This is one of the best leadership posts that I have read in the last week-STEVE


Most of us who get into full-time ministry do so because we sense a calling, not because it was a ‘career path’.

Chances are you got in this because you love God, deeply, right?

So it’s always a bit surprising and unusual then when ministry leaders find themselves struggling with the very God who called them into this in the first place. This is true whether you’re paid, bi-vocational or even a full-time volunteer.

Ministry can not only be hazardous to your spiritual health, it can be confusing.

But the good news is that struggling with God is normal. You are not alone.

The best leaders struggled with God.

Jacob wrestled an angel.

Moses almost quit more than a few times.

Jeremiah tried to quit but couldn’t.

Today’s struggles might be a bit different, but in some ways struggle is inevitable.

I personally have struggled with every one of the five challenges I outline in this post.  And what’s amazing to me is that you can get through them. You really can.

Sometimes all you need to know is you’re not alone. And you’re not, even if you feel that way.

Here are 5 ways ministry leaders struggle in their relationship with God:

1. You see setbacks in ministry as a personal statement from God about you

Hey, everybody thinks this way when life circumstances don’t tilt in their favor (why did God allow me to have cancer/lose this job/be in this place?). So it’s natural that this line of thinking would emerge in ministry.

Just because things aren’t going the way you want in ministry isn’t an automatic sign that God is angry with you. I’m always amazed that constant imprisonment didn’t cause Paul to second guess himself or God.

God isn’t always punishing you, even if it feels like he is.

The key is to take the setbacks in front of you seriously, not personally. You’ll be so much healthier.

2. You believe that greater faithfulness should result in greater impact in ministry 

Ever tried to improve your personal devotional life so your church would do better? Gosh, I wish this wasn’t true but in the early days of ministry, I really thought greater personal fervor would automatically translate into greater ministry impact.




From Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog FORWARD PROGRESS comes this evaluative insight.


Leadership, whether of an organization or of a Bible study or of a family, is a burden. A joyful burden much of the time, but a burden nonetheless. Oswald Sanders said it like this: “The world is run by tired men. Mediocrity is the result of never getting tired. Fatigue is the price of leadership.” In other words, leading is the willingness to pick up the burden. But most of the time, we think of that burden in “strategic” terms.

If you do a cursory search on “leadership” you’ll find all kinds of resources, most of which have numbers associated with them. You can 5 Ways or 7 Methods or 14 Theories. The vast majority of these resources deal in strategy, and they should. That is one burden of leadership; you are responsible for the overall vision and perspective of the people under your care. But it can’t really stop there. As a leader, whether in the home or in the church, we bear the burden for what we are leading, but we also must bear the burdens of whom we are leading.

In pastoral ministry, for example, the burden you bear cannot be exclusively in terms of the vision of the church. The burden must take on a more personal nature. Same thing is true in a family, or even in a small group or Bible study. The burden is not only the crafting of and guarding of a clear vision; the “burden” has faces. Problems. Sicknesses. Pain. The burden-bearing leader is one who is not isolated from those he or she leads, but instead is checked into the real issues the people under their care are walking through.

It’s this kind of burden-bearing Paul described in Galatians 6:1-2:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

This passage is about more than stewarding a compelling vision for an organization or a family; it’s about people, and the willingness to come alongside those people in the day-to-day lifting. It seems to me that this is not just a single moment, but instead a lifestyle of investment. To that end, here are three characteristics of the burden-bearing leader:

1. The burden-bearing leader is available.

Time is a commodity like most other things. As a commodity, it is in limited supply. And the greater the leadership responsibility, the greater demand on the time. It’s tempting, then, to want to have a very insulated leadership kind of style – to focus on the big picture and to not come into the details. Unfortunately, it’s those details that are the most representative of people. The burden-bearing leader must, then, be available. This availability is also a responsibility, and it must have limits. But the leader who is available is the one who is going to err on the side of making accommodation to their time or their schedule if they can.

2. The burden-bearing leader is long-suffering.

One of the tendencies we have in leadership is to desire quick fixes to problems. We want to have the meeting, send the email, or have the drop in conversation and resolve the issue quickly and succinctly. And while that might work in some instances, it rarely does when you consider the people involved. Instead, the burden-bearing leader makes the choice to be long-suffering. They are willing to not just a conversation once, but to actually engage in that conversation and to have it again and again. It’s this kind of long-suffering investment that will mark someone who recognizes they are doing more than leading a nameless and faceless entity, but instead stewarding some part of the lives of those whom God has seen fit to put under their care.

3. The burden-bearing leader is listening.

Nothing makes a person feel less like a person than when someone gives only cursory notice to their issue. Conversely, nothing is quite as uplifting as when you know you have the absolute and undivided attention of the person you are speaking to. For a leader, there are lots of voices, and each one needs to be heard. The tendency for us whether in the home, the workplace, or the church is to try and have as many conversations as possible in a span of time. But many times, less is actually more. The burden-bearing leader does the simplest thing that can make the most difference – they actually listen. They look and concentrate. They are fully engaged in the conversation they are having. And in so doing, they are recognizing the creature before them is created in the image of God.

Leadership is a burden. And many times, it’s a heavy one. But as leaders we can cultivate the kind of habits that will not only make us bearers of the burden of what we are leading, but of whom we are leading.


From Brian Dodds comes these observations that should be a part of any transforming leader’s understanding:

Recently, a high-capacity volunteer I know declined a meeting invitation to attend a gathering of executive staff and other key volunteer leaders to discuss of all things, developing a volunteer culture at their church.  A proactive staff member called the volunteer and inquired about this person’s scheduled absence.

The volunteer noted, “Everyone in that room hears me all the time.  I think they will just glaze over.  You’ve got new voices in the room.  I just think it will be more successful if I’m not there.

The staff member replied, “Everyone in that room respects your opinion.  You’ve got a lot to add.  And we really need you to deliver a portion of the content.”  To which the volunteer replied, “O.K. I may be a little late but I’ll be there.”

When you dig below the surface, there is some fascinating leadership principles embedded in this conversation.  These principles are critical to your church’s ability to attract, engage and deploy high-capacity volunteers for maximum Kingdom impact in your church.

The following are 14 Things Pastors And Church Staff Must Know About Top Volunteers:

  1. High-Capacity Volunteers Love Their Church – Your church’s top volunteers are not without options.  Yet, they have made the strategic chose to leverage their time and talent to serve at your church.
  2. High-Capacity Volunteers Want Influence.  Not Titles.
  3. High-Capacity Volunteers Steward Their Time, Talent, Money And Influence Well – Top volunteers do not have time to waste.  They want a maximum Kingdom ROI.
  4. High-Capacity Volunteers Are Best Influenced Through Personal Relationships – The relationship with the staff person was the catalyst for the engagement of the volunteer.
  5. High-Capacity Volunteers Love Their Staff – Top volunteers are deeply invested in their church.  Therefore, they desperately want to see their staff flourish.
  6. High-Capacity Volunteers Value The Contributions Of Others – Notice the volunteer acknowledged the contributions which could be made by others.  For your top volunteers, their success is often found in the success of others.
  7. High-Capacity Volunteers Should Frequently Be Shown Appreciation – As should all your volunteers.  Appreciation is your best weapon against burnout.  Do you have an effective appreciative system in place for your volunteers?  The best one I know is Volunteer Rocket.  You can click HERE to sign up for a free trial.
  8. High-Capacity Volunteers Don’t Require Credit – They want organizational success over their personal success.
  9. High-Capacity Volunteers Are Best Engaged One-On-One – You can’t leapfrog your top leaders.  The good news is your top volunteers are highly relational.  However, this can sometimes be high-maintenance as well.
  10. High-Capacity Volunteers Want To Know They Are Making A Difference – Top volunteers are not inspired by maintenance but rather life change.
  11. High-Capacity Volunteers Perform Better When Given Clear Instruction – Clarity is your friend when dealing with top volunteers.  They are most successful when given a clear target and marching orders.
  12. High-Capacity Volunteers Bring Solutions – The answer to every problem is a person.  High-capacity individuals can help solve your toughest challenges.
  13. High-Capacity Volunteers Want To See The Kingdom Advanced – The meeting was then held with much success.  The church was helped.  The volunteer was encouraged.  And most important, the church’s mission and vision was advanced.
  14. The Power Of An Encouraging Staff – In my opinion, the hero of this story is not the high-capacity volunteer.  It is the staff person who recognized their potential, saw something in them, reached out, and encouraged them to use their talent and giftedness to help the church and for the glory of God.

To all pastors and church leaders, what volunteer(s) do you need to reach out to and encourage today?  Take a moment RIGHT NOW, and make a call or send them an encouraging email or text.  You have no idea what you may unleash in their life and the life of your church.


Sam Rainer writes an excellent blog for leaders of established churches.  This post provides some timely self-evaluation as once again you face a new year. – Steve

I’ve had a few dramatic stumbles when I stand quickly, only to realize one of my legs has mysteriously fallen asleep. The numbness makes it feel like the leg has suddenly gone missing, only to give sharp tingling reminders that it indeed is still there.

A foot, arm, or leg falls asleep because of too much pressure over a period of time. This pressure cuts off nerves and arteries, and signals stop going to the brain. The asleep member is still there; it’s just not communicating anymore. And it goes numb.

Perhaps you have served with—or under—a leader who fell flat, who didn’t connect and left a numbing effect on followers. Detachment from followers is the main way leaders go numb. They stop circulating among followers. They are cut off from the body.

In the church, numb pastors are especially dangerous. It means they are separated from the congregation. You cannot lead from a distance. You cannot lead without communicating. You cannot lead without knowing how individual members of the body are interacting.

What happens with numb leaders?

  • Numb leaders stop caring about the feelings of followers. “I don’t care what you think. I’m the leader.”
  • Numb leaders stop having friendly conversations just to catch up. “I can’t talk to you right now because you’re not part of my long-term objectives.”
  • Numb leaders stop seeing joy in little victories. “That’s great, but I’ve got better ways in which to invest my time.”
  • Numb leaders stop solving general problems and start blaming specific individuals. “Who’s responsible for this mistake? Do we need to fire someone?”
  • Numb leaders stop serving. “I’m in charge. Why do I have to do this?”

Tyrants say these things. Numb leaders think them.

And the longer you are detached, then the more painful waking up will be. The longer you are asleep, then the more intense the wake-up process. You’ll have to fight through that pins and needles feeling, shake yourself, and start circulating again.

Because to remain detached is to die. Slowly. Painlessly numb.


Mark Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a renewal ministry in Texas.  Check out his blog

Nine Stereotypes for Pastors

In my last contribution to The Pastors Workshop, I examined a passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 where the Apostle Paul and his colleagues demonstrate an informed understanding of the cultural context in which they planted and shepherded the church in Thessalonica. In particular, they were aware that people would naturally associate them with the popular philosophers of the day, some of whom had honorable intentions, while others made a show of philosophy in order to advance their own position and financial well-being.

The example of Paul & Co. makes me wonder: What roles and positions in our cultural setting might be projected onto pastors? If people learn that you’re a clergyperson, what assumptions might they have about you and your ministry? What might folks in your church and community expect of you as a pastor because they associate you with people who serve in roles like yours?

Ideal Pastor

Perhaps the most obvious stereotype by which we are measured is the ideal pastor, the omniscient, omnipresent, omniloving clergyperson who lives only in fiction and in nostalgia. I am thinking, for example, of Father Tim in Jan Karon’s Mitford Years Series. He is the sort of compassionate, always-present pastor that everyone wants to have, and that never can be found outside of Karon’s magical Mitford.


Many people think of churches as hospitals and pastors as doctors. Thus, they expect you to help them get better when they’re not feeling well spiritually. They may even be willing to “pay” for your services by chipping in financially. But they have no expectation that your job involves helping them to get into the “healing business” as lay ministers of Christ. The want expertise, delivered effectively, with an immediate result, but no ongoing obligation or relationship.


In today’s hyper-therapeutic culture, many people expect pastors to be therapists, albeit a less-expensive version. They want to tell you their troubles so that you can dig into their psyches and help them feel or function better. Many seminaries and denominations seem to have bought into this model, to an extent, by imbuing pastoral training with a substantial chunk of therapeutic learning experiences. For example, in my denomination, pastoral trainees are required to complete Clinical Pastoral Education, usually as hospital chaplains. They are not required to complete an internship in a business so as to learn how to be effective leaders or managers of the church.


Whereas some people expect you to be their therapist, others want you to be their teacher. They want you to instruct them in spiritual truths and to connect these truths to their daily lives. As our culture drifts farther and farther from any notion of truth beyond subjective feelings, fewer people want their pastor to be their teacher. But, at the same time, a strong segment of the population has an even greater desire to be taught the truth from pastors. This is true even and especially among the young. If you pay attention to the some the pastors who are most popular among Gen-Xes and Gen-Y/Millennials, you’ll find that they tend to be teachers, often in quite an authoritative mode. Whereas my generation (Boomers) want theologically-lite and practically-heavy sermons, the next-gen folk, if they’re not sold out to postmodernism, want more theological substance.


Many people look upon pastors as professional friends. Your role is to be nice to people, to hang out with them, to laugh with them, and to be there with them in difficult times. One of the most unmanageable parts of pastoring Irvine Presbyterian Church was dealing with all the people who wanted me to come over for dinner or for their daughter’s birthday party. I liked doing this, but could never fulfill the hopes of the 1,000+ people who called Irvine Pres home. I ended up disappointing a multitude because I wasn’t a good enough friend.

Once, an influential church leader came to tell me she was leaving the church because she was unhappy with me as her pastor. (Ouch!) When I asked what I had not done that she wished I had done, she answered simply: “You never sent me a birthday card. I need my pastor to know when my birthday is and to send me a card.” In a nutshell, she wanted me to be her friend. I failed at that role.


A handyman is a good person to have around when you need one. A handyman is always on call to fix broken things. He (or she, if we’re talking about a handywoman) has a wide range of knowledge, though not a lot of depth. He has the tools and the experience to get things working again. Many people see the pastor as a spiritual/relational/emotional handyman. Got a problem with your teenager? Call the pastor. Marriage struggling? Call the pastor. Feeling unhappy about your job? Call the pastor. Struggling with doubt? Call the pastor. The pastor can fix it.

Lots of pastors like being handymen and handywomen. If feels great to be needed. It feels even better to help people get better. People will love and appreciate you if you’re a handyman pastor.


No, I’m not thinking of the illusionists who saw people in half and pull rabbits out of hats. Rather, I’m envisioning real, though fictional, wizards like Gandalf or Dumbledore. These folk have special powers to do all sorts of amazing things. Some people think of pastors this way. They think we have a more direct line to God because of our position. They believe that we can exercise our spiritual powers at will. Once a man in my congregation was talking with me about a memorial service I was to perform for a member of his family. He said, “Then, after your sermon, you can wave your hands and do that magic stuff you do so people can feel better.” Usually, I didn’t hear this sort of thing so bluntly. But many people thought of me as more than a handyman. I was God’s magician.


Some people in your church expect you to be a CEO, especially if you’re the senior pastor of a midsize or larger church. They’ll want you to provide visionary leadership and effective management so the church can grow in measurable ways (buildings, budgets, bodies). Or, at least that’s what they’ll say. If you actually start exercising transformative leadership, odds are you may end up out in the street, without one of those outlandish golden parachutes that soften the fall when secular CEO’s are sacked.

There was a time when some of my elders at Irvine Presbyterian were unhappy with my pastoral leadership. They felt fine about my preaching and teaching. They had no problem with my vision, pastoral counseling, or personal ethics. But they were not happy with what they perceived to be my lack of management of my staff. One of my elders, a highly successful businessman and manager, lectured me on my need to be more available to my staff. “I always have my door open,” he counseled, “and my reports know they can drop in at any time.” “I like that idea,” I said, “but there’s a problem here. I spend quite a bit of time in my office counseling with people about matters that require a closed door. Plus, I’m supposed to prepare an excellent sermon each week, and that takes study time. I can’t always leave my door open.” My elder wasn’t convinced because he wanted me to function like a CEO, or at least an effective line manager.


I’ve saved this model for last both because it is common and because it is so extremely problematic. Many people in your congregation will look upon you as a parent. This is especially true if you are near the age of their parents. But it can also be true if you are close to the age of their children. Pastors are infused with a parental aura.

A year after I arrived at Irvine Presbyterian, a man came to meet with me. He said, basically, “When you first arrived, I didn’t want you to be my pastor. I realized that, before you showed up, I always had older pastors and I thought of them as father figures. I liked that because my relationship with my own father was a mess. But you’re younger than I am. How could you be my father? I’ve been struggling to let you be both my brother in Christ and my pastor.” This man’s openness led to a productive conversation and a long relationship in which I served in the brother/pastor role.

Sometimes, people project their parental “stuff” onto pastors and it isn’t pretty. During my first years at Irvine, a major leader in our women’s ministry persisted in writing me nasty letters that criticized, not just what I did, but also my motivations. She was convinced that I was using the church as a stepping-stone to greater glory and would soon abandon her and the rest of the congregation. As we met to talk about her unhappiness with me, I asked about her family. Turns out (no surprise) that her father abandoned her and her mother. She had been projecting her experience of her father onto me. (This story has a happy ending. This woman and I became good friends and partners. She ended up moving away from the church several years before I did.)


There are ways in which pastors are, indeed, like ideal pastors, doctors, psychologists, teachers, friends, handymen, magicians, CEOs, and parents. Yet, I believe that people who equate pastors with one or more of these roles will inevitably struggle with who pastors really are and what they’re really meant to do. I’ll say more about this later. For now, I simply want you to be aware of the cultural models that are relevant in your situation. When your church members and those in your community think about your role, to whom do they compare you?


media_166929_enSam Rainer, whose focus is leading the established church, speaks to an issue that I encounter frequently both in my consulting with Bridgebuilders Ministries and serving as an Intentional Interim Pastor. – Steve


by Sam Rainer

We’ve made the distinction between leadership and management too stark. Are they separate? Yes. Is there much overlap between them? Absolutely. Is there such a thing as a pure leader, one who never manages? Maybe, though I struggle for an example. Is there such a thing as a pastor who never manages? Absolutely not. Let me make a bold statement: If you’re not willing to manage a church, then you’re not qualified to lead a church.

Any church leader who would delegate all managerial roles to others is reckless. We push back on management principles because most of us think of bloated bureaucracies, or worse, Bill Lumbergh. Should every senior pastor know what to do with a “PC LOAD LETTER” error message on the printer? Probably not. But without good management, followers will end up in a field going medieval on the malfunctioning printer. Lots of churches have printers that don’t work, so let’s explore this temptation.

It’s tempting to neglect operations. Operations take time. Operations are seen by few people in the church. Anyone who has served on staff at a church knows there is a whole other world that occurs on the campus during the work week. Air conditioning units must be serviced. Rooms must be organized. The offering deposits must be made. Does a senior leader need to do these operations? Obviously not. But every senior leader should be knowledgeable of—if not the author of—the system of operations that keeps the church running. Operations make discipleship possible. Just because the vast majority of your church will never see the operations does not make them any less important.

It’s tempting to neglect tasks. Tasks don’t complain. Tasks don’t need counseling. Undoubtedly, we all have things on our “to do” list that do not involve people. It’s tempting to neglect tasks because people should have the priority. Some leaders enjoy doing certain tasks. Other leaders enjoy managing others who do the tasks. All tasks are managed, not led. You lead people and manage the tasks. And all church leaders must manage tasks. Why? Without managing tasks, you will ultimately neglect the people.

It’s tempting to neglect supervision. Leadership involves people. You don’t lead inanimate objects. The chair doesn’t listen, but the person in the chair does. Supervision of people is a component of leadership that involves management. How many people on staff can take a vacation during Spring Break? How does your church handle health insurance for the staff? What is the process of accountability with group leaders? These questions involve management and require supervision. It’s tempting to neglect them because the immediate reward for properly executing supervision is small. However, the potential downside of failing to properly administer this supervision is enormous.

It’s tempting to neglect finance. Most churches do not expect pastors to know spreadsheets, cash flow, and budgets. It’s tempting and easy to claim ignorance. I believe it’s one of the largest management holes in the church today. Even the most senior leader at the largest church should have a working knowledge of the finances. If you cannot read a basic budget, then you should not be in a senior leadership position in a church. It’s dangerous—and I would also add negligent—to know nothing of the finances. Your leadership becomes dependent on the people who manage the finances. Leadership should never depend on management. Should questions arise about finances, you will be responsible for answering them. The deer-in-the-headlights-look is typically not well-received.

Neglect management at your peril. Pastoring a church is more than teaching; it also involves executing. Execution does not happen without management. All church leaders must manage. Pastors are shepherds. And shepherds manage sheep.