The Problem of Personal Preferences

Sam Rainer

September 24, 2010

Personal preferences—it’s a topic that gets much water cooler talk within church leadership circles. Many pastors decry the elevation of churchgoers’ preferences above God’s mission. Rightly so. Anything that comes between God’s people and God’s mission is evil. It’s why Jesus told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Peter—with good intentions—was telling Jesus that suffering was not part of the Messiah’s mission. But God’s plan demanded a cross. Peter, however, preferred the kingdom come without a cross.

People in the church (many with good intentions) can demand silly things: music style, paint color, and programs. But what about pastors?

Here’s something with which I struggle as a pastor—I have personal preferences too. As a leader I can spin my preferences as vision. My position means I get the most opportunities to vocalize what I like. I am called to shepherd a congregation—leading them to join God’s mission. But I can easily champion my preferences as the new direction of the church.

So how do pastors detach their preferences from their vision? Let me share a few things I use as reminders that my “vision” is not necessarily what is best for the entire church.

True vision is shared. The best vision involves everyone. Great leaders find creative ways to get people on board. Vision is not the product of a lone ranger leader. Vision should be collective, encompassing the best from all members of the body. If I’m the only person who gets the vision, then I have failed in leading my congregation.

Intellect is not a weapon. If you use your intellect as a weapon, then you’re not casting a vision. You’re fighting for your preferences. Don’t go around picking academic, historical, or theological fights with people that you feel need to acquiesce to your side. The purpose of theological training is not to get you ready for intellectual beat downs in the church.

Vision builds upon the past. Vision builds upon past successes, carrying the best of what was towards something greater. It never forgets the past, but helps propel people to places they did not think possible. If your vision does not include a celebration of past successes, then you’re probably thinking too much about your own personal future preferences.

What are other ways church leaders disguise their personal preferences as vision?

One comment on “The Problem of Personal Preferences”

  1. Great points and helpful for all church leaders to consider the lens of personal preference through which they view their church.

    Some additional disguises that a pastor may use to communicate a personal preference as a vision….
    -Past successes in past churches being communicated as a future vision for his new church…sticking with what is tried and true
    -Applying their own giftedness and passions as the focus of their local church’s vision…sticking with what is comfortable instead of stepping out in faith.
    -Using one’s charisma and influence to gain buy-in instead of showing the biblical weight and guidance for the church…sticking with quick, easy, and visible changes instead of being patient in rooting the congregation in biblical truth over time that the Lord uses to change the hearts.

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