Why do we coddle and cower around our gigachurch pastors?
I spent two days last week at one of the larger churches in the country helping out with production for a new project, and no it’s not one of “our” churches and no I’m not going to give any more details because part of the problem is this phenomenon is not specific to this church. The problem is that the bigger these churches become, the more they revolve around the senior pastor and the less healthy that dynamic becomes.
Over my two days at this church I heard associate pastors wringing their hands about what Pastor X said at a staff meeting in January, speculating about what kind of mood he would be in the following day, coordinating details to the micro level so he wouldn’t be inconvenienced for a microsecond, appearing upbeat and energetic so as not to bring him down, discussing how best to handle the following day to “set him up for a win,” and basically behaving as if they are parents and he is a small child who must be kept happy despite missing his nap.
I found this immensely disturbing and was unable to play along. I always do and I always am, and this is one reason I don’t work for a church.
The crowning moment came at the end of the two-day project, which involved capturing live video of the pastor teaching some small group curriculum. As we packed up that night, the guy in charge of the entire enterprise mentioned, “Pastor X is less coachable and responsive to feedback than any guy I’ve worked with.” The pastor, who had never done a video shoot like this before, still found it frustrating and insulting when the guy in charge had him try a second take, so eventually the director just stopped asking. Because of the pastor’s ego or insecurity (and don’t the two always go together?), the finished product will probably be an 8 instead of a 10 and everyone (except him) will have to do more work to make it work.
I believe in respecting the minister at a church, of course, and I know these are BUSY guys with a lot of demands on them and stress I can’t even begin to understand. Of course a solid staff will pull together to minimize the inconveniences and interruptions so he can do his best work when the camera’s running. But supporting your leader is different from enabling your emperor, and far too often I see megastaff members mega-fried from the tension of keeping Pastor happy. Managing the guy’s schedule is one thing. Managing his moods is another.
Of course, there are many leaders of large churches who are not entitled, erratic, and egotistical. But the positive personality traits that allow these guys to manage the responsibility and influence of a huge church have a shadow side that can make them tyrants, and the fences we set up to protect them and give them privacy can easily become filters that keep truth-speaking people away from their power.
I’m sure Pastor X is a good guy who loves Jesus and loves his church, but I hurt for his hurting staff. It’s one thing to give your life to please God. No one should give their life to please a pastor.