Luke is a pastor of a growing, thriving church in New England. He and his wife planted the church fifteen years ago – and the Lord has blessed. The church has grown to nearly two thousand in attendance. The church just completed their second building campaign, which added a much needed permanent worship space which would allow the church to move from three services back to two, thus easing the stress on Luke, the worship team, the nursery and generally everybody! The staff is healthy, the leadership team is comprised of Godly leaders who are much more than smart business leaders and the Gospel is preached. All is right with the world, right??
While year fifteen is cause for celebration, the road to their present location has been filled with obstacles, detours and heartache. Luke has led through the difficult days with grace and zeal, which I have seen in few pastors.
Several months ago Luke came to me in a state of exhaustion. He was discouraged, fatigued and considering leaving the church to which he and his wife had given their lives. In many ways, Luke’s state of despair made little sense. Many pastors would love to lead a church family with the staff, leadership and facility of this growing church. Yet, here sat Luke, ready to walk away from it all.
After several hours of talking through Luke’s discouragement, we came to the care which Luke himself was receiving. “Honestly”, Luke said, “I feel as if I go to great lengths to champion my staff. I regularly go to bat for the staff with our elders. I work to get them a generous salary, a healthy benefits package, opportunity for rest and opportunities for continuing education. I work hard to create a grace-centered environment where everyone is free to take risks and everyone is free to fail. I recently heard someone in the church complaining about our children’s pastor’s work ethic, and I ardently went to her defense, passionately explaining to the person that they have no idea the work going on behind the scenes that no one will ever see. I regularly affirm my staff in front of the congregation. The staff knows with 100% certainty that I have their back. All of that is good and right as I believe that a key role I play as lead pastor is to zealously champion my staff. And yet, my heart is discouraged to the point of quitting. The problem is simply this, I don’t have anyone championing me.”
Luke is not alone in his observation. In church after church I meet with lead pastors who do not feel as if they have a champion. They lack that one person who has made it a personal goal to watch out for them. In Luke’s case, in year three of the church, a financial shortfall nearly caused them to close the doors. Luke reduced his salary by 50%, sold multiple personal assets (Including his car) and dipped into retirement savings to make payroll – for three months! In other words, Luke gave it all. Yet, when the church reached a place of financial health (in year seven), the sacrifice that Luke and his family had made was all but forgotten. And yet, Luke and his family were still working to dig out of the deep financial hole, the result of extreme generosity on the part of Luke and his wife. In year ten (seven years after the financial crisis), Luke’s salary had yet to be restored to the level it was in year three when he voluntarily took the reduction.
The failure to correct Luke’s situation was not an intentional slight. People were not ungrateful for the incredible leadership Luke provided the congregation. If the church had any clue of the financial burden the family was bearing, they would have immediately come to their aid. The problem was the same problem that plagues thousands of congregations when it comes to the care of their pastor. People simply forgot.