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Leading Reasons Pastors Fall (and Solutions)

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(Some of the ideas in this chapter come from insights shared by Linda Lindquist-Bishop, during an email exchange.)

Through the years I have often analyzed why so many pastors fall into sin or resign from church ministry. I came up with a number of primary reasons, which are enumerated in this chapter.

1. Churches are becoming complex enterprises, which some pastors are not equipped to lead

The typical seminary training one receives to be a pastor usually only slightly touches on the practical elements needed to oversee a church in the 21st century. Learning theology and how to exegete Scripture is not enough. Pastors have perhaps the toughest job in the nation.

The following are some of the issues contemporary pastors grapple with:

Real Estate: Pastors must deal with zoning laws; political leaders; community boards; and bank, business, and community leaders.

Many churches of a thousand or more are larger than the average church often because of location; so much of the mega-church phenomenon is based on sociological/geographical reasons, not just anointing, gifting, and how much prayer takes place.

Like a McDonald’s franchise, one of the most important keys to success is not the quality of a ministry, but its location. In other words, are there ample options for parking and/or is the facility near public transportation; is the facility visible to the masses of people; are there other considerations? Thus, pastors need to have skill in picking out the right location.

New Facility: Pastors must hire the right architect, lawyer, and other consultants to organize a grueling capital stewardship campaign. These campaigns are enough to destroy many churches because the pressure of fundraising can easily become the focus, instead of ministering to the needs of the people.

Cash Flow Questions: Pastors must know when to expand their programs and facilities by debt financing (bank loans or other financing), or by using cash and/or consolidating assets and focusing internally for growth.

Networking: Today’s urban pastor must have access to political leaders and key community leaders in order to success- fully tap into all the resources available to fund the programs needed to meet the vast needs people have— especially in an urban context.

Business/Administration: Most pastors are good preachers, but I have noticed that many of the most successful churches are those run by leaders with a business background. This is why I tell all those training for the ministry to get at least an associates degree in business finance.

Just having anointed services on Sunday cannot build a successful church. You must have continual vision casting, strategic planning with 3-5 year goals, implementation and administration of the vision, leadership development, discipleship training, team building, selecting and funding the proper gift mix for your staff, and much more.

2. Learning how to relate the gospel to your audience

Many preachers are answering questions their audience is not asking. Pastors need to have the skill and the information to gauge the demographic make-up of their community, and know how to connect to their communities. Connection is based on the age, ethnicity, economic, and religious context of a community.

Pastors need to constantly monitor the sociological trends in their communities so they can raise up the leadership necessary to relate to the people who will be the dominant groups in their communities. For example, because of gentrification, a community like Harlem may be mostly Caucasian in coming years. African-American pastors in this community need to know how to adjust their outreach to their community. Or, consider opening up satellite churches or ministries to reach those presently in their church who may move to the suburbs. Thus, pastors need to skillfully exegete their communities, not just the Scriptures.

3. Leadership development

How does the church effectively transform new believers from babes into responsible, mature members? How does the church effectively mentor potential leaders who have 10-hour

workdays and 2-3 hour daily commutes to and from work? Usually those with the potential to lead already have responsible positions at their jobs. Thus, they are already spent and weary before they come to church and minister.

Pastors must answer the question: Are we going to be a program-based church, or are we going to depend on empowering lay leadership for shepherding (the cell church model)?

4. Board development issues

Pastors have to answer the questions: What is the biblical model of local church government? What model of church government will we follow? Also, who should the pastor select to be on the church’s board of trustees? This changes based on the maturity of your leadership, type of church government, the age of your church, the history of your church, and if the pastor is the founder or entering into an already-developed board.

5. The lack of a safe place

Most pastors lack true accountability. Organizational accountability in most denominations does not ensure true accountability based on vulnerable, transparent relationships. Many will not go to those over them or peers within their own denominations for fear they will be stigmatized and will not be able to move up in the organization.

All pastors need other pastors over them as mentors and peer relationships with others they can trust in transparent relationships for self-renewal. Legendary English spiritual leader John Wesley once said, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. Christianity is a religion of fellowship.”

Most pastors feel isolated and alone, even in the midst of their congregation. Many pastors are comfortable in the pul- pit because they hide behind their anointing and their minis- try gifting but are socially dysfunctional, never allowing any- one to really know them or relate to them to establish a real

emotional connection. Even when they are with other pastors, the bulk of their conversations are about ministry and not about personal issues like marriage, the state of their inner lives, or the challenges of raising children.

6. Tension between spiritual leader role and organizational leader role

Many pastors do not know how to distinguish their roles as pastor/shepherd from leader of the organization in which they have to hire and fire, based on maintaining a spirit of excellence in business. There is great stress in knowing when and how to fire staff who may be faithful members in the church the pastor is shepherding. They need skill (training) as to both the business and spiritual aspects of the church.

Another problem is that many pastors do not know how to balance their time between administration and spiritual preparation, and are spending 40 hours per week in administration. Acts 6:4 teaches administration is primarily the work of deacons, yet a large percentage of pastors are neglecting their time in studying Scripture and praying in the presence of God. This results in pastors burning out because the needs of the people are pulling on their grace gifting to come forth, but they are not able to give it because their spiritual tank is empty.

7. Compassion fatigue

Many pastors are so used to just giving and giving that they do not know how and when to receive. Sometimes I would come to places where I was working so hard for so long that I actually felt guilty when I had some time off for rest; I literally did not know how to rest. On many vacations, I needed at least three days before my mind and emotions caught up to my body so that I was able to mentally adjust to taking time off!

God has placed sacred rhythms in our lives so that there would be regular times of refreshing and renewal. God calls the Sabbath “a sign between us and Him.” What is the sign? That He is God and that our church or work will not fall apart

when we take time off because He is the one building the church (Matthew 16:18-19)!

Life is not a marathon but a series of 100-meter dashes. We need to continually take time to rest and regroup before we go out to run the race again. Because I am filled with so much vision, I often hate the fact that my body gets tired and needs 6-8 hours of sleep per night. But then I realize that God did this on purpose—not to rest my body but primarily to rest my mind and emotions so that I can start each morning with a fresh perspective.

Most pastors can trace burnout to not regularly replenishing their souls with rest, prayer, reading, fellowship, exercise, and caring for their emotional lives. We can renew ourselves by doing things that we enjoy; it does not always have to be prayer, study, or a spiritual or religious discipline. It can be viewing art, playing a sport, spending time with one’s spouse, having a social life, or simply having a hobby that you enjoy.

8. Many pastors do not know how to build a dream team, and have people operating outside of their gift mix

Accurately placing people based on their giftings is one of the most important things in terms of releasing a pastor from some of their responsibilities in the ministry. God has called our churches to function as apostolic centers, wherein all the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 can function so the work of the ministry or the oversight of the church is not dependent on any one person.

Every pastor should have the Antioch church as their model—one where the church is shepherded by a diverse multiplicity of ministers (Acts 13:1). This can prevent the church overseer from reaching ministerial burnout because they will have the ability to balance their time between work, family, private renewal, and relaxation.

Every dream team is made up of at least four kinds of leaders:

Visionary or directional leader: The one who motivates the church and casts a macro vision.
Strategic leader: The person who lays out the strategic plan on how to implement the vision.
The team builder: The “people person” who spends time among the sheep and builds the morale of the office staff or ministry team.
The operational leader: The one who loves to create systems and leaves paper trails for proper protocol to operate in the church.

9. The unique contribution of each kind of leader:

Macro leaders, like directional leaders, become impatient when bogged down dealing with high-maintenance “problem people.” This is a job for the pastors and/or team builders. Macro leaders are wired to spend their time with those who contribute to the big picture and bring them the biggest return from their very busy schedule.

Strategic leaders are perfectionists who have a hard time making deadlines and pulling the trigger on import- ant decisions.

The team builders who are given a heavy administration workload will get frustrated. Unlike the operational leaders, they hate paperwork!

Asking operational leaders, strategic leaders, and team builders to cast vision will only hinder the church and frustrate these three leaders. This is a job only the directional leader can do correctly.

One time a senior pastor I was overseeing asked me to mediate a problem between him and one of his staff pastors. I had to tell him after we spoke for half an hour that this staff person was misplaced. The senior pastor was trying to get this (team building) leader to be an administrator, and the result was both pastors were frustrated and almost parted ways.

(For more on this concept, read A Fish Out of Water: 9 Strategies Effective Leaders Use to Help You Get Back into the Flow by George Barna.)

10. Competition among churches (or pastors)

Unfortunately, many leaders are driven by self and not led by the Spirit. They are especially driven by their need to feel significant based on the growth and success of other churches in their community or region. This is a serious issue among some pastors and causes much self-induced stress and feelings of inadequacy, depression, and insecurity.

When a leader endeavors to grow a church numerically without commensurate church health, it is a sure sign that the leader is driven more by ego and/or insecurity than the pure desire of obeying their God-given assignment. Because of this competitive spirit, some pastors secretly celebrate when a fellow pastor is struggling; they also secretly become discouraged when a church in their community prospers and grows more than theirs. This is a sure sign of unhealthy competition.

One reason for this is because pastors become confused when a church in their community is blessed and their church does not grow as fast. This causes them to wonder what they are doing wrong and what the other pastor is doing right. Thus, they are driven by insecurity. In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul teaches leaders not to compare themselves with others.

When pastors understand that the Kingdom of God is greater than their local church, then competitive feelings will begin to dissipate.

11. Lack of personal vision/life plan

Many leaders are personally lost even when they have a great vision for their church. They are not sure who they are, what their assignment is, or how to lead based on their strengths. Thus, it is possible to attempt to lead a congregation and cast a vision without even being sure of your specific assignment from the Lord! There are also people who pastor a church only because they do not know of any other way to make a living; they are really evangelists, teachers, prophets, or marketplace leaders, trying to function in the mold of a pastor although they do not have a nurturing bone in their body!

12. Many leaders don’t know how to lead

Some leaders depend on positional leadership based on their title, rather than functional leadership. I was shocked years ago when I realized that not all pastors are leaders. Someone with little or no mantle of leadership trying to lead a congregation will eventually lead to people going in their own direction, looking for the real leader in their midst.

I agree with George Barna (as stated in his book, A Fish Out of Water) when he says that there are habitual leaders (born leaders) who are so gifted that leadership comes naturally to them; they simply intuit leadership.

I also agree with bestselling author and leadership expert John Maxwell, who says we can grow as leaders by asking people to mentor us and by taking the time to study about leadership. God has called each leader to know and articulate their own mission statement.


Pastors need to find peer communities with compatible vision where they will find a safe haven to receive from and aid them in fulfilling their vision. Denominational presbytery meetings do not necessarily meet this need.
Pastors need one or more other pastors who will coach them, hold them accountable, and speak to the needs of their emotional and inner lives.

Pastors need to erect boundaries and firewalls around themselves and their families so that their personal lives and families will have time to replenish and be renewed.
Pastors need to take care of their physical bodies with regular exercise, solitude and silence, rest, and proper diet.
Pastors need to take regular times of rest and/or sabbaticals:(a) 1 year for every 7 years in ministry. I realize this may not be possible for bi-vocational pastors or those in small, rural congregations, but it is possible to take creative steps by using guest ministers and deacons or elders to give the pastor an extended break.(b) 1 day for every 7 days.(c) 3 days away for prayer and reflection every 3 months.
Pastors need to pay attention to their emotional needs, not just their spiritual lives.
Pastors need to take care of their intellectual lives. Some pastors should go back to school. The majority of pastors in many regions have less than a bachelor’s degree; thus, most lack serious, well-ordered learning. Pastors should prioritize regular times for study to develop their intellect and regular times for devotional reading. Just reading to preach is work and will wear you out and not necessarily draw you closer to God.
Pastors need to bring their spouses along in all facets of self-renewal and ministry so that there is unity and compatibility of vision in their marriages.

Now, I spent this chapter reviewing a multiplicity of challenges pastors face, and why some give up. But at the same time, leaders should recognize that failure is not a reason to throw up their arms and quit. In chapter 6, I will review how failure can be the gateway to success.

This article is chapter 5 from “Poisonous Power“, Bishop Mattera’s latest book. For more like this, you can purchase your copy on Amazon here.

The post Leading Reasons Pastors Fall (and Solutions) appeared first on Mattera Ministries International.

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