Last year I (Marty) wrote an article entitled 7 Ways Pastors Undermine Their Own Credibility. One pastor wondered if we would publish a similar piece on church members. Because of the subject matter, he requested anonymity.
This is an article pastors will hesitate to share. Church members should not hesitate.
Self-inflicted wounds weaken strong leaders. Hobbling around, bleeding through your boots with gun smoke still wafting does not inspire confidence.
Yet, some pastors, perhaps unknowingly, undermine their own leadership credibility. They find themselves in constant frustration without always knowing why. They have not pilfered any money from the offering, bumped-off a deacon, or made a mistake typically associated with being disqualified. Yet, a persistent lack of credible influence remains.
It is possible some church members read that article and envisioned their own pastor or other staff member, mentally critiquing them as they read. Based on thoughts about that article—and the reality that church problems are almost never solely the fault of any one pastor—here are ten ways church members regularly undermine their credibility.
1. Gossiping about their pastor.
The gossip usually feels like he or she has the upper hand, making others look bad as they spread their lies (or private truths). The truth is, though, gossiping undermines the gossiper by revealing they cannot keep private information private or that they are willing to spread unverified information to anyone within earshot. Eventually, the gossip’s circle of influence is reduced to a few other miserable souls like themselves.
2. Passive-aggressive posts on social media about mistakes that leaders make.
For all the positive things for which social media can be used, it tends to provide just enough of a shield for us to say things without any accountability. Your pastor sees when you repost articles about leadership mistakes that you’ve told him upset you. When you subtweet your pastor, it only makes it harder to talk in person about real issues that should be addressed.
3. Complaining about “problems in the church,” then not supporting the church’s ministries.
The squeaky wheel doesn’t always need only grease. Sometimes the bearings need to be completely replaced. Complaining is not a sign of maturity; it can be a sign of broken spirituality that needs the healing, redeeming power of Jesus. People who constantly complain about problems yet never put forth a hand to make things better—or even attend—render themselves irrelevant to those striving to make things better.
4. Wanting change in the church without seeking change in their own lives.
The heart of the church is personal transformation. When all of a member’s energies are spent on changing a system to align with their preferences but they disregard their own spiritual development, you’ll have a fitful relationship with your pastor. He wants to help you mature as a disciple, not just create a better mousetrap for religious consumers.
5. Weaponize financial giving by withholding tithes and offerings when the member does not like the pastor’s vision or church’s direction.
When you tell the pastor that you are withholding your giving, you reveal an unwillingness to partner for God’s mission in the world. A similar tactic is designating tithes and offering to the cemetery fund or other special offering that allows the member to retain control and spite the leadership while appearing to advance God’s mission. It reveals that you are actively undermining the leadership of the church.
6. Using the five minutes prior to or just following a worship service to complain to the pastoral staff about issues that could be talked about another time.
This tactic reveals either a lack of awareness, a lack of spiritual maturity, or both. Is the temperature in your room too hot/cold? Is there a dead possum in the parking lot? Did you forget your Bible in the pew last week? Fine. Wait until Monday or Tuesday and send a text or email. Better yet, talk to the person who’s actually on the Roadkill Committee and let them handle it.
7. On Sunday mornings, asking the pastor about toilet paper, elevator operation status, or any number of issues that have nothing to do with Jesus, God’s glory, the church’s worship, or a sinner’s salvation.
Real logistical problems happen on Sunday mornings at the church campus. But it is unlikely that the pastor can do anything about them. Plus, he is trying to train all of his attention on leading the church in worship and delivering the Word. Asking him to find toilet paper is not work beneath him but it shows your own lack of willingness to serve and lack of focus on why the church is gathered for worship.
8. When parents of children and/or students complain about the respective ministries but then refuse to serve in those ministries.
The church is a partner in discipling your children but it is not a surrogate. Parents need to avoid the “drop-off discipleship” tactic of child-rearing. The pastor has no recourse but to understand that you have taken on a consumer view of the church demanding the best services at the lowest personal cost, like expecting Sistine Chapel quality for Big Lots prices.
9. Expecting the pastor to visit every person in a hospital or homebound member but refusing to simply do it yourself.
No pastor has enough hours in the week to do everything that everyone thinks he should do. It is why the Bible is clear that ministers are to equip the rest of the church to do ministry. Rather than complain that the pastor is not doing his job, partner with him for the church to do its ministries.
10. Stating that you want growth but complaining about messy kids, loud teenagers, unruly families, and generally bad behavior by the unchurched when they finally show up for a church activity or worship.
Everyone wants their church to grow until messy sinners show up. Pastors know by both theology and experience that growth involves helping broken people be made whole. Dealing with broken people is by nature hard and exhausting. If you value a neat and clean church over the presence of sinners being confronted and comforted by the Gospel, then, by your actions, you’ve told the pastor that growth is not an option you want for the church.