"I am so frustrated. I am ready to leave this church and the pastorate altogether. The church members are unleadable."
The email came to me just as I quoted. Though I didn't think "unleadable" was a word, I knew exactly what the pastor meant. He was in an established church. He had been there for less than four years. And he was frustrated. Very frustrated.
From his perspective, every initiative he made to lead the church forward was met with resistance. Members were more concerned about their preferences and needs than reaching the community with the gospel. Some of the members responded with anger and overt negativity. Others were passive-aggressive.
But all of them were frustrating the pastor.
What is the solution to leading unleadable people? Though I do not have a cookie-cutter approach, nor do I have a quick-fix solution, I can tell you what I've learned from other leaders in similar situations. I can tell you about some of the stories where leaders have been moved from frustration to celebration.
Allow me, then, to share with you seven ways to lead unleadable church members:
1. Pray for those members. Make it a point to pray for them by name. Pray for God's work and blessings in their lives. Pray for their families. And pray that God will give you a greater love for them regardless of their responses.
2. Pray for your own attitude. A leader's attitude is contagious, whether it's positive or negative. Church members can discern pretty easily a leader's disposition. Sometimes, the negative attitude of the leader exacerbates a difficult situation.
3. Mentor one or two of the recalcitrant church members. You don't have to use the word "mentor." You can just start spending more time with one or two of the tougher cases. Take them on ministry visits with you. Share informally your heart for the church. Get to know them better.
4. Have a quality new members' class. I will be expanding on this topic later, but the idea is to establish clear expectations of new members on the front end. They will then likely influence other members in the church.
5. Get influencers in the church to help you. They may or may not be the people in key positions in the church. They are the ones that, when they speak, everyone listens. Share with them your passions. See if they can be a positive influence on the more immovable members.
6. Demonstrate consistent ministry to these more recalcitrant members. Don't avoid them because you don't like them. But also, don't give them disproportionate ministry time simply because they complain. You don't want to reinforce negative behavior.
7. Be persistent. Some of the greatest missionaries around the world did not see ministry fruit for a decade or so. But they persisted, and God blessed their labors. Leaders of established churches should view themselves as missionaries in the field. And they must be willing to be patient and persistent. Earlier research I led showed that the greatest fruit in a pastor's ministry typically occurred in year five or later of tenure.
I would love to hear your struggles and victories in leading unleadable people in your church. The greatest part of this blog is the reader. You offer so many great insights. Let us hear from you.
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.