“How to Fail As a Pastor” 1/9/02
It just may happen that you find yourself in a position that you really want to get out of, and the best way to accomplish it is to get fired. If this is so, the following advice will be of utmost help. If you only want to fail a bit, then try just a few of these techniques. But, if you really want to blow it, then apply yourself to all of them, and you will find yourself on the road in short order. These are not listed in order of importance or execution, but simply the order I thought of them.
1. Discern a vision for the congregation, and pursue it, but do not clearly communicate it. This will be tricky, but it can be done. Discerning a vision may well be the easy part. Pray, look, listen, study, and ideas will begin to gel for you. A vision for a congregation should employ the gifts of those present in the congregation, but be large enough that they can not accomplish it without God’s help. In pursuing the vision, you may make strategic moves along the way, such as purchasing property, adjusting worship services, and the like. There will be some who will favor these changes, and some who will oppose them. Either way, be sure not to mention that these changes are necessary to accomplish the vision that you have not cast before them. Otherwise they may be willing to make the sacrifices necessary.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, visit people in their homes, whether or not you enjoy this aspect of ministry. If you get into people’s homes, you may well get to know them and they you. The better people know each other, the more likely they are to be patient and forgiving with one another in their mistakes and the more trusting they will be during times of change and transition. You would also find yourself ministering to them in their times of personal crisis, because they would perceive you as interested in them and what is going on in their lives. This would sabotage your attempts at failure.
3. Do not establish predictable routines. If you become predictable, then people become comfortable with you. Also, you are more likely to be productive if you have some routines for when you study and when you do visitation and when you do administration. Productivity will spell disaster. If you are productive then even if the church is not growing people will likely be satisfied with your ministry, and you might be able to stay for a very long time.
4. Do not select a group of leaders to cultivate. Keep at arms length all those with any perceivable gifts for ministry. Otherwise, a cohesive team might develop, which again would result in productivity (see 3 above) and intimacy (see 2 above). If such a team develops, you have no one to blame but yourself.
5. Do not grow spiritually. In this, your biggest trap will be regular and disciplined prayer and study. If you develop these patterns in your ministry, they will be difficult to brake. You will find yourself being nourished and encouraged and growing in wisdom and faith. All of this will better equip you for casting and leading toward a vision (task 1 above) and responding to the emotional and spiritual needs of people that they bring to you (as a result of #2).
6. Do not give up control. People want to feel needed. One way they will is if they have a place to serve and have some control and authority in that role. By maintaining some control over them, you prevent them from developing a sense of worth and value in their ministry, which will help keep them dissatisfied. Parishioner satisfaction will be devastating to your attempts at failure.
7. Do not get a clear understanding of the congregation’s expectations. If you should accidentally happen upon such an understanding, do nothing to meet those expectations. Instead, set a completely different agenda for yourself.
8. Do not recognize that there are different constituents within the congregation who have the different needs and expectations. If you were to build relationships with members of all groups, it would be possible to balance the varying needs and expectations. Again, this would interfere with your attempt at failure. If you are not going to be able to meet someone’s need or expectation, be certain that you to not recruit, equip and support someone else in that ministry. This would again result in parishioner satisfaction, which is to be avoided at all costs.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are certainly other ways you could spend your time and energy as you strive toward failure as a pastor. None-the-less, if you will employ most or all of the above techniques, it would be take miracle for you not to fail. And, since you are avoiding intimacy with God (see #5), the likelihood of anything miraculous happening in your ministry is slim. And, lest you think that this recipe for disaster is only speculation let me assure you that I have tried it myself and found it to work wonderfully.
“6. Do not give up control. People want to feel needed. One way they will is if they have a place to serve and have some control and authority in that role. By maintaining some control over them, you prevent them from developing a sense of worth and value in their ministry, which will help keep them dissatisfied. Parishioner satisfaction will be devastating to your attempts at failure.”
I wonder about an expansion to this one. It seems control to some degree is vested by the congregation in the position of pastor. And is needed. Or would you call it oversight or guidance instead? control prevents sense of worth and value, but oversight or guidance is affirming and empowering?
Assuming so, then guidance and course correction would seem to require careful, prayerful communication. If someone publicly takes initiative in a less than preferred direction, how do you provide guidance without publicly undermining the credibility of the person you are guiding? Stepping in to course correct publicly for them, rather than allowing them to provide the course correction under your guidance, would be for you to assume control again… thus devaluing their initiative and sense of worth, not to mention undermining or destroying their credibility to the others.
In summary, I am wondering if you would also include undermining the credibility of those who show initiative as another important step towards this goal of “do not give up control.”
Perhaps, though we may be thinking about the word control differently. I don’t think congregations intend to give clergy control, but rather to bestow authority and influence. I think of control as power over, rather than power for or power with.
If someone has received authority to function and needs some course correction, then a public dressing down would tend to demotivate. Better to find a private way, or at least to lead with by saying, “Yes, and…” rather than simply wresting power from someone. It also depends on the importance of the competing interests or values.
My point, though, is that leadership needs to be shared, whatever labels are assigned.
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