I was recently meeting with one of the top church consultants in America and he made an interesting observation. He discussed that pastors running between 1,000 and 2,000 in weekend attendance are like gangly teenagers. They had experienced some rapid growth but were still trying to figure out who they are. I will never forget his next words. He said, “Many feel like they’re somebody but also nobody at the same time.” This is because they were not being recognized on the book or conference speaking scene.
His words struck me to the core. With four out of five churches in America plateaued or declining, how could a group of pastors so successful also feel unrecognized and unfulfilled?
As I spoke with more people about this issue I made a disturbing discovery. It quickly became apparent these feelings were not limited to just pastors of churches the size of 1,000 to 2,000. We are now seeing this same self-imposed pressure in pastors with up to 5,000 to 6,000 in weekly attendance.
Platforms are an interesting thing. There are about two dozen pastors on the standard conference speaking circuit. We all know who they are. I have had the privilege for becoming friends with several. They absolutely love Jesus, their families, their church, and want to invest deeply in other pastors. They are worthy stewards of the platform God through His grace has provided them.
My pastor, Dr. Crawford Loritts, is one of those conference regulars. He has taught me those on the conference speaking circuit did not seek out those opportunities. One of his axioms is faithfulness is the platform for greatness. What he teaches young pastors is do not focus on the platform, focus on faithfulness. If it is God’s plan for your life, allow Him to bring you the platform. And because your focus has always been on faithfulness, this will then sustain your platform. Such incredible wisdom.
In a worldly sense, Nick Saban would call this “Focusing on The Process.” John Maxwell would call it “Your Daily Agenda.” Simple faithfulness compounded daily over time equals greatness. Or in mathematical terms, Faithfulness x Time = Greatness.
Platforms can also create jealousy and unhealthy ambition in pastors. This often surfaces early in a pastor’s career. Bill Purvis, the wonderful senior pastor of Cascade Hills Church in Columbus, Ga., told the audience at this year’s GO Conference a story about how as a young pastor he received a church growth award at a denominational gathering. He sat back down at his table and two of his “friends” got up and angrily left. He was shunned. Bill said, “I learned not everybody likes those guys (pastors of growing churches).”
You create imaginary feuds and talk about the spiritual and theological shortcomings of well-known pastors, both nationally and in your own city. You can become bored, discontented, envious or even angry when the book deal or speaking opportunity does not come your way. I have seen pastors struggle with not being on the Outreach Fastest Growing Church list. And worst yet, I have seen pastors inexplicably fire good staff members in moments of anger or insecurity for reasons like they “can’t get you to the next level.” You have become someone who is using people for your personal gain rather than investing in them for Kingdom gain.
If you are pastoring a church of over 1,000 in weekend attendance and struggling with insecurity or unhealthy ambition, I want to say something to you. You are not alone. Not by a long shot.
The same church consultant I mentioned earlier made another astute observation. He said, “The higher a pastor goes the more insecure he becomes.” This sounds counterintuitive but the air is thinner up there. There is more to lose. Also, he has never been there before and only a few others have as well. This creates insecurity and can often lead to poor decisions. Also, Satan can convince a pastor he only has a few people who can even understand “the pressures he is under.”
Nowhere in the Bible did God call anyone to an easy task. Growth is hard. But I would encourage you to stop, look around and take great joy in the incredible work God has allowed you to be a part of. Most likely you have exercised amazing leadership to get where you are. Thank you so much for your sacrifice and service.
Continue being faithful on a daily basis with what you have. Stay humble. If you are grateful and faithful with what you have, God will continue to give you more. And if in His goodness He gives you a national platform, take comfort in knowing you did not seek it out. You were summoned and this presupposes you have been prepared for the assignment.
And I would be doing you a disservice if I did not conclude with this. If you are experiencing unhealthy ambition, envy, jealousy, self-imposed pressure, anger and have possibly hurt others as a result, please take a moment right now and repent of your sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Just repent. For the sake of The Kingdom, repent. Then pick a phone, make that difficult call and make those relationships right.
It is the broken and humble leader God uses the most. And a lost and dying world needs you to be used to your full redemptive potential.