A while back I was talking with a colleague in ministry and we were talking about lessons we've learned in pastoring and serving in churches. I quipped "I feel like of all the things I've learned is that 75% of pastoring is just not being a jerk." I'll be honest, it was a throwaway line. I didn't think much of it except that I've seen way too many jerks in churches shipwreck their ministries, discourage and damage the church, and leave ripple effects that are still there long after they've left.
Since then I've reflected more on it, and really believe there is something to the simple statement of "don't be a jerk." Most of the wounds that we take in ministry, and I say this from firsthand experience, are self-inflicted. It's not that someone is taking shots at us, it's that we're punching ourselves in the face and then wondering why our nose hurts. One of the easiest ways is just not to be a jerk.
Jerks use their sermons as a cannon, not a banquet - The time we're preaching is an opportunity for us to bring spiritual food to the church. We've spent all week preparing and studying, we've crafted the menu and we're lifting the lid to present them with a spiritual meal to sustain them, help them grow, strengthen them, comfort them, challenge them, and help them be more like Jesus. Jerks use their sermons as a chance to take shots at people, or passive-aggressively deal with things without naming names or using vague illustrations.
Jerks view their team as disposable, not resources - I say this primarily to those who are in first chair positions, the ministry team (staff and volunteers) around you are an asset, a resource, and a blessing. I think about the times I've been the new guy and how helpful those established staff members were to navigate things as simple as "where's the nearest Chick-Fil-A" to more complex things like "Why don't those two people get along?" Jerks look at their team as disposable pieces who are at best a tolerable nuisance and at worst a threat to their position.
Jerks view sheep as a threat - The image of a pastor is that of a shepherd, one who provides for and cares for the sheep. Sure the sheep may bite occasionally and nip our hands, but by and large our calling as shepherds is to come alongside the sheep and invest ourselves in them. Good shepherds are willing to get dirty, to do hard things, and occasionally get nipped by a sheep because they love the sheep and want the best for them. Jerks look at the nipping sheep as a threat, and the non-nipping sheep as a potential threat. They're not concerned with providing for the sheep or caring for them, they want the sheep to serve them and view people as a roadblock to ministry.
Jerks think everything is a nail and hammer accordingly - There are times that a pastor's toolbox needs a hammer, and times that we exercise strong leadership, even confrontational leadership. But a good shepherd sees what tool is required and uses the right one for the purpose. Jerks look at fragile glass as a nail and themselves as the hammer. Of course what happens is destruction. Hammers aren't meant for fragile glass.
Finally, jerks don't see themselves at fault, it's always someone else - The street prophet Taylor Swift nails it when she sings "It's me, hi, I'm the problem. It's me." There's a lot of wisdom to take from that to own up to our faults, to own our mistakes. Sometimes an event that we plan and pour ourselves into tanks. It just happens. A good shepherd will look at that and learn from it, recognize their own faults and mistakes, and grow from it. A jerk is going to look for someone else to blame because it couldn't possibly be them.
Pastors, be a good shepherd. Don't be a jerk. And if you are a jerk, there's no better time than now to do a heart check and get help to be the shepherd and leader God wants you to be.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.