In over 35 years of pastoral ministry, I've known and worked alongside hundreds of pastors. I've met thousands.
I can count the dishonest ones – the wolves in sheep's clothing – on one hand. With fingers left over.
But there are some lies that even the 99+ percent of honest pastors have a hard time resisting.
Here are five of them:
1. How Big Their Church Is
We live in a church growth culture. Bigger is better. Even if we don't say it that way, we believe it.
The pressure to perform tempts us to lie about our attendance figures – especially to other pastors. And denominational officials. And visiting preachers ("The attendance is really down today!").
One of the main reasons we do this is found in the title of this point. Too many pastors see the church as "their" church. So they see the growth (or lack of) as their responsibility.
We're always striving for more. And when we don't hit those goals, we pad the books – in our heads and our conversations, if not in the actual reports. Although sometimes we do that, too.
2. How Healthy the Church Is
No one wants bad news. So we're tempted to downplay the negatives, up-sell the positives and call it faith.
It's been said that the first job of leadership is to define reality. I believe that to be profoundly true.
A big part of defining reality is to acknowledge our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
Leaders lead. But we can't get there from here if we don't have an accurate picture of where "here" is.
3. How Spiritually and Emotionally Strong They Are
Most churches are too pastor-centric. Including the church I pastor.
Too many churches rely far too heavily on one person to cast a vision, preach the Word, visit the sick and so on.
When the pastor is seen as a proxy for Jesus, we're taking on a burden no one was ever meant to bear. So we're tempted to lie about it. To ourselves and others. We present ourselves as paragons of spirituality and virtue. And by doing so we set ourselves up for failure.
Even if it doesn't lead to a moral or emotional flame-out, this over-reliance on the pastor sends the wrong message about who the church is supposed to be focused on and led by.
We need to point to Jesus. Lean on him. And equip the saints to follow him even when we're not around.
4. How Strong and Stable Their Marriage and Family Are
If the pastor is supposed to be near perfect, then so is their marriage and family, right?
Too many pastors' spouses and kids are living under an unreasonable pressure to perform, causing them to live a lie – to themselves and to others.
The only perfect relationship is among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When a pastor’s marriage and family are held to a higher standard than they're capable of living up to – than anyone is capable of living up to – they're being set up for disaster.
The world is filled with pastors and ex-pastors with shattered marriages and families that prove the sad truth behind this lie.
5. How Sure They are About the Church's Direction
We act like we have a clue. We don't. Not really.
Oh sure, every pastor should plan and pray about a vision for the church they're called to lead. And we should present that vision filled with faith and hope.
But we don't really know what the future holds. We've seen visions die before. Including our own. Especially if we've been pastoring for a while.
Plus, pastors aren't the only people capable of hearing from God and acting on it. If we really believe in the priesthood of believers, we should act like it. And that includes vision casting.
Resisting the Lies
Pastoring is hard work. But we make it harder than it should be by taking on greater burdens than we were ever meant to carry.
The only way to change this pastor-centric model and shift the burden and the glory back to where it belongs – on Jesus, not the pastor – is to insist on total honesty.
Be honest about how big (or small) the church is.
Only then can our egos get out of the way, allowing churches to be lead appropriately for their size.
Be honest about how healthy or unhealthy the church is.
Only with a proper diagnosis can we hope to treat the church's problems, challenges and possibilities correctly.
Be honest about your own spiritual and emotional health.
It's not right to expose every doubt and weakness to everyone, but we should never present a false self. And we all need to be vulnerable with someone we trust.
Be honest about your marriage and family.
We have to stop holding our spouses and kids up as public examples of unrealistic perfection. And don't let anyone else do it to them, either.
Be honest about the church's future.
If we can let go of our unrealistic (and often unbiblical) plans and expectations, we might find that Christ's plans are very different and far greater than anything we can even imagine. In his hands they’re quite attainable, too.
And that's no lie.
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