Seven Ways Senior Pastors Stress Out Staff

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Stressed Out

photo credit: stuartpilbrow

I heard it again today, “Only Senior Pastors can understand the incredible pressure a Senior Pastor is under.” I have no reason to doubt the statement or any way to gauge the level of stress a Senior Pastor deals with. My only experience as the top dog was for 2 1/2 years in a small church in Texas. I’ve lost count of how many pastors I’ve met with, but my perspective is mostly second hand. From what I’ve observed, however, the lead guy is often in a pressure cooker.

At the same time I don’t think most Senior Pastors understand the pressure their staff is under. While they may have been a staff pastor at one time, the “curse of knowledge” says they probably don’t realize that they don’t remember what its like to not be in control. So for all the Senior Pastors here’s a peak at the pressure they bring to the staff.

Seven Senior Pastor stress inducing phrases

“We’ll figure it out”
Translation: I come up with ideas and you figure out how to execute them. I can’t be bogged down with the details.

“Its a possibility”
Translation: There is no way in heck we’re going to do that, but I don’t like to say no. So instead you keep thinking its a possibility and I’ll keep dreaming up new ideas for you to work on.

“That’s a great idea, talk to the staff leader”
Translation: That’s a terrible idea, but I don’t like to say no. (See “Its a possibility” above) I will send you to a staff member who will say no for me, so you’ll be mad at him instead of me.

“I was talking to my wife and she agrees we should change it”
Translation: The law of the pastor’s wife is as unchangeable as the law of the Medes and Persians. There’s no debate, no modification, no appeal. Just make it happen.

“We’re going to do what New Elevation Lifechurch does”
Translation: I went to another church conference and now we’re going to change everything so we can be successful like the really big churches.

“We’re going to stop doing what New Elevation Life Church does”
Translation: I know we just changed everything, but I don’t want to do that anymore. We’ve been doing it for 3 months and we’re not seeing the results I think we should see. So now we’re going to do something else. (See “We’ll figure it out”)

“We need to reorganize”
Translation: Its time to play staff musical chairs again. Where you stop nobody knows. Hopefully it won’t involve moving your family this time.

“We need to make a change”
Translation: Someone is going to lose their job. As a staff member you’re never quite sure when this one is coming or when the axe will swing your way. As comforting as it is to know how gut-wrenching this type of decision is for the Senior Pastor, it still tends to sting a little. (Extreme sarcasm alert in the previous sentence.)

These examples are an exaggeration and compilation of all the pastors I’ve worked with. The point is there are two kinds of stress in working for a church; the stress of being in control and the stress of not being in control. I’m not saying the stress the staff feels is as intense as the Senior Pastor’s, but its good to experience what its like to be on the other side of the desk occasionally. Maybe your stress isn’t worse than mine, just different.


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About Geoff Surratt

Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife Sherry. (CEO of MOPS International) Geoff and Sherry have two awesome kids (Mike and Brittainy), a wonderful daughter-in-law (Hilary) and the most beautiful granddaughters on earth (Maggie Claire and Mollie Rose) Geoff has served on staff at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church. He now serves as Pastor of Church Planting at Southeast Christian in Parker, Colorado as well coaching churches and leaders around the country. He blogs at Inner Revolution.

  • Ann Chan

    STRESS-Inducing Phrase: “I know your plate is full but…” OR “I don’t care if you agree with me or not… JUST SUBMIT!” ; ))

    • Ann Chan

      Just to clarify. Self-initiated clarification –
      I meant my earlier post to be TONGUE-IN-CHEEK! : )) I had been a senior pastor’s wife for 25 years. My husband has often said to me “I know your plate is full but…” (which I don’t mind!) – however, he never had to use the second phrase: “I don’t care if you agree with me or not, just submit!” (because he is thoroughly reasonable… and because I AM submissive!)

  • JG

    As Geoff mentions, “these examples are an exaggeration and compilation..” are only the beginning of such a number that we could compile a directory-sized book. There is micro-managing, we’ve done this for awhile now we need to change, the senior pastor’s use of authority to do it according to his preference, even not his full knowledge of what may be taking place in lives of some people of true life-change within someone’s walk with Christ.
    Having been on both sides of that senior pastor desk, an associate pastor on a multi-staff and senior pastor with a multi-staff, As an associate I understand and desire to share and assist to carry any load the pastor may want me to carry. An associate should be not just another staff member “doing” ministry within their responsibilities but an armor-bearer. I have always viewed ministry as we are in this together, no matter what.
    I have even bigger statements; no two people will always agree on every point; i.e. what or how something should be done, so how do we openly discuss this without any aggravations or impediments to the relationship. How can I tell the senior pastor he is micro-managing. For realistically whether its one of the senior pastors sermons, a ministry area of an associate there will always be times when things are well and not as well as desired. Hey, we have all preached a sermon we thought would be MUCH better than what came out of our mouths. Ministries that may not have flourished as we prayed, planned, prepared.
    My point is simple; we are a team, yes we understand and respect authority, but allow each one the room to pursue their ministries, have appropriate accountability, honest open dialog even if we may not agree on each item. Yet refuse to allow anything to begin even a small crack in our staff’s cohesiveness. For aren’t we smart enough to see the need in exerting our energies outwardly in the fight to reach more people for Christ than internally for our personal preference. Just some thoughts from someone who has been there, done that.

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