Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)
Let’s just come right out and say it up front: Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are probably not a leader.
The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he has been sent to serve.
A pastor comes into a church with a divine mandate. (This is not pious talk. He has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is.) He proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, many of the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service–those very people–stand back and carp and criticize and find fault. (Want to see it in Scripture? Numbers 16.)
This was the last thing the pastor expected.
Because he’s human, he begins to wonder many things: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?
My answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course.
Salt is an irritant. We have been sent into this world as its salt (Matthew 5:13).
Light hurts the eyes. We were sent as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). The brighter it shines, the more darkness resists it, resents it, runs from it.
This is as good a place as any to state the obvious: Many in places of leadership inside our churches are not leaders. I’m referring to pastors, staffers, deacons, and other would-be leaders.
They may qualify as counselors, program directors, consensus builders, negotiators, mediators, affirmers, or even teachers. But they are not leaders.
A leader by the very definition stands apart from the crowd, pointing and pushing and urging them onward to a destination that many cannot understand, do not see, and are not sure they want. The more forcibly he or she leads, the greater the reaction against his message and his methods by some.
Thankfully, not all resist. But there’s always some who will oppose any challenge to the status quo.
Perfectionism, while sounding noble, can be one of the leader’s greatest enemies. If he waits until every member of the team is on board, they will still be sitting there when Jesus returns.
When a leader insists on the enthusiastic support and complete approval of every last member of the team, the work grinds to a halt and all forward progress ends at that point.
The ramifications of this for leaders are enormous.
1. We must jettison our need for and insistence on pleasing everyone.
Somewhere I heard of a pastor who was called to a church by a vote of 98 ‘for’ to 2 ‘against.’ It bothered him so much that those two had opposed him, he spent the first six months finding out who they were, and the next six months winning them over. At the end of his first year, that pastor was fired by a vote of 98 against and 2 for.
Our Lord Jesus said, I always do the things that please the Father (John 8:29). Paul said, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
If I serve well and my congregation is happy and supportive, good. We’re not suggesting otherwise. The faithful people–those who love the Lord Jesus–will love those whom He sends. Jesus said, “If you loved God, you would believe Me.”
However, if a segment of the membership is upset, that does not necessarily mean I’m doing something wrong. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt, among the people of God was a group called “the rabble” or “a mixed multitude” (see Exodus 12:38). They were the initiators of much of the grumbling from God’s people. And, ever since that time, every congregation of God’s people has had among its membership some who “walk in the flesh and not in the spirit,” whether we call them “tares” (Matthew 13:24-30) or something else.
Either way, it’s a matter between them and the Lord. I must not take their criticism or rejection personally. The Lord said to Samuel, “It’s not you they have rejected, but me” (I Samuel 8:7).
2. We must accept that some are always going to be unhappy with us, no matter what we do.
On one occasion when some in my church were hard at work trying to end my ministry, I learned that the ringleaders had decided before I ever arrived that they did not like me and would need to replace me. It provided scant comfort to know there was nothing personal about it, that it was all their doing. I was given no chance at all to do the work God sent me there to do. Everything about that was sad.
Even so, had I let their opposition rob me of my joy in the Lord and divert me from the assignment the Lord had given, it would have been sinful toward God, suicidal toward my calling, and self-defeating toward the work of the church.
3. We must decide whether God’s will or the pleasure of the people is more important.
By their very natures, pastors tend to be people pleasers. When members of the congregation rave about his sermons and are excitedly telling the community how well the church is prospering, he feels affirmed. When they criticize his sermons and spread their disaffection throughout the community, most pastors will take it personally, perhaps lose heart and grow discouraged.
A pastor must be such a man of prayer and intimacy with God that he knows beyond all doubt that what he does for the church is from God. Without that, he will not be able to stand up under the onslaught of the naysayers.
4. In any church that moves forward, some people are going to be upset that they are losing control and not getting their way. They will be the first to leave.
I asked a respected ministry leader to comment on my thesis here, that “Unless someone is not constantly mad at you all the time, you are no leader.” He said, You will hack off people if you are NOT leading or if you are. Either way, you are going to upset some. So, just choose which group you want on your team, the winners or the whiners.
5. Some of those who are the angriest and leave the soonest may be your best workers.
That is one of the hardest truths for a new pastor to absorb. He comes in to a church with the enthusiastic endorsement of the pastor search committee and counts on those leaders for their full support and involvement. A year later, if he has been a visionary leader, some of them cannot be found.
I was having lunch with a friend who had invited me to speak to his congregation. I said to him, “You came to this church three years ago. How is it different now from then?”
The first words out of his mouth told of members who had grown disaffected with him and had pulled out. The one that hurt the most, he said, was a man who had been a member of the search committee that had brought him to this church. As he departed the church, the man said, “Pastor, I know that we told you the church needs to change or it’s going to die. And I know we said we would support you in making the changes.” He paused. “But I never thought those changes would affect me personally.”
6. The pastor who exercises true leadership is destined to find out all too quickly whether the Lord is sufficient for his needs.
Not every leader of a church, not every staffer or deacon or pastor, is a well-rounded human with great mental health. Some are incomplete people, with gaping holes inside which they seek to fill with significant people who will complete them and affirm them and help them be all they should be for the Lord.
That’s not all bad. In a perfect world, a church would meet those needs and fill those potholes in our psyches and all would be well.
But this is a fallen world.
Every member of every church is completely human. He Himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:14) All have sinned, none are righteous. Are we clear on that?
This means the spiritual leader will be asking needy people to follow him in accomplishing God’s purpose on earth.
By its very nature, spiritual leadership requires that the “man/woman in front” of the crowd get their bearings from the Lord God. Then, the Lord will lead the leader on how to proceed. Part of that process will be how to deal with those having a different vision altogether of God’s will.
We must decide: Either God calls pastors as leaders or He doesn’t.
How we decide that determines a thousand things about how we will follow his leadership.