Through our leadership in the local church, we as pastors have the opportunity beyond belief to impact people with our words. Every week we preach and in our exposition of the text we have the chance to encourage, plead, edify, and call people to respond.
But our words can also be deadly like poison. If you want to sink your leadership, say these seven things:
1. Complain - It's one thing to be frustrated and have a safe outlet. I think every leader needs a pressure valve who can listen and allow a leader to vent frustrations or air grievances (a la Festivus). But our pressure valve should never be publicly, and should never be something we use as a club against people. Complaining, especially about our job, is a surefire way to poison your ministry.
2. Slam your predecessor - You ride in on the white horse and people love you when you arrive at a new ministry assignment. But your predecessor was loved too, even if he didn't do everything the way you think it should have been done. Our predecessors labored, loved, and served people. His leaving left an emotional wound in many people. Don't exacerbate that by slamming him. And if he was a lazy bum, keep it to yourself.
3. Talk about your "dream job" - One of the things a lot of (especially younger) ministry leaders are accused of is using a church as a stepping stone. The reason why that happens is way too many have, and talk about their dream job. You cannot control how long you'll stay in one place, and you may very well have a desire to one day serve in a particular city or church. But when you focus on that, rather than the place God has you now, you're doing a disservice not only to your church but to your obedience to God.
4. Gripe about your salary - Hear me. I am not saying a pastor is not allowed to ask for a raise or for a church to consider factors like education, years of tenure, growth, expanded budget, etc. as factors for a salary increase. You may in fact be underpaid and struggling to make ends meet. But asking is different than griping. Too many pastors are scared to ask for a raise because they've heard horror stories of pastors griping about a raise. If you feel your salary package is out of alignment with your family's needs, your church's capacity to support, or your "market value" (I hate using that term), consider bringing in outside eyes through your denomination to help navigate.
5. Losing your temper - Several years ago I did something really stupid, I lost my cool during a sermon. Pockets of people in our church had beaten down our pastor for decades, and my anger towards them came out. Even though I apologized, repented, and asked forgiveness, there were people who would walk out of service when it was my turn to preach, some who wanted me fired, and others who made it their job to make my life miserable. And you know what? I deserved it. Righteous anger directed towards sin is different than you channeling old school Driscoll and yelling.
6. Talking down your wife - Guys, this one is easy. Don't be a jerk about your wife, in public or in private. Don't use her for negative illustrations. Don't pick on her in conversations. She is your treasure, your jewel, and your love.
7. Trashing your previous church - We all get it, you left. If it was sunshine and roses you probably wouldn't have moved on. But the way you talk about your past ministry assignments is an indicator about how you will talk about your current assignment when it becomes your past assignment. It's one thing to tell funny stories, or even crazy stories of things that happened, but don't let it turn into trashing. You gave good years there. Take the high road.
How else can leaders poison their ministry with their words?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.