This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
This is the third phone conversation this month. Your friend has been the senior pastor at his church for almost 5 years now. It hasn’t been easy for him. In fact, he often solicits your counsel. And you have always been grateful to give it. This time, however, the situation is different. Routine challenges have given way to messier, more substantive problems. Your friend just revealed to you that three families are leaving his church, one of which had been at the church for over 20 years.
As you’ve done in the past, you offer your friend counsel. You try to draw him out. To encourage him. To listen and resonate. But in this conversation, something about him is more pronounced. Something else is behind his narrative, his tone. In the moment, it’s hard to identify—even harder to address. Longing to believe the best, you tell yourself, “He’s just venting.” But what strikes you is the one-sidedness of his story. Your friend’s vent is more than a passing defense. It’s an epic tale in which, like Edmond Dantès, he’s fallen victim to injustice. You hear very few first-person pronouns in this story.
After about 45 minutes, you pray together and hang up the phone. But it’s still on your brain. So you sit down and write to him:
I am so thankful for you. It has been one of my greatest joys to see God lead you to your church, and to pray for you from afar as you serve. It’s hard to believe it’s already been 5 years that you’ve been in your current ministry. I want you to know that our friendship has been invaluable in my own life and ministry. Iron sharpens iron, and you have certainly sharpened me, my friend.
I know we’ve often spoken of the challenges of ministry. And I know that you recognize you aren’t above the struggles and dangers. It’s especially wearying when one difficulty introduces another, and you feel like the church walls are crumbling inward. After our last conversation, I suppose you feel this way.
As you were expressing your most recent hardships to me, I noticed something I’d like you to think about. It’s not about your church. It’s not even about your current situation. It’s about your leadership approach, so to speak. I’ve noticed something in our recent conversations that I admit I sensed before, yet never brought up. Dear brother, I’ve never heard you name your failures. I’ve never heard you come clean with your personal flaws. In fact, as I think back upon our conversations, I can’t think of a time that you’ve been vulnerable with your weakness.
I pray you can hear the love in these words. Brother, I believe you need to admit your faults.
This is bigger and deeper than your current situation. Humbly admitting your faults ought to become the constant posture of your leadership. It’s strange to say, but pastoral leadership is built upon weakness. You remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” You remember Paul’s assessment of himself to the Corinthians, “I am the least of the apostles.” He even went so far as to say he was the “least of all the saints!” (Eph 3:8). And, don’t forget his crippling, lingering “thorn in the flesh.” It was the Lord who said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Which led Paul to declare, “For when I am weak; then I am strong.”
It may seem backwards, but weakness is your greatest strength. We are now citizens of an upside-down kingdom. When you admit your faults, come clean with your failures, and confess your sins—you invite others into the process of redemption and reconciliation. I realize this kind of leadership is particularly challenging in your context. It’s likely the case that some on your leadership team might look down on you for being vulnerable. If I might be so bold as to say, that is okay! Let your leadership be drenched in humility and repentance and servitude. It will take time (and courage!), but exposing your faults will draw people toward you and provide a necessary invitation for gospel change.
Finally, in this current matter in your church, admit your faults. Where have you sinned? How can you step toward your current ministry challenge acknowledging your weaknesses? I’m sure you’ve been wronged in some way, and I’m sure an injustice has happened. However, I’m convinced that success in pastoral leadership can only be achieved through brokenness before the Lord and humility toward others. This was the way of the Chief Shepherd who called us to lead as chief sinners.
May God grant you a heart to hear these words—as iron sharpens iron…
Are you a pastor facing similar situations in ministry?
We'd love to pray for you.