Pastors are among the hardest-working, least-appreciated people in our society. They give of themselves for the work of Christ, his church and the congregations they serve.
But some pastors have developed bad habits that hurt the church and threaten to derail their ministry. These behaviors make everyone miserable – including the pastor.
I’m not talking about pastors who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Narcissism, abuse and other egregiously sinful, toxic behaviors are another topic entirely. In this article I’m dealing with good pastors who have a character flaw that they’re blind to, and their lack of awareness can be hazardous.
This is not a definitive list, but here are eleven that I see regularly.
1. The Perfectionist
Some demand perfection of others, but not of themselves. Others demand perfection of themselves as well. Either way, it’s a big problem.
I have news for you. You’re not perfect. Neither are your church staff or members.
Pastors who demand perfection of themselves or others make everyone miserable. And, ironically, when you require perfection you make excellence impossible.
2. The Hired Hand
If the perfectionist demands too much of themselves, the Hired Hand expects too little.
Pastors who are merely working for the paycheck are going through the motions. By doing this, they create an atmosphere that is a weird mix of mediocrity and entitlement.
3. The Do-it-all
Some pastors are wearing themselves out doing all the ministry for everyone in the church. Sometimes it’s out of guilt, duty, or unrealistic expectations. But it’s always a misguided understanding of the pastor’s role.
If you’re doing most or all of the church’s ministry, you’re not just wearing yourself down, you’re almost certainly neglecting and/or burning out your family. And you’re not serving the church well.
Pastors aren’t called to do all the ministry for church members. We’re called to make disciples who become disciplemakers.
4. The Know-it-all
You’re not God. No one thinks you are. So it’s okay to answer some questions with an honest “I don’t know.”
One of the reasons many pastors have a hard time with those three little words is because they believe it will undermine their authority and their ability to minister. In fact, it does the opposite.
The burden of needing to have all the answers is not just exhausting, it’s unsustainable. On the other hand, simple, humble honesty is compelling, empowering, and wonderfully liberating.
5. The Complainer
Chronic complainers constantly see the flaws in others, but not in themselves. Sometimes they hop from church to church, finding new faults in every place. Others stay where they are, but are constantly at odds with church members.
Pastors who find more to complain about than to be grateful for make everyone around them miserable – starting with themselves.
6. The Karen/Kevin
The last few years have seen the rise of the “Karens”. That is, entitled people who make unreasonable, usually petty demands. The “Karen” moniker is highly unfair, not just to anyone actually named Karen (including my own un-Karen-like sister) but it’s insulting to women in general. Truthfully, there are as many Kevins as there are Karens. (Sorry, again to those actually named Kevin).
This shorthand of Karen/Kevin has arisen because there’s such a rash of entitled people around us lately. Those who think life owes them something.
A feeling of entitlement is especially harmful and ugly in pastors. After all, “minister” is a synonym for “servant.” Servanthood is our calling, entitlement is not.
7. The Gossip
Pastoring is a challenging calling. No doubt about it. We all need someone as a sounding-board to safely vent our anger and frustration. But that venting should never be for public consumption.
Someone once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” They were right. Gossip is one of humanity’s most common negative traits. It’s even worse when a leader does it – and it’s inexcusable from a Christian leader.
When we do talk about others, as we sometimes must, it should always be to encourage, elevate and solve problems, never to blame, mock or gossip.
Plus, gossip is contagious. If you don’t want others to talk behind your back, set the tone by not talking behind the backs of others.
8. The Slave Driver
Yes, pastor, you work hard. Probably too hard.
Because of this, you expect those around you to work hard – probably too hard.
Christian leadership should never drive people to the point of exhaustion. Not yourself or others. Jesus promised his yoke would be easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:30). Any burden heavier than that is not Christlike.
9. The Politician
No, I’m not talking about pastors engaged in partisan politics. That’s a different subject for a different article (and it will be on a different site from a different author). I’m talking about the pastor who plays political games as an essential element of their leadership style.
“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is not the way of Jesus. Quid pro quo should not be a part of Christian language or leadership strategy. Instead we should be like Jesus who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Philippians 2:7).
10. The Salesman
There’s been a big push in the last twenty-plus years to use more business principles in church leadership. While I’ve gained some insights from businesspeople and writings, we need to be very careful about drawing any foundational ideas from them.
We are not salespeople. We are servants. Pastors who see everything through a sales/promotion/income lens are distorting the message of the gospel.
11. The Celebrity
Is there a more obnoxious term than “celebrity pastor”?
The root of “celebrity” is “celebrate”. And Christians should definitely be celebrative. But the only person we should be celebrating is Jesus.
Yes, we can and should honor those who have enriched our faith and taught us more about Jesus. But even as we honor them, the end result should be a greater celebration of Jesus’ name, not their (or our) name.
(Photo by Annie Spratt | Unsplash)