The Painful Side of Leadership

I heard about this book about a year ago, well before it was published. As soon as I heard the title, I pre-ordered it. Pain in something very leader, especially a church leader experiences. It is part of the territory, part of the calling. While leadership is a blast and I can’t imagine my life not as a pastor, it is hard work.

Dealing with criticism, sin in your life, sin in the lives of others, hiring, firing, making decisions, having people judge your actions, reactions, house, the car you drive, clothes you wear, even where you go on vacation and how you raise your kids. Pastors have all of these things judged by those who follow them. Sometimes publicly, but more often, behind their backs.

There is a sense of ownership among those who attend church, usually a good thing, but can lead to a sinful place when you begin to feel like you own those who lead you. Because, as the thinking goes, I pay their salary. What I have found though (in most cases) those who talk the loudest, complain the most about not being able to see the pastor or having their needs met are usually coming from those who do not honor God with their finances, are not connected and are really carnal people (but act like they aren’t).

This is what The Painful Side of Leadership by Jeff Iorg deals with.

But you may ask, aren’t all leadership positions painful? Yes, they are. The difference for pastors from other help professionals like a counselor or a doctor is that when you go to them, you are know you are in trouble. When you go to a pastor, you often believe you are okay and don’t need help.

Pastors go into leadership in a church with the goal of helping people, of wanting to do great things for God. This is not bad, the problem is that it isn’t what we are called to do. “Most leaders easily forget their primary reason for being placed in their leadership role. The primary reason isn’t for you to do things for God. It’s so God can use your leadership setting as a laboratory for shaping the image of Jesus in you.” Now, we can do great things for God and help people, but becoming more like Jesus is always the goal. The amazing thing is that Jesus is our example, what we are called to become and he suffered. He had it hard. A lot. He died for the sins of the world. As leaders, we need to expect it to be hard. This should not surprise us.

The apostle Paul is a great example. The more God used him, the harder it got. The painful it became. Our problem often is that we expect to be easy, but as Iorg points out, “God’s ultimate purpose isn’t your happiness.” Read that line again. If you get this concept, it changes everything. God’s ultimate purpose is His glory, not ours. Does it overlap? Sometimes. When it does, it is beautiful. When His glory does not overlap with ours, it can be painful if we want our glory instead of His.

This book was even more real to me when I read it because of preaching through the book of Nehemiah. The amount of criticism and opposition he experiences is incredible. I had someone ask me the other day, “Why are you preaching so much on opposition and criticism? Is life and leadership really that hard?” Apparently. It showed up in Nehemiah’s journal (ch. 1 – 6, 13 of the book of Nehemiah) in almost every chapter.

Here is a note to church goers. While leadership is painful, you can help not make it painful. Your pastor wants to see you grow, he wants to see your church reach as many people as possible, he wants to do what God has called him to and your church to. Don’t make it hard. Pray for him, his marriage, his children, his spiritual journey. Give him vacation and make sure he uses it. Give him time to get away with God.

One of the things I appreciate about Revolution is that our leaders strive to support Katie and I. The elder team has given me vacation and expect me to use everyday. I have been told how I am to spend my time each week, how much time to spend on my sermon, how much time I spend with leaders/staff, new people, etc. I have been told to not preach every week (a blessing for me and my church), but to make sure I preach a certain number of weekends. I have been told by the elder team to take one day a month and get away with God and my Bible to allow God to restore me. This is such a blessing that I do not take lightly. If this has not been defined for you as a pastor and church, do this. It will save so much pain and misunderstanding.

In turn pastors, when your church gets this. Don’t take advantage of this. Don’t be lazy. When you show up for work, pour your life into it. Give it everything you have. Nothing makes as mad as seeing lazy pastors. Pay the price, let God get the glory and allow your church to cheer you.

This is definitely a must read for any church leader. I have a feeling this book will make it onto my re-read list of books I read every year or every other year. It was that good and right on for pastors. If you aren’t a leader at your church, this is a good book to read to understand what your leaders go through and how you can support them and pray for them. It is hard work building a church and working with God to expand His kingdom. It is a burden that leaders carry. Make it easier for them.