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Conflicts Involving the Pastor

Without a doubt, many church conflicts involve the pastor. A question we frequently receive is, "What are the most common or frequent causes of conflict between the pastor and other church leaders or the pastor and the congregation?"

Based on many discussions we have had with pastors and church leaders over the years, the following are the most common or frequent causes we see leading to conflict between the pastor and other church leaders or the pastor and the congregation. The list does not specifically mention moral failure, but that continues to be a major cause for conflict in the church today, particularly as church boards and congregations struggle to respond appropriately to such weaknesses in their spiritual leader.

Not in any particular order, we note the following causes:

  • Failure to meet expectations. The pastor typically seeks to live up to a wide range of expectations. Rather than following Ephesians 4:11-12, many pastors set themselves up for failure by trying to be all things to all men, and that rarely works. Moreover, many pastors are not very effective at teaching their congregations what a biblical model for pastoral leadership in the church really should be. As a result, lay leaders and members set their own standards, and those standards frequently are not met because the pastor does not know what is expected and what conduct should be considered the norm. Where we typically see complaints against pastors for failing to meet expectations is in preaching, leadership, resolving conflicts quickly and biblically, holding others accountable, following through, and modeling personal piety.
  • Failure to implement change appropriately. Change in the church causes many members to get very nervous. Nonetheless, when done appropriately, change is very necessary at times if the church is to be relevant and speak to the issues facing Christians as they seek to live in today's world. Frequently, a pastor attends a seminar or reads a book and gets a new vision for the church. The problem comes when he does not do the hard work of laying a deep foundation for change that will slowly result in broad consensus and willing implementation. Teaching pastors the dynamics of change and how to bring it about in the church would be very worthwhile. Differences between the pastor and other leaders over their vision about the nature and mission of the church is a frequent cause of conflict that results from this failure to provide appropriate leadership in times of change.
  • Personality differences that drive sinful responses. People are different. Sometimes those differences lead to conflict that all too frequently results in power plays and manipulation on the personal level. People pick favorites, and when a favorite is attacked, conflict erupts on a much larger scale. Worldly responses to conflict, rather than biblical ones, seem to be particularly prevalent when simple personality conflicts are encountered, and people easily forget that these situations provide a great opportunity for biblical peacemaking.
  • Idolatry. This is the issue James 4:1-3 addresses. The pastor or another leader ends up placing his personal demands ahead of the centrality of Christ in the church. Many pastors fall into idolatry as they make even the "success" of their ministry the center of church life rather than Christ. Their expectations of others to fulfill the hunger of their idols drive people away. Rather than gently shepherding, the demands of excellence or perfection (or simply self-centered desires) in the church based on their standard and vision disqualify them for effective pastoral ministry.

Note also Dave Edling's paper titled "Counseling the Church in Conflict" that discusses typical failures of leadership when controversial issues come up in the church.

If you would like to talk to someone about assistance from Peacemaker Ministries, you can call 406-256-1583, select option # 4 or your can complete the Request Assistance with Church Conflict form.


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