When the Lead Pastor is Broken

In my previous post I talked to you about a crazy dysfunctional staffing situation from the perspective of being a lead pastor. Well, here’s the flip side. What if you’re that staff person? What if you’re a staff person and your lead pastor is the crazy, messed up, dysfunctional one? What if the lead pastor is broken? What if the lead pastor is unethical or abusive in some way? 

This is actually unfortunately rather common. In fact, in transitional ministry that I’m engaged in and familiar with and hearing from other transitional pastors, in many cases, the situations we step into and the reason the church is in transition is because the lead pastor was out of line. 

And often it was for an extended period of time before the leadership of the local church or the denomination clued in, which managed to do a lot of damage, damage to the church, sometimes to the church’s reputation. If there are staff, they are damaged as well. In fact, often there are staff who’ve left before leadership figures out what this lead pastor is doing. 

So what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where the lead pastor is in some way broken and messed up? Well, it’s not easy. Number one, I would say Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Be careful that you don’t move into functioning like Absalom in relation to David, but that you want to function like David in relation to Saul. 

You should call for some advice from a distant mentor, preferably someone who is not in an authority position or directly involved in the situation. Get some input from that mentor. If you don’t have distant mentors, you dig your well before you’re thirsty and develop mentoring people in your life who you can call for advice. Cultivate some of those relationships if you have to. You really need to do that no matter what stage of ministry you’re in. 

At a certain point, you may need to talk to those in authority, which can feel like an end run. The problem is that sometimes there’s no clear guidelines of what to do. I think I’ve mentioned before what I share with church staff that I work with. If they have issues with me and for some reason don’t feel like they come to talk to me or they try and I rebuff them, they can talk to any two elders together in the church and can share freely and call them in to be involved. 

You also want to make sure that you’re documenting stuff. We’re not talking about situations where your feelings are hurt because somebody said something sideways or steps on your toes. We’re talking about an ongoing continued messed up situation. You want to document what’s going on with details, dates, times, specific words spoken, and activities done. This is so you can show there’s a pattern and talk to those in authority. 

If there’s financial malfeasance, it’s easier because it’s concrete; dollars and cents. And you don’t need to feel bad about reporting that to whoever you need to report it to the local church authorities, possibly denominational, or even the police if needed. You can just go ahead and do that. So you talk to your board and or denomination and document things. 

But given your specific situation or the polity you find yourself in, you might find yourself in an independent church where there is no outside accountability and where the lead pastor has free reign and are the most influential person, and they hold the leadership under their thumb. You may just need to speak your mind clearly in verbal and with written backup, and you may need to be prepared to leave voluntarily or involuntarily. 

It’s important that you, again, guard your heart. It’s also important that you guard your health. And it’s important that you do not do or say anything that you would need to go back and apologize for, and you leave with a clear conscience. Because if your trajectory is right, which means if your heart is right, if you’re doing what’s right, and the overall direction of your life is right, time is your friend. If the trajectory is wrong, time is your enemy. And if this lead pastor is out of line, time is their enemy and it will come home to roost, but it’s probably not up to you to be the judge, jury and executioner. 

As I mentioned in the last podcast, I pray for wisdom and perseverance for those in leadership and that’s really how you need to pray for yourself in this situation as well. Wisdom and perseverance to know what you ought to do when you need to do it and persevere and endurance until the time is right. 

So wisdom, grace, and perseverance to you, especially if you’re in one of those situations. If you have absolutely no one to talk to, feel free to reach out and contact me. I’d love to walk with you through that challenging situation. 

God bless. Press on. 

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