Some Advice Please

Two days ago I received the following real-life scenario from a fellow pastor desiring advice.  Consider reading and lending your opinions.

I have been an Associate Pastor at ________________ for six months. While I have been pastor at this church, I have heard numerous complaints made pertaining to our Senior Pastor’s preaching. These complaints have come from congregants of all ages and walks of life. In addition, all but one member on our staff has confided in me sharing similar thoughts to the congregation. Unfortunately, I am in agreement with all of these people. The complaints described in the most general terms are that the congregants ‘get nothing out of his sermons’. Truly, I attest that his sermons lack depth and clarity. Such sermons are rambling monologues filled with too many proof-texts and a wondering focus.  A lay person could write such sermons by consulting the concordance or the topical index at the end of the Bible.

Now, my intent is not to attack my senior pastor. He is a nice man who loves God, but his preaching and leadership are not good. From the pulpit, he has issued a vision statement that is too long but OK theologically. He has preached 4-5 sermons on his vision and few are catching on to it. I have made it my personal mission to visit every group in our church to support and help cast this vision. To my dismay many groups have said that they did not even know we had a vision statement. Perhaps people can’t remember everything said in a sermon, but I think this only shows the lack of leadership and communication of our senior pastor.

I do not have a personal vendetta against this man; however, I feel a deep responsibility for the church to be lead well in organization and a more effective preaching of the word. In confidence, the business manager of the church told me that our senior pastor has an addiction to pain pills. She found this out because our senior pastor paid to visit to a counselor and was reimbursed by her. She did some research looking up the counselors name and found that he dealt with alcohol and drug addiction. Probably, he got hooked on pain pills after sustaining an injury in 2004. The business manager thinks that this addiction to pain killers only adds to the disorganization of his daily communication and preaching. It would make sense that it would be hard to focus and think either due to pain or withdrawal. On this area, I feel great pity for our senior pastor.

He is also 3-4 years from retirement being in his early 60’s. Presently, he is earning a salary over 100,000 dollars and our church is going through much financial turmoil. The business manager and I have received pay-cuts of 25%, and 3 part-time staff worker are now working for free. What is really upsetting is that the senior pastor has not taken a pay cut when his salary now triples mine. I cannot help but be upset with him, and I know this for a fact because the business manager told me.

With all of this I do not know what to do. I have been trying my best to support the senior pastor and his vision, but I am upset. I have been praying that God would guide me and help me love and support the senior pastor. I do not want to be divisive or form a coup. Our church has already been through a lot of crap. I have mentioned to the head elder that I have heard many people complaining about our senior pastor’s preaching, but have not shared the extent of my feelings. To another Elder, I have spoke with him about the salary of the senior pastor. He said he would monitor the situation. All in all, the senior pastor and the elders have all the power in our church. What would you say or do if you were me? Should I keep quite or speak more forcefully to an elder? What should I be careful of? Any wisdom or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Fire away!

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~ by Dave Smith on February 19, 2010.

5 Responses to “Some Advice Please”

  1. 1 – Wait 3 to 4 years and assume Sr. Pastor role.

    2 – Leave now.

    3 – Stay and learn all you can in current context until God gives you clear opportunity to go elsewhere.

    ———————–

    Forget about trying to “fix” the pastor…his preaching, bad finances, painkiller addiction, and muddy vision. You will only create division and get burned.

    Reconsider the type of conversations you’re having with the church manager – opportunities for rumor, bitterness, gossip, etc. It may be out of concern for the pastor and the church, but it will become (if it’s not already) self-destructive.

  2. Wow, tough, touch situation. It’s going to require a lot of grace and patience.

    If it were me, there are a few issues that I would touch, and there are other issues that I would avoid.

    I would touch the following:

    1) Pain killer addiction. Not because I think this somehow makes him a bad person or an unqualified pastor, but rather, because it could threaten his personal health and well-being. I think you’re within your bounds to confront him in a one-on-one setting first. And then I would also engage someone else in leadership (preferably from some type of elder or deacon board) and confront him together. He needs help, and I think you should try to help him.

    2) Preaching style and content.

    A. Do you have any teaching role already? If not, perhaps you could begin conversations among leadership about incorporating you into the regular preaching schedule and frame it in the context of eventual leadership transition.

    B. Learn from his mistakes. This is strictly IMO — in this day and age, sermons are simply too long, and as a result, a lot of what’s said gets lost. Find the one key point and a few key subpoints and be creative about driving them home, all while being careful of “rabbit trails” and the like that ultimately distract your audience.

    3) Gossip. I’d walk very, very carefully when it comes to discussing the pastor’s leadership among staff. There’s a fine line between necessary, constructive criticism and gossip. Only you know the full context of your conversations, so you’ll have to discern that.

    4) The budget. You said you have a business manager. But don’t you also have some type of volunteer board of trustees that has to ratify proposed budgets? If so, then someone should address the pastor’s salary. Leadership should take the lead, not follow the rest of the staff, when it comes to cutbacks. Leadership by example is critical here. This has to be addressed, or it will breed hostility eventually.

    Things I wouldn’t touch:

    1) Preaching style and content. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Don’t try to change his; instead, try to work yourself into the rotation somehow (assuming that’s your gift and desire).

    Thought there was more in that category, but reading through it again, I don’t see any.

  3. Thanks Anthony and Ben. This is great advice. Our pastor friend is looking on and find this VERY helpful.

  4. I would add…

    1. Read these words of Jesus every day, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Matthew 18:15 is perhaps the least-applied scripture in Christendom.

    Talking about this with the business manager or anyone else is simply unacceptable. Either have the courage to talk about it with the senior pastor or don’t talk about it at all. (As a side note, the business manager should be fired for the confidences already violated. In a heartbeat. There is a line, and it ain’t all that fine.)

    2. Read the book, “A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards. It’s a great book every young leader should read about how to act like David and not Absalom when dealing with authorities with whom you disagree.

  5. I can relate to some of this. I’m an Associate Pastor, and I’ve been at my present church–my first pastorate–for 18 mos. Folk are basically longing for leadership and vision. My boss doesn’t preach poorly, but he could be better. He’s in introvert and will not likely ever break of out of old pastoral paradigms.

    As a result the congregation is in decline, though no one can put their finger on why, other than a general sense that we lack vision and leadership. Every aspect of our life as a congregation needs an overhaul, IMO.

    As an associate, there’s only so much you can do. I was incredibly frustrated at the 1-year mark, but now I’ve established a new equilibrium and have a peace about my role. The reality is I won’t be here forever. One of my coaches suggested that every time I bump up against a goofy pattern of leadership, of church life, of ministry, or whatever, I write it down in a composition notebook and journal my way out of it through imagining a church that had structures and folkways (if you will) that purposefully circumvented such problems. What’s emerged is a blueprint for a future church plant. I’m praying that at some point I’ll actually have an opportunity to put these musings into practice.

    A crappy situation as an associate at a stagnant, poorly-led church can be one of the best experiences for a young pastor. If nothing else, you learn exactly what not to do, and how.

    Onward,

    SRA

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