Posts Tagged ‘pastors who are control freaks’

During my junior year in gym class, I was assigned to a three-man basketball team along with a guy named Ted.

Ted only knew one thing to do with a basketball: shoot.

If I stole a pass … or got a rebound … or took the ball out of bounds … I would pass the ball to Ted and he’d shoot.  It didn’t matter if I was wide open, or if I beat my man breaking to the basket.

Ted never saw me.

To Ted, the basketball was large, and his teammates were tiny.

It was demoralizing playing with Ted the Ball Hog.  If my friend Steve had been on my team, we would have had a blast passing the ball back and forth … pick-and-rolls, alley oops, no-look passes.

But playing with Ted wasn’t any fun … and I had to do it for nine long weeks.

There are a lot of pastors who are just like Ted.

They run their churches by themselves.  They don’t even notice others around them.  They preach all the sermons … select all the leaders … make all the decisions … and demotivate people in the process.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels say that the pastors of large, growing churches have one special skill: they quickly put together ministry teams … give them a charter … and turn them loose.

But thousands of pastors can’t do that.

Why are so many pastors control freaks?

First, pastors are hyper-anxious that things go perfectly at their churches.

There is a direct correlation between being anxious and needing to be in control.

The more anxious you are, the more you’ll insist that the ministry have zero mistakes.

The less anxious you are, the more you’ll do your best and then relax.

I have a “gift” that I wish I didn’t have.

When I was a pastor, and I first walked into the worship center on Sunday morning, I could tell within five seconds if something was wrong inside the room.

If a chair was crooked … if there was trash lying around … if the communion elements weren’t perfectly straight … I felt that it was my duty to quickly and quietly take care of things.

That’s how many pastors manage their churches.

They remain anxious until attendance is up … the giving is meeting budget … every leadership slot is filled … and every problem has been solved.

Which means they are always anxious … and feel like they need to control everything.

But anxiety-ridden pastors are ultimately counterproductive.

Second, pastors feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for their ministries.

Paul told the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:28:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Watch the flock … and shepherd the church … because the Spirit of God has selected you as a leader … and Jesus died for His people.

What a solemn duty!

Maybe this is why many pastors assume responsibility for every service … every leader … every ministry … and every unresolved problem in their churches.

And at times, that responsibility feels absolutely overwhelming.

If a leader falls into sin … if a couple announces they’re divorcing … if a small group implodes … many pastors say to themselves, “I should have seen that coming.  I should have prevented that from happening.”

And if they can’t prevent a problem, they’ll create a plan to minimize the damage.

It’s been nearly six years since my last day as a pastor.

I don’t miss the responsibility one bit.  It’s too much for any one person.

But the more responsible a pastor feels about his church, the more control he’ll wield over it.

Third, pastors try to avoid replicating bad experiences from their past.

I once hired a staff member who claimed on his resume that he was just a few units short of earning his degree.  The church board asked him to finish his degree if we hired him, and he agreed.

A year later, through a series of circumstances, I discovered from the registrar at his college that this staff member lied about his education on his resume.

I felt stupid that I hired him.

A navy chaplain was attending our church at the time, and when I mentioned the situation to him, he encouraged me to ask every future job applicant to supply a transcript of their completed classes directly from each school they’d attended.

Because we’ve been burned in the past … by Christians, no less … many pastors add extra requirements when they hire staff … select board members … allow people to teach … or approve people to handle money.

Sometimes these extra requirements feel like unnecessary control, but pastors want to minimize the chance they’ll make a mistake that might harm the ministry … a mistake that their critics will blame them for.

But these added steps often seem like additional control.

Fourth, pastors view themselves as professionals … and most others as amateurs.

Because they’ve been called to ministry … attended Bible college and/or seminary … and have more experience serving in churches than 90% of the people who attend their congregations … many pastors see themselves as professionals who know everything about church life.

They know the right style of music during worship … the right colors to paint the youth room … the right way to share Christ with an unbeliever … and the right way to raise money.

And even when someone more gifted comes along, a pastor may still insist that his way is the right way.

I have been through two church building programs as a pastor.  I learned a lot going through those experiences … but that doesn’t mean that I know everything about constructing facilities.

I don’t.

In fact, some of my construction ideas were dumb … but some were extremely helpful, too.

During my last pastorate, our church built a new worship center.  I chose the initial building team, and gave them my ideas, and stayed in touch with the leader, but I let the team make their own decisions.

Most of them were wise … a handful unwise … but it wasn’t my church: it was our church.

When a pastor becomes a control freak:

*It becomes harder and harder to recruit volunteers.

*Existing volunteers feel uncertain … disempowered … and demotivated.

*Some volunteers will suddenly quit and leave the church because they feel unvalued.

*The pastor sends the message, “I am the body of Christ.”

*The church will shrink numerically.

During my first ten years of church ministry, the churches I led did not do well … largely because I exercised too much control over everything.

During my next twenty years of ministry, though, the churches I led did very well … largely because I learned to select good leaders … give them a charter … grant them both authority and responsibility … and trust them to do the job.

I’d love to play three-man basketball again, especially with teammates who would pass the ball around until one of us was open for a good shot.

But I refuse to play with someone like Ted who hogs the ball and doesn’t value his teammates.

Churchgoers don’t want to work with a pastor like Ted, either.

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I’ve done a lot of stupid things in church ministry.

But what I’m about to tell you was one of the stupidest.

Many years ago, in my second pastorate, I became discontented with the level of giftedness in our Sunday morning service.

We started the service with announcements.  (It was the trend back then.)

Then we had a few hymns.

Then we had a time where people in the congregation could share testimonies … followed by another hymn.

Then I preached … followed by a final hymn.

I didn’t like the way the guy who made announcements made them … so I made them instead.

And we didn’t have anyone decent to lead singing … so I led singing instead.

And I was already leading the testimony time … and saying the prayers … and preaching.

It’s a wonder I didn’t play the organ and piano, run sound, take the offering, and watch the kids in the nursery.

Because of personal anxiety, I started doing more and more things myself.

There’s a word for the way I behaved: overfunctioning.

When someone overfunctions, they assume an unhealthy responsibility for the behavior of others.

And pastors, if they’re not careful, can become classic overfunctioners.

Let me share with you four reasons why pastors should not overfunction:

First, overfunctioners deny the giftedness of the body of Christ.

Jesus had every spiritual gift, didn’t He?  He had the gift of leadership … and miracles … and teaching … and faith … and prophecy … and healing … and giving.

He could have been a one-man show.  Instead, He chose 12 disciples to be with Him, and to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:13-15).

Jesus could have overfunctioned, but He never did.  He set the pace, but He let His disciples share His ministry … and learn from Him along the way.

Paul didn’t overfunction, either.  He served with Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Titus and Priscilla and Aquila and Epaphroditus.

While Jesus could have done ministry better than any of the Twelve, He chose to share ministry with them anyway … and when He returned to heaven, they took over.

Even if a pastor can do various ministries better than anyone in a church, it will only grow to a certain level.

A pastor has to recruit, train, and release people to do ministry … and trust that they can do ministry better than he can.

Second, overfunctioners play Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

Years ago, I talked to my board chairman about how frustrated I was with the slow spiritual growth in the lives of some churchgoers.

I’ll never forget what he told me: “Jim, you’ve got to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.”

I was trying to hurry up people’s spiritual growth so they would attend and serve and give more consistently … but I was trying to do it in the flesh rather than letting God do the work.

When we’re trying to straighten everybody out … when we’re trying to acclerate the pace at which people grow … when we’re doing it for our benefit, not theirs … then we’re overfunctioning and playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

And there is no vacancy in the Trinity.

Let’s let God be God.  He has no limits.

And let’s let us be us.  We are very limited indeed.

Third, overfunctioners fail to let people wrestle with their own problems. 

This shows up most in the pastor’s study when he does counseling.

Many pastors go into ministry because they want to rescue people from their maladies.

So when they listen to someone’s problem in a counseling setting, they want to “fix” them right away.

They recommend a book, but give a copy to the counselee rather than letting them buy it themselves.

They open and close the session with prayer, rather than letting the counselee pray at all.

They tell the counselee five ways to deal with their issue rather than letting them make their own discoveries.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:5, “For each of you should carry your own load.”  The word “load” has the idea of a backpack, something that each of us can carry on our own.

Yet back in verse 2, Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  The term “burdens” has the idea of a load so heavy (think of a piano) that you can only carry the load with the help of others.

Pastors need to help people carry the pianos in their lives while letting people carry their own backpacks.

Finally, overfunctioners eventually run out of steam.

If a pastor tries to be the body of Christ … and he tries to play Holy Spirit in people’s lives … and he fails to let people wrestle with their own problems … then he’s going to collapse emotionally … and he won’t be able to help others for a long time.

Pastors need to know their limits … but in the church, we applaud pastors who work insane hours.

I have a theory about workaholic pastors.  Because they’re not convinced of their giftedness – after all, it seems like other pastors lead and teach and administrate better – they try and outwork others so they can feel good about themselves.

In my second pastorate, I arrived at church at 6 am every Tuesday for a men’s prayer meeting.  We had board meetings on Tuesday nights, and I would stay through and work a 15 or 16 hour day.

One of the board members lived behind the church.  One time, he called me at my office and said, “I see your car in the parking lot.  Go home to your wife and kids.”

That was some of the best advice I ever received.

Because if I just use the spiritual gifts God gave me … then I free others up to use the gifts God gave them.

And if I stop playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives … then maybe they can let the real Holy Spirit take control.

And if I let people wrestle with their own problems … then maybe they’ll solve them when I’m not around.

And if I empower others in the church to carry out their ministries … without my help … then maybe I can spend most nights at home with my family.

When pastors overfunction in a church … the body of Christ underfunctions.

And God never intended for a pastor to be the entire body.

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