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Pastor, but Not the Leader

I was talking with a 25-year-old pastor recently. He is frustrated with the church where he serves. He was brought to the church because they wanted him to help the church grow again, but they see him as too young to make decisions on his own. They won’t take his suggestions. They consistently undermine his attempts to lead. They expect him to speak each week and visit the sick, but they won’t let him make any changes that he feels need to be made. It has made for a very miserable situation, and he feels helpless to do anything about it. He’s ready to quit, and the situation is negatively impacting every other area of his life.

It wasn’t the first time I have heard a story such as this. I hear it frequently from young leaders in churches and the business world. I didn’t want to be the one to tell him, but I didn’t want to mislead him either. The bottom line in this young pastor’s situation:

He is the pastor of the church but not the leader.

Of course, Jesus is the leader of the church, but He does use people to lead His work, and this pastor is not the one.

Perhaps you share this young leader’s dilemma. If no one is following your attempt to lead, it could be because:

  • You haven’t been given authority to lead.
  • You haven’t assumed the responsibility you’ve been given.
  • No one is leading in the organization.

If this is your situation, you have a few options as I see it:

  • You can live with the power structure in place and complete the role within the authority you’ve been given.
  • You can fight the power structure, lining up supporters, building a coalition in your corner…and be prepared to win or lose.
  • You can figure out how to “lead up”…build a consensus for leadership, confront where needed, win influence and the right to lead…even sometimes learning to lead people who don’t want to be led.
  • You can leave.

Think through these options and see which feels best in your situation. Every situation is unique, and this post is not an attempt to solve your problem; perhaps if anything, it can help identify what the problem is in your unique circumstance. I would say, however, that if you are miserable now and things are not improving that you shouldn’t wait long without doing something. Life is short, and many have left the ministry because of situations like this. Don’t be a casualty. Address the problem!

One final thought: don’t handle a situation like this alone. Reach out to someone you trust, probably outside the church or organization, someone who has more experience in situations like this than you have. And don’t let the stress from this destroy your family or personal health. If you need additional help processing next steps, send me an e-mail.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were given the responsibility to lead without the power to do so? What did you do?

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Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.