It’s always difficult to hear the news about a senior pastor stepping down from a church. I didn’t know Perry Noble personally, but I am a pastor. While I’m not currently serving in local church ministry, I did for many years. It doesn’t take someone long in that role to realize the pressure can be suffocating and even impossible at times—no matter the size of the congregation.
Perry’s situation is a tragedy though not necessarily unique. It’s hard sometimes to admit that pastors are often asked to live up to unrealistic expectations. Decades ago, being a pastor meant something very different than it does today. You preached on Sundays, visited shut-ins and those in the hospital, and participated in the life of the community in which you served.
But something happened along the way.
At some point, being a pastor became much, much more. The modern pastor is often expected to develop the mission and vision of the church, understand how to fund it, manage multiple and complex Board structures, plan for infrastructure and real estate expansion and improvements, develop volunteers, recruit staff, be a trained counselor, conduct pastoral care, preach, and a variety of other things. The person who fills this role is expected to always dress the part, use the right words, and be a model husband, father, and personally fit individual.
And all of this comes with traditionally less pay, more work hours, and little support in most cases when compared to other professional settings.
I believe the growing list of expectations for a pastor today is a recipe for disaster—for the pastor and the church.
Now I’m not excusing Perry’s choices. Nor is he. But I can understand and relate to the pressures that made him feel like he needed to find a way to escape it all. While the person on the platform may appear superhuman, I can assure you that is not the case. Instead, that individual and family need your prayers, support, and encouragement more than you can begin to imagine.
It’s simply too much for any one person to try to manage and accomplish on their own. As a result, too many pastors burn up and burn out. They end up leaving their God-given calling for other careers or fall into habits or depression that will likely destroy anyone and everyone in their wake. Sadly, some even take their life.
It’s time to pause, reflect, and ask: what can we learn from this situation?
Again, I don’t know Perry personally, but I try to learn from every leader. Perry was obviously an exceptionally effective pastor, and his ministry had a profound impact on his community, congregation, and many others. I also think he did many things right as his struggles became public. I’m not glorifying him, but I do want to learn from his example.
Here are ten things I believe every pastor—and leader—can learn from Perry:
- Don’t try to carry the world on your back. You have limits. Recognize and respect them. Don’t try to push beyond them.
- Resist the performance trap. God’s call is enough. You don’t need someone else to validate your personhood. You have value. And God has placed His divine design within you for a purpose and
- Recognize you can’t do it alone. Build a team around you—even if they are volunteers. You were never meant to do this alone.
- Make your personal health and the health of your family a priority. God did not intend for your leadership to result in broken and toxic relationships within your family. Strained marriage and family relationships are an important warning sign and a remarkable indicator of a lack of balance and health.
- Pay attention to your intuition. If you think something is not right, seek out help. You can’t trust your gut for everything. Know when to get good counsel.
- The desire to escape your present circumstances should reveal something isn’t right. If the pressure is too much, that’s OK. Every leader feels like that. It’s how you deal with those pressures that will either make or break you.
- The choices you make in private will impact your public leadership eventually. It’s easy to excuse behavior, thoughts, and emotions if you think no one will ever know about it. Just know your secrets will surface or manifest in some way if you don’t deal with them in a healthy way.
- Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable. Leaders must resist the urge only to be around people who say “yes” to every idea or decision. Find people who will challenge your thinking, behavior, and leadership. It’s the only way you’ll grow and will prevent you from straying too far off the path.
- Gray areas are fertile ground for destructive decisions to be made. Life is gray; I get that. But when you start to see the whole world as gray, it can become a slippery slope that could have very damaging—and public—consequences.
- Face your situation with eyes wide open. Don’t shy away from the consequences of your decision. Face them head on. Whatever it may cost you now will be much less than what it will cost you if you try to ignore something or explain it away. You will never fool the people closest to you for very long.
If we are going to prevent more pastors from being consumed by the pressure of being a pastor, we’re going to have to think differently about how we structure that role, the expectations placed upon the person who fills that role, and the support system designed around that role. If we’re going to keep our best and brightest in the pulpit, it’s imperative that the senior pastor feels the strength and support of the community.
My prayers are with Perry, his family, and the people of NewSpring Church as they move forward in the midst of this terrible situation. The good news is that I don’t believe God wastes anything. He can use all things for good—even terrible situations and circumstances. I’ve seen Him do it in my life, and I believe He will do it in this situation, too.
CHALLENGE: Find three people you respect and trust. Ask them to evaluate your life and leadership around the ten areas above to determine if there are areas in your life that are at risk and need to be addressed.