5 Things I Miss LEAST About Being a Lead Pastor

christianity personal

It's been over three years since I was last on staff at a church and I ended my season in full-time ministry as a Lead Pastor. Last week, I shared five things I miss from that season (see: 5 Things I Miss Most), so today I thought I would share a few of the things I miss the least. As a disclaimer, I'm not saying all pastors would agree with this list or would share my feelings. I'm simply telling you insights from my own journey.

1. Coddling disgruntled people: I used to check my email account cautiously, bracing myself for what I might find. Especially Sunday evenings and Mondays. That's often when someone complains about something in the message. The role of Lead Pastor necessitated that anytime someone had an issue with something at the church and wanted to talk with me about it, I needed to make time for that to happen. That meant I spent a lot of my time listening to people tell me why they didn't like this or that. 

Some pastors are wired primarily with a shepherding gift and do well at this. I lean toward the prophetic rather than the pastoral so this was never a strength of mine. In fact, one of the tipping points for me to step away was when one of our elders told me that if I invested time and effort to appease one of the narcissistic members in our church (who was loudly complaining at the time), it would make things better. I realized the elder was right. I also realized I didn't want to spend my life doing that.

2. Running the machine: There was pressure to preach the Gospel AND bring in more money. Oh and there's an expectation to keep bringing in more people. Always. I don't know if you read to the end of the Jesus story... but [spoiler alert] they kill Him. If you keep reading after that, you find out they killed most of His followers too.

Personally, I found it rather difficult to try and implement Jesus' ideas and get a bunch of people stoked about it. (As a fun experiment, try telling someone to follow Jesus' command in Matthew 5:43-44 literally and see how they respond). I've learned that many things that cause churches to grow often don't look much like Jesus. There's a reason why many pastors preach cliché messages (it's good for business). These days, it breaks my heart when I talk with faithful pastors who feel inadequate because their budgets or attendance numbers aren't constantly up and to the right. Our collective metrics of faithfulness and success in the church are broken.

3. Living in a world of narrow options: I constantly needed to hold back what I felt. Curiosity is a liability if you want to be a Lead Pastor. Many Christians assume there is only one "right" answer to many of life's questions. Their theology is quite limited, and they will often refer to how clear the Bible is (to them). I don't understand why so many Christians are afraid of new ideas. I remember meeting with a college student who was beginning to take theology classes and was suddenly concerned about my hermeneutic (how we interpret Scripture). I told him he was welcome to think differently than me, but he went to the elders about it instead. This was not unusual. 

After I left full-time ministry, I felt a new freedom to explore ideas without worrying about the backlash I'd get for challenging the norms. I began to see many topics and theologies differently than before. The pressure of narrow options had been lifted from me. Now it would be hard for me to find a church where I could fully support everything they say on their "What We Believe" page on their website. Thankfully, I've found Jesus to be better (and bigger) than this.

4. Having my ego constantly boosted: Being a Lead Pastor is a freakin hard job. It's also a job filled with adoration. Lots of it. And the larger the church, the more the adoration. Add in multisite and you get adoration on par with celebrity culture. However, this adoration can be more dangerous than a typical celebrity as it also comes with spiritual authority. This quickly creates bizarre power dynamics in church communities. It's not healthy, and the weekly adoration of church people certainly didn't bring out the best in me. Few leaders I know can endure this without it distorting reality for them in one way or another. Too many times it ends in situations of abuse. Pay attention to the work of people like Julie Roys and The New Evangelicals to see how this plays out in churches today.

5. The loneliness of the job: The theologian Stanley Hauerwaus wrote something I deeply resonate with: "Leadership always produces a certain amount of loneliness—particularly when leaders lead through vision or loyalty to God rather than public opinion surveys." As I said in my first point, because I'm wired more prophetically than pastorally I made many unpopular decisions that I felt were right. Theologically I have no regret for making them. In hindsight, I realize how much harder I made things for myself (and others) by leading this way. This took a huge toll on me, on my wife, and our family. We've all literally come back to life after walking away from the role. I would carry this burden of loneliness if I felt God wanted me to for a certain role, but I'm also grateful I don't have to carry it anymore. It's why I haven't rushed back into the role as I feel far better suited to being a teaching voice than the point person week-to-week.

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