A few years ago I was meeting with my pastor, and friend, to talk about communication because our church had almost shut down. Things needed to change… fast. He’d been the teaching pastor while the “Lead” pastor ran things into the ground. My friend’s honesty and focus in the middle of the crisis were refreshing.
Several ongoing church events/ministries were struggling to continue, and he took a very frank, people-focused approach:
“If we have enough people willing to make them happen, that’s great. If not, we’ll put those things on hold to make sure we can do a few things well. Right now we need to focus on communicating better and helping everyone navigate this season of transition.”
In case you aren’t familiar with how churches can work sometimes…
- He didn’t fall for the temptation of putting ministries above people.
- He didn’t focus on how it would make him look to have a ministry end.
- He also focused on the particular season of the people in our church: a lot of people were hurting, and he knew that he needed to focus on helping them.
You don’t have to look too far these days to see what a terrible pastor looks like. Perhaps you’ve been under the authority of a terrible pastor for so long that you’ve forgotten what a good one looks like.
While I’ve had a few crazy pastors over the years, I’ve been blessed with quite a few good pastors and teams of pastors, men and women, young and old, who modeled all that is good about pastoral ministry. Having chosen to not go into full time ministry myself because I felt like I didn’t have the right skill set for it, I have taken note over the years about what makes a good pastor:
- Your Pastor Has Accountability
Congregational churches typically have a mishmash of elders and congregational accountability that is manifested through votes. Other churches function with a hierarchy of elders and/or bishops who provide oversight and accountability.
Both models (and their many variations) have strengths and weaknesses. The key is that pastors shouldn’t be able to stack the deck in their favor. They need people who can speak with bracing honesty into their lives for their own health and for the health of their congregations. If a pastor has overstepped his/her authority at any point, members of the congregation need a reliable place to go to share their concerns.
- Your Pastor Delegates Responsibility
The best pastors I’ve worked with over the years gave away their power by empowering others and letting fellow pastors or lay leaders make important decisions or lead critical groups or ministries. Pastors who try to control too much inevitably burn out.
Interestingly enough, Jesus delegated a ton to his disciples before they even understood what kind of Messiah he would be—if some believed he was the Messiah at all. His disciples were empowered to baptize, cast out demons, preach, and heal.
Narcissistic pastors will be the most defensive and possibly abusive since they will try to protect their positions and public perception about them by concentrating as much power as possible.
- Your Pastor Communicates
I grew up in a church where the pastors effectively used the bulletin, website, and church events to communicate. They moved intentionally slow in order to keep everyone on the same page.
I don’t think communication is the same thing as building consensus, although it can help build consensus. Communication should at the very least inform members about a process or expected change so that they aren’t surprised by a dramatic change on Sunday morning.
Part of belonging to a community is communicating in order to keep everyone in the loop. Taking an analogy from a family, it’s a pretty terrible idea to spring a move to another city or even a nearby house on the kids without telling them that you’re looking at houses or considering buying a new house, etc. The kids don’t get to decide where you’re going to live, but they should know about the process before you tell them to start loading the moving van.
- Your Pastor Leads Relationally, Not Positionally
The best pastors I’ve seen over the years lead through lunches, breakfasts, and coffee meet ups. They host meals where leaders and groups gather together for discussions. They listen and share what they’re thinking.
They get things done, but sometimes it takes a little bit of time to launch a new small group or ministry, especially if the people involved are new. They need time to build up a relationship.
I’ve read stories about pastors who demand obedience because of their positions that are allegedly based on biblical authority. These pastors are the bullies who make demands as authorities rather than asking for help as members of the same church family who are guided by the same Spirit.
- Your Pastor Is Not Key to Your Church’s Success or “Brand”
If people talk about your church, are they talking about the kinds of things your church does or do they inevitably talk about your pastor? While some pastors are naturally more interesting and popular than others because of their preaching style, I’d be worried about attending a church where the pastor is the main highlight rather than the actual ministries of the church.
There are lots of bad reasons to attend a church, and a rock star pastor is among the worst because it’s not sustainable and could breed a really unhealthy atmosphere that is more centered around entertainment and making fans rather than community outreach and making disciples.
What are some other marks of a good pastor?
Read more about the ways bad churches happen to good people in my new book: