TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
How can I deal with poor management well, when my work is at my church and my manager is my pastor?
Some assume working for a pastor would be an absolute dream. After all, pastors bring us encouraging and edifying Sunday morning reminders from the Word. They pray with us in the hospital and provide a safe space to seek biblical counsel. They set an example for our own walk with Christ. I’m certainly thankful for the wonderful pastors in my life.
However, as is true within any profession, pastors have gifts to steward (Rom. 12:6–8) and weaknesses to manage. A pastor placed on a pedestal will underwhelm us. He can’t do all things well. He’s going to mess up. The same pastor hired for his solid theology, engaging teaching, and compassionate disposition may not be great at communicating in a timely way, attending to details, or setting clear and realistic expectations.
So what can you do?
Secular vs. Sacred
We often have different standards for church staff than for secular work. This can swing both ways—we can hold pastoral staff to impossibly high standards of perfect Christlike behavior. But we can also be lenient in the name of grace, overlooking far more than we’d allow in a secular workplace.
A pastor placed on a pedestal will underwhelm us. He can’t do all things well.
But shouldn’t all Christians—no matter where they work—strive to live out the same God-glorifying biblical standards (Matt. 5:48)? And shouldn’t Christians working in churches aim for the same level of workplace excellence our marketplace brothers and sisters are held to (Col. 3:23–24)?
In your case, the secular/sacred distinctions have perhaps led to giving the pastor a pass and avoiding the necessary conversations that could lead to improved organizational and managerial skills.
Navigating Poor Management
I don’t know the specifics of your situation. Maybe your workday includes unrealistic expectations, inadequate communication, or the day-to-day drudgery of reporting to a difficult personality. Or it could be something entirely different. In any case, here are a few steps forward.
Step 1: Triage the situation.
In a crisis, first responders group the injured based on their needs. In a workplace interpersonal crisis, a little examining and sorting may be needed as well. Consider the complex web of concerns you have regarding your manager. On a piece of paper, sort them into the categories below. Organize your concerns from the simple to the complex, since it’s probably helpful to deal with them in that order.
- Things to overlook: Some aspects of your situation may require overlooking an offense (Prov. 19:11). What grudges are you holding over a resolved situation? What trivial things are causing you to feel unreasonably spiteful toward your manager?
- Things to discuss: You may need to initiate some conversations before you can take further action. What do you want to address about your pastor’s behavior or expectations? What requests do you need to make? What feedback do you need from him? What questions need to be asked? Remember your goal is to help your pastor to improve on skills he may have never learned before. It may be that a few well-said words (Prov. 25:11) will help him and you. As you talk, it’s possible you or he may discover ways you’ve sinned against each other. This is a beautiful opportunity to ask for or grant forgiveness (Eph. 4:32).
- Things to do: You may be hesitating on a few actions you know you need to take. What levers can you pull to change the situation? What do you need to take ownership of? Which of your own behaviors is aggravating the situation?
- Things to discern: You may be unsure about a few specific aspects of the situation. What feels particularly heavy or unclear? What can you pray about before having a discussion? What big decisions are in your hands?
- Things to get help with: As you discern, you may start to wonder if you’re reading a situation wrong (Matt. 7:3). Or you may find the problems are bigger than you can handle on your own. If you’re unable to resolve things between you and your pastor, it may be time to bring the issues up at a staff meeting or to seek counsel from trusted elders (Matt. 18:15–17).
Step 2: Pray.
Seek wisdom (James 1:5). Pray over everything you listed while triaging your thoughts. Pray for your pastor’s managerial skills (1 Tim. 2:1).
Consider praying with him as well—especially after the issues are known to both of you. Many sit alone at their desks and lift up silent prayers, but you work with those who share in your faith. This presents a wonderful opportunity to pray over the situation together (Matt. 18:19–20).
Step 3: Move forward.
Doing nothing feels easiest in the beginning, but it often leads to more difficult days ahead. It’s possible your pastor has a few blind spots when it comes to his managerial skills. It’s also possible he’s aware of his struggles but doesn’t understand the effects. Commit to moving forward, for the sake of everyone involved. Pray for a heart of forgiveness toward your pastor (Mark 11:25). Set up a time to provide feedback and have conversations that could lead to a resolution.
Doing nothing feels easiest in the beginning, but it often leads to more difficult days ahead.
Resolving these issues will serve everyone well—not only you and your pastor but also the rest of the staff, who are likely dealing with the same frustrations. In addition, your whole church is better served by having a well-managed organization.
It may feel petty to bring up issues of micromanagement or lack of timely responses when you’re doing kingdom work. So remember this: you can do better kingdom work when you’re working well.