A healthy church is a great place of healing.
But an unhealthy church causes problems for everyone who touches it – including the pastor who’s called to help turn it around.
More people get sick in hospitals than anywhere else. Because that’s where the sick people are. Health care professionals know this, so they have stringent protocols to keep themselves from contracting the diseases they’re trying to cure.
Churches are the same.
So how does a pastor keep spiritually and emotionally healthy while living, worshiping and leading in an unhealthy environment?
I’ve pastored in three church turnaround situations – two of which worked, one that didn’t. Turning an unhealthy church around is one of the hardest tasks any pastor will ever be called to do. Don’t attempt it without observing these nine principles to protect yourself and your family:
1. Be Proactive, not Just Reactive
This was the first, and one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in pastoring.
Don’t stay in fix-it mode, responding to every need, crisis and emergency that arises. Yes, those have to be responded to, especially in a turnaround situation. But if that’s all you’re doing – or even the main thing you’re doing – the church and you will suffer for it.
When we stay in reactive mode, the squeaky wheels are in control. Not us. Not Jesus.
A pastor who wants to stay healthy while bringing a church into health needs a plan. Something designed to replace the current toxic environment.
It’s not enough to drain the swamp. We need to replace it with something of value.
This is essential for the pastors’ mental and emotional health, because there are fewer things that will draw us into an unhealthy church’s drama than constantly living in reaction to that drama.
2. Invest in Teachable People
There’s a great scene from the movie The Untouchables, where they’re trying to figure out how to build a team of agents in Al Capone’s Chicago who aren’t already on the take. The older cop (played by Sean Connery) tells Elliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) “If you're afraid of getting a rotten apple, don't go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.”
The next shot in the movie shows them at the police academy, looking through the qualifications of new recruits. They haven’t been in the police department yet, so they cannot possibly have been corrupted by it. Thus, they’re untouchable.