When Leaders Fail You, Who Do You Follow?

I heard about another pastor who fell into sexual sin this week.

My heart hurts for the congregations and families involved.

This recent news brings up some feelings in me as I’ve watched a friend and mentor fall into sin in recent weeks.

As I’ve processed and walked through this situation with friends and some in my congregation, certain feelings people have expressed have made total sense to me.

Feeling of…

…Sadness
…Anger
…Betrayal
…Loss
…Fear

But there’s another emotion/ attitude that I’m a bit surprised by.

It’s the attitude that says, “We don’t follow a man; we follow Jesus”. The idea is, they may have listened to that pastor every week and served in the church, but they were never “following” him. Instead, they were following Jesus exclusively.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus, not any other person, died for us. There is no Savior besides Jesus, period.

However, is it really true what people are saying, that they only follow Jesus and not men?

I’ve had people tell me that following a man is wrong.

I must disagree.

The apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

The writer of Hebrews said, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Here’s my point: it’s not wrong to follow a leader. In fact, we’re called to do so.

A pastor or leader should not be the object of our faith, but if they are a leader worth their salt, they should be influencing and informing our faith.

Pastors are shepherds and shepherds by nature, lead sheep to green pastures and quiet waters (See Psalm 23). Sheep follows shepherds. When it’s working as God intended, it is a beautiful thing.

To me, the “we don’t follow a man, we only follow Jesus” sounds very spiritual, but in actuality turns out to be uninformed and immature.

(I must admit that church leaders cause a lot of this confusion unintentionally. We talk about supporting the pastor’s vision and “holding the pastors arms up”. These are all good things, that is, until the pastor falls. If sin occurs, we backtrack and say, “It’s never been about a man; it’s all about Jesus here.” This line of thinking creates a false dichotomy. The reality is, if a pastor is worth following, supporting his vision as a leader will be all about Jesus.)

So what’s the right approach?

Realize that men of God are placed in our lives to build us up and help us grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

They are also men “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17) and have the capacity to fail us.

So we thank God for leaders who help us grow (Ephesians 4:11-12), but they do not become the object of our faith. When a leader becomes the object of our faith, the Bible calls that idolatry.

Instead, godly leaders help us follow Jesus more closely.

But to say we don’t follow any man is missing the point altogether and I believe, is simply masking the pain of disappointment because the man you followed let you down.

I rejoice that there are men I follow and I am honored there is a congregation of people who follow me as I follow Christ.

So here’s my encouragement to you: embrace the hurt. Feel the pain that comes from someone you trusted letting you down.

Allow this to lead you to draw closer to God than ever before.

Then, in an odd way, the leader who failed you will be doing what leaders are supposed to do… leading you closer to the Savior who loves you and died for you.

Measure Everything

My kids were walking around the house the other day with a tape measure. They were measuring the lamps, the walls, and each other. They were curious about how big things were and how they measured up compared to the other things they measured.

In the same way, I am a firm believer that church leaders should measure everything. Not for the sake of pride or comparison with other churches. Instead, it’s nearly impossible to evaluate and improve without measuring key areas of ministry.

Here’s what I mean: 

How do you know if your outreach dollars are well spend? You need to measure your first time guests and see how many people are showing up as a result of your marketing or personal invitation.

How do you know if your assimilation is operating on all 8 cylinders? You measure your 2nd time guests and see how many first timers are coming back.

How do you know if your baptism process is effective? Count up how many people have given their lives to Jesus, then divide that by those who have been baptized. If 100 people get saved at your church in the 1st 4 months of 2014 and 20 of those people have been baptized, then your baptism process is yielding a 20% response. (If you’re interested, 25%-30% is the average I’ve seen for baptism).

Too many leaders are leading based on feeling. Instead, lead with data.

The bottom line is, make measuring your progress a common practice in your church. Make it part of your culture. It will make all the difference as you make better decisions as a result.

Where Does the Pastor Go?

This story begins in late 2004.

There were some great things were happening in my life at this time…

…The Red Sox finally won the World Series after 86 long years

…The Patriots won another Superbowl

… I had lost 70 pounds and gotten to the lowest weight I had been since High School

But there were some other things going on that were keeping me up at night.

…things at my 3 year old church plant weren’t going so well

…My mother-in-law had gone to be with the Lord unexpectedly

…After 8 years of marriage, my wife and I weren’t able to have kids

There are other things going on (good and bad), but I was starting to melt down under the pressure of everything.

Here’s the worst part: I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to talk to.

I believe this is where many pastors find themselves.

They are in a place where they need to open up and talk to someone, but they have no “safe place” to be vulnerable.

Someone once said that being a Pastor can be harmful to your soul. At my worst moment in 2004, I believed that statement to be true.

I felt everything slipping away.

I checked all of the “gauges” on the dashboard.

… I was reading my Bible daily

…I was praying regularly

…My relationship with Carey was great

…I had friends who loved me

Yet in spite of all that, I was falling apart at the seems.

So what did I do?

Thankfully, I had a pastor-friend who just had a nervous breakdown (that is a very strange sentence).

I’m not glad he had the breakdown. However, what we shared with me, saved my life.

One night after eating sushi, I began to open up to him and share with him what was happening in my life.

I told him about my challenges at church, Carey’s mom’s death, and the feeling that God had forgotten me when it came to having kids.

My friend listened and gave me a name and a telephone number.

He said, “Call this number. Do whatever the guy on the other end of the phone says.”

It turned out to be the number to a Christian counselor.

I went to see him later that week.

It was a weird feeling.

I have counseled thousands of people in my life, but I had never been on the other side of the desk.

I sat on the counselor’s couch and just cried.

I couldn’t even get a word out for 10 minutes.

Once I regained my composure, I opened up to him and shared what was happening in my life.

This counselor was a former pastor and a good man who took an interest in me and my wellbeing.

I went to see him every week for a few months and it was the best money I have ever spent.

I tell people going a counselor saved my life.

If you aren’t a Pastor, this seems pretty normal; going to someone to get help.

If you are a minister, you know how hard this is.

Pastors are looked at as the men who have all the answers.

We’re the ones who are supposed to have perfect families; perfect lives; and always know the right verse to solve any problem.

That’s just not the way it works.

So if you’re a Pastor, I want to encourage you to make sure you have 5 inputs in your life. I believe these are the things God use in my life to save me from the despair I was in.

#1 – Personal Bible Reading

I was reading the Bible regularly during my dark time. While that alone didn’t pull me out, I believe ignoring God’s Word would have put me in a much worse place.

#2 – Personal Prayer 

Prayer has always been a challenge for me. I more of a doer than a contemplative type. However, constant communication with the Lord was so important even if at the time I felt like my prayers weren’t getting passed the ceiling.

#3 – Real Friends

Pastors need real friends who aren’t impressed by them. I need friends who don’t think of me as “Pastor Bob”. The larger our church gets, the harder this is. It means I need to cherish the friends I have and seek out life-giving relationships all the more.

#4 – Real Mentors 

This is one of the things I was missing in my life.  Today, I have one person who is like a dad to me and this is one of the relationships that mean the most to me.

#5 – Professional Help

I believe seeing a counselor is a great investment of time and resources. While I haven’t seen a counselor in nearly a decade, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. Sometimes the challenges of life are so great that we need someone who will walk with us, tell what we don’t want to hear, and lovingly push us to break through.

I look back at late 2004 as the worst season of my life. Yet, it was the most important time of my life. What I learned about the nature of God changed my life and ministry forever. What I learned about my past and how to deal with it permanently altered me for the better. God used that season of my life to reveal idols in my life that I didn’t even know I had.

Whenever I talk about this, I tell people, “It was the greatest season of growth in my life, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

Here’s the bottom line: If you’re a Pastor who wants to finish well, you need to pace yourself. You need the right people in your life. You need to deal with your junk and allow God’s healing in your life. God loves you beyond what you do for Him in ministry. He loves you, period. He wants to work in you if you’ll allow Him. If you need help, get it. If you need friends, reach out. If you need Him, call on Him. He’s waiting.

 

The #1 Quality a Leader Must Possess

Often, churches are stuck because the leader doesn’t feel the need to learn new skills, which is the height of arrogance. We must be learning new skills continually because we live in an ever-changing world. Rick Warren is famous for saying, “The day we stop growing, we’re dead in the water.” There are myriad places for us to gain new skills, but it begins with a decision to stop “doing what we’re doing” and get serious about our growth.

Think about these statistics from the American Booksellers Association:

80 percent of all Americans did not read a book this year.

70 percent of American adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

58 percent of Americans never read a book after high school.

42 percent of university graduates never read another book.

Another study reports that only 14 percent of people go into a bookstore and leave with a book in their hands. Shockingly, only 10 percent of those people read past the first chapter. 

What do these statistics tell you? They tell me that most people aren’t concerned with improving themselves. Instead, they’re concerned with comfort and ease. People who read spend about two hours reading a week. Yet, the average American spends 2,000 hours a year watching television. Here’s my point: I have a saying that I tell my staff all the time—“I’ve never had a problem that I couldn’t read my way out of.” A lack of education and learning new skills are primary reasons churches today are stuck.

The “I’m not an Evangelist” Excuse

I am amazed God has allowed Calvary Fellowship to be such an evangelistic church.

Seriously. We see unchurched people coming to know Jesus every single week.

The reason I’m so amazed is because I’m not an evangelist. I’m a Bible teacher. That’s my sweet spot. Teaching through books of the Bible and feeding God’s people is where I’m most comfortable.

While teaching is my primary gifting, my passion is to see lost people found. Nothing gives me greater joy than to see a lost person give their life to Jesus and start growing in their faith.

I know a lot of Pastors who aren’t evangelists (like me) in gifting think we get some sort of pass for not having to preach the Gospel. So we ignore the opportunities to “draw the net” and see people come to faith in Christ.

Can I be honest? I think it’s a cop out. Even if you aren’t an evangelist, we still have to “do the work of an evangelist”.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of reasons.

First, I have a book on outreach and evangelism for Pastors coming out on September 15th (Pull: Making Your Church Magnetic). If you would have told me 10 years ago that I was going to write a book on that topic, I would have told you to get your medication adjusted.

Second, Calvary’s 13th anniversary is on September 22nd and we are in the middle of the greatest evangelistic season in our history.

Our story didn’t start out with people giving their lives to Jesus every week. It started with my wife and I and 5 people in a living room. It started with us not reaching anyone in those first 18 months because “I wasn’t an evangelist”. Then I woke up to this fact: God wanted to use our church to reach lost people if I would simply get over myself. The result has been 2,000 people saved in the last 2 years at Calvary.

So let me share 4 thoughts that I think will help you:

#1 – One of the reasons churches stay small is because of the Pastor’s mindset. The Pastor says he isn’t an evangelist and the rest of the church follows suit. When the Pastor changes his mindset, that’s half the battle. Start believing God can use you to lead people to Christ.

#2 – Pastors get frustrated because they employ bad strategies.  I have a belief that if you do the opposite of what the average church does, you’ll probably grow. We need to stop doing outreach that isn’t well thought out. Good coaching can help. Good planning can help too.

#3 – Start Preaching the Gospel. Even if you aren’t gifted in evangelism, God can still use you. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day. You may never lead evangelistic crusades, but God will use you to lead people to Christ.

#4 – When you make evangelism a priority, your church will make evangelism a priority.  When I started presenting the Gospel in all of our services, unchurched people started attending all of our services. When you present the Gospel each Sunday, it becomes part of the culture of your church and your ministry takes on an evangelistic flavor.

What this world needs is faithful preachers who present the Gospel out of a passion for God and a love for people. Who knows, you may find God blesses it and you start to think you’re gifted as an evangelist.