How to Recognize a Bad Pastor
Pastor Michaels cleared his throat as he started to speak…
“Jim, I hear what you’re saying. I heard what happened. I just don’t have time for this.”
Nothing really wrong with what the pastor said, right? I mean, no sin there, right? But is it good leadership? Is there a problem here? Does that make him bad?
What do we mean by the title, a “bad” pastor? How do you define a bad pastor? What’s going on in your situation that you would be searching for an answer to this question on the internet? You see, I wrote this article in response to noticing that there were a bunch of people asking that exact question of Google—you are looking for some help for a tough situation. And you may be right—you have a bad pastor. Or you may be wrong. But you need to find out. I don’t know your situation. But I do know the qualifications of a pastor and I do know what a good leader should be doing. So let me give some guidelines that can help you determine if you have a bad pastor—or if your pastor is just different from you in non-sinful ways.
For instance, you like hymns and your pastor likes contemporary worship music—or vice versa. That doesn’t make your pastor a bad pastor or you a bad person. That’s simply a matter of style. Matters of style are not areas of sin. So love and grace need to cover those areas. You can discuss them til the cows come home, but in the light that neither of you are correct—because style is not a sin issue.
Bad is a hard word here—it can be subjective based on style and other non-essential factors. So I will define bad as sinning or not leading well.
Sinning is somewhat obvious—IF your pastor’s sins go before him. The scripture talks about peoples sins in two ways—those whose sins go before them and those whose sins follow after them. Further, those whose sins are obvious and those whose sins are not obvious—they are found out later—sins that follow them (1 Timothy 5:24). As a human behavior specialist, I see those that are obvious as the Outgoing personality types—less careful with their actions and more obvious because they seem to have more sins of the flesh. And those that their sins follow them—discovered later—are the Reserved personalities—their sins are those of the heart and thoughts—those things are harder to physically see.
So if your pastor is sinning according to the scriptures, then he is doing bad things. I’m not sure I would categorize him as a bad person. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God—every one of us. So if you call us all bad, then include your pastor. What I mean here is that though we may do bad things, it doesn’t mean we are totally bad people. For a leader, a pastor, it does mean it needs to be dealt with quickly so as to not hurt the flock or Christ’s reputation.
Therefore, a pastor who is lying, cheating, stealing, watching porn, having sex outside of marriage, domineering, mean, harsh, arrogant, lover of money, addicted to any substance, quarrelsome, quick-tempered, unkind, selfish, lack of self-control, dishonest, and a whole lot more of these obvious things outlined in scripture, than your pastor is sinning (according to God) and he needs to be lovingly challenged in the biblical way. If he doesn’t see these obvious things, or denies them when they have been proven, then he is unrepentant and should be removed—that’s a job for the other elders. If they don’t remove him, you probably need to move on from that church. If he is repentant, he needs to step down for a while (or for a very long time if not forever because of the severity of it), confess it publicly, and be mentored for, I think, several years. The flock is too precious in God’s sight to be led by a wolf in sheep clothing—even if he came by it honestly and not intentionally.
It gets harder when we are talking about the not-so-obvious sins—things we cannot see so easily—like lusting, being cold, unloving, unkind, not gentle, hateful, prejudiced, self-serving, overly ambitious, lover of money, untrustworthy, etc. These things are also disqualifiers, but they are harder to prove and harder to pin down. Now—I’m not talking about doing the hard things a pastor has to do, like disciplining wayward members, challenging unrepentant believers, or even dealing with all the petty things the members of the congregation can bring up. Granted, the pastor needs to be patient and full of the Spirit, loving, kind and gentle, but those things need to be dealt with and sometimes we can see the very act of having to deal with these things giving the pastor a bad rap.
In defining bad—be honest. Be candid. Think Matthew 7—first take the log out of your own eye so you can remove the speck in your brothers eye. Get someone you know who is brutally honest and candid with you, to assess your attitude and your thoughts regarding this situation—someone you highly respect as a believer and knowledgeable in the scriptures.
If you have decided it’s not your problem, and you’re not dealing with a non-essential but dealing with something that is very important, go to your pastor and in love, in love, in love, speak the truth.
Now there are some things that are not sin, but simply that your pastor is not good at!He may not be a good counselor. He may not be very outgoing or too outgoing and doesn’t understand his personality and how to temper it. He may not be the best or even a good preacher. He may not be very warm and friendly—not mean—just not very gregarious. He may have a whole list of things that may or may not entice you to be part of his fellowship, but they are not sin. That may make you call him a bad pastor—not meaning a sinful pastor—but one who is just not technically very good at what the bible calls him to be as a pastor (mediocre). Or he may be very young and not seasoned and given a senior position too soon.
Finally, there is the pastor who is not a good leader. Actually, in my experience, most are not very good leaders. Most people are not very good leaders. Most “leaders” are not very good leaders. Just because someone is a pastor doesn’t mean they are a good leader. Just because someone is a leader doesn’t mean they are a good one. You may think that is the case—or should be the case—they should be good—but most don’t study leadership and in order to be a good leader, you must learn and practice often. Continually. I’ve studied and taught leadership for almost a decade under the worlds expert in leadership, and I can tell you a couple truths. The first is that you must study and practice leadership principles—we don’t grow naturally into leadership—it is a learned skill. If you are not a diligent student of leadership and personality, if you are not reading and growing your leadership lid almost daily, your position will quickly overtake you and you will not be able to do the best things to grow your people or your church—and you will fail to some degree. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Will that make you a bad pastor? Eventually. Again, not bad as in sin, but bad as in ability to lead your flock the best way—or even lead them well enough.
Your primary personality trait doesn’t make you bad. However, it usually indicates in what ways you will fail—usually in different ways. These are only the negative traits—each personality has a boatload of good traits as well but since this article is dealing with the bad pastor, I am just outlining the negative traits. Remember, don’t be tempted to only see the negative side because you fall into one of these categories, too! Just not as a pastor. Also, even though we all have certain traits, we don’t necessarily have them to the highest degree—we could just be a little arrogant… or a little non-confrontational… or a little immature. We don’t have to be a narcissist to be a little domineering. This is just to help you see what type personalities have certain proclivities.
Dominant Personality Pastors when out of control, can tend toward being domineering, insensitive, cruel, demanding, impulsive, rash with decisions, manipulative, non-apologetic, controversial, arrogant, hot-tempered, sarcastic, self-confident, unemotional, cold, harsh, prideful, know-it-all, impatient, self-sufficient, contentious, gamblers, coercive. If you have one of those type Pastors and want to know how to deal with all that, I’ve written a book for helping you (and them) deal with their issue, Who’s Killing Your Church. You can get a copy here. Just so you don’t think these people are totally out of line, when they are under control they are confident, courageous, commanding, pioneering, resolute, definitive, determined, courageous, quick to respond, goal oriented, results oriented, deliberate, self-confident, direct, self-reliant, straightforward, competitive.
Inspiring Personality Pastors when out of control, can tend toward impulsiveness, disorganization, lack of follow-through, illogical, lack of focus, lack of persistence, people pleasing, prone to addictions. They love fun and can make things really interesting. Their sins go before them and are usually easy to spot. On the positive side, they are inspiring, influencing, impressionable, interesting, impressive, and involved. Nothing great is ever accomplished without the enthusiasm, excitement, and energy that they bring.
Support Personality Pastors when out of control, tend to lack initiative, dependent, used by others, indecisive, uncommunicative, inflexible, resistant to change, easily manipulated, slow, and resentful. When under control, they are supportive, stable, steady, sweet, status quo, shy, patient, loyal, like routine, harmony, teamwork, being accepted, things to stay the same, and sticking with what works.
Cautious Personality Pastors when out of control, tend to be cold, calculated, perfectionist, moody, pessimistic, critical, fearful, easily offended, unforgiving. On their good side, they are cautious, competent, careful and calculating, cognitive, critical thinking, compliance wanting, conscientious, correct, conformist, consistent. And, they are usually right because they do the homework to make sure!
So what is a bad pastor and how do you deal with him? Again, it depends on what you are trying to optimize. If the issue is sin, then the answer you are looking for is probably yes—he is a bad pastor. At least in the way we decided to define it for this article. If it’s the non-essentials that he’s getting wrong, then the answer is probably no, he’s not bad. He may have some growing up to do, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad pastor. If it’s his leadership ability, then it’s probably varying all over the place and unfortunately, most of the time we don’t know what a good leader looks like—we don’t know the specifics things they should be doing to quantify if they are a good leader. So the answer is probably that they are not a good leader. And that may or may not make him a bad pastor. Because a pastor is a shepherd and a shepherd is a leader of his sheep (people).
What should you do?
If the bad is sin, try to help them see the issue. This will take courage and persistence on your part. And an enormous amount of love and patience. Make sure you’re up for the task. If you cannot help them, maybe you should move on—especially if you have kids that can be greatly affected—albeit, even if it’s just you, bad company can corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). I deal with how to do this in the book Who’s Killing Your Church in the chapter to the congregation.
If the bad is not sin, consider helping them with your gifts (talents), your knowledge, your expertise. Be a part of the solution, not merely someone who is there to receive, but be someone who gives. God has given to each of us according to the need. We are all different. Use your gifts to help the church. If you are more mature or have greater understanding, help. Are you a giver or a taker? If it’s an issue of style, let it go for the moment and help them in the essentials.
If it’s bad or not good leadership, buy them some good servant leadership books (or at least recommend them). I have a list of good books on our website for leadership, personal growth, communication, marriage, parenting, etc. Also, give your leadership the link to our website ( WeAreCaris.com ) so they can get some good mentorship in leadership. Help them grow. Love them. Our Blogs are a great place to start with leadership.
Sometimes you have pastor your pastor. It’s like the leadership principle of Leading Up—leading the people over you.
Despite the issues of your pastor, you are called by God to be loving and strong. You are not responsible for your pastor—but you are responsible for you. Don’t forget to be who you are supposed to be—you cannot blame it on your pastor—you are an adult—take responsibility for who you are. Then help them change to be who God calls them to be.
Much love in Christ alone,
Royce and the Caris Team.
PS—oh, and the pastor in the first paragraph above who “didn’t have time?” Bad leader. You always have time for your people. Make time. Or don’t become a leader. And never, never, never say, “I don’t have time for this.” Never say it to anyone. Ever. Not your people, not your wife, not your kids. Not your dog. If you ever hear those words coming out of your mouth, stop, drop, and roll because you are on fire—and I don’t mean in a good way. Then get up, apologize—profusely—and promise never to do it again.
Church Leadership: What does a good leader look like?