By Gary Sinclair

Gary has been married to Jackie since 1976 and has served in full-time pastoral roles since 1989. Prior to that he was a teacher and counselor at a Christian school in Michigan where he and Jackie met. They have two adult children and six grandsons. He is a gifted speaker and Bible teacher and currently also coaches, consults, speaks, writes and trains leaders. He’s been certified by the John Maxwell Team and his website is: www.neverquitclimbing.com

    Pastoral Ministry: Passion or Addiction?

    Wednesday, April 12, 2023

    Pastor Brett has served as lead pastor at Compassion Church for nineteen years. Brett and wife Janie love the people and the vision at CC and very thankful for their recent growth. When Brett came to CC, he hit the ground running. He had become somewhat of a superstar in his very first church as people loved his youthful exuberance, positive attitude and attention to detail.

    So, when the church called, he was ready and eager for the new challenge of taking an up-and-coming larger church like CC to the next level. He pulled together several key support staff, was given a group of hard-working, involved Elders and seemed well-received as the main teacher each weekend.

    He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty either and tried to be at most of the all-church events each month. He made sure he was personally aware if not involved in as many of the teams, their initiatives and decisions as possible.

    Over the years, under Brett’s leadership Compassion Church grew as hoped and Brett was now a well-respected leader in the community.  People from other churches looked to him for wisdom, coaching and his wise counsel when time allowed. If you asked Brett, he was confident he was in his sweet spot at Compassion Church.

    He knew too that the congregation as a whole saw him as a hard-working, sacrificial servant leader who they believed gave his all for Christ, the church and the community. Things couldn’t be better. Or could they?

    The problem is that as commentator and speaker, the late Paul Harvey, would be saying at this point, “And now the rest of the story.” What people, including most of the leaders, didn’t see was that Pastor Brett had brought significant baggage to his two major ministries including CC.

    First of all, Pastor Brett grew up in a very demanding home, including a dad he could never please and a mom who was afraid to stand up to his father. Brett spent most of his middle school and senior high years hoping just once to have his dad be proud of him. Mom offered compliments at times but was reticent to say anything too positive fearing her husband’s reaction.

    As a result, Brett spent a lot of time and energy keeping the peace, being nice and not ruffling anyone’s feathers. He hungered for affirmation but only got a few crumbs here and there. He didn’t realize it, but pleasing his parents, especially dad, was going to become a lifelong goal.

    That’s why when he received his first church assignment, he was thrilled to learn that he could perform well, work hard and get people to tell him how great he was. Their accolades were like a cup of cold water in the desert. And Brett simply couldn’t get enough.

    Sadly, his new ministry, instead of becoming a fresh, passionate commitment to serve others became a hidden stash of leadership crack. Ministry wasn’t the profession and ministry he loved as much as a hidden addiction that he fed.

    And like the use of any illicit drug, Brett could never get enough. He could never hear enough praise. He so wanted words that affirmed he was okay. So, he kept setting up his schedule, perks, speaking opportunities and even community meetings so he would look good.

    He made sure that he received the prime speaking times, publicity in the local paper or websites and interviews from television and radio about special events.

    Yet few, if any, realized what Brett was doing. That’s because his addiction was socially acceptable. Who doesn’t want a pastor who works hard, sacrifices his time and gives his all every week. They wanted an “all-in” pastor who gave his life and energies to growing the church, reaching people for Christ and making disciples.

    How could those results be the fruit of an addiction?

    There were a few who noticed Brett’s problem and didn’t see it as the efforts of a servant leader. One of those was his wife June. At first, she welcomed Brett’s busyness and was confident that he was trying to be the best pastor he could be. But over the years, she saw Brett more and more driven, angrier than he used to be and always pressuring his team to perform better and do more.

    In fact, a number of his key staff have moved on to other churches and ministries. June didn’t always know the details as to why staff left, but there had been several departures under some dark clouds that seemed to be tied to Brett’s leadership style.

    If only Brett knew that he will never be all the pastor he could be if he’s demanding that people like him, think well of him, and applaud him for his service. And his elders may or may not see the problem unless they are willing to face the problem, go beneath the surface and lovingly confront Brett.

    I have a favorite phrase that I’m confident is true: If you let something continue, it will. Brett is not going to change on his own. He’s too dependent upon his ministry drugs.

    Unfortunately, there are many other Brett’s in our churches who entered ministry for wrong reasons. They live for the perks, the accolades, the status, the power and the position, all of which make them feel special, important, purposeful and loved.

    As a result, they don’t delegate, want to have their finger on every major decision, and expect their leadership team to approve all their choices and initiatives. The Brett’s run the meetings themselves and rarely give other leaders the freedom to take charge and grow in their position.

    There are several common signs that may indicate you or someone you know has crossed the addiction line in ministry or is headed that way:

    They show little positive regard for the team or ministry in general. Nothing seems to be good enough anymore. The staff are always being pressured to do more. There are few compliments and way-to-go’s. They don’t use the word perfection much, but most of the staff still feel like that’s the goal.

    New, random ideas are introduced all the time but there’s little follow through. Because things are never good enough, Brett keeps thinking there’s a better way or another idea that the church should implement to be successful.

    Unfortunately, many of these ideas are on the table one week and gone the next, replaced by something else. The leader just feels better that at least they’ve talked about that issue.

    Preaching has a more negative tone with higher expectations for the congregation in general. Angry pastors usually show their anger in the pulpit at some point. And appropriate passion has its place but not when it’s used to demand change for all the wrong reasons.

    There’s little talk of praise or thanks for God’s provision. Everything said publicly has a critical undertone, covered by the excuse that God wants our best so we ought to give it.

    The pastor gradually detaches from meaningful connections with key staff, leaders and past congregational relationships. The pastor becomes more interested in accomplishments, books to be written, associations to join, boards to serve on and less interest in helping church attenders grow, serve and be blessed.

    Some pastors even move their office away from the main offices claiming they need more peace and quiet.

    There’s more and more strain on the pastor’s marriage and family and little comments, eruptions, and disagreements about ministry versus priorities are becoming more and more common. And believe me, most spouses know there’s a problem but don’t want to upset their spouse or hinder the ministry in any way.  But they will hinder the ministry if they don’t say anything.

    So, what do we do if we’re honest enough to admit we have a problem and need help?

    Find a group that specializes in helping troubled pastors/leaders. Get connected and meet regularly.

    Have a meeting with staff and explain what’s been going on and how things will start to change. Explain that some tasks are going to be shared, not done by the senior pastor all the time, and work more as a team.

    Set a moratorium on new projects, at least those coming from the senior pastor’s office. And if a new project idea starts to percolate, then share it with the team as you consider the idea.

    Skim your personal to-do list down to three things each day – period. Work on those three before you add any more.

    In three months, have another meeting with staff to review how things are going and how you are doing.

    Speak to each of the staff about their own private use of time, finances, ministry. Present a vision of what you believe God wants to do in your structure to prevent burnout or worse. Pray with each one. Commit together to a healthier lifestyle and ministry role.

    Restoring genuine passion and overcoming our addictive tendencies will take a while and likely some outside help. This is an opportunity for you to become the pastor you were intended to be, a shepherd, an honest fellow struggler, not afraid to look at yourself from the inside out.

    Isn’t that who Jesus really died for? If so, then He’s ready to help you take the next steps to finding the passion you’ve lost. Give him a chance.

    Help us continue providing resources of care for pastors and their families.

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