Think of the name of a person who recently told you they’re unhappy and thinking about leaving your church.
Would you believe me if I told you that that person is not an outlier?
What if I told you that that person kicking up dust, threatening to leave, folding their arms in services, talking behind your back, etc., is actually following a well-established pattern of behavior that EVERY SINGLE ONE of your fellow Senior Pastors is dealing with?
I’d like to take you on a tour inside the mind of a disgruntled church member.
My reasoning is two-fold.
First, nothing causes more stress and anxiety for the Senior Pastor of a church under 1,200 than the ripple effects of a disgruntled church member.
Second, once we understand their go-to bag of tricks, we rob disgruntled church members of their power over our peace of mind and the well-being of 99.5% of the amazing people in our churches who are an absolute joy to serve.
The Five Accusations
Every Senior Pastor, regardless of denomination, theological background, leadership style, and philosophy of ministry, undergoes the same five attacks by disgruntled church members. I call these “the five accusations.”
1. “You’re not feeding people”
“I’m not being fed” is hands down the number one accusation leveled against us and usually comes at the hands of self-serving bottom feeding Christians who hop between churches like a swarm of locusts draining the resources of every church they attend before they move on. As you can probably guess, I’m not very fond of these people.
2. “You’ve mismanaged money”
This is not a charge of financial impropriety. If we handle money inappropriately, we should get fired. This is the charge that we’re directing, or championing, the use of the church’s money for things that this person thinks we shouldn’t be spending money on “right now.” This charge usually comes to the surface as an excuse for people to leave the church once they hear what you’re raising money for in a campaign. But don’t worry, they’ll come back once the campaign is over and celebrate what God has done through “us.” In the words of my pastor friends in Mississippi, “Bless their hearts.”
3. “You’ve mismanaged staff”
This charge almost always comes on the heels of firing a staff member, especially if the person making the accusation was either good friends, or a family member, of the person fired. For those of you in churches under 600, this is what makes it hard to fire someone who is terrible: they’re relationally connected to 1/10 of the people in your church.
4. “You’re doctrinally unsound”
This charge almost always comes from the person who has been at your church for less than three years, is a founding member of the “I love John MacArthur” fan club, and listens to 19 podcasts a week by people who use the title “Apostle ______” or Prophet _____ “. It always involves some idiosyncratic pet doctrine that doesn’t matter, and they truly believe in their heart of hearts that if they can just get you to sit down and listen, they’ll get you to change the entire theological direction of your church.
5. “All you care about is growth”
This always happens when you prioritize evangelism and ask people to change their behavior to reach those Jesus called us to reach. I’ve talked before about A leaders (5% of our congregation), B leaders (15% of our congregation), and C leaders (80% of our congregation). This is exclusively a charge leveled by C leaders – people who want you to hold their hands like a personal chaplain. The moment you stop giving them one-on-one personal attention, they try to manipulate you into showing them attention again by trying to castigate your priorities.
So those are the five accusations. Undoubtedly, you can take almost every criticism you’ve ever faced in your ministry and place them into one of those five categories.
But here’s the thing – not only do the accusations you face follow a predictable path, the way in which the person making the accusation goes about airing their grievances follows a similar path as well. We will look at that in part 2 of this blog.
I want to briefly touch on five toxic Senior Pastor relationships we should avoid like the plague.
The reason many people level accusations against us is because we began a personal friendship with them, then broke it off, when we realized things started to get strange.
I tell my staff all the time: “Beware the person who meets you at the train station.”
People who quickly rush up to you to be your friend almost always have an agenda. It may take 5 years or 15 years to flush it out, but trust me, it WILL come to the surface.
Here, in no certain order, are the types of relationships we should always run from.
5 Toxic Relationships Every Senior Pastor Must Avoid
- I will give, but not until…
- I have a problem, and I only want to meet with you.
- I’m brand new here and want to take you and your wife out to dinner, and be your best friend, and go golfing next weekend, and go on vacation together, and buy the house next door to yours, and co-parent our children together.
- I’m so glad you’re here because I didn’t like the former Senior Pastor.
- I will continue to give, and sacrifice, as long as you’re paying attention to me.
It is important to bring up these types of relationships because in most smaller churches the accusations we face often come on the heels of a “break up.”
If we can avoid these types of relationships in the first place, that will go a long way to help prevent a lot of dust getting kicked up before an accusation even happens.
Check out Part 2 of this blog… coming soon!