What Your Pastor Can’t Tell You, But Really Wants You To Know

Mark Tidsworth, Pinnacle President

Your pastor wants you to know, but he or she just can’t tell you. Your pastor knows that too much transparency can be vocationally dangerous, depending on the level of honesty allowed in your church. At the same time, if you knew these things, your faith life would be enhanced, you would understand your pastor’s leadership so much more clearly, and your leadership in your church would grow much more effective. As we interact with pastors, we recognize they would love to speak frankly with their congregations about current realities and church dynamics. Knowing not everyone’s up for THAT level of transparency from their pastor, allow us to speak for them for a moment. Here is some of what your pastor can’t tell you, but really wants you to know.

The political maneuvering required to get ministry done in this church is exhausting

How many committees would need to sign-off on that idea before taking another step? Who would hold this back if they aren’t personally involved? Which gate-keepers do we need to approach, knowing they could torpedo it if they want? Who are the undercover leaders who hold the keys to that kingdom? On the one hand, every organization requires strategizing by its leadership in order to move ahead. That, in itself, is not unusual. The other hand though holds the awareness that church is not like any other organization. What’s different is that leaders do not hold the power of a paycheck or termination when it comes to motivating action. Those levers don’t exist. Instead, leading proactive movement requires a very sophisticated understanding of how people function, not to the mention the hyper-sensitive attachments we develop about our preferred way of being church. Sometimes the sophisticated political maneuvering required to initiate otherwise simple ministries or make small changes is exhausting (moving the name tags from one place in the foyer to another). Your pastor wants you to recognize this dynamic, followed by pushing the church to focus on mission-advancing action and significant issues.

You will hear statements in sermons with which you disagree

Guess what? This is normal. Whenever we encounter the gospel, we quickly realize there is a gap between how we are living and to who we are called to become. Expect to be uncomfortable when the gap becomes apparent. In addition to this, our sense of smell for anything even remotely political is on hyper-drive in our divided cultural context these days. We can’t tell you how many pastors tell us their sermons are interpreted as political statements when they are sure ten years ago the same sermons would not be heard politically. Here’s what your pastor wants you to know: the gospel is political, just not partisan. The gospel (when allowed to do its work in our lives) influences every area of life, including our politics. Yet, the gospel holds up a better way than ANY political party. For we Christ-followers, our higher loyalty is to Christ (stating the obvious, which obviously needs stating). So, expect to read Biblical passages which run counter to your political party’s platform. Expect to be challenged to live to a higher standard than your political party encourages. The gospel cannot be captured by any political party, yet remains a higher, better way which can influence our politics toward the better. Your pastor wants you to embrace this dynamic, toning down your hyped-up reactivity when anything sounds remotely political.  

The decline in Christian participation in this country makes serving as a pastor now more challenging that ever (in our lifetimes in this country)

We all recognize the environment in which we live is different than just a few years ago. Large scale cultural changes are afoot, with too many disciples responding by withdrawing from church participation. As this happens, those who are participating are trying to make sense of it all. One common, though misguided perspective is to blame leadership. “If our pastor were younger, a better communicator, visited more, (fill in the blank) then our church would be fine,” is the usual way this goes. As long as we continue to believe church-as-we-have-known-it will resonate with our community the same way it always has when done with sufficient excellence, then we will blame leadership when we don’t see the results we expect. The truth your pastor wants you to know is that no matter how much excellence we infuse into a way of being church which has aged-out, it’s still reflective of a bygone culture. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to rise up in our churches, inspiring us with holy imagination and creativity.

The current rate of adaptation in our church may not exceed the rate of decline

Pastors have more perspective on a local church than most anyone. This is not because they are special, but because of their position in the system. More input and information comes across their desks or through their offices so to speak, than for most anyone else. Because of this, they have perspective when it comes to assessing the viability of a local church. Too many pastors live with this sinking feeling; with the awareness that soon, too much water has passed under the bridge for adaptive change to be a possibility. Your pastor would more directly confront you with this reality if he/she thought it would help, yet your pastor also loves you and doesn’t want to turn you off to church participation. Can you see the double-bind position inherent in this dilemma? Your pastor wants you to know that he/she is ready to engage mission-congruent risk taking; ready to step out in faith. Your pastor also knows this requires sufficient numbers of us to support holy experimenting in church for it to be acceptable and embraced.

That time you took a significant step of faith and then shared it with your pastor….you unknowingly saved his/her ministry

Central to your pastor’s original call to ministry was a driving desire to encourage Christ-focused life change. Now your pastor finds his/her time eaten by activities which sometimes seems….well, meaningless. So, when you faced your fear of speaking in public and accepted the invitation to tell your faith story during worship, your pastor lived off that victory for a week. When you shared with your pastor that you found a new way to be a Christian presence in your workplace, taking a risk based on God’s love, your pastor realized his/her ministry is bearing fruit. When you asked your pastor to pray with you about the resentment you’ve been carrying for years, finding relief when you finally granted forgiveness, your pastor’s ministry was filled with life-giving joy. Your pastor wants you to know that sometimes he/she wonders if its worth it anymore. When you shared your spiritual progress with your pastor, you unknowingly saved his/her ministry.

When you find your voice and speak out against bullying behavior or obstructionist attitudes, hope for this church skyrockets

Yes, there are people who learn that church is an easy place to push people around, since so many people believe that being nice is more important than being real or honest. This allows those people to become church bullies, silencing others and cultivating a nasty tone for interpersonal interactions. Most people are not this extreme, yet they function as obstructionists when it comes to mission-congruent transformation. Their misguided efforts are focused on restraining change, believing doing what we have always done in just the way we have always done it is spiritually responsible leadership. Your pastor knows that if he/she confronts these people too directly or too often, then he/she may be scapegoated and sent into the wilderness. The silent majority who outsources their leadership responsibility to the pastor sit back to watch things play out. When you (lay person) find your voice and speak out against bullying or obstruction, then progress is far more likely to happen. Bullies love it when pastors take them on, since pastors come and go. Bullies actually change when it’s clear their peers don’t appreciate their ways. Your pastor wants you to know you are part of this church’s effort to move ahead. You turn up the hope when you find your voice.

There’s more, yet this is plenty for now. Please pass this article around among the leadership of your church. Maybe your pastor can’t share this out loud, but you sure can. Let’s take another strong step toward closing the gap, toward living into God’s hopes and dreams for God’s Church.

Helen Renew