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What Your Pastor Really Wants You to Know But Can’t Tell You – Part 1

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Your pastor wants you to know, but he or she just can’t tell you.

Your pastor knows that too much transparency can be vocationally dangerous, depending on the level of honesty allowed in your church.

At the same time, if you knew these things, your faith life would be enhanced, you would understand your pastor’s leadership so much more clearly, and your leadership in your church would grow much more effective.

As I interact with pastors, I recognize they would love to speak frankly with their congregations about current realities and church dynamics.

Knowing not everyone’s up for that level of transparency from their pastor, allow us to speak for them for a moment.

Let me explain a few things that your pastor can’t tell you but really wants you to know. I’ll share three today and three more in a follow-up column tomorrow.

1. The political maneuvering required to get ministry done in this church is exhausting.

How many committees would need to sign off on that idea before taking another step? Who would hold this back if they aren’t personally involved? Which gatekeepers do we need to approach, knowing they could torpedo it if they want? Who are the undercover leaders who hold the keys to that kingdom?

On the one hand, every organization requires strategizing by its leadership in order to move ahead. That, in itself, is not unusual.

The other hand, though, holds the awareness that church is not like any other organization.

What’s different is that leaders do not hold the power of a paycheck or termination when it comes to motivating action. Those levers don’t exist.

Instead, leading proactive movement requires a very sophisticated understanding of how people function, not to mention the hypersensitive attachments we develop about our preferred way of being church.

Sometimes the sophisticated political maneuvering required to initiate otherwise simple ministries or make small changes is exhausting (moving the nametags from one place in the foyer to another, for example).

Your pastor wants you to recognize this dynamic, followed by pushing the church to focus on mission-advancing action and significant issues.

2. You will hear statements in sermons with which you disagree.

Guess what? This is normal.

Whenever we encounter the gospel, we quickly realize a gap exists between how we are living and to who we are called to become. Expect to be uncomfortable when the gap becomes apparent.

In addition to this, our sense of smell for anything even remotely political is on hyperdrive in our divided cultural context these days.

I can’t tell you how many pastors tell me their sermons are interpreted as political statements when they are sure 10 years ago the same sermons would not be heard politically.

Here’s what your pastor wants you to know: The gospel is political, just not partisan.

The gospel (when allowed to do its work in our lives) influences every area of life, including our politics. Yet, the gospel holds up a better way than any political party.

For Christ-followers, our higher loyalty is to Christ (stating the obvious, which obviously needs stating).

So, expect to read biblical passages that run counter to your political party’s platform. Expect to be challenged to live to a higher standard than your political party encourages.

The gospel cannot be captured by any political party, yet remains a higher, better way, which can influence our politics toward the better.

Your pastor wants you to embrace this dynamic, toning down your hyped-up reactivity when anything sounds remotely political.

3. The decline in Christian participation in this country makes serving as a pastor now more challenging than ever (in our lifetimes in this country).

We all recognize the environment in which we live is different than just a few years ago.

Large-scale cultural changes are afoot, with too many disciples responding by withdrawing from church participation.

As this happens, those who are participating are trying to make sense of it all.

One common, though misguided perspective is to blame leadership. “If our pastor were younger, a better communicator, visited more, (fill in the blank), then our church would be fine” is the usual way this goes.

As long as we continue to believe church-as-we-have-known-it will resonate with our community the same way it always has when done with sufficient excellence, we will blame leadership when we don’t see the results we expect.

The truth your pastor wants you to know is that no matter how much excellence we infuse into a way of being church that has aged out, it’s still reflective of a bygone culture.

At the same time, the Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to rise up in our churches, inspiring us with holy imagination and creativity.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog. It is used with permission.

Mark Tidsworth

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.