A Disturbing Trend in the Church

I grew up as a pastor’s kid, so I’ve always attributed my heart for ministry leaders to watching my dad week in and week out. While I never received a call to preach or to be involved in full-time ministry (although I believe we’re all called to this), I’ve always been passionate about supporting those who have received that calling. I can honestly say I grew up seeing some of the worst, out of so-called “Christians” and saw my dad betrayed and abandoned by men who were supposed to be supporting him. I remember as a child being angry at these men, for being so selfish and self-absorbed. They left my parents to fend for themselves financially, emotionally and spiritually. I remember thinking then, that I would dedicate my life to helping whatever leaders God put in my path, to be someone they could rely on.

So many times we put our pastors and church leaders up on a pedestal — when in reality, their role in ‘the church’ is no greater than our own. We are all called to fulfill a part in the body of Christ. A pastors responsibility is certainly greater, because they are handling God’s word and laying it all on the line for us week in and week out. As such, we should lift them up in prayer, support them and encourage them — and not just them, but their spouse and their children as well.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the pastors and worship leaders I know and follow online. Their schedules are jam packed with conferences, meetings, retreats and seminars. They are constantly traveling, writing, meeting with people, counseling, speaking at multiple services throughout the week — often 3 or 4 services just on Sunday. All of these things are awesome — but I know from personal experience as a kid watching his dad — all of that stuff can and will drain the utter life out of you and your family.

This may be blatantly obvious to most, but I think it’s something we need to constantly be reminded of. Behind our responsibility to God, our responsibility to our family is our #1 priority above all else. If our family fails, everything else fails with it.

The same holds true for our pastors and worship leaders – even more so. As church-goers or as fellow ministry leaders, we need to be mindful that a pastors ministry begins at home. We need to be respectful of their time and their schedule. What some do not realize is that a pastor’s job is not a one-day event, it’s a day in, day out, 24/7/365 gig. There are hours of preparation that go into the final product we see on Sundays… at least if they’re doing it right. Delivering God’s word is not a small chore — it’s a demanding one, often filled with anxiety and fear. This is the life of a pastor that most of us do not see or understand. And that is just the sermon.

The schedules I see from a lot of pastors  concerns me. It’s not because I think they’re doing anything wrong. Most pastors I know just don’t know how to say no and don’t know when to ask for help. What concerns me more is the support system that’s around them. Is there one? Are they surrounded by men and women looking out for their #1 ministry? Are they close to people that will speak honestly to them and tell them when they’ve taken on too much? Is there someone helping them, ensuring that their schedule reflects the proper priorities, in the correct order?

Pastors: my heart goes out to you. I know it’s difficult to say no, especially when the opportunity seems so right. But earnestly pray and seek wisdom from your wife and family, your close friends and fellow leaders to make sure that “yes” is the correct response. Be mindful that your God, your wife and your children are your priorities – in that exact order. When those things are aligned, everything else will fall into place.

Ministry leaders, worship leaders: all of the above, plus one more thing. Watch out for your pastor. Lift him up before God and be there for him when he needs someone to listen to him and speak truth into his life. Remind him that his family comes first and help him plan his schedule accordingly. Be sure that he gets a complete break from all responsibilities every few weeks or so, to rest his mind, body and spirit. Make sure you do the same!

To the rest of us: know that our responsibility to ‘the church’ is no less important than the role of a pastor. We are equally important in God’s eyes… and equally responsible to our family. If you attend a large church, you probably find it difficult to know how to approach this subject, but the most important thing you can do is pray. Pray for your pastor, his spouse and their children. Pray for your worship leaders and ministry leaders and their families. Love on them and encourage them.

I’ve seen it happen firsthand… Satan can completely destroy a church community from within. And it can happen overnight because someone allowed their church obligations to take precedence over their own family. Are we being vigilant? Are we looking for the warning signs in our own life (I Peter 5:8)? Are we looking out for our pastors and church leaders?

What is your role in the church? How can you help your pastor and church leaders maintain their priorities?

34 Comments

  1. Brandon February 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    One sad thing is that pastors are suddenly starting to become “preachers”. A preacher teaches the Word and does it right and his best, but lacks the relational side. Becoming a great preacher and pastor is vital!

    • Nathan February 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

      Yes, you are right that it is vital. A preacher and pastor should not be two separate things, but unfortunately that’s what it’s become — thanks in large part to how large our churches have become. Obviously, it’s tough to keep that relational side intact with everyone in a large congregation, but it’s certainly become an afterthought in many.

      But it’s tough to place the blame solely on the pastor/preacher for it becoming that way. It is not and should never be a one man show.

      Thanks for the comment Brandon!

  2. bryan February 23, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    This is a great post, Nathan. You have got me thinking about our church. It is a little convicting at the present time. Which can only be a good thing. Thanks.

    Praying for leaders and laypeople in our churches everywhere.

    • Nathan February 23, 2011 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks for stopping by Bryan and for the RT. And for some reason I hadn’t subscribed to you blog yet, fixed that! :)

  3. Adam February 23, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    Great points Nathan. There needs to be a support system behind every leader in the church. Ive seen it growing up where our pastor did EVERYTHING..and then one week he said he was stepping down.

    It’s good to try to get to know your leaders beyond their “leader” status. thats the one great thing is I can have a great NON christian conversation with our pastor and sometimes that is just so refreshing to see that he is just like everyone else , and isnt a glory, and amen preacher 24/7.

  4. Nathan February 23, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Yeah, that’s so true. I guess growing up in a pastor’s home, I’ve never looked at a pastor any differently than anyone else. We consider our pastor and his family one of our closest friends – we go out to dinner with them frequently, have them over to our house, go shopping with them – it’s a great relationship that just came naturally. It’s always been funny to me how people have this lofty image of their pastor and treat them differently than everyone else in the church. That is a very dangerous thing for all involved.

  5. Moe February 23, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was always concerned about the “work” she had to do. Obviously Mary, seating by the master’s feet was the wise one.

    We can also become Martha in the ministry. We get occupied with all of the “work” that needs to be done and forget to take a break and sit at the master’s feet.

    Also, I am reminded of Elijah’s story. After he ran from Jezebel, God let him res, and fed him for a few days, before he actually spoke to him. Rest and a good meal. Very important in ministry.

    Solid stuff here. Thank you!

    • Nathan February 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

      All great examples Moe – thanks!

  6. Jason Vana February 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Great post Nathan – and I agree, every leader needs a support system to help him/her stay focused on the right priorities, to protect and fight for them, and to help them when needed.

    I also think some of the problem is the actual structure of many churches. I was a part of a small, roughly 100 member church for over 10 years and there’s this mentality that the pastor(s) are paid to do ministry, so it’s their responsibility to do everything. And while it’s true they may end up doing more because they are able to devote more time to ministry, it’s the whole church’s responsibility to be ministers. We all have a part and role to play and can’t let it fall on the pastors to do all the work. That’s spectator Christianity…which isn’t Christianity at all.

    • Nathan February 23, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

      Thanks Jason – you described the biggest problem in the church today – spectator Christianity. 10% of the people do 100% of the work – no organization or entity can withstand that kind of responsibility. I’m part of a 100+ member church now and we are very fortunate to have people who are sick of “playing church” and are in this thing for a totally different purpose. But that’s certainly not the normal in the church today…

  7. Jonathan Jacob February 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Dude…great post. I think that it is so important have that support system…where the entire church works together and builds each other up. I guess for me, I never really had that type of relationship with my church. Growing up in a super legalistic church, I just never felt comfortable talking to the pastor/”staff”….it would be like the most awkward thing. Yet, I’ve been checking out new churches recently, and hope to find a church that fosters those kinds of relationships.

    • Nathan February 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      I know exactly what you’re describing. Those kind of churches have bigger leadership/control issues than these. Praying you find a loving church family to be a part of J. Let me know where you’re looking and I’ll do some research with you.

      • Jonathan Jacob February 24, 2011 at 12:14 am #

        Wow dude…really appreciate that! Yea…I feel that I definitely need that now because I’m tired of just plain old mediocre. Last week…I checked out a small church…like 50 or so people (not normally used to that), but I liked it. I could see that the people/pastoral staff were passionate…so I’m going to check it out again. I checked out a lot bigger church…it was good (and what I’m used to), but when you’re one person….you kind of feel like a fish in a big, big, ocean. I guess for me..it’s about building more than surface relationships where I don’t have to put up a front.

        • Nathan February 24, 2011 at 1:01 am #

          We tried to do the big church thing, but like you said, small fish, big ocean. It just wasn’t our cup of tea. I know people though that thrive in that environment, it just wasn’t for us.

          Small churches are great, but only go if you want to get involved! It’s tough to “fake it” in a small church, trust me, I’ve tried and was unsuccessful. And that’s a good thing ;)

  8. Sandy Sandmeyer February 25, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Good word, Nathan!

    • John February 26, 2011 at 9:57 am #

      I agree with much of what you are saying, except that you seem to be making a priority list with God on top, then family, church, work, or whatever. Does God really belong on a priority list? What percentage of our energies, attention, commitment, etc. does He get? Putting Him on such a priority list implies that He gets something less than 100% – not a very good way of looking at things. How about making your priority list, but leaving God off the list – or rather allow God to be the context and reason for setting any and all priorities? Just a thought…

      • Nathan February 26, 2011 at 11:31 am #

        John, thank you for your comment. I understand what you are saying and while God does not belong on a priority list or to-do list, (speaking for myself here) I need to be reminded that He should come first place in my life. I’m not looking at it as a to-do list of time spent percentages, but rather as a hierarchy. If you don’t need a list to be reminded of this, that’s awesome, but I need it and need to be reminded of it more often than I care to admit.

  9. Steven February 26, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Great post, Nathan. I am a student pastor and find that my wife is my greatest help in making sure I am keeping my family a priority. She grew up in a Professor/Pastor’s home so understands what can happen when ministry becomes more of a priority than the family. As men we have to be willing to listen to our wives though and sometimes this can be hard.

    • Nathan February 26, 2011 at 11:39 am #

      Steven – you are right on! Our wives are our best counsel and our closest friend and ally. We should seek their wisdom before anyone else. It’s great that you are married to someone who knows the ins and outs of ministry and has first hand experience. That is priceless!

      Thanks for your comment! Looking forward to checking out your blog.

  10. theresa February 26, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Thanks for that post! The words you speak are true. My husband was a pastor up until last month, when they told us and our 6 children to get out and leave the parsonage because he put his family in front of them, the congregation. It was a rush to find a place we could afford to live and then move so quickly with no help from anyone. We pray to not become bitter, and to teach our children to love those who do abandon and hurt us. God is faithful and to Him be the Glory.

    • Nathan February 26, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      Theresa – wow! I don’t even know what to say. I am so sorry you and your family went through this. If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know. While I grew up seeing some of the worst from so-called Christians, it was nothing like this. My wife and I will be praying for you, your husband and 6 kids, specifically that He would heal your broken hearts, keep you from bitterness and help you see the plans He has in store for you.

      Thank you for stopping by Theresa – let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

  11. Todd Pruitt February 26, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Thanks for this Nathan. As a pastor with three children I closely identify with everything you’ve written in this post. As a guy who is driven by the joy/labor of preaching as well as by relationships I know how challenging it can be to get through a typical week without feeling like I’ve let down scores of people.

    Elders and deacons desperately need training in how to care for their pastor. And it goes way beyond just requiring him to meet with an “accountability group” or to turn in a time log to make sure he’s spending enough time with his family. Those things can be very helpful. But if those helpful means are not accompanied by an abiding sense on the pastor’s part that he is loved, cared for, and prayed for, those other things will become just more burdensome laws.

    • Nathan February 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Todd – thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience! I think the problem is that most people just don’t understand the life of a pastor and his family. They find trouble relating to them because they view them differently somehow – at least that’s been my experience. Every church body is different of course, but I think it goes a long way when a pastor is approachable, transparent and open about the struggles of a pastor’s family – both to the surrounding leadership team, but also to the congregation. It also helps to form a tight bond with another group of families that you can trust and be accountable to, share your struggles and victories with.

      Thanks again Todd – prayed for you and your family today.

  12. kevin March 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Great stuff. 180% agree. We love to put them on a pedestal, then tear them down. All while offering no support. Good thoughts Nathan.

  13. bill (cycleguy) March 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    I used to be one of those conference junkies you talk about here. After having been going to them for most of my ministry life (over 38 years) i decided enough is enough. I have gone to a Stcks Conference since I pastor a church in a small town & I have attended two Cataylst OneDay events (’09 & ’10). My girls are grown and gone, my wife works, but I am no longer hooked on going to conferences for the sake of “that sure sounds good.” I am much more content now, part of that I think, is for this reason. Good post Nathan.

    • Nathan March 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Bill, thanks for your comment. I’ve always been interested with the Catalyst events – never been to one and don’t know if I ever will, but it seems to me that it just further complicates and busies church leaders more than anything else. I’m sure it’s a very helpful and you can walk away with some great ideas, but I don’t know, maybe I’m off-base there. I think more than anything else, church leaders need to be reminded that it’s ok to say “no”.

  14. Kyle Reed March 10, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I see myself as a volunteer.
    I work hard to be available to ministry leaders to do some things that they need done so they can focus on their giftings.

    I know what it is like to be in ministry having grown up as a pastors kid as well as working at a church. So I try and allow them to be available throughout the day on Sundays and not be to clingy.

    • Nathan March 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by Kyle – I forgot that you were a PK too. I think anyone who’s grown up in a pastor’s home or any ministry leader’s home for that matter can walk away with a very unique perspective of things – sounds like you’ve found your niche as a volunteer. I can definitely see that, from watching some of what you’ve done online.

  15. Justin March 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Hey Nathan – great post brutha.

    I serve on our tech team ministry – I run sound in one of our venues (Re:new). I also host that same venue as a backup when our Pastor is out of town or speaking in our Live service.

    Such a great reminder to lift up our leaders. They sustain a tremendous weight that many of us are not familiar with.

    • Nathan March 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by Justin and for your comment. The one thing most pastors and ministry leaders have in common is that they’re terrible at asking for help or admitting that they need help. So that weight they carry around, they usually carry it alone. It’s tough for people to understand and remember that though unless they’re aware of it – unfortunately, it’s just not something that’s talked about often, but should be.

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