Trappings for Pastors
Imagine a job where scores, sometimes hundreds, even thousands of people come to hear you talk. They sit quietly in rows, and for the most part no one says a word while you share your wisdom. For 20 or 30 or even 45 minutes, no one speaks over you, no one asks questions, no one challenges you—it is your stage and the spotlight is on. Some in your audience will pull out paper and write down what you say. Some will pull out tissues as a story you share touches them emotionally. Some stop and share with you on their way out the deep way they were impacted by your talk.
There is no fee for admission, but each week when you finish your talk thousands of dollars will be put into buckets or baskets in order to ensure that bills are paid and salaries are funded—so they can come back again the following week for another mesmerizing talk.
Quotes from your talk are shared on social media in the coming days, and they get thousands of likes and shares. Future talks are promoted through websites, brochures, billboards, and Facebook ads. People call your office to ask if they can come in and talk to you about their personal life issues.
You get the point. If you pastor a church, whether the size is 90 or 9,000 – it is pretty heady work. When you are put on a pedestal built by your “fans” that grows taller every day, it can be difficult to stay connected to reality.
I’ve been in this work for a long time. In 34 years, I’ve personally worked on-site in more than 800 churches and have connected with thousands of pastors and church leaders. The trappings and snares for pastors have never been clearer:
Pastors don’t have a monopoly on the seven deadly sins, but I do believe they have a greater challenge combatting the tentacles of pride in their life. As a church grows, often a pastor becomes less accessible by necessity. But this can turn toward being untouchable, and feeling a sense of “otherness” – or even “aboveness.” You can begin to believe the accolades of your fans.
2. Refusing to listen
Pride can wrap itself around every part of your heart. It may be obvious to others, but those in your inside circle have too much to lose to confront you. You stop listening to others who are trying to offer gentle correction. Some attempt to “speak truth to power,” but it’s easy for you to push them aside, ignore their words, remove them from having access, and continuing to keep people around you who mostly agree.
3. Avoiding accountability
Those who struggle the most with pride and refusing to listen also tend to avoid anything that looks like accountability. Who makes decisions, how much people are paid, or where the budget dollars are allocated are all examples. Some pastors have a structure that looks like accountability, but when you peel back the layers, you find out very little authority or responsibility is given to those leadership groups.
4. Believing the rules don’t apply
Pride says “I am the exception.” Everyone needs to be in a small group, but that doesn’t apply to me. Everyone needs to be in the office from nine to five, but that doesn’t apply to me. Everyone gets three weeks of vacation, but that doesn’t apply to me. Everyone needs to go on a mission trip, but that doesn’t apply to me.
A verse comes to mind: “My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be so eager to become a teacher in the church since you know that we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgment.” (James 3:1)
Each of these tendencies are potential trappings for all of us, and as such all of us should pay attention. But if you know a pastor, I encourage you to pray for him or her. They face pressures and temptations that may surprise you. Pastors could use more of your prayers and less of your criticism.
If you are a pastor, gather around you a council of people who will speak truth into your life. These should be folks who have nothing to lose by telling you the truth. It’s not because you are weaker than others and thus need the help. Rather, it’s because there is so much at risk if pride takes you down.
And pastor, if you are on the edge and ready to crumble—ask for help. If pride has isolated you to a place where you are about ready to lose everything because of poor choices—ask for help. If the stress of the spotlight and height of the pedestal others have put you on is about to crush you emotionally or mentally—ask for help. We need you. More than we need you as a pastor, we need you as a fellow human, whole and healthy. Take a first step and ask for help.