Church Politics Part 1: Navigating land mines while leading your church

After serving for many years as a staff pastor and leader in the local church, I quickly discovered that what I thought was a purely spiritual activity called ministry required another skill beyond communication, theology, and coaching. Being a politician is how a pastor survives. And, if a pastor survives being a politician perhaps there might be enough left in him to thrive. It takes a navigation in the realm of politicking to remain in the seat or role of a leader, be that youth leader, women’s director, choir director, worship leader, or lead pastor. Many good intentions collide in a church, much like what family life is like. But, as we all know, intent is one thing. How we behave is another.

Politics are about how things appear to the crowd and to the people who pull strings and levers. They are about winners and losers. In a family, this is not a good thing. Politics are about compromise in order to hold power. Winning is how you keep your post. But, its not the kind of game that births altruism. So, if you are in a church and not trying to win someone has to lose. Playing not to lose is how politicians win, however. As long as you are not the loser, you are the winner. You are the last one standing and you then get to hold the keys. Its often not about merit, heart, innovation, or lives changed unless touting these allows you to not lose. So, don’t lose. No matter what!

I thought it might be helpful to have a discussion about common behaviors that poison our leadership. If we can identify the traps, perhaps we can avoid not the politics as much as letting them be the servant in our leadership and not the master. Even so, there are particularly toxic modes of operation that would be better outside of spiritual leadership. The ones I will list in this series of posts may allow you to win politically but lose spiritually. Beware church leaders.

So take this list and let me know if any of them ring a bell. And, how do you treat church politics? Is it a game to master? Is it a necessary evil? Or, is there another way to lead?

  • Stall Pulling the Trigger (non-decisions)
  • Don’t Make Anyone Look Bad (no-backbone)
  • Compare and Contrast (deflect critics)
  • Quid Pro Quo (favors)
  • Dirty Tricks (getting ugly)
  • The Spin (wordsmithing truth)
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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.

17 comments

  1. Wow Rich this is an awesome intro, can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Love this insight to let "politics … be the servant in our leadership and not the master"

    I think there’s good politics and bad. Good is how people who see things differently get things done in a mutually beneficial way; bad is when people get hurt and stuff doesn’t get done.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Rob. With the stats for these posts its a very popular post yet I fear people are afraid to comment on this one? 🙂

  2. Thanks Rich for the insight and courage to open this subject up. I have worked at three different churches as a staff Pastor. At all three I refused to play the politics game because it’s just not a part of my make up, so at all three churches I was pushed aside and eventually shown the door. It’s tough when you go into ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus but then end up being constantly distracted away from reaching the lost by getting caught in the internal warfare of every day staff politics. Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy.

    1. I wish "Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy." was not true. Sigh.

  3. Thanks Rich for the insight and courage to open this subject up. I have worked at three different churches as a staff Pastor. At all three I refused to play the politics game because it’s just not a part of my make up, so at all three churches I was pushed aside and eventually shown the door. It’s tough when you go into ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus but then end up being constantly distracted away from reaching the lost by getting caught in the internal warfare of every day staff politics. Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy.

    1. I wish "Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy." was not true. Sigh.

  4. Thanks Rich for the insight and courage to open this subject up. I have worked at three different churches as a staff Pastor. At all three I refused to play the politics game because it’s just not a part of my make up, so at all three churches I was pushed aside and eventually shown the door. It’s tough when you go into ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus but then end up being constantly distracted away from reaching the lost by getting caught in the internal warfare of every day staff politics. Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy.

    1. I wish "Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy." was not true. Sigh.

  5. Thanks Rich for the insight and courage to open this subject up. I have worked at three different churches as a staff Pastor. At all three I refused to play the politics game because it’s just not a part of my make up, so at all three churches I was pushed aside and eventually shown the door. It’s tough when you go into ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus but then end up being constantly distracted away from reaching the lost by getting caught in the internal warfare of every day staff politics. Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy.

    1. I wish "Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy." was not true. Sigh.

  6. Thanks Rich for the insight and courage to open this subject up. I have worked at three different churches as a staff Pastor. At all three I refused to play the politics game because it’s just not a part of my make up, so at all three churches I was pushed aside and eventually shown the door. It’s tough when you go into ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus but then end up being constantly distracted away from reaching the lost by getting caught in the internal warfare of every day staff politics. Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy.

    1. I wish "Sometimes the church can be it’s own worst enemy." was not true. Sigh.

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