Rethinking Church #7 – What the traditional church model does to pastoral leaders

pastoral leadersPastoral leaders are vital to the nature of the New Testament church

The are called by God to shepherd the flock of God with care, diligence, and insight (1 Peter 5:2).

But in over 20 years AS a Pastoral leader in one way, shape, or form, I’ve come to see that the structures by which the western world tries to DO church tend to be detrimental to the overall health of pastoral leaders. The traditional, top-down, get more people in the doors type of church structure…

  • Burns out pastoral leaders because the numbers simply don’t fit. Jesus Himself only took on 12 men as disciples, yet even a “small” church today will expect the pastoral leadership to take on 30 to 40. The job is too big for one man.
  • Separates pastoral leaders from the flock. There is an artificial division between shepherd and flock due to things like education level, salary, top-down authority structures and the like. The leader is not able to be cared for well because he’s set apart in an unhealthy way.
  • Makes the pastoral leaders into a commodity. Enough said?
  • Isolates him from true accountability. Because the pastoral leader is paid (typically) he’s often afraid to be honest about his own struggles. He doesn’t know how the church family might handle his “true confessions” so he keeps them inside… and suffers silently for it. No wonder so many pastoral leaders wind up in sin.
  • Makes him fair game… yes, as in hunting. The pastoral leaders of a typical church walk around feeling like they have a target on their foreheads. By virtue of being paid staff, most people in the church feel the right to criticize, evaluate, and knit-pick the pastoral leadership’s life, decisions, and use of time. It’s hardly conducive to making him a cared-for member of the church family.
  • Puts the pastoral leaders in a position where they have difficulty being servant leaders as Jesus described. Instead they become the point at the top of the organizational pyramid and eventually fall off.

I don’t highlight these things because I’ve been hurt by them (I’m just being honest, here). I highlight them because I care about the well-being of my pastoral leader brothers out there.

Things need to change. Pastors need to be part of the body, not a hired gun who can be fired just as easily. Genuine relationships need to extend even into the leadership of the church.

I’ve yet to see a church that has pulled off the last part of Hebrews 13:17…

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.


I believe it will require a change in the way we organize the church.

Things need to be done in an intentionally, deliberately, purposefully smaller context so that one man doesn’t have to take on too large of a load… so that it is more natural and do-able to create shared leadership among qualified men… so that true body-life and accountability can be joyfully provided to the leaders just like everyone else.

What things do YOU see the traditional structure doing to pastoral leaders?


7 thoughts on “Rethinking Church #7 – What the traditional church model does to pastoral leaders

  1. You asked, “What things do YOU see the traditional structure doing to pastoral leaders?” Hmmmm. I don’t think you wanna get me going on this.

    Traditional church structure… and that goes way beyond the borders of traditional, “mainline”-type churches… makes it impossible, for all intents and purposes, for the people of God to live and function in the purpose that God has for them.

    Another problem, in my view, is that the great majority of the people want it this way, because to face the reality of what our true calling and purpose is… well, it’s too unsettling; it ruffles too many feathers… and the shepherds who see reality are afraid to speak truth, because too many would get “upset”.

    But, IF leaders decided to end the reality of the church being a mixed multitude, MAYBE Godly change could happen.

    • Yes, I do…. 🙂

      You’re right… unsettling in the least, even to the pastoral leaders/elders who don’t know it or recognize it as that. No church leader should not speak up about a legitimate concern or sense of where God is leading because of fear… but the way things are structured in most churches, fear is built into the system. Fear of being fired, mainly. It should not be that way.

      • I think there will have to be people who are willing to esteem their love for and commitment to the Lord higher than anyone or anything else… speak out loudly and clearly about what God wants to have… and hopefully be a part of a much-needed revolution.

      • Agreed… and the balance we all have to watch is one of love for the person. They are not the enemy (preaching to myself)…

    • Yes, you’re right. I’ve experienced a minor amount of that myself. Status quo becomes “status right” to many people… wrongly so. It’s a battle ahead, at least on some fronts, no doubt.

  2. You know, I wonder if this is so much of a function of traditional leadership models or moreso about just the way that PEOPLE treat their pastors. I’ve heard of large churches where a lot of these issues really aren’t a problem because the church is very intentional about reminding people that the pastor is human.

What do you think? Share your thoughts & start the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s