Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)
Let’s just come right out and say it up front:
Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are most likely not doing anything of importance. You are not a leader.
The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he/she has been sent to serve.
The new pastor comes to a church with a divine mandate. This is not pious talk. The preacher has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is. So, he proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service, do anything but what they should. Many of them stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.
Not always, thankfully. But too often.
This was the last thing the pastor needed or expected.
Being human, he may begin to wonder: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?
My answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course. After all….
—Salt is an irritant. We have been sent into this world as salt (Matthew 5:13).
—Light hurts the eyes of those accustomed to the dark. We were sent as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). The brighter it shines, the more darkness resists it, resents it, runs from it.
This is as good a place as any to state the obvious: Many in places of leadership inside our churches are not leaders. I’m talking about pastors, staffers, deacons, and other so-called and would-be leaders.
They may qualify as counselors, program directors, consensus builders, negotiators, mediators, comforters, affirmers, or even teachers. But they are not leaders.
A leader by definition stands apart from the crowd, calling and pointing and pushing and urging them onward and forward to a destination many cannot understand, do not see, and are not sure they want. The more forcibly he or she leads, the greater some will react against the methods used and the message proclaimed.
Thankfully, not all. But there will always be some who will oppose any challenge to the status quo.
Perfectionism is one of the leader’s greatest enemies. If he waits until 100 percent of the team is on board, they will still be sitting there when Jesus returns.
When a leader insists on the enthusiastic support and complete approval of every last member of the team, as idealistic as that sounds, the work grinds to a halt and all forward progress ends at that point.
The ramifications of this for leaders is enormous.
1. We must jettison our need for and insistence on pleasing everyone.
I heard of a pastor who was called to a church by a vote of 98 ‘for’ to 2 ‘against.’ He spent the first six months in the church finding out who the two in opposition were, and the next six months winning them over. At the end of his first year, that pastor was fired. The vote was 98 against and 2 for.
Our Lord Jesus said, I always do the things that please the Father (John 8:29). Paul said, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
If I serve well and my congregation is happy and supportive, good. We’re not suggesting otherwise.
However, if a segment of the membership is upset, that does not necessarily mean I’m doing something wrong.
But either way, it’s a matter between them and the Lord. I must work not to take their criticism or rejection personally. God said to Samuel, It’s not you they have rejected, but me (I Samuel 8:7). Jesus said, He who rejects you rejects Me (Luke 10:16).
2. We must accept that some are always going to be unhappy with us, no matter what we do.
On one occasion when some in my congregation were trying to end my ministry, I learned that the ringleaders had decided before I ever arrived that they did not like me and I would need to go. It was not about me at all; it was all their doing. I was given no opportunity to do what God sent me there to do. Everything about that was sad.
However, that said, had I let their opposition rob me of my joy in the Lord and divert me from the assignment the Lord had given, it would have been sinful toward God, suicidal toward my calling, and self-defeating toward the work of the church. Bottom line: I served Him as well as I could under the circumstances, and after three years I was out. But the Lord was in control and in retrospect, He was glorified and we were blessed.
3. We must choose whether God’s will or the pleasure of the people is more important.
The typical pastor is by nature a people pleaser. When members of the congregation rave about his sermons and are excitedly telling the community how well the church is prospering, he feels affirmed. Most of us would. Likewise, when they criticize his leadership and spread their disaffection throughout the community, he feels undermined, begins to second-guess himself, and grows discouraged.
There is no substitute for a pastor being such a man of prayer that he knows beyond a doubt what he is doing in the church is from God. Without that, he will not be able to stand up under the onslaught of the naysayers.
4. In any church that moves forward, some people are always going to be dropping by the wayside, upset that they are not getting their way.
I asked a ministry leader whom I know well and respect highly to comment on my thesis here, that “Unless someone is not constantly mad at you, you are no leader.” He said, “You will hack off people if you are not leading and even if you are. Either way, you are going to upset some. So, just choose which group you want on your team, the winners or the whiners.”
5. Some of those who are the angriest and leave the soonest may be your best workers.
That is one of the hardest truths for a new pastor to absorb. He comes in to a church with the enthusiastic endorsement of the pastor search committee and counts on those leaders for their full support and involvement. A year later, if he has been a visionary leader, some of them cannot be found.
At lunch with a friend who had invited me to speak to his congregation, I said, “You came to this church three years ago. How is it different now from then?”
“We’ve lost some people,” he said. “Some were members of the search committee.”
As one fellow made his exit from the church, he said to the pastor, “I know our committee told you the church needs to change or it’s going to die. And I know we said we would support you in making the changes.” He paused and added, “But I never thought those changes would affect me personally.”
6. The pastor who exercises true leadership is destined to find out all too quickly whether the Lord is sufficient for his needs.
Not every leader of a church, not every staffer or deacon or pastor, is a whole human with great mental health. Some of us are incomplete people, with gaping holes inside which we seek to fill with significant people who will complete us and affirm us and help us be all we should be for the Lord.
That’s not entirely bad. In a perfect world, a church would supply those needs and fill those potholes in our psyches and all would be well.
But this is a fallen world.
Every member of every church is completely human. He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). All have sinned, none are righteous.
Okay, we’re clear on that?
This means therefore that the spiritual leader will be asking flawed, needy people to follow him in accomplishing God’s purpose on earth.
Spiritual leadership requires that the “man in front” of the crowd get his bearings from the Lord God. It requires that he know the way and conveys that way to other key leaders. And it requires that he not be dissuaded by those who have their own concept of what the way is or how best to reach it.
Either God calls pastors as leaders or He doesn’t.
How we decide that determines a thousand things about how we will follow his leadership.