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Megachurch Resignations: 10 Lessons for All of US
Add Pete Wilson to the growing list of megachurch pastors who are no longer in their positions.
Pete Wilson is unique. Ostensibly, he has resigned of his own volition, outside of the recommendation (or demand) of his board.
Other recent removals had a different flavor:
– Perry Noble for alcohol dependency.
– Darrin Patrick for leadership abuses and boundary issues.
– Tulian Tchividjian for an affair.
– Israel Houghton for divorcing his wife, followed promptly by a questionable relationship.
– Mark Driscoll for leadership abuses.
My guess is you might have a local pastor to add to that list–who was leading a growing church (if not a megachurch), but isn’t anymore.
What you won’t find here is a condemnation of any of these pastors. There is enough of that on the Internet, and it is not helpful. Even if the criticisms are legitimate, as they sometimes are, the bully pulpit of an article isn’t the best place to air them.
What we do need to understand is how this series of high-profile resignations is actually a bellwether moment for all of us. Resist the temptation to see this as a megachurch resignations problem, and understand its implications for you. At your church. In your position.
So what are the implications—for pastors and congregants—of these megachurch resignations?
1) Accountability shouldn’t be optional.
Churches have a notorious record for poor accountability. For many reasons, “yes men” make their way into positions of authority, and allow senior leaders to make decisions without much push-back. A low accountability culture will almost always end in a bad outcome for the church or the pastor. Read this article on the Malphurs Group blog about the dangers of a low-accountability church.
2) Speculation fills the gap that dishonesty leaves behind.
In an effort to protect the privacy of a leader, churches often give vague and ambiguous information about why a leadership transition is happening. While the intentions may be well-placed, the results are disastrous. People often assume the worst. If you want to minimize the gossip, tell the truth. The whole truth. Gory details do not need to be shared, but vague Christianisms keep the door cracked for wild speculation.
3) Pastors are human.
We often do not let pastors be human beings. Scripture commands us to hold leaders to a high standard, but it does not require pastors to be two-dimensional mouthpieces of practical wisdom. We do not want our pastors to have hurts, fears, or pain. We do not want our pastors to be transparent, flawed, or wrong. But they are. Whether you want them to be or not. Let pastors be three-dimensional, broken-yet-faithful servants of Jesus.
4) Pastors are people.
When a pastor leaves his position, he is still a person. You may not see him on a stage anymore, or hear his voice through your earbuds on a run. But he still exists. So if your pastor loses his position, you can still treat him like a person. Speak kindly to him if you see him. Invite him out to dinner. Life still continues, and if you have a good relationship with him, your friendship should, too. I reflected on this topic when I experienced my own leadership transition.
5) Church success is not a direct correlation to leadership health.
There is a tendency to look at church “successes” and assume that the leader at the helm is healthy. There are four categories of leaders: unqualified, emerging, healthy, and toxic. Toxic leaders are those who have a high capacity but deficient character. This means they can get a lot done, influence a lot of people, preach powerful and orthodox sermons, but be angry, narcissistic, power-hungry, and un-empathetic. If you’re a pastor, always keep a check on your character; measure it, and be sure it is growing. Church-goers, pray that your pastor will keep his eyes on Jesus, and that he cares more about following Jesus than leading a crowd.
6) Family is the most important ministry.
It’s possible to win at ministry and fail at home. It happens all of the time. In the name of Jesus, pastors will burn themselves out and disregard their family. They will cross boundaries they shouldn’t cross with females in the name of ministry. They will make time for ministry and give their family the leftovers. It’s a pox on the ministry. Pastors, your family must come first. Truly. And not just in the bio on your website. If it comes down to quitting your job or losing your wife, quit your job. Ministry spouses have a high burden. Be mindful of it, and care for your spouse.
7) Leadership development is a critical gap.
Too few churches are investing time and effort into leadership development. The lion’s share of ministry “work” falls on staff and executive leaders. The preaching load falls primarily on the shoulders of one man. The visionary role is assumed by one man. The staff management is directed by one man. Even in large churches, the pastor’s role becomes larger than life. No person can live up to the expectations and responsibilities. This is a pride of competency. The man with the title is not always the best man for the job. Invest in building a leadership pipeline, and experience the joy of releasing control to qualified, developing leaders.
8) Charisma is powerful, but thin.
Americans love a TV show with great acting, well-written dialogue, and dramatic plots. We want the same in pastors. American Christians are attracted to a voice that can command the room, stir our hearts, and keep our attention. These types of powerful people are rare. Only 10% of American churches average 350 or more in attendance. Many of the top 1% are large because of the charismatic voice behind the pulpit. Yet again and again, we discover that though charisma is powerful, it’s a cheap substitute for genuine leadership. Pastors, invest in your growth as a servant leader rather than relying on your talent or charisma.
9) There is such a thing as too big.
There is no such thing as a church that’s too big, only a church that’s too big for you. The point at which you lose sight of humility, that your character cannot keep up with your capacity, that your family takes second place to your ministry, that your personality outweighs the collective work of your church—that is the point that your church is too big. There’s not a specific number. It’s different for every leader. Know your limits, and accept those limitations as a gift from God to keep you in submission to him.
10) Get help before the crisis.
I do not like seeing pastors leave their positions. Whether it’s burn out like Pete Wilson or a more tragic circumstance like Tulian Tchividjian. But it’s important to remember that none of these megachurch resignations happened in a day. These moments built over time. One choice on top of another. Unfortunately, most of us in leadership don’t put the fire out when it’s just in the oven. We wait until the whole house is ablaze before thinking to douse the flames. Put people in your life who can tell you the truth. Empower people outside of your leadership circle to have full access to you, to ask you questions, and to warn you when the first sparks of crisis show up. You can have a long and fruitful ministry; burning out or failing out is not inevitable. But if we are not willing to speak the truth to ourselves, and allow others to speak truth to us, we are in danger. Asking for help is not weakness, it is strength.
I love speaking with pastors and encouraging them. If you need a no-judgment, no-commitment, no-cost ear, contact me. Let others hear you and speak truth to you and build you up. You are not alone.
If you have a pastor who needs help or you fear is approaching a crisis, contact me. I’d love to encourage you and advise you in any way I can.