Pastor Jeremy has been at Faith Church for 12 years. The people seem to like him and he’s gotten some notice and recognition in the city and the publishing arena. His sermons don’t seem to be off base biblically and the church, while not growing dramatically, doesn’t seem to be falling apart or dying.
Yes, there have been a few times when people wondered what might be going on, but he always came through those periods of apparent overwork, discouragement or pressing too hard for change and accomplishments.
People can’t imagine what it would be like without him and they would certainly not want to think about him not being there any more and all the work it would take to replace him.
There are lots of Pastor Jeremy’s in churches today. Seemingly competent, steady, accomplished and committed to the Lord’s work and His church. Nothing problematic is that obvious to the church attenders and any comments or questions feel like disloyalty and nitpicking rather than helpful.
But sometimes there really are problem below the surface that need to be addressed. They don’t mean that the pastor needs to go or be called out in front of the attenders but those issues do require attention from the pastor and the leaders. If not treated, like weeds still below the topsoil, they will eventually surface sometimes on multiple occasions and the damage will be far greater.
Let me suggest four warning signs to watch for.
First, be alert to the pastor’s anger becoming more and more prominent in the messages. No, he or she won’t suddenly throw a tantrum, at least in most cases, but rather will express regular irritation with the people in the church – they aren’t dedicated enough, don’t repent of their sin, aren’t serving more or didn’t respond the way that was hoped. And while pastors do need at times to prophetically call their people to higher devotion and obedience, this will be different. Instead of it feeling prophetic, it will seem more punitive.
Second, be aware of other staff and attenders silently leaving the church. There will likely not be a mass exodus but rather a slow disappearance where it may take months to know that these key people or leaders are not there any more. Staff working for a healthy, committed leader don’t all leave, however, in a short amount of time.
Third, look for a distancing of themselves from the regular life of the church. Of course, no pastor can or needs to attend everything. But I’m talking about something different – they are less involved with staff, they don’t enjoy church gatherings much and only make appearances these days, they are rarely seen there with their spouse and children and they may even be in the office less.
Finally, take notice of a more guarded, polished and controlled demeanor in public. The once spontaneous, fun and humorous pastor becomes very stiff, with a phony smile and does ministry on cruise control rather than feeling and responding to the heartbeat of the church. You never hear much that is deep from within or personal anymore.
I hope that none of you reading this ever has to use the content here but I’m afraid you might and will then need to. Love your pastor and do what you can to get him and/or the leaders to honestly take inventory and evaluation of what can be done to restore them to the person they were when they started. Restoration should be the goal and if the pastor will respond there can be great rejoicing.
But if you get a defensive response, then you were probably right in the first place. Your pastor may be in trouble and something has to be done.