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4 Reasons Great Leaders Struggle to STAY

3. Pain from criticism

Each leader is a bit worn down with criticism. Though highly loved and highly respected, the criticism of a few still stings.

When a leader leads, there will always be criticism. And I have been surprised to learn that leaders who I would expect are really good at not internalizing the jabs actually do struggle with the jabs.

These are wise leaders, so they know that if they leave they will be trading in all their ministry credibility in one context to start over in another. They mentally know it sounds crazy, but they still wrestle with starting over—with having a “clean slate.”

They also know they will surely cause new criticism in a new ministry, but the allure of a “clean slate” is strong.

I have wondered if the supportive people in these leaders’ churches have any idea of the pain their leaders carry. I believe if they did, they would express more support, rally around them and do all they could to drown out the criticism.

4. The weight of the role

Many pastors have shared that the weight of the role, a role they created, has become burdensome. They imagine preaching some of their old sermons in new places or not living under the expectations that the ministry has created.

In that moment, I try to remind leaders that they are putting pressure on themselves that the Lord carries for us. He is the One who builds His church.

As I have walked away from these conversations, I have often thought that the reasons the pastor is wrestling with leaving are some of the same reasons the pastor has made such a big impact.

  • His sense of stewardship has caused him to focus on the most important things in his church. That same sense of stewardship causes him to wrestle with these questions.
  • His longing to launch new things, his itch to solve problems—that same intensity can cause boredom if a new initiative isn’t on the horizon.
  • His love and compassion for people has caused him to shepherd people well. That same sensitivity causes him to be tender, perhaps too tender, to criticism.
  • His sense of responsibility has caused him to care so much. That same sense of responsibility, because of our proclivity to drift from grace, can cause him to put expectations on himself that are enslaving.

In most cases, I have encouraged the pastors to nail down their furniture and stay put. Great leaders struggling to stay is concerning to many because a healthy pastoral tenure often has an impact on the health of a church. Dr. Bill Day of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary discovered in his research that “the length of a pastor’s tenure was found to have a direct correlation to the health of a church. A church’s likelihood to be healthy was much greater when the pastor had served between five and 20 years.”

Other times, the Lord may indeed be doing something new—may be stirring a leader to move to a new place of ministry. Knowing whether to stay or go is not easy. It requires wisdom through much prayer and cautious seeking of counsel from trustworthy friends.  

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Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, he served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary and has authored or co-authored several books, including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. He is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.