LEADERSHIP STRESS And the Pastor

Although a minister may have positional authority due to his or her office, a preacher must gain sufficient trust and earn the respect of key stakeholders in order to receive implied permission to exert his or her leadership. The process could take years. The formula for moving to the permission phase requires the development of key alliances or relationships within the congregation as well as competent performance in the pastoral role. Omission of either of these factors could delay or destroy the possibility of assuming the leader’s role.

In my research, all of the study participants had their leadership challenged, which should come as no surprise. “The church is a volunteer organization, and there’s no more difficult group to run” (Miller, 1988, p. 72). Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman found when commanding volunteers, “I never did like to serve with volunteers because instead of being governed, they govern” (Miller, 1988, p. 72).

Both Oswald (1991) and McMinn et al. (2005) reported that role conflicts were a source of stress. Since ministers are considered a transient population for a local church and often are the newest members of the parish, there is often a lack of agreement over the role of the pastor (Carroll, 2006).

The vast majority of participants experiencing stress related to leadership issues in the study assumed pulpits in well-established churches. As a result, friction occurred usually within the first two years as the new minister found traction and the antecedent leaders perceived a loss of their long-held influence. That is not to say that leadership issues may not arise later in a pastor’s tenure. Ben and Gwen both experienced challenges to their leadership several years into their ministry. Ben was able to survive because of the lay leaders he had developed. Gwen had not successfully developed the same type of leaders and it contributed to her stress as well as her eventual exit.

As the new pastor, Ben was told by the leaders of the church, “We do all the management. All you need to do is preach and teach. If you do that, you’ll be fine.” In Ben’s case, it was because “some people in your leadership don’t want to move beyond building a nice pretty building so that caused some stress.” In his view, construction of a new building “really wasn’t the issue. The issue was who was going to be the leader?” As far as Ben was concerned, “It’s the stress of whose going to influence the congregation?” Ben made it a point to develop relationships aside from the negative remnant. He also performed competently in his role as shepherd of God’s flock.

Donna dealt with both a matriarchal and patriarchal figure at her parish. Both wielded financial influence. One way in which the patriarch tried to manipulate Donna and the church administrative board had to do with a construction project. “We were paving the parking lot and he was going to give us $11,000 to do the parking lot.” The prospective donor wanted the job to go to a friend of his. When a member suggested the church receive a couple of bids, “It made him so mad that he wouldn’t give the $11,000.” The patriarch’s continual wielding of financial blackmail and constant bickering was a consistent source of consternation for Donna.

The Hersey-Blanchard situational model (1982) suggests successful leaders adjust their styles based on the maturity of the followers. With that in mind, Hersey and Blanchard proposed four leadership styles: delegating, participating, selling, and telling.

“Telling” is for low maturity people who are both unable and unwilling to take responsibility to do something and are not competent or confident (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982, p. 153). It defines roles and requires directive behavior.

“Selling” is for low to moderate maturity (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982, p. 153). These people are unable but willing to take responsibility and are confident but lack skills. Ben’s situation would fit into this category. Ben inherited a group that had low skill sets. He was able to not only motivate them, but developed the requisite skill sets in various groups to engage the fulfillment of a shared vision.

“Participating” is for moderate to high maturity people (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982, p. 153). At this maturity level, they may be able but unwilling to do what the leader wants. They possess a motivational problem. The leader needs to practice double-loop learning to support the followers’ efforts so that the leader and followers share in decision-making.

“Delegating” is for high maturity people both willing and able to take responsibility (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982, pp. 153-154). This level requires little direction or support.

If a pastor is unable or unwilling to adapt his or her leadership style according to the church situation, it could result in acute stress. Miller (2000) cited statistics revealing nineteen percent of pastors indicated they had been forced out of ministry at least once during their career and six percent said they had been fired from a ministry position.

It is important to note that preachers are not perfect. My investigation did not seek to project clergy as infallible and incapable of making judgment errors. As a researcher listening as objectively as possible to the narratives, it was not always difficult to see how a participant made a critical leadership error. In that sense, some of the stress reported by the participants was self-inflicted. Some impatiently forced their agendas despite a low maturity level exhibited by the followers. It would have been refreshing to hear these individuals admit a mistake, but that was not always forthcoming.

William K. Westafer, Ed. D.

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Resources

  • Carroll, J. (2006). God’s potters: Pastoral leadership and the shaping of congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmann’s Publishing Company
  • Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. H. (1982). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. McMinn, M. R. Lish, R. A., Trice, P. D., Root, A. M., Gilbert, N., & Yap, A. (2005).
  • Care for Pastors: Learning from Clergy and Their Spouses. Pastoral Psychology, 53(6), 563-581.
  • Miller, K. A. (1988). Secrets of staying power: Overcoming the discouragements of ministry. Waco, Texas: Christianity Today, Inc.
  • Miller, K. (2000). 10 telling statistics about pastors: Research on money, sex, and power. LeadershipJournal.net. Retrieved October 2, 2007, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/cln00712.html.
  • Oswald, R. M. (1991). Clergy self-care: Finding balance for effective ministry. New York City: An Alban Institute Publication.

About Dale Roach

Dale is the creator of "Like A Team." He has been working with businesses, charity organizations, volunteer groups and church groups in the development of teamwork for over 25 years. The goal of "Like A Team" is to help share the knowledge and skills of healthy team creators across the planet.
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