Pastors: Stop blaming the Bride

By Joel A. Hess

In Jocko Willink’s wonderful book, “Extreme Ownership,” he begins with a story of the first significant time he failed as a leader of SEAL time expedition. He talks about it as a turning point in his understanding of taking ownership as a leader. More precisely, he realized the importance and necessity of taking blame as the leader. Not ceremonially or officially, but truly receiving blame for the failure!

Willink concludes that no matter the details, the leader could have done something to avoid the failure. Even if all the right decision were made on his part, he could have trained his people better, communicated more clearly, etc. A leader should take the blame and even let his people know that he takes the blame. He even suggests that they will respect him more.

Oh, how we pastors should read this book! How often has my instinct been to blame others for challenges or even failures at my church. Likewise, as a circuit visitor, I have heard pastors blaming their church just the same. Whether it’s outreach, giving, unity, etc., these churches will never get better with a pastor blaming them as if they are a separate entity from him. I actually hear pastors say, “Well they just didn’t want to do this or that.” Who is “they?” It is “we.” We are in this together. We are bound together on this journey and in this family.

First and foremost, I get it. I know the instinct. We all have it. It goes back to the original pastor, Adam, who quickly blamed his bride, Eve, and worse, blamed his creator! No one likes to admit he failed. So we do whatever we can to wiggle out of it. We will even throw our wife under the bus! Pastors will even throw the Bride, the Church, under the bus, saying, “The woman YOU gave me!”

First of all, while every church, people of God, is righteous by God’s declaration and backed by the very blood of Jesus, they are not internally righteous, perfect, sinless. So please leave the pastoral ministry if that is what you expect. You will regularly be frustrated. Second, pastors are sent to flawed churches to lead them by means of God’s Word! They need you!

So if a body of Christ doesn’t like to give to the ministry or to their neighbors? Preach and teach it. Have confidence in the living word of God. Oh, and they probably won’t immediately change. Or their change might be slower than you want. Keep preaching brother! Be patient. It isn’t a sprint; it’s an ultra-marathon.

If a congregation doesn’t appreciate the hymnody or the historic liturgy, or if they are too militant against anything new and simultaneously don’t have a clue about the purpose of worship, don’t whine about it. Preach and teach brother! You are their to lead. So lead.

Or if a community of Christ treats their pastor poorly, don’t complain in blogs. Preach and teach. You have a powerful tool that cuts hearts and heals them. This is not some company job with perks, vacation plan and retirement. We have really made a bunch of snowflakes out of pastors these days. No wonder our seminary enrollment is low. Young men just look at pastors as another profession with benefits. What if the U.S. military advertised like that? Instead the Army advertises adventure, not 401k. As Jesus tells Ananias about Paul’s ordination into the ministry, “I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name.” Sometimes a minister’s suffering is at the hands of his congregation and not the world. Don’t blame them! Perhaps they have never been taught how a pastor and people should get along. Perhaps you are not communicating clearly. Perhaps they have been abused in the past. What can you do, through the Word and prayer, to lead them from where they are to a better place?

Take complete ownership of the faults of your congregation brother! Don’t drag the faults of God’s bride through the mud before your colleagues and friends. You are in this together! You are called a pastor for a reason, meaning shepherd. So shepherd and don’t be surprised when a sheep gets lost or the whole flock is acting crazy.

But as you take ownership and take the blame like a man, remember that ultimately there is one who truly and fully takes ownership for His bride, Jesus. And not only does He take the blame and ownership of your congregation, but He takes your blame as well!

Unlike the first Adam, Jesus placed the blame upon His innocent self. He owns the Church. Thank God! The church’s success is ultimately up to Him. As a pastor, He is my rest and hope when I fail as shepherd. He is the good Shepherd who will never throw His bride under the bus but will instead put her on His shoulders and carry her till the age to come!

One thought on “Pastors: Stop blaming the Bride

  1. Thank you for the post. Although I believe the attempt is to combat the sinful, reactive spirit Pastors take against the congregation (one extreme), it actually poses a solution to real, hard, and dirty realities for many pastors that lacks nuance and is even pushing being a Christian platitude. It essentially answers an extreme with another extreme, without nuance. It uses imagery and analogies from scripture, but all analogies break down (even scriptural ones), especially if they are taken out of the original context and meaning within Scripture.

    The nuance that is lacking is the fact that if you were to run with the husband and wife analogy, then even within marriages, boundaries exist. These boundaries exist within behavior, especially poor behavior. The husband can lead, sure, but the person who has to own the bad behavior is the person who is conducting the bad behavior, say in this case it is the bride. As a leader the husband does no good to the wife by assuming responsibility for something she as an adult made the choice to do. To continue on, churches operate on a family systems level. Churches are wrought with dysfunction and even abuse (emotional and even mental). A pastor does no good to a system such as this to assume the real abuse as his fault as a leader. Being blameful or judiciary is not helpful, of course, but neither is enabling a harmful system. You can’t control others’ behavior, but your own. Saying “no” and “here are the reasons” are the best answers and responses in various situations. This actually can serve as a witness and even execute leadership. Say in a situation where wives abuse their husbands (which exists), does the abused excuse the abuser by assuming fault and responsibility for the abusive behavior out of the notion that Biblically, he’s the leader? No! There are boundaries.

    Equating leadership to one methodology of “taking ownership of the complete faults of the congregation” is harmful. Leadership takes multiple forms, especially in diverse scenarios and situations. In addition, military leadership takes different forms than leading a congregation. It is not a direct parallel in every situation. If this were the case then a great military leader would in every case excel in pastoral leadership. Of course this isn’t an obvious “yes they will.”

    Furthermore, the sheep analogy. People are people who make choices. You cannot control them. Those who aren’t interested in following or being shepherded cannot have a staff wrapped around their neck to pull them back into the fold. You sometimes have to say in a healthy manner “that is them.” If you assume responsibility FOR them and not TO them, boundaries have been crossed and you most likely will do more harm than good. Even on an emotional level, Pastors can most likely make their behavior about seeking out the sheep for their own sense of self to ease their conscience on “fault.” It becomes about their rightness just like being blameful, but takes a different mask.

    Moreover, there are times where you have to take into account individuals or a group who do not have teachable, receptive spirits. You can teach all you want to them, but it won’t help. You can absolutely pray and show love, hoping God will soften their hearts, but their unteachable spirit is not your fault. It is Satan at work and it is their choice. Again, assuming responsibility and thinking the answer is “teach more – teach more!” is not really a solution.
    Unfortunately, even within the “walls” of our church, there are situations that call for even Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:14:

    “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”

    It is a good thing to seek correction and seek to heal the negative and bad spirit Pastors have developed upon which there is much blame and even resentment. Truth is, pastors need pastors, too. This is a piece that does not pastor pastors well, I’m afraid. If there are pastors that believe they are are more mature and stronger leaders, what spirit do they walk alongside who they deem to be more immature and weaker leaders and brothers? Will this piece cut it? I think not. I’ve seen real situations where Pastors have been absolutely hurt by congregations by no fault of their own, and telling them there was something different or more that they could have done and that they need to assume fault in it is perpetuating (perhaps not maliciously) dysfunction and abuse.

    Christ’s peace – His wholeness be with you.

    *Please forgive any spelling errors*

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