Posts Tagged ‘why pastors control their churches’

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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