How many former pastors do you know who left the ministry because of personal sin or ministerial burn out? The odds are good that you know or have heard about several of these cases. There are numerous reasons why this happens far too often, but I would like to focus on one specific reason: church structure.
In many churches, particularly here in the South, churches are organized with the pastor standing atop the pyramid of power. While there might be a board of deacons who help make decisions about the direction of the church and help take care of physical needs around the church, the pastor is the one who is left to do the vast majority of ministry (teaching, counseling, visitation, etc.). By accepting this structure, churches are practically guaranteeing that their pastor will fail.
Let me explain.
If there is one pastor who does 95% of the ministry around the church, one of two things will happen: he will burn out due to all of the stress or the church will limp along due to his slow, marathon-like pace. What many church members don’t realize is that ministry is messy work, one that weighs heavily upon pastors. Preachers are in the business of sin, and coming face to face with a congregation’s sin through the work of ministry takes a toll. That’s why it’s not healthy for one man to do all of the counseling, preaching, and teaching. If we want our beloved pastors to have long, fruitful ministries, churches must put others in positions to aid the senior pastor in ministry.
Second, pastors are often put on a spiritual pedestal. Therefore, they have no real spiritual accountability. They are responsible for shepherding the souls of the congregation, but too often, no one is monitoring their soul. No one is asking how they are dealing with sin. (Pastors do sin after all.) No one is asking how they can be praying for them. Pastors are put on an island of spiritual isolation, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that is a recipe for disaster. Sin, like bacteria, enjoys dark, damp places, and without the light of spiritual accountability, sin will find a breeding ground in the souls of ministers.
Of course, some pastors brings these conditions upon themselves. They do not seek help or accountability, and these men are fools. But churches can still change their government, or polity, to put their leaders in the best possible position to succeed.
What is the most ideal church structure?
I believe the most biblical structure of church leadership to be a plurality of elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Elders are meant to lead the church and do the work of preaching/teaching. This splits the load of ministry between many leaders, thereby, lengthening the career of the paid minister. I know there are many questions about elders, but we will leave those for another day.
Regardless of your church’s view of church leadership, the outcome should be help for the pastor–help to carry out the work of ministry and help for his spiritual well-being.
Ask yourself: Is your church putting your pastor in the best possible position to effectively shepherd souls, or are you setting him on the path to spiritual despair and exhaustion?