7 Things Pastors Tell Me Kept Them from Leading Well

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What prevents a pastor from leading well? The answer is spiritually rooted, but the practical aspects of good leadership must be heeded.

In my talks with pastors and ministry leaders, I hear some repeated themes. One common theme is they have a story of a failed leadership experience. Their first church. The church experience that went bad. Or, many times their current ministry and the reason for our conversation. 

When they have recovered from the experience, looking back, they wish they had known then what they know now. You’ve probably got some of those learning experiences too. It may have been an incident or the entire time in a particular ministry, but there were critical errors which kept you and the church from accomplishing all God had for you. There were errors in their leadership. 

Here’s my question. Why don’t we do a better job as pastors and leaders at learning from each other? 

I’ve reflected on some of those conversations, and there are literal words I have heard consistently over time. I want to share them in hopes we can learn from others. 

Here are 7 things I’ve repeatedly heard, which kept a pastor from leading well: 

“I failed to delegate” 

Many pastors try to be a solo leader. They know the expectation placed upon them and they know what they want to achieve, and they begin to think if it is going to be done right they must do it. They begin to try to control every outcome. Sadly, it can even limit the leader’s willingness to walk by faith. It doesn’t take long until a pastor burns out, potential leaders disappear and people are never developed and discipled. It’s a recipe for eventual disaster in leadership. 

“We couldn’t see beyond today” 

Many pastors get a tunnel vision in leading people. They only see what they see. They don’t consider the unseen – the yet to be imagined – the hidden gems of opportunity. Again, often this is a matter of faith, or laziness, sometimes a personality wiring, or maybe just falling into a rut of routine. In the sameness of today, things become stale and eventually people become bored…and someday they disappear. 

“I ignored the real problems” 

The real problems aren’t always the spoken problems. They aren’t the obvious problems. The real problems are the underlying reasons behind a problem. They usually deal with heart problems. What people are really thinking, but aren’t saying. The real problems always involve people and often involve perceptions, which may or may not be reality. 

“We resisted change too long” 

Change is coming. One way or another. Better to be on the side of change where you are the change agent – helping to craft the direction of change – rather than being the agent when change is no longer an option. Over time, if change is ignored, change will be thrust upon you. And, this is never welcomed change. 

“I tried to please everyone” 

When you do this you really please no one. Your time management isn’t under control. You are pulled in so many directions you do nothing effectively. Instead of leadership there is chaos. The loudest voices win and the silent ones you actually have a chance of leading somewhere disappear. And, you end up one very tired, skittish, ineffective pastor. 

“The momentum was allowed to die.” 

Momentum is extremely difficult to get back if you ever lose it. It’s easier to shift momentum to something new through change than it is to rebirth it when momentum is completely absent. 

“I neglected my family” 

Many pastors tell me they started to have problems at home when the ministry received more focus than the family. Three times in the past month, I’ve talked with a pastor who walked away from ministry – for how long I don’t know – because they realized they were going to lose their family if they didn’t. Sadly, too many pastors stay until it’s too late to repair the damage. Very sad. 

Obviously, the main – and most damaging – reasons a pastor doesn’t lead well are spiritual more than practical. We are to listen and obey the voice of God – first and foremost. But, we must not ignore the practical aspects of good leadership. Again, let’s learn from each other.

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