You ever have that feeling where your stomach is in a knot?
For some of us it’s an all too real feeling. For me, it happens on specific occasions. After becoming an LSU fan, I felt it in the fourth quarter of every football game with Les Miles on the sidelines.
I feel it in every close New England Patriots game, which only intensifies in January. In some cases, I can’t even eat before or during games. I feel it every time I communicate in a large setting. I even feel it sometimes when I call people back on the phone (no judging).
Early last month the feeling arrived but this time in a different scenario than normal. Our lead pastors took their vacation – and for the first time – they were out for three consecutive weeks.
They’ve left in the past, but it was never this long. The moment they left – the feeling came. It was the first time we ever felt the weight and pressure of a lead pastor.
It made me think about Moses and Joshua and the ‘knot in the stomach feeling’ they must’ve felt. Moses literally felt the weight of leading – he saw it in the thousands of eyes constantly watching him. He felt it with the numerous complaints he handled.
The weight was so strong; Moses in frustration told God: “The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” (Numbers 11:14)
Joshua, who was Moses’ predecessor, grew up watching how people treated Moses. He grew up seeing Moses fail to deliver on the promise and how that was received by the people.
In Joshua 1, God spoke the words “be strong and courageous” three different times to Joshua. The tribes and leaders looked at Joshua moments later and – you guessed it – told Joshua to be “strong and courageous.”
You know what that tells me? Joshua was most likely worried about the task at hand. I’m sure at this point he had the weight and pressure of being the head leader for the first-time. He needed God and others to affirm him and speak over him that he would be strong and courageous.
The weight and pressure of leading is very real.
You wouldn’t typically read a blog where a lead pastor wrote about this topic because it’s almost self-serving – it’s like saying, “hey, come look at all the pressure on my shoulders.”
But, we can talk about it from the other side with some real-time experience that will help all staff members and church attendees gain a fresh perspective. Here’s three experiences we encountered when our leads pastors were gone.
1. We had no buffer zone.
There is a certain comfort in knowing there’s other people “in charge.” While our team dynamic is very fluid as we all have different responsibilities we never noticed the buffer zone that exists.
Our lead pastors delegate responsibilities and authority to other areas. We get the ability to cast vision and implement strategy for our teams. We operate within teams we’ve developed, and we operate within our church’s vision.
While we have hard conversations and work through decisions – it’s comforting to know we can go to our pastors. They are our buffer zone. We gain insight and wisdom from them on situations that make us better leaders.
In a moment, the buffer zone was gone. Now, people were approaching us for that same insight and wisdom. While we were up to the task and hopefully adequately helped others, the weight and pressure of decision making was elevated.
In a normal situation, we can bounce the ideas or conflict off of them – it helps our thought process overall. But, without them – you just handle it. The dynamic changes drastically.
2. We were in maintenance mode.
The normal flow of our operations are for the most part proactive. A lot of what we do within small groups (Kayla) and the volunteer team (Matt) is strategizing for the future. A good deal of our two areas of involvement is focused on leadership development.
In just three weeks, we found ourselves in maintenance mode. The crazy thought is that our lead pastors’ general responsibilities were not accounted for – we simply took on conversations and small decisions while they were gone.
So, concerning those minor elements, we were just trying to keep our heads above water. We didn’t have time to think of new ideas, meet with leaders, or strategize for the future.
Instead we were on the phone making sure people were being visited in the hospital – wedding and baby dedication details were planned – and counseling was conducted with individuals.
It gave us a reminder of how difficult it is for churches to grow. We previously served at a church with under 100 attendees with three total pastoral staff. The church struggled with growth, but as much as the pastor cast vision and strategy a lot of his time was in maintenance mode out of necessity.
Now, while we do have teams and small groups to facilitate a lot of the administration and pastoral care side of ministry – it will always exist to an extent for every pastor.
A leader can’t cast vision and strategize while living in maintenance mode. We received a glimpse of that with our teams – never mind pastors who lead churches with little team support!
3. We were exhausted.
This is where the spiritual weight of leading kicked in. We honestly couldn’t explain it.
We’ve heard a few stories from friends who transitioned to become lead pastors where the spiritual weight was heavy and exhausting – especially in the beginning. One of our close friends told us he couldn’t sleep for weeks.
We felt this weight by the end of week two. To try and explain the feeling it’s almost like if everyone in your church put their own individual pressure and struggles on your shoulders.
It’s honestly difficult to put into words.
During this time, our normal habits flew out the window. We ate poorly. We didn’t go to the gym, and we didn’t have one good night of sleep.
After experiencing this, our hearts (again) burdened for those without team support. See, even with our pastors here, a lot of the things are delegated to the staff or small group leaders. Therefore, I can see how many pastors have it all on their plate and why a large majority of churches stay small. The weight and pressure of leading is on one couple’s shoulders. You can’t live or lead that way.
So, now what?
When our pastors came back from vacation, we sent a long text of appreciation.
At one time or another, every staff member and church attendee has complained or criticized their pastors. At some point of time we’ve all done it.
For one, staff members question their decisions or want them to move faster on things, but we don’t carry the weight of the change. I’ll never forget our first team meeting when our church staff grew from three to eight almost overnight. All of us looked at our lead pastor and told him we desperately needed to change and rebrand our logo and name.
He was disinterested. He remained this way for six or so months. Finally one day at a meeting – he looked at us and said, “let’s change the logo and rebrand.” He gave reasoning and wisdom as to the timing, something we all overlooked.
Were we all a little frustrated he took so long to decide? Oh, definitely. But ultimately he knew what was best. He sensed something we – not being the lead pastor – could not understand.
As for church attendees, many say things like, “the pastor only works on Wednesday or Thursday.” I know this is said because I heard it during my first week in ministry, and while we know that’s not true, most people cannot tell you one thing the pastor does during the week (aside from sermon prep). I’ll be the first one to admit it. Before I worked at a church that’s what I thought.
Furthermore, it’s easy to become critical. It’s easy to be critical of the facility, the sermon series, the worship song (even though the lead pastor likely didn’t select it), and even deeper – being critical of the leader’s family.
But let’s be real – you don’t know the weight and pressure they have on them. Let’s be real, we both didn’t fully understand all but a month ago.
For staff members and those who attend church, I think the word for us is grace. We stepped in those shoes for three weeks, and I can promise you they felt very different than expected.
Let’s continue to extend grace to our leaders. When they seem slow to decide – offer grace. When they decide to preach on that topic you don’t like – extend grace. When they mess up, forget to call you back, or don’t shake your hand on Sunday – hey, there’s grace. When their kids act a hot mess in the nursery – yes, even still, grace.
Because no matter what we think – we will never truly grasp the weight and pressure they have leading the churches we all love to attend.