Stop. Look. Listen.

The Problem with Clergy-Written
Leadership Online Forums

I follow a number of clergy leadership forums. Some of the topics are so stale you’d crack your teeth if you tried to bite into them. The advice dispensed by today’s up and coming 40-year-old pastors was published pre-internet by the 40-year-old movers and shakers of previous generations. It often didn’t work then.


Some of the advice is dreadful. It’s clergy talking to clergy. Laity are pawns. This adds to the great gulf between clergy and laity.


This gulf is new.


Think back to yesteryear—back when large churches were rare and before mega-churches existed—when 90% of pastors knew the their calling meant serving congregations of 200 active members, more or often less. (By the way, statistics show it still is!)


Churches with 200 members or less rely heavily on lay leadership. That may be the science behind the fact that most congregations fit into this category. It’s the way things are supposed to be! The yearning to grow into the thousands may be futile.


Back then, if an outsider asked a member “Who leads your church?”, the answer might start with the pastor but they would likely add the names of a few prominent lay members. In our congregation’s 80 visits to other congregations we still saw this on occasion—rare occasion.


Back then, clergy knew there were two ways out of a crisis. Prayerfully leave or prayerfully work with the people. Moving rarely meant a step up. Most congregations were about the same size. There was incentive to work with congregations. Today’s movement toward interim pastoring makes moving the norm—but congregations will be judged on longevity of their calls. As more pastors prepare for shorter calls, congregations are deemed failures if calls last less than seven years.


Today’s clergy advice is written with a career-minded point of view. The people in the pew are left feeling they can never be good enough—that our God-given talents are unrecognized in the Church.


Here is advice about dealing with congregational problems that is rarely dispensed by clergy bloggers.


Stop. Look. Listen.


Go to your church members. We may have knowledge and wisdom that outside consultants won’t be able to ferret out with a dozen weekend retreats. Don’t wait for problems. Take the long route. Talk to members one to one, face to face. Be sensitive. Never betray their trust. If you listen to people regularly, before there are challenges, the challenges will be not become confrontations.


Actually, most denominational constitutions call for this.


Instead of taking the time to follow constitutional guidelines, leaders often craft workarounds to achieve their desired results quickly. They’ll document their successes before they have a chance to fail. Not surprisingly, they become clergy-centric. Preserving the integrity of the work-around becomes mission.


Workarounds can cause considerable damage to faith communities. If outside eyes review church failure carefully, I suspect they would discover a tap root of church decline. You see, in today’s world, if people feel they have no voice or purpose, they go where they feel useful and loved.


Then the people with all the leadership know-how stand at their end of the sanctuary all alone.


Good news! It can be turned around. Start now. Stop. Look. Listen.