Church Staff Survival Kit: 6 tips when the lead pastor throws you under the bus

I actually talked with more than one person this week from various places about this before I got this note last night. This young pastor is trying to do his best but is caught in that season when he is seeing how things hurt even in a healthy church setting.

If you are a lead pastor, I sure hope this helps you see how you might be perceived. You may know less about how those who serve you think than you realize.

In your experience, do lead/senior pastors tend to avoid conflict at all costs…even if it means throwing their worship pastor or anyone else under the bus?

My lead pastor doesn’t go to bat for me or the associate pastor…he’ll even tell me one thing, I will do it well, and then if there is kickback he won’t stand with us.

…Is this a common problem in churches, ya think?

-Tired At 28

Dear Tired at 28,

Unfortunately, what you are describing is common. When the heat is on, some of the best qualities of a senior pastor or leader create other problems. Leadership is conflict. It’s either deferring conflict, reducing conflict or creating conflict. So, if the tactic is a bad leadership move such as deflecting conflict to his team, we have a problem. This sounds like your case.

The reality is that a lead pastor is worried about the ship and it sinking. This is what keeps him up at night. I wished that more lead pastors stayed up at night and thought of how to support and motivate their team and staff. We cannot change that for you today, but there are some truths in dealing with a weak leader or one who is not as supportive as one would desire. I hope this helps you think through steps to take.

  • If there is heat on the lead pastor, he may view it as your job to relieve the political heat, or take the bullet for him. He may thank you for it, or not. Most likely not.
  • Your bright-eyed idealism does not help a situation where people are attempting to inflict damage on your ministry. Sympathize with the leader about the consequences of your actions and those that might cause heat.
  • It does not matter how personally close you may feel to the leader who is weaker, when the heat is on him you have to shield him. When the heat is on you, you are a hot potato. You will not be shielded. Ouch.
  • Having expectations in writing and roles clarified are a must. This way there is an objective way to remind your leader of your “real” job and what is needed from him (his real job) to succeed.
  • I think it is painful to do, but being honest with your leader about how his actions are not supporting you and therefore put him and his team at risk are in order. So, create your own conflict.
  • You cannot be required to apologize for who you are: a musician, young, a woman in ministry, inexperienced, a dreamer, a driver, etc. You should apologize for behavior that does not match expectations, however.

I sure hope these help. Any feedback from my readers?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

32 comments

  1. Rich, sounds like this young pastor might need some training in Crucial Conversations to be able to broach the subject professionally, effectively, and head-on.

    1. We all need training in that–decent book to get. However, like I said in my first CSK post, even asking questions for clarification are sticky at times in a church setting. There is just something “unprofessional” about the church leadership profession. This is especially true if a leader puts spiritual terms to opinions. It gets toxic.

  2. Rich, sounds like this young pastor might need some training in Crucial Conversations to be able to broach the subject professionally, effectively, and head-on.

    1. We all need training in that–decent book to get. However, like I said in my first CSK post, even asking questions for clarification are sticky at times in a church setting. There is just something “unprofessional” about the church leadership profession. This is especially true if a leader puts spiritual terms to opinions. It gets toxic.

  3. Rich, sounds like this young pastor might need some training in Crucial Conversations to be able to broach the subject professionally, effectively, and head-on.

    1. We all need training in that–decent book to get. However, like I said in my first CSK post, even asking questions for clarification are sticky at times in a church setting. There is just something “unprofessional” about the church leadership profession. This is especially true if a leader puts spiritual terms to opinions. It gets toxic.

  4. Rich, sounds like this young pastor might need some training in Crucial Conversations to be able to broach the subject professionally, effectively, and head-on.

    1. We all need training in that–decent book to get. However, like I said in my first CSK post, even asking questions for clarification are sticky at times in a church setting. There is just something “unprofessional” about the church leadership profession. This is especially true if a leader puts spiritual terms to opinions. It gets toxic.

  5. Rich, sounds like this young pastor might need some training in Crucial Conversations to be able to broach the subject professionally, effectively, and head-on.

    1. We all need training in that–decent book to get. However, like I said in my first CSK post, even asking questions for clarification are sticky at times in a church setting. There is just something “unprofessional” about the church leadership profession. This is especially true if a leader puts spiritual terms to opinions. It gets toxic.

  6. Great topic… I’ve worked under leaders like that before. Praise God that in my current position, our leader is a man of great integrity and actually takes the bullet for his staff when necessary.
    From experience though, I would suggest dealing with all conflict (and I mean all conflict) as quickly and honestly as possible. Granted, it’s always good to pray about situations before you jump into a conversation about them, but I fully believe that the truth will set you free. Whether you are right or wrong in your thinking, the truth will always get you to Gods ultimate purpose quicker than a half-truth, non-truth or hidden truth.

    1. Honestly and “wisely” would be absolutely true. However, what we are talking about here is what to do when you are in a sticky spot where a leader throws you under the bus. There will always be conflict, but what would you say specifically to this young pastor and what results would you expect from it? I would love to hear your perspective.

  7. Great topic… I’ve worked under leaders like that before. Praise God that in my current position, our leader is a man of great integrity and actually takes the bullet for his staff when necessary.
    From experience though, I would suggest dealing with all conflict (and I mean all conflict) as quickly and honestly as possible. Granted, it’s always good to pray about situations before you jump into a conversation about them, but I fully believe that the truth will set you free. Whether you are right or wrong in your thinking, the truth will always get you to Gods ultimate purpose quicker than a half-truth, non-truth or hidden truth.

    1. Honestly and “wisely” would be absolutely true. However, what we are talking about here is what to do when you are in a sticky spot where a leader throws you under the bus. There will always be conflict, but what would you say specifically to this young pastor and what results would you expect from it? I would love to hear your perspective.

  8. Great topic… I’ve worked under leaders like that before. Praise God that in my current position, our leader is a man of great integrity and actually takes the bullet for his staff when necessary.
    From experience though, I would suggest dealing with all conflict (and I mean all conflict) as quickly and honestly as possible. Granted, it’s always good to pray about situations before you jump into a conversation about them, but I fully believe that the truth will set you free. Whether you are right or wrong in your thinking, the truth will always get you to Gods ultimate purpose quicker than a half-truth, non-truth or hidden truth.

    1. Honestly and “wisely” would be absolutely true. However, what we are talking about here is what to do when you are in a sticky spot where a leader throws you under the bus. There will always be conflict, but what would you say specifically to this young pastor and what results would you expect from it? I would love to hear your perspective.

  9. Great topic… I’ve worked under leaders like that before. Praise God that in my current position, our leader is a man of great integrity and actually takes the bullet for his staff when necessary.
    From experience though, I would suggest dealing with all conflict (and I mean all conflict) as quickly and honestly as possible. Granted, it’s always good to pray about situations before you jump into a conversation about them, but I fully believe that the truth will set you free. Whether you are right or wrong in your thinking, the truth will always get you to Gods ultimate purpose quicker than a half-truth, non-truth or hidden truth.

    1. Honestly and “wisely” would be absolutely true. However, what we are talking about here is what to do when you are in a sticky spot where a leader throws you under the bus. There will always be conflict, but what would you say specifically to this young pastor and what results would you expect from it? I would love to hear your perspective.

  10. Great topic… I’ve worked under leaders like that before. Praise God that in my current position, our leader is a man of great integrity and actually takes the bullet for his staff when necessary.
    From experience though, I would suggest dealing with all conflict (and I mean all conflict) as quickly and honestly as possible. Granted, it’s always good to pray about situations before you jump into a conversation about them, but I fully believe that the truth will set you free. Whether you are right or wrong in your thinking, the truth will always get you to Gods ultimate purpose quicker than a half-truth, non-truth or hidden truth.

    1. Honestly and “wisely” would be absolutely true. However, what we are talking about here is what to do when you are in a sticky spot where a leader throws you under the bus. There will always be conflict, but what would you say specifically to this young pastor and what results would you expect from it? I would love to hear your perspective.

  11. In short, get out. I would never serve with someone who wouldn’t back me up. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Never again.
    A good leader will support his subordinates… not at any cost… but as a general rule.

    Glad my pastor has my back… and as a result, I’m happy to have his, too.

  12. In short, get out. I would never serve with someone who wouldn’t back me up. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Never again.
    A good leader will support his subordinates… not at any cost… but as a general rule.
    Glad my pastor has my back… and as a result, I’m happy to have his, too.

  13. In short, get out. I would never serve with someone who wouldn’t back me up. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Never again.
    A good leader will support his subordinates… not at any cost… but as a general rule.

    Glad my pastor has my back… and as a result, I’m happy to have his, too.

  14. In short, get out. I would never serve with someone who wouldn’t back me up. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Never again.
    A good leader will support his subordinates… not at any cost… but as a general rule.

    Glad my pastor has my back… and as a result, I’m happy to have his, too.

  15. In short, get out. I would never serve with someone who wouldn’t back me up. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Never again.
    A good leader will support his subordinates… not at any cost… but as a general rule.

    Glad my pastor has my back… and as a result, I’m happy to have his, too.

  16. Social comments and analytics for this post…
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  17. Social comments and analytics for this post…
    This post was mentioned on Twitter by rkweblog: Church Staff Survival Kit: 6 tips when the lead pastor throws you under the bus: http://tinyurl.com/y8mk74x

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  20. My Lead Pastor did this to us about a year and a half ago. We are currently still the youth pastors at this church. He completely threw us under the bus when there was conflict within our youth group. The environment was completely toxic before we even took over this youth group and we managed to still do God’s work during that time of two years. But stuff went really bad when some of the students started to fight with each other and when confronted about what they were doing wrong, blamed us and said it was our fault. We tried talking to the parents, students and everyone involved but they refused to listen to the correction in love that we gave them. So awhile after that the students and parents went to the Pastor and told them how it was all our fault that things were going bad in youth and how awful we were. The senior pastor didn’t even ask us what was going on or back us up. He told us to apologize to all the students for being wrong and threatened to fire us if things didn’t change. I was so heart broken by all this because honestly we tried our hardest to help these students and then got blamed for stuff that we didn’t even do and the Pastor didn’t even support us. Honestly it’s been a year now since this happened and we talked once about this whole situation with him. I feel like a little has changed but not much. I don’t trust him and he still acts like he doesn’t trust us. I just feel like the whole church is run like a corporate business and not as a place where I can share my heart with him or be real. Ministry is hard and you take a lot of hits and when your own Pastor doesn’t support you it really hurts. So I guess I’m just stuck in a place of how to get over all this. I honestly love my Pastor and his wife and I think they do great but I don’t know how I should still feel about all this. I want so badly to move on and forget but I don’t know why I still think about it.
    I want to truely forgive and never think about it. Why can’t I get over it? Please help.

    1. I am so sorry to read about your scenario. Spiritual abuse is when people in power use their position and spiritual language to mistreat those under them. This is why it is hard to get over–something wrong was done to you. You love them, and that is true. But, that love is not going in your direction. Can you live in this situation and still be healthy? If not, then you should exit it! The longer you let this simmer the more danger your long-term ministry is in jeopardy. Just my two cents.

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