Pastoring: the Job is Tougher than You Think


Years ago I heard Bill Hybels speak on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power.”  The occasion was the Sunday Morning service at the end of a pastor’s conference.  Pastor Hybel’s words rang true then and now for ALL ministry leaders.

Bill Hybels on “Leading a Church”

I believe that the church is the most leadership intensive enterprise in society.  And, this is not obvious to the casual observer.  I have a friend who runs a company with about 3000 employees, and he says when he settles down after an early retirement, he’d like to lead a church.  He says it doesn’t have to be a great big Willow Creek style church, just 5000-6000 to keep him from getting bored.  And, I tell him that he’s in for the shock of his life.  I tell him this is going to ruin his retirement years, because I think the church demands a much higher and more complex form of leadership than business does.

Now, running a business is challenging, but the leader of a company has a fairly obviously defined playing field and enormous leverage with his employees.  He delivers his product or his service to paid staff who get it done, or they just get replaced by someone else who will.  But, the church doesn’t operate that way.  It can’t, and it shouldn’t.

How many of you have read books about the phenomenal leadership exploits of military commanders?  I’ve read stories about Napoleon and De Gaulle and Eisenhower and MacArthur and Patton, and I don’t want to minimize their capabilities or their courage, but I wonder as I read these stories what it would be like for some of these leaders to work with deacons before they charge up a hill.  I wonder how these leaders would act if they had to subject their plans to a vote involving the very people they have to lead into battle.  Or, the topper, I wonder how the whole system would work if you took away the leadership leverage of the court-martial.

Even I could build a church if I had that kind of leverage.  “Teach Sunday School, or go to the brig.”  And, the offering plate goes by, and you check and you say, “You call that an offering?  You drop down and give me 50.”  I mean, that’s leverage, isn’t it?  I don’t have that kind of leverage.  You don’t have that kind of leverage.

As I walk around my campus, nobody salutes me.  They do gestures once in a while, but I guarantee you, it’s not a salute.  I’m telling you, leadership in business and leadership in the military is challenging, but it’s different and it’s less complex.  It’s easier doing that than it is leading a church.

1.  The church is utterly voluntary.  In the final analysis, we have virtually no real power over anyone.  I mean, we have to cast out the Gospel message and hope and pray that people will respond to it.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, they who labor will labor in vain.” And, unless people voluntarily jump on-board at our church, spiritually motivated and willing to follow the vision and the mission and the purpose of our church, we have no power to get them to do it otherwise.  So, the church is utterly voluntary.  It’s much harder to lead a voluntary organization than it is one with just paid staff.

2.  Second, the church is utterly altruistic.  It took me a long time to figure this out.  When you lead a business, you can hire a bright, energetic, young employee – you can seek to hire one – and you can say, “Now, here’s the deal.  Here’s our vision.  This will be your part in it.  Here’s your salary, your perks, your car, your phone, your fax, your computer, your secretary, your office, your vacation plan.  If you work real hard, in five years we’ll make you a partner.  We’ll give you some profit-sharing.  You’ll make lots of money, and lots of perks; you’ll have more time off.  And, when we sell this company fifteen or twenty years from now, we’ll all walk away transcendentally wealthy.  Are you interested?  Who wouldn’t be?  What’s not to like?

What do we get to tell perspective church members?  Well, we start by saying, “You’re a depraved, degenerated sinner who is in trouble for all eternity, unless you get squared away with Jesus Christ.”  And, we call that the good news.  And, then, we say, “If and when you get squared away with Jesus Christ, then we’re going to ask you to commit five or six hours a week to service, two or three additional hours a week for training and discipleship.  We’re going to ask you to join a small group where your character flaws are going to get exposed and chiseled away at mercilessly.  We’re going to ask you to come under the authority of elders, give a minimum of 10% of all your earnings.  You get no special parking place, no special privileges, no voting rights, no vacation benefits, and no retirement program.  But, trust us, God will make sure it all comes out in the end in eternity.  Form a line.”

Can you see the difference here?  People can.  I’m overstating the case a bit to make the point.  But, sometimes, we just have to come to terms with what we’re really up against when we’re trying to lead and grow and build churches.  It’s hard.  Sometimes people in business in our churches will give us free advice on how we should be doing it right.

How we need to just “get a grip” and all of these kinds of things.  And, with no malice in my heart, sometimes I just say to folks in business in my church, “Friends, it’s not that easy.  This is a voluntary organization.  This is a church.  People must be motivated altruistically.  There’s no leverage.  It’s different from business.”  I really believe that local church work demands a higher and more complex form of leadership than any other enterprise in society.

And, just a little P.S. here:  Most of us who are leading churches can’t even devote full-time effort to doing so, because along with leading our churches, we’re expected to give one or two slam-dunk messages every week and a few marriages and funerals and baby dedications on the side.  And, so, we can’t even devote our full efforts to it.  It’s hard, friends.  And, sometimes, if you find church leadership hard, just back off and exhale and say, “Maybe it feels hard because, as a matter of fact, it is hard.”  And, maybe you can just kind of relax in that for a time.


Copyright Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

3 Replies to “Pastoring: the Job is Tougher than You Think”

  1. Dear Dr. Parrott,

    God bless you and Shirley in your ministry. We really soaked you up this past week in your teachings, personal style, sensitivity to Holy Spirit in our midst and giving us the beautiful gift of knowing one another more. I am richer and more contemplative as a result, as well as being more equipped for ministry this summer and beyond.

    I particularly appreciated how you honored each us as we shared, even with our different styles of learning and communicating our thoughts, or needing that extra few minutes to complete an exercise. No one was made to feel rushed, or foolish or like there was something wrong with them if they needed more explanation, etc.
    There was an abundance of grace.
    I hope to sit at your feet and learn again, God grant it, please.

  2. My name is Alvaro Chils a student of the Salvation Army College and I’m getting a class called My Soul Purpose with Dr. Richard Parrott. I just want to say that this class has touched my soul and has made me see things in another perspective regarding my soul.
    Tomorrow it will be a day that my soul will be exposed to memories from the past. I have to talk about Soul Journey. Dr. Parrott said in the beginning of chapter #9 (My Soul Purpose) that “moving day is not so bad when you are a child, The people who care for you go with you and you can bring in a suitcase your most cherished possessions.”
    Like the Jews People living in an exile for many years, I remember the day I left Cuba, the place I was born and use to call home. I remember at the age of 13 years old, sleeping in a beach for 10 days with no food and them spending another 3 days in the water. I left everythng behind my friends, family, toys, etc; I don’t know how I looked when I was 13 or younger, I could not bring pictures in the trip. Then I arrived to an strange land, that did not speak the language, with different customs, where I was an alien, a stranger, and in an exile. For many, many years my soul asked me questions that I could not answer. Then, a lot of confusion arrived to my soul. I was no more a citizen of Cuba, nor a citizen of U.S.A. The journey of my soul through many years have made me understand that I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thank you Dr. Parrott for being here teaching this week, and being a mentor in the purpose of my soul.

  3. I have been in your intensive class all week, and have very much enjoyed it. This class has not only been informative and engaging but brought much growth to the participants. I have contemplated much upon the message I heard; I won’t give up on you if you don’t give up on yourself. If I had heard this as a child it is hard to imagine where I might be today.
    God as taken me far but on a human accademic level I will tell you I would have gone much further if people could have said, “I believe in you.” I rewrote my original paper to submit not because it was bad not because it was a critique but simply because I thought I could do it better. You have motivated me to try to be my best. I don’t mind that at all in fact this is the fresh wind we all need right here and right now. You have become more than our instructor you have become our friend. God’s continued blessing and wisdom be upon you.

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