Over the past few years I have heard the same story from several different churches; a talented and popular pastor steps down under pressure from the church elders.
Usually the pastor has been at the church for many years, sometimes he is the one who planted the church. The church grew under his leadership, and to the average attender the church is healthy.
There is no moral lapse, no money missing, no hint of scandal.
Why did the elders force the pastor out?
In each case, the staff and leaders are worn down from the leadership style of the pastor. They are fearful, wounded and burned out.
After months, or even years, of attempts to bring organizational health, the elders finally decide there has to be a change. They ask, and then require, that the pastor step aside.
How does this happen?
I believe it often comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of healthy leadership; the pastor confuses leadership with control, he operates through authority which flows from his position.
He believes his role is to hire people who will execute his vision for the church. Staff members who execute the vision are promoted, staff members who do not execute the vision are punished or fired.
The measuring stick for health is results, and for many years a talented pastor can get results. Eventually, however, the body count of discarded staff and wounded leaders becomes a price too high and the pastor finds himself on the outside looking in.
Confusing leadership with control is something we learn from a very young age.
“Why? Because I’m your mother!”
“Do what the teacher says.”
“When I say ‘Jump,’ your only question is, ‘How high?’”
“The boss makes those decisions.”
We come to believe the higher we climb, the more leadership (i.e., control) we can exert. We dream of the day we can call the shots, we can make the decisions, we can set the course, because we are now in charge.
There are many situations where control is necessary. When my 3-year-old granddaughter decides riding her scooter in the street is her highest priority, her mother uses her authority to curb Maggie’s enthusiasm.
This, however, isn’t leadership. It is tight control for a specific situation. Leadership is something very different.