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].
I work for a pastor who lacks emotional intelligence. He’s arrogant, condescending, and has no self-awareness. Do you have any advice for me?
It’s not easy to reach out for advice when navigating a difficult personality—especially when it belongs to someone who’s supposed to care about both your workday success (as your manager) and your spiritual well-being (as your pastor).
I’m going to assume what you are describing is a character weakness and your pastor isn’t bullying or abusing people in the congregation. If he is, you should report this behavior to civil and church authorities immediately.
But as you have experienced, in a sea of humble pastors who rightly aim to direct all glory toward God, there are some who—out of lingering, indwelling sin or human weakness—exhibit arrogant or condescending behaviors.
It’s important to recognize we all show some extent of deficiency across various aspects of emotional intelligence. When I work with leaders on their emotional processing and expression, I see a mixed bag of tendencies. Some are highly empathetic but lack self-regulation. Others are incredibly self-aware but struggle to communicate in ways others can understand. In your case, your pastor’s deficiencies are causing troubles within your place of work (and your place of worship).
Let’s take a look at what you can do to move forward.
1. Guard your heart.
As Christians, we’re to guard our hearts. The health of our heart affects all else (Prov. 4:23). Consider how your own heart responds to difficult people. When a friend is being boastful, you may start to feel envious. When a stranger cuts you off in traffic, you may be tempted to curse at him. It’s easiest to stoop to gossip amid a heavy conflict. We struggle most to love those who treat us poorly or make our lives more difficult.
We all show some extent of deficiency across various aspects of emotional intelligence.
Many sinful attitudes—unrighteous anger, gossip, even envy—can enter our hearts when we deal with difficult behaviors or personalities. It’s important to guard your heart as you navigate working with your pastor. While it isn’t easy, during the most difficult interactions we often have a greater opportunity to show the fruits of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).
2. Care for your brother.
Years ago, I briefly attended a church led by a pastor many labeled as selfish, egotistical, and even narcissistic. I saw the effects his personality had on the church and the staff.
I’ve had a chance to reflect on how I started to view that pastor more narrowly as time went on. I stopped recognizing his gift for teaching and his skill at recruiting ministry volunteers and marketing outreach events. I couldn’t see past his arrogance, his constant need for praise, or his severe lack of empathy. Worst of all, I stopped seeing him as my brother in the body of Christ.
Do better than I did. Prayerfully commit to changing how you think of your pastor. Next time he does something selfish, mind your thoughts. As your disdain grows, the temptation will be to think, He’s the worst! Instead, pause and remind yourself, That man is my brother. Say a prayer for the Spirit to be at work in your heart and in your pastor’s. Pray over your interactions with him and look for opportunities to care for him as a brother in Christ.
What caring for your brother might look like will depend on your situation. Here are a few ideas:
- Pray for the Spirit to be at work in him and on his heart.
- Pray with him, especially as you discuss the difficulties with him.
- Provide clear feedback about his behavior and the effects, together creating a way forward.
- Provide (authentic) encouragement if he’s struggling with low self-esteem.
- Offer help and reassurance if he’s feeling overwhelmed from taking on too much.
- Spend time with him and his family, reconnecting as church family outside the workday.
3. Care for the body of Christ.
Unless there’s a specific and personal grievance between you and your pastor, it’s likely you aren’t the only person suffering from his behavior. Keep an eye out for others on staff or in the congregation who are affected.
Discouraged teammates, declining attendance, or disengaged volunteers are a few issues that could result from your pastor’s behavior (though there are certainly other factors that could lead to those issues as well). Avoid the temptation to commiserate and gossip about your pastor (Ps. 101:5), but consider ways you might support others:
- Pray for those you see hurting.
- Fill any encouragement gaps by reassuring teammates in their work and ministry.
- Redirect the overall focus of the group toward a humble mindset, verbally giving God the glory for ministry wins.
- Make time to engage in Christian fellowship, strengthening relationships and boosting spirits.
4. Provide biblical accountability.
If the situation doesn’t improve, it may be time to play a more active role in holding your pastor accountable. This is where biblical accountability comes in. Matthew 18 provides instructions on how we should approach fellow believers who are sinning—and being prideful and condescending is sinful. We’re called to be humble and to avoid acting out of selfish ambition (Phil. 2:3).
Prayerfully commit to changing how you think of your pastor. Pause and remind yourself, That man is my brother.
Your pastor needs loving and biblical accountability for the benefit of his own spiritual health and the health of your church. If approaching your pastor directly hasn’t resolved his behaviors, reach out to other church leaders for support.
As you guard your heart and care for your brother, remember that God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit can be at work within your church and healing the relationships your pastor has with others. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord.