Pastor Confidential

Not long ago I interviewed several lead pastors—“incognito”—to uncover their buried challenges and deeper longings. I gave each one the same set of prompts, then transcribed their answers from my pocket recorder. I asked them to be brutally honest, and that’s what I got… 

As ministry leaders, we’re beset with doubts and anxieties about our ability to navigate the choppy waters of a rapidly shifting culture, and we wonder if we have what it takes to lead our people as extensions of The Good Shepherd. To thrive, we need to know we’re not alone, and that we’re all in this together. And it’s important for us to remember this promise Jesus left us with: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16).

So, take a moment to look under the hood of Pastor Mike, a lead pastor for a medium-size church in a medium-size city…

What are your biggest challenges? 
The number of hats I wear, and how quickly I have to switch them out. For example, dealing with HVAC issues in our church so we can make the decisions we need to do. This is not what you expect a pastor to do. It’s not the pastoral things that really make things difficult, it’s the building issues that are hard.

What are the biggest trends or changes in life of your church?
I think it’s a post-Christian age in the U.S. and the Western world. Folks grew up when Christians had a whole different image in the culture. We have to overcome some resistance. On the one hand we’re critical of the consumeristic approach people have toward the church, but we have to recognize that we created the problem. We have created our own problems, relative to the culture.

Where do you turn to for help with your challenges?
Prayer is important in this for me. When you become a “professional” your responsibility is preparing for liturgical events and offering presence and leadership in many environments. That can obliterate my dependence on prayer.

What does it mean to to shepherd people today? 
We are responding to a very consumer-oriented culture. They don’t want a shepherd, they want a sheepdog—who will respond to their whistle.

What is your church known for, and why? 
It used to be that it was enough to put your name on the sign out in front of the church, and they knew what you were about. People don’t know the names or the symbols anymore. We have to discern as a church why we are different from the church down the street, and a lot of us don’t know why we exist—what our identity in the community is.

What are you most satisfied by in what you do? 
I know that I am sometimes a part of what the Holy Spirit is doing in people’s lives. I was invited to do a wedding for a person who was outside the church, who told me that “it was because of you” that all of his trajectory toward Christ was possible.

What is your role in children’s ministry and youth ministry? 
I’m a contrarian on this—I don’t like the effect of segmenting age groups in the church, because it disenfranchises them from the church as a whole. My role is to support segmented ministry leaders, but make sure they’re one part of a whole. The segments often don’t interact with each other—when do these people come together to hear each other’s stories? People are looking for a return on their investment, by seeing youth involved in church. A side effect of not attracting families is that we feel guilty for something we’ve done or not done—the problem is us.

Where do you go for ideas and inspiration?
You do ministry with a newspaper or news app in one hand and a Bible in the other. It’s easy to lose touch with the world. I like to read what others are saying about us, including people I don’t agree with.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In June 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.



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