Why Pastors Can Get Disillusioned By Church

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Yes, pastors can get disillusioned by church too. 

See when we think about someone who's disenchanted by the church, we have our usual "go to" scenarios. 

We think of the young millennial who was disappointed by a church leader. We think of the volunteer who served above and beyond only to be replaced by a "better" volunteer. Or we think about the person who grew up in a church that hammered the Bible but felt pressured by its culture. 

But the truth is, good pastors can also be disappointed and dissatisfied by the realities of what church life actually entails in contrast to their own dreams, hopes, and expectations. 

We may find this to be odd since it's a pastor's job to love and serve the church. So why would this be the case?

Though there are many reasons, here are 4 reasons why pastors can get disillusioned by church:


1. There's a ScoreboarD CONFLICT


When a pastor first senses his call, it's usually pure and simple: He wants to teach the Bible and see people come to Jesus. That's the scoreboard. 

So the pastor is excited when he gets his first call from a local church and sits down for a job interview and is grilled with a lot of questions about his theology (what he believes). "I've prepared for this" he thinks.

But what he isn't prepared for is how the church's supposed concern for theology rapidly shrinks soon after he gets the job. The concern shifts away from what he believes (knows) to what he can do (performance) and how he plans to implement his ideas (philosophy), which are often calculated by attendance and giving. It soon becomes about the numbers, the very things he wasn't interested in in the first place.

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There's a new and competing scoreboard. But this scoreboard feels personal. This scoreboard can determine his livelihood. If people come and give, he feeds his family and is recognized as "called and gifted." If people don't come, he'll sell used cars.

This puts the pastor in a strange place where some of his purest desires and passions come into tension and conflict with other important realities. 

I'm not saying numbers don't matter. They absolutely do. I'm just saying this is a tightrope pastors walk on. 


2. Gifting Matters More Than originally Told


Pastors are told during their seminary years that it's not about gifting but godliness. They hear the classic line, "Talent can take you there, but character keeps you there." They believe it. They swallow it up. 

But once they engage in church ministry, things can feel a little different. Some begin to feel like their more gifted friends have opportunites not presented to them. They find their friends preaching at events they weren't asked, leading ministry sizes they can't mirror, and having the public recognition they themselves long for. Their deepest suspicions begin to align with reality: Character may be king, but competence is queen

"Well, talent matters in every industry."

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Yes, but not every industry directly labels your abilities to the divine. Pastors who are unsually talented are described by people as being "used by God." But a pastor who is "ok" not great is labeled "faithful" or a "a good man."  

Notice who the actor is in how we characterize these pastors? God apparently acts upon and on behalf of the more talented pastor whereas the faithful pastor is the actor (which explains his ministry right?). 

Of course, every pastor has some measure of gifting and every pastor must work hard no matter how gifted, but this is the narrative pastors wrestle with.  


3. The MUDDY tension of organization vs. church


The average person who works a 9-5 job wears 1 simple hat for his or her company: employee or employer.

This is the not the case for the pastor. He wears a hat as a servant of the church and a hat as the employee (or employer) of the organzation. He sits in perpetual duality. 

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Think about the average lead pastor who leads his own staff. In most church contexts, he has to function as a boss and the pastor to his own staff. Those are very different hats that sometimes lead to nuanced situations. How does he deal with an underperforming employee? How should he handle compensation? It's very complicated. 

Think about the average associate pastor. Is he allowed to bring up compensation issues (as an employee) or is he supposed to keep quiet (as a servant)? If he wants greater upward mobility and opportunity, is it selfish for him to bring that up to the church or should that be expected and celebrated since he's part of an organization? If he has a complaint, would he be bringing up a complaint against his boss or his pastor? He's not sure how to slice it up. 

I personally believe this is one of the biggest pressure cooker issues that deflate pastors and staff teams more than anything else. 


4. He'S NOT SURE what he IS to HIS own people


Pastors are many things to many people. 

For some, he is a performer of church activities who we expect to teach, give vision, plan events, and so forth. For other, he's a principle. He embodies a certain vision or idea we believe in, or he's the consistent principle who stands in our lives rhythmically once a week through all the ups, downs, and transitions of life.

But very few people see him for what he truly is when the sermon is done and the church pews have cleared out: A person. A person who often struggles with the same things other people do, who needs the same grace he preaches for others, and the same listening ear he gives for others. 

But this means that it's easy for a pastor to feel that if his ministry performance weakened or if his principles changed, the people's attitude and feelings towards him would change as well. So while he teaches that the church is about "gospel acceptance," he himself can sometimes feel excluded from the very gospel community he preaches and creates for others. 

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I know of pastors, even very gifted ones, who feel like they're just a walking "bag of gifts" for their churches. 

Sure, pastors should make the effort to experience community within their churches, but it's a mistake to assume everyone in the church really wants to see the humanity of their pastors. 


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS


Most pastors sincerely love God's church. 

Despite all the imperfections of the church, they believe God has divinely called them to serve the church and do their best to fight through their disillusionments, as they should. But it doesn't mean they don't struggle with the church at times. They do, and that's okay. 

If you're a church member, I encourage you to pray for your pastor(s). You'd be amazed by their humanity and some of the thoughts they have in their weaker moments. 

If you're a pastor, find a brother(s) you can process and talk out these things with. Sometimes, the best thing is not for someone to give you the right answers, but someone who affirms that you're not as crazy as you think, enabling you to better normalize the abnormal tensions of the pastor life. 

And in the end, may we press into Christ for He alone can be our refuge and shelter. 

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ."

2 Corinthians 2:14-17