No one sets out to be a horrible pastor, it just sort of happens. My guess is you aren’t reading this article to learn how to be more horrible as a pastor, but to make sure that you aren’t on the list. Sometimes horrible pastors are bad from the very beginning, but often they don’t start out that way. Their slide into horribleness is a gradual process. Being a horrible pastor is easy; you just need to love the wrong things.
Love your theology more than the church
A pastor with a theological hobby horse can do significant damage to a church. We’ve all seen the guy who comes in with a super dogmatic view of eschatology or election or church governance or whatever. Every sermon is his opportunity to convince you that his theological view is right. Every time he teaches he points out all the flaws in the other views. Everyone who doesn’t believe what he believes is just a heretic and should leave.
As a pastor we are called to be theologians. I love studying and teaching about God! But theology is never to be used as a club to beat people into my own image. As we teach and preach and lead it must be done with a lot of grace and patience and love. Not everyone will be at the same point in their understanding. It takes more time and effort, but we need to lovingly guide people along, not shame them into believing what we tell them to believe.
I want people to know and love the truth, but I recognize that there are some genuine gray areas. There is room for healthy disagreement. We should not be surprised or threatened when people have slightly different views than us.
A horrible pastor will insecurely defend his theology instead of lovingly shepherd the people of God.
Love church growth more than the church
For the past few decades we’ve been bombarded with books and seminars and articles on church growth. It has become its own industry. With so much attention given to church growth strategies it would be very easy for a pastor to start to think that numerical growth is the goal of the church.
A pastor who sees the church as a means of growing his little kingdom here on earth is a horrible pastor. They look right over the needs of the people in the pews in an attempt to attract new people. It is easy to mask selfish ambition for worldly success behind a call for greater evangelism.
There are things that a pastor can do to attract more people to the church building that have little to do with the gospel. Instead of merely striving to offer a better experience let’s work on feeding the sheep, discipling believers, and equipping the saints to go out and do the work of ministry.
A horrible pastor will love the imaginary people who don’t go to his church more than the real people who are already there.
Love the idea of church more than the church
With the explosive growth of the multi-site church it seems like some pastors have more of a heart for franchise expansion than they do for the local church. New sites are not planted in order to meet the needs of a community or to fill a void, but to spread a particular brand. There is an arrogance that assumes their way of doing church is the right way.
I think the idea of multi-site churches is awesome. My own church has used this method of growth. My problem is not with the method, but with the motives. Church expansion that is done with a genuine love for a community or a group of people is a great thing. But church expansion that is nothing more than empire building is ugly.
A pastor who loves the idea of church more than the actual church will be overly focused on the methods, mechanics, and image of the church. So much attention is given to following a list of tried and true methods that there is little time left for connecting with people. The result is a church service that feels more like a performance than a time of worship. People begin to feel used – like they are extras in a play rather than servants of God.
A horrible pastor will be enraptured with the idea of more churches without really loving the body of Christ.
Love yourself more than the church
Everyone struggles with pride and selfishness, not just pastors. But pastors are definitely not immune to pride. There are a million different ways that pride can creep up on us and destroy our ability to effectively minister. A horrible pastor will fail to control their selfishness.
Some guys take advantage of their open schedule and put in more hours on social media or at home than at work. There are lazy pastors who steal time from the church. More often pastors arrogantly think they are the glue that holds the whole church together; because there are times when it can feel that way. They work 60 or more hours a week, neglect their family and their health and even their time with God because they are so busy spinning plates. Their self-esteem comes from feeling important so they selfishly pile on as many responsibilities as they can. It looks like hard work, but it’s really just another form of selfishness.
Insecurity often leads to selfishness in ministry. Insecurity is a normal part of the life of a pastor. But if we act from our insecurity instead of from a humble love for others, we will be bad pastors. Insecurity causes some guys to try and please everyone. That’s not possible, and sometimes a little discomfort in the pews is a healthy thing. Insecurity will cause us to angrily defend ourselves in the face of opposition, instead of lovingly listening. Insecurity will make us more concerned with protecting our ego than serving those in the church.
A horrible pastor will use the ministry to meet their own needs.
Feed His Sheep
As Jesus sat with Peter by the fire He asked a simple question, “Do you love me?” Peter’s answer was equally simple, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Three times Jesus asked this question and three times Peter said that he did love Jesus. This reinstating of Peter came on the heels of his selfish denial of Christ. Peter is reminded three times that a true love of Jesus will result in a love of other people. Feeding Jesus’ sheep is how we actively show our love to Him.
If we are not faithfully tending His lambs then our love is misplaced. If there is anything that we love more than Jesus, then we will be horrible pastors. How do you see the people within the church that you pastor? Are they annoyances? Are they obstacles to you accomplishing your plans? Are they merely tools that you use to accomplish your mission? Or are they children of God and collectively the body of Christ? Let’s love and serve them out of a deep love of Jesus!
About Andy Flowers
Andy has served as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodland, California since 2007. He graduated from the Doctor of Ministry program at Western Seminary in 2016. Andy is the author of Leading Through Succession: Why Pastoral Leadership is the Key to a Healthy Transition.