As a veteran pastor, I hear it all the time: “Our last pastor was a bad pastor. What we need this time is a good pastor.”
No, churches do not need good pastors. They need bad pastors. Unless the church accepts this fundamental premise, the collapse of American Christianity will continue.
What do people mean when they say they need a good pastor?
Early in ministry I thought it meant the church wanted a pastor to help grow the church. This understanding reflects the culture of the Church Growth movement which taught us a simple truth. Good pastors grow churches. Bad pastors don’t. The problem with this lesson is that it’s not true.
At this point in the journey, I recognize the true meaning of those words. “We need a good pastor” is code for “we need a pastor who doesn’t rock the boat.” The majority of churches seek a new pastor who allows the congregation to keep doing the same ineffective things.
- They want a pastor who will keep the annual Ugly Christmas Sweater night.
- They want a pastor who will allow them to comfortably coast in their rut.
- They want pastoral reassurance that it’s fine to come to church every week and have no ministry.
- They want everything to stay the same even though the culture changes every day.
Think of the last time you heard someone say, “We had a bad pastor.” How did they justify their assessment? If you paid attention you heard things like:
- “The pastor took away the hymnals and put the words on the screen.”
- “The pastor ended the ladies annual shopping trip to Chicago.”
- “The pastor told the church secretary to stop sending birthday cards.”
- “The pastor lets people take coffee into the sanctuary.”
- “The pastor used some of our church money to reach the kids in the trailer park down the road.”
Get it? In the eyes of many church people, good pastors wouldn’t dare do those things. Good pastors don’t rock the boat. Good pastors keep harmony in the church by never innovating. Good pastors keep the ship steadily on the course toward irrelevancy.
In my denomination, ministers are licensed annually until they go through ordination. On the application is this question: “Have you ever been involved in church trouble of any kind?”
There it is. God forbid that a pastor causes trouble. Good pastors play it safe and keep congregants comfortable. And as a result churches sink into irrelevant mediocrity. I’m convinced, if an applicant has never caused trouble, they ought not finish the application.
The church needs bad pastor who will change the culture of mediocrity into a culture of contagious love.
Here’s a secret from my years in ministry: I’ve caused trouble every place I’ve served.
In one church we needed to start an outreach worship service. We planned to meet in the gym but first needed to buy carpet to assist the acoustics. This church had a rule that large expenditures needed congregational approval. They voted down the $5,000 needed to buy the carpet.
After I announced the negative vote, I pulled out my charge card. I said we were getting the carpet by using my own card. Guess what? I bought the carpet and people gave to a reimbursement fund. I got reimbursed, we started the service and attendance soared.
I’m a bad pastor. I broke the rules. I didn’t bow to the will of the comfortable. I didn’t play it safe.
What you are reading is not just an article to entertain you. This is a plea from deep inside my heart to all senior and associate pastors. Please stop being good. Start being bad. Break things. Disrupt the worn out status quo. Kill ineffective programs. Wreck havoc on the annual budget by spending money on outreach.
Go. Be bad. Be very bad. And watch your church come back to life.
I can really relate to being a bad pastor. Looking back on my 22 years as a pastor of five Southern Baptist churches, I had a conflict in all 5 churches. In each situation, the churches were in decline or severely plateaued and badly needed a turn-around. I saw my role to be shepherding the church through Biblical preaching and teaching and leading outreach. So many times the search committee had different expectations than the congregation that called me. Granted I will admit to making many mistakes but my wife and I never expected the hostility we experienced. Ministry for me was a third career following military service and corporate work and I truly felt “called” to be a pastor. I’m retired now but I’ve asked myself several times, “Why was it so difficult? Was it me?”