20 things a pastor can do to get past a rough time

Some power clique in the church is on your case.  Some church member is leading a movement to oust you.  The church has a history of ousting pastors every so often and it’s time, and some members are getting restless.

Or, perhaps, as the pastor, you did something wrong and it blew up in your face.  People are calling for your head.

Or, you failed to act and some cancer has gained a foothold within the congregation and your job is in jeopardy.

What do you do now?

It would be foolish to try to offer a panacea here, a cure-all for what ails the church, a fix-all for what troubles the pastor.  I will not attempt that. But here are 20 steps which many pastors can take to right the ship and set it back on track (to mix metaphors)….

1)  Don’t hesitate to apologize if you need to.

“I blew it, folks. I’m sorry.”

Apologies should be as public as the act was public.  If you did one person wrong and it’s known only to that one, go to him/her and admit what you did and ask for forgiveness.  If your mistake was churchwide, stand in the pulpit and take your medicine.

2) Don’t hesitate to seek advice from the best Christians you know.

Ideally, you already have a mentor or two, older and wiser veterans whom you call on from time to time. The advantage to having mentors is that they will know your situation and will not require a lengthy background when you call them.

3) It’s high time to get serious in your prayers.

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

If you have never fasted while praying, you may want to start. If unsure how to fast, call someone who does for advice.  Whatever you do, kick your prayer life into overdrive.

4) Stay close with your wife. Discuss everything with her; pray regularly with her.  Listen to her.  Help her deal with feelings of anger or frustration or fears.  Do nothing disruptive without her being in on the decision. (I write as a Southern Baptist where our pastors are men, but if the pastor is a woman, bring your husband into this discussion.)  Do not preach to your wife.  If you are being stressed, it’s a sure bet that she is feeling it too.

5) Get a leadership team to help you. Identify four or five of the godliest, most mature and trusted leaders of the church, and seek their wisdom as to what to do next. Understand, you’re not asking them to make the decision, but to give you their best counsel. The decision on what to do will still be yours.

6) Stay in the Word. I recommend the Psalms in particular.  In all your Scripture reading, ask the Father to speak to you, to give you direction or a promise or whatever He wants you to have. Read slowly and thoughtfully, not to cover chapters hurriedly but to hear HIs still small voice.

I recommend you get alone with no interruptions.  Read scripture for a bit, then lay it aside and kneel and pray, then sit quietly for a time, then repeat again and again.  Be quiet and wait on the Lord. You will know when you’re through.

7) Ask someone who knows the church.  If the former pastor is someone you know and trust, consider traveling to his location for a session of an hour or so.  Tell him the situation, then ask for his counsel, assuring him that you will quote him to no one.

8) Ask someone who knows conflict. There are among us people who specialize in resolving church conflict, in leading congregations through difficult times. Your denominational office will have someone on staff who either does this or knows someone.

9) Ask someone who has been through what you are experiencing.  Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Once you locate a consultant who knows church conflict, chances are good that person can put you in touch with a minister who has experienced what you are going through and has emerged whole and intact.  Call him up and pick his brain, and get his prayer support.

10) Work on your sermons. Preach better than you have ever preached in your life.  This will keep the congregation on your side and go a long way toward silencing your sharpest critics.

11)  Do not neglect your pastoral work.  If you do, those wanting you out will use that against you. Be faithful in caring for the sick and troubled, in your home visitation and hospital calling.  I’ve known of members rising up to support their diligent pastor when some committee tried to get him fired.

12) Stay healthy. This means eating right, taking your vitamins (as well as anything else your health requires), and get regular exercise. If  you’ve not seen a doctor in a year or more, do this. Stress can be a killer.

13) Love your critics.  Read Luke 6:27-35 and live in those instructions from the Lord from now on.  Every time you think of those who are lying awake scheming to get you out, pray for them. When you see them, bless them. And when you get a chance, do something nice for them.

Most of all perhaps, when they need ministering from a pastor, you be there.  If you aren’t, you are just handing them ammunition to use against you.  Even if your heart is not in it, go in obedience to the Lord.  (Note:  You may not necessarily change them, but fair-minded people will see your behavior and flow to your support.)  

14) Ask three of your best friends in the church to critique you.  Get them together, tell them what you are dealing with, and ask them this question: “What am I doing wrong? I want to grow and improve.  Help me.”  Lighten up somewhat, and assure them you will still love them, but read Proverbs 27:6 to them and ask them to be that kind of friend.  (Note: Do not do this if you are insecure and unable to deal with negative input.) 

15) When this is over and things are going well, ask your leadership team to conduct a congregational evaluation of you.  There are books on how to do this (and how you can survive the experience!), but the simplest way is for a team of perhaps six people to formulate some questions and poll the membership.  In one church, the deacons did this for me and went beyond anything I had anticipated. They took the membership rolls and visited every seventh member, conducting confidential interviews which involved several pages. Each visit took 30 minutes. The results were favorable, I’m glad to report, but not one we repeated.

(Note:   No one enjoys being critiqued, of course, but this can be most beneficial.)

16) Keep your life balanced during the stressful period. Take your child to a ball game, your wife on a date, and your family on a short vacation.  When at work, work hard. When at home, rest well.  When you sleep, sleep deeply (good luck with this!).

17) Keep your relationship with your preacher colleagues strong.  You need the fellowship, the laughter, their prayers, and their recommendation if things go south.

18) Study your situation, your history. Is there anything in your history some enemy (let’s call them what they are–see Luke 6:27) would use against you?  Then do whatever you can to clean it up.

19) Watch for the hand of God in the unlikeliest of places and people.  The Lord is truly “the God of surprises.”  Expect Him to speak through someone you barely know or would never suspect as being His mouthpiece. Expect God to send help from the most unlikely of sources.

20) Work on your resume’.  After all, sometimes we don’t survive church fights even when we are in the right.  Some skirmishes the devil takes, at least temporarily.

My friend Mike Broadwater, director of missions for the Valdosta (Georgia) Baptist Association, says a pastor may be called to a church by 95 percent of the congregation but ousted by 3 percent.  And he’s exactly right.

Last note:  I heard of a pastor who was called to a church by a vote of 98 for and 2 against.  He spent the first 6 months trying to find who were the two people voting against him and the next six months trying to win them over.  At the end of his first year, he was terminated.  The vote was 2 for and 98 against.  The point is: Do not focus on those who are against you.  Love them all.

Love them all.  And again I say unto you, love them all.