Suggestions for Pastors When Your Church is not Happy with You

by Jim Elliff June 23, 2017

Years ago, in a church that was experiencing good changes and lots of growth, I heard from various sources that many people were not happy with me. This floating disapproval went on for some time. As a younger pastor, this was extremely disconcerting. Like most pastors, I was concerned about being liked by the congregation that I was given to lead—a natural tendency. But mainly, I didn’t want the church to suffer through distraction, and, if I was leading wrongly, I wanted to know it. The issues had to be cleared up, whatever they were.

As a young pastor, I didn’t always have the greatest wisdom about leading people, but on this occasion, I believe I did the best thing, and it turned out to be very helpful to the church. I’ve since recommended it several times when pastors find themselves facing similar disapproval.

It occurred to me that the measure of my effectiveness as a leader should have more to do with both my character and behavior as it matched up against God’s prescription for eldership rather than the effectiveness and behavior of other pastors that our church people might know. This would be the basis for my simple plan of action.

I called the men together. In that meeting, I explained that I had heard some dissatisfaction surfaced related to my leadership. I helped them see that above all I wished to be the man God wanted me to be. I made no defense for my actions since it is possible for a man to have blind spots. Rather, I appealed to them to help me see myself in the truest light, by evaluating my ministry in the light of the character requirements of a pastor and the biblical duties of a pastor. The man I wanted to be was the man God prescribed, above all.

After this, I gave them a set of sheets similar to what I will give you, describing the character qualities of a pastor and the six duties required of us, along with a way of rating and commenting on each item. They took time on the spot to evaluate my ministry. I had them sign the sheets since I would need to follow up with specific discussions if needed.

The really critical factor was my humility rather than a defense. I tried to be truly humble, and this was disarming, as it should be. It also revealed my genuine desire to become a better leader at any cost, provided that I was moving in the direction God wanted.

I summarized the findings and was able to locate some specific areas of concern. However, the evaluation from the men was overall, very supportive. My report to the congregation was honest and the generally positive view of the men served to unite the church around the leadership of the elders and to move us past any more such talk. Those who had wrongly maligned my work were gently rebuked by the strong encouragement of most of the men. All blew over and I and the church were the happier for it.

But it could have turned out otherwise. Perhaps, at any given time or in any given ministry, blind spots of more significance could show up. We, as leaders, might err on a variety of fronts and may truly need correcting. What if the report from the men comes back loaded with serious charges?

If there are significant signs of leadership failure coming from such an evaluation, my suggestion is to admit fully what you find. In other words, give a factual report and humbly ask for the church’s prayers. Then, appoint a group of men that you will meet with in order to consistently address the problems that are found in a constructive manner. This might be painful, but it is the right thing to do. Sometimes a leadership group already in place is the best to work with, but it might be useful to have a range of people involved. My suggestion is that these be men only. These people can become the praying force behind changes in your life and ministry. Meet with them often at first, then perhaps the check-up times can become further apart. This accountability group shows good faith in the people and confidence in God that prayer and sincere actions can produce needed changes.

If concerns from the people surface that are outside what God requires, you have the freedom to say, “I appreciate the spirit of this suggestion, but this is outside the scope of God’s requirement. I’ll think about it, but with a different ‘weight’ than the other suggestions.”

Editor's Note: You can find the sheet with Qualifications of an Elder mentioned in this post at Christian Communicators Worldwide, where the original article was published.

Copyright © Jim Elliff.
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