-leadersâ€ come to their positions puffed up with pride and an overestimation of their own spirituality. Â Rather than leading along side their pastors in creative collaboration, too many, too often exercise their power by crushing the heart and spirit of the very people they are supposed to be helping and empowering. Â As a result, a shocking large percentage of the American church are in the hands of spirit crushing bullies, who love keeping the preacher humble and in line!
- We leave them in financial peril. Â How many times have I answered an email or phone call and how many times have IÂ sat across from a young pastor who thought everything was going well and within a seven-day period, theyâ€™ve lost everything? Â Their salary, their reputation, and their future all at risk because of the capricious desire of a small group of people who feel called to protect the status quo. Â Only in the American church can a pastor be fired with nothing but a lie or salacious innuendo. Â And a fired leader has no safety-net, no appeal and no future in the ministry.
- Letâ€™s pay them a livable wage. Â Letâ€™s stop being afraid of the abuses of a few and realize that with their dedication and training our leaders deserve a livable wage. Â By that I mean, livable where you live. Â Can they buy their own home, put down roots, send their children to school, take vacations, plan for retirement, and be able to have a reasonable shot at living debt-free?
- Encourage them. Â When was the last time you actually took your pastor, associate pastor, or other church staff member and just encouraged them? Â Sent them a note or card, sent them a gift card to a local restaurant, took them out for dinner and paid for it? Â Some constant, consistent act of encouragement lets them know that their work is not in vain.
- Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration. Â Why is it that in the American church the unspoken expectation is that you are always going to be there, Â or when you step away for training, rest, recreation thatâ€™s a luxury that you really donâ€™t need?
- Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source. If you entertain gossip, you are a gossip whether you originated it or not. Â If youâ€™re going to Â help protect your leader, make sure they know you have their back.
- Give them a safety net. By that I mean just let them know that if something happens, weâ€™re not just going to throw them away, kick them to the curb, and leave them penniless and destitute. Â Yes, leadership transitions do need to happen, but the vast majority are not for failure, moral or otherwise. Â Letâ€™s let our leaders lead knowing that they wonâ€™t be out in the cold for one bad decision, or at the whim of some crazy elder, or board-member.