Top Weaknesses of Effective Pastors

Top Weaknesses of Effective Pastors
Tom Harper


Thom Rainer has written volumes on church health, leadership, and church consulting and growth. His research has yielded much more than he could fit in his many books, and he has graciously allowed me to summarize a small part of that work. According to Thom, an effective church attracts the unchurched and grows as a result of its outreach. Implied in this definition of effectiveness is how well the church fulfills its biblical purposes (see Acts 2:42–47).

A study Thom and his team conducted a few years ago focused on the strengths and weaknesses of leaders of effective churches. The leaders’ best practices – as well as their admitted deficiencies – are worth noting as you examine your own gifts and shortcomings. Let’s touch on a few of their top weaknesses.

Pastoral ministry. Leaders of effective churches fall short in this category, but that’s not necessarily a negative. The Rainer research team was surprised to discover that leaders of effective churches spent 10 hours per week in pastoral care, while leaders of the comparison churches spent twenty-three hours in the same type of ministries. One pastor from Nevada told the Rainer research team, “If I get a consistent criticism, it is my failure to live up to the expectations to minister to each person individually. But if I lived up to all their expectations, I wouldn’t have time for sermon preparation, personal evangelism, and just plain ol’ dreaming. I constantly live with this tension but refuse to give up time from the responsibilities.”

But if this “flaw” exists in the most effective churches, then the conclusion is that you as the pastor don’t have to excel in ministry tasks like counseling, hospital visits, weddings and funerals to lead a church of excellence. Base your role on advice from the book of Acts: when the leader ministers by the Word and prayer, others in the church are unleashed and empowered to contribute to the care of those being ministered to.

“In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. “Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” (Acts 6:1-4, NIV)

Task-driven and impatient. While getting things done is a positive attribute of effective leaders, the leaders themselves rank it as a defect in their personal style that kept them from developing rich connections with the people around them. Though we revere executives and pastors who drive forward to achieve goals and visions, productivity can be a leadership limitation when it gets out of balance. Many effective pastors say this trait manifests itself at the expense of fellowship and to the exclusion of relational issues, including building relationships with church members and staff.

A pastor from North Carolina says, “I get so focused on a project that I often fail to take people’s feelings into consideration. It’s good to be task-driven, but it’s not good to be so driven that you forget about people.” Another pastor says, “When I move so fast that the people don’t know what’s going on, I run into obstacles, criticisms and apathy. I’m trying to learn that you just can’t communicate too much.”

Related weaknesses reported by ministers were “lack of patience” and “dealing with staff” – casualties of a task-driven style. Consider some quotes from the research:

* “No area of ministry frustrates me more than dealing with staff. I feel so inept.”
* “My worst mistakes in ministry have mostly been related to issues with the ministry team.”
* “The two greatest conflicts I have had in ministry had to do with firing a staff member and not dealing with a weak staff member.”

Dealing with criticism. Almost 7 out of 10 leaders note this as a weakness. An Evangelical Free Church pastor says, “Reaching the unchurched is spiritual warfare. Attacks and criticisms are to be expected, but we cannot give up on the Great Commission just because our feelings have been hurt.”

An effective way to diffuse criticism is to prevent it. The research team found that the leaders admitted their weaknesses without hesitation. This paradox is reminiscent of the “Level 5 Leader” in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: when you admit your weaknesses, you actually strengthen your leadership. One of Thom’s researchers talked to a 32 year-old mother of two who had become a Christian only five months earlier. She said the main reason she chose her current church was the pastor. “More than anything else was Bruce’s transparency,” she said, “his willingness to admit mistakes. He is just a real person.”

Bad time management. These pastors worry about their lack of family time, Bible study, and prayer. But they also knew they needed to spend more time in personal evangelism. Though the pastors spend on average five hours a week in personal evangelism, they feel this isn’t enough. One point to note is that these effective leaders are more self-critical than others. Sharing the gospel for five hours a week may be satisfactory for the comparison church leaders.

Failure to develop a strategic plan. Slightly more than half the pastors say they don’t plan well for the long-term or fail altogether to develop a strategic plan for their church. One of the reasons the leaders express concern over this perceived weakness is related to their passionate desire to reach the unchurched. “I need something to keep me on focus to reach people for Christ,” says a pastor from Illinois. “If I could just get a plan in place, I think I would have a more intense and intentional focus to reach the unchurched.” When is a weakness a strength? The pastors in this study show that God still blesses churches in spite of the leaders’ shortcomings – perhaps even because of them.

This article “Top Weaknesses of Effective Pastors” by Tom Harper was excerpted from: web site. June 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”