Pastoring is difficult. Ask any pastor how the day is going and about 360 days of the year you’ll hear at least one challenge that day—relational, spiritual, physical, emotional, or mental. Roughly five days a year we feel like we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Those are precious days when so many are filled with defeat, discomfort, or discouragement.
Pastors are called on constantly to help people fix their lives, because pastors minister to people who are broken. But pastors are broken people, too. It’s easy to want to come up with the quick fix, the perfect remedy. I just need a plan! we muse to ourselves. I just need a strategy, or, I wish I could stay committed to the strategy I have, we think. Or, I need more sleep. I need more sabbath-ing.
I want to give eight lies pastors believe—those which can pull us off the beaten path traveled by godly leaders in generations past. Part One looks at the first four.
1. I just need more plans and strategies, and I will be a better leader.
Pastors tend to be doers, and in our doing we can forget that who we are in Christ matters far more than what we do for Christ. Derwin Gray summed up the recent G2 Summit’s focus succinctly: “The greatest work God wants to see done is not ministry THROUGH you, but ministry IN you.”
When pastors give and minister to the point of mental or emotional exhaustion we can begin to believe the lie that the answer to every challenge is a new plan or strategy: just give me the one strategy, the “magic bullet” I can use to lead my church to do ______, and I am set. There is no magic bullet. We don’t need a magic bullet. We need Jesus.
The only way to lead better is by letting God love you better. Rick Warren framed it this way, “Your first job in ministry is to let God love you. God made you to love you.” Too many pastors either don’t believe this, or don’t live as if they believe this. We don’t need more of anything except Jesus, and only he will be the one to guide us to what we actually do need moreof.
2. I just need better plans and strategies, and then I will be able to lead better.
We live in a culture that is quick to give us the “10 points to being a healthy leader” or the “ADAPT model of strategic leadership” (I made both of those up, by the way.). Having a good plan is not bad and can in fact lead to clarity and focus on where you and your church are headed.
But, with all the information available to pastors today we can easily find ourselves spending more time seeking a plan than seeking the Lord.
Once we have allowed our love of strategy to usurp the ultimate authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our lives, we are doomed. Nothing compares to the wisdom from above. The first step in leading better is always allowing God to be the first Person to speak into your life.
3. I just need people to affirm what I am doing, and they will follow me.
Who doesn’t like accolades? I may appear to be a confident leader on the outside, but like everyone else, I have times of doubt and insecurity. I like it when people like me or tell me I am leading well. God’s people ought to be people who encourage and uplift and speak life into their leaders. But don’t get confused: when this doesn’t happen, the world will not end. Speaking edification and love into the lives of others is often a learned discipline.
Most pastors are good with people. That’s a good thing. But if you are good with people, you are more likely a people-pleaser, too. We can fall into taking compliments too well or criticisms too harshly when focused on others for affirmation.
We are called to live our lives to an Audience of One. But that’s not easy when we are in front of audiences of people regularly. Scripture is clear that we aren’t to look to the affirmation of others, but to the only One who can truly give it anyways—God alone. The Audience of One idea is real, and helpful. Focus on pleasing God over pleasing people.
4. I just need God (or: all I need is God and I’m good).
Sometimes, we may take the opposite extreme and think that we don’t need to care about what others think of us or the importance of community. The opposite of a people pleaser is a people user.
We shouldn’t be ruled by the thoughts of others; we desperately need community. Far too many pastors are lone rangers, not in a small group, not in accountability, failing to seek out community. We don’t need people for affirmation; God is enough. But we do need people for our sanctification. We grow better in community than in isolation, and that goes for pastors, too.
Once we recognize that our Audience of One really is just that, we will live in such a way that honoring him will honor others. There Is no way to love God well and to not love others well. When we seek to be more like Jesus, we will inevitably do better at leading and loving others.
When we turn a podium into a pedestal, there is an inevitability that we will be knocked off. We are not designed to be on a pedestal, we are designed to be in community. We need God, but we also need God’s people—his church. Those around you are not only his family, but your family as well.
At the G2 Summit Rick Warren reminded us, “If God only used perfect people, nothing would get done. God only uses broken people.” And that’s okay, because it’s not about us. It’s about a God who loves us so much that he gave his very life for us. There is no “better Ed” or “worse Ed.” There is only “The Ed God loves.” That’s true for you, too.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair at Wheaton College, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Laurie Nichols is Director of Communications and Marketing for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, creator of the Our Gospel Story curriculum, co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz, and she blogs at Not All Those Who Wander.