Bad Boss Pastors Who Drive You Nuts

Sam Rainer

January 27, 2010

Pastors can have two personas: one the congregation sees and one the staff sees. While the goal is to be the same person around everyone, it often does not play out. The reality is you act differently around staff you work with for hours on end each day, compared to other congregants you may see in passing once or twice a week. This dichotomy is not necessarily bad, but it can be when the pastor plays nice with the congregation while poorly leading the staff. Maltreating the staff places them in the awkward situation of not liking—or worse, detesting—the one leader the church loves.

While I believe most pastors truly want the best for their church and staff, some fall short of this level of integrity. So what makes a bad boss pastor? BusinessWeek had a great article on bad corporate bosses. I’ll tweak their thoughts for ministry leaders and shepherds. Here are some ways pastors can drive their staff nuts:

  • Pretend you know better than everyone else, especially in areas that require specialized knowledge or technical expertise you don’t have.
  • Don’t take notes and constantly check your phone at meetings. Better yet, do all the talking at “team” meetings.
  • Make up your vision as you go. Create fires to accomplish this short-sightedness.
  • Have a meeting. Throw ideas out like flinging spaghetti against a wall. Then don’t tell anyone what you thought stuck.
  • Design a big, ongoing task for your team. Then never mention it again.
  • Create a bunch of drama over something really small. Call an all-staff meeting to discuss it.
  • Tell the staff one thing. Then tell the church the exact opposite from the pulpit at your primary worship services.
  • Never discipline anyone, and try to be everyone’s best friend.
  • Charm the congregation with your talent and eloquence. Bark orders at the staff.
  • Listen to prominent and powerful church members more than your direct reports.
  • Don’t tell anyone when you’ll be on vacation.
  • Tell the congregation, “The buck stops with me.” Then flee from intra-staff conflict.
  • Create rules for the staff. Make exceptions for yourself.
  • Remove any hope for levity in the office. Stare sternly all the time and talk only about serious theological issues.
  • Be more interested in denominational politics than in your local church.
  • Never address the elephant in the room. Pretend it’s not there.
  • Micromanage. Send a three-page email with detailed instructions to someone with whom you do not typically interact.
  • Be threatened by others that are more talented than you. To deal with your insecurity, reassign these talented people to ministry areas outside of their talent.
  • Be an amiable autocrat.
  • Begin every meeting with a 30-minute devotional.

I know there are more. Any you want to add?

9 comments on “Bad Boss Pastors Who Drive You Nuts”

  1. Good observations.

    This also applies to the Pastor who puts one face on for the congregation, and another for his family.

  2. Wow. I used to work for that guy.

  3. Ken Lupton says:

    Great insights Sam! Have seen those played out a number of times on church staff over 31 yrs.

  4. Benjamin says:

    I also worked for this guy!

  5. Ken Pierpont says:

    Thanks for the post. God help me not to be that guy. God help me. Yipes.

  6. Concerned Staffer says:

    Or another one is, claim you’re not “micromanager” but shoot down every idea your staff brings to you just to see “how passionate you are about it.” And then take the idea later and look like it came from you.

  7. Provender says:

    There is bad, and there is spiritually abusive. Excusing, hiding and reinterpreting spiritual abuse from pastors in enabling. Many people leave churches, leave their faith or fall from one abusive situation to another because of pastors who misuse their authority or purposely manipulate people in harmful ways. Don’t be a source of narcissistic supply for an abusive pastor.

  8. SMH says:

    When someone disagrees with you, tell them how spiritually immature they are and that your way is common sense.

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