For every fallen leader, there are thousands of hard-working, honest ones that will never make the headlines. And they are leaving the Church in droves. Rick Hill offers his top tips for stopping the exodus

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I could clearly see the look on the pastor’s face throughout the public rebuke from the front of the meeting. Everyone in the room was left in no doubt that previous promises hadn’t been met - and it wasn’t for the first time either. The speaker strongly suggested that this leader reconsider their actions and change course. Every head in the room nodded forcefully in agreement.

Not too uncommon a story you might think. A church leader on the receiving end of criticism and advice from those within their church, their shortcomings publicly noted and commented on. Surely not the most loving way to treat a pastor.

What might it do for a generation of leaders if we partnered and prayed rather than criticised and cut down?

However, this particular rebuke was not what it seemed. An elder had noticed that their pastor was regularly taking on church work on their agreed day off. His genuine concern was that overwork would result in burnout or erode family time. As elders, we were reminded that one of our roles was to protect and support this pastor. I wondered what it would look like if all churches cared for their leaders like that.

The boring story

I have zero statistical evidence or Barna-led research to back this claim up, but I have a hunch that for every fallen pastor there are thousands of faithful ones. There are, tragically, many cases - historic and recent - of leaders who have spectacularly failed. They serve as a reminder to us all to choose integrity over corruption, fidelity over compromise and servanthood over dominance.

But the sad truth is that documenting the week of a pastor praying at hospital bedsides, preparing sermons and holding bible studies won’t attract the same internet traffic as a lift-the-lid reportage on one who fired the church board or had sex with the secretary. While some pastors have undoubtedly abused their position of power, there are also some churches who have, at best, been negligible in supporting their leader. At worst, they have abusively leveraged their own power and authority.

Maximum effort, minimum encouragement

In my experience, the position of pastor is marked by maximum effort and minimum encouragement; much critique and little support. All too often, I have heard stories of how constant criticism, regular blocking of missional activity or manipulative power grabs from scheming cabals have forced a pastor to their knees; and not primarily to pray. As churches we need to do better.

We are living through a season being described as “the great resignation”. Church leaders are leaving ministry behind in their droves. We can ill-afford to lose any more gifted, loving and faithful pastors who have found that criticism, discouragement and conflict have done more to harden their heart than thicken their skin.

So how can we do better?

1. Believe the best

Let’s begin by acknowledging that most pastors are trying their best. With the time and resources available, many are doing what they can with what they have. What if we chose to believe the best in our pastors? Can we acknowledge that this person might also want to see God’s kingdom come, even when we disagree or notice shortcomings? Let’s remember that our pastor, no matter how burnt out or beat up they are, will in all likelihood carry a deep desire within their souls for people to find hope in Jesus and a home in the Church.

2. Have realistic expectations

For sure it helps when skills can be sharpened and growth is sought, but we shouldn’t expect our pastors to be high-level event planners, account managers, business executives and strategic thinkers as well as scoring full marks in preaching, pastoral care and prayer. Not all boxes can be ticked and some things might have to give.

3. Offer support

This is not about blind loyalty or unchecked decisions. But it makes a huge difference when we show up on Sunday, get behind an initiative, engage with a sermon or volunteer our services. It’s easy to criticise, but let’s also remember to get involved and support where we can.

4. Pray

Do you pray for your church leader? Regularly? Consider turning your criticism into intercession. As they stand to their feet on a Sunday, take a moment to ask God to speak through them. Pray for their heart to grow, their vision to expand and their energy to be sustained.

5. Be thankful

While we don’t worship at their throne or leave all the responsibility at their feet, let’s go out of our way to find genuine and practical ways to display our thankfulness. Write your pastor a thank you note. Gift them a meal voucher. Smile at their spouse. Care for their family. Invite them for dinner. Encourage them with specificity and save your leadership advice for the appropriate context. If you serve as an elder or on the church board, protect their day off, encourage holidays and offer a sabbatical.

Manipulative power grabs have forced pastors to their knees; and not primarily to pray

What might it do for a generation of pastors if we partnered and prayed rather than criticised and cut down? How might the church benefit if our pastors were well rested, deeply encouraged and thanked more? How might the tone of leadership meetings change if we didn’t seek to drive through an agenda but discern God’s will together?

Amid the great resignation, there is an urgent need for softer hearts and more open hands towards those we are privileged to have as our pastors. Let’s care for the carers and pastor our pastors.