In addition to living in Wisconsin, one of my favorite things about serving at Elmbrook Church is working with Scott Arbeiter.

Scott recently gave our pastoral staff a list of observations on walking with the congregation in times of transitions and conflict. I thought that there was a wealth of wisdom in his observations – and not just for pastors, but for anyone who wants to build healthy relationships.  Scott gave me permission to post this list.

Some things I have learned regarding what people in the congregation need from us:
1.) Ready access (not just begrudging acceptance)
2.) To be genuinely heard (not just listened to)
3.) To find common ground (know that we care about what they care about)
4.) To know that we understand that they are not always able to articulate their concerns well. We must “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
5.) To know that we value them and want them to be part of the congregation
6.) To hear of our struggles to find the best path forward in the situation
7.) To understand the principles involved in our decisions
8.) To be trusted with the information discussed in private
9.) To be challenged to do the right things; even (especially)when in disagreement
10.) To hear that we were wrong and are sorry (when we are indeed wrong and sorry)
11.) To know that we hear many conflicting opinions about topics (often diametrically opposed)
12.) To know that we will decide on principle, not pressure
13.) To be well received even when we leave in disagreement
14.) The goal is not to have them feel good about us; it is to elevate truth and find unity in diversity. In doing this there should be no defensiveness; nor cowardice.
15.) Do not make false promises.
16.) Warn a divisive man once then have nothing to do with him.


Once I was in a prayer meeting with a leader I admire.

This person was the lead pastor of a large and influential church. He also chaired the board of a large and influential Christian organization. I admired this leader’s abilities, influence, and accomplishments.

My admiration of the leader grew during the meeting, but in a different way.

This leaders first prayer request was for a 16-year-old girl in his neighborhood.  He was visibly moved as he told how this teen had made some poor choices, and was facing the wrath of the adults, and many kids, in the community. His prayer request was that this young woman would know how important she was to God, and that the leader and his wife would know how to best come beside this girl and serve her.

I had gotten caught up in all the big things that this leader was doing. He showed me an even greater level of leadership. In the midst of remarkable roles and responsibilities, he was still able to notice and care for a hurting teen in his neighborhood. His greatest leadership asset was not his titles, it was his person.

After the meeting, I told him that he had just taught me an important leadership lesson with his prayer request.

He responded, “Jim, it is all about people. People are what matter. If you ever see me forget that, please shake me.”

Most of us will never have the influential roles and titles of this particular leader. However, we can all be great leaders if we are sensitive to the needs of others and attentive to how God would have us serve them.

Last week my six-year-old son casually tossed out a powerful leadership truth.

After several minutes of patiently working to repair a wheel that had broken off of a toy ambulance, Uncle Carl apologetically informed Jackson, “Sorry, I don’t think that we can fix that wheel, buddy.”

Jackson responded matter-of-factly: “If you don’t think that we can fix the wheel on the ambulance, then I don’t want you on the team in charge of fixing it.”

The rest of the family burst out into laughter at the response.

Then we paused and recognized that Jackson had uncovered a crucial principle.

Belief in the mission is the paramount requirement for membership on the team entrusted with the mission.

Are you on any teams or groups where you no longer, perhaps you never did, believe in the mission?

It is time to re-engage or move on.

Where is the buy-in level of the people on your team?

If it is low, then you need to re-inspire them or find new partners.


Here are the Top Ten Ways to Ruin Young Pastors. They have also been found effective on other ministry staff!

10. Promise big things in their interviews, and then pull back on those promises once the family is on site.

9. Do not bother mentoring them or investing in their personal or professional development.

8. Ask them to reach new people, but force them to think the same way as the existing staff.

7. Ask them to bring change, but do not allow them to do anything different.

6. Young Pastor’s Concerns = Never Valid. Member’s Concerns about Young Pastor = Always Valid.

5. Give them responsibility, but do not give them the authority to accomplish those things.

4. Give them greater workloads than other pastors, but also less respect.

3. Say one thing in private meetings, another thing in staff or elder meetings, and another thing in Sunday Worship.

2. Reject their ideas, tell them how to do it, and when it does not work … blame them.

1. Allow your personal insecurities to interpret the young pastor’s words and deeds as attempts to mock you or steal your job.

This post was inspired by some of my past experiences (NOT Elmbrook) and the tragic stories of a number of friends who have entered vocational ministry with passion and commitment, only to be beaten down by leadership of their churches. Some of them have left vocational ministry, all of us have considered that exit. While these friends were not perfect in every situation, none of them were slackers, whiners, heretics, immoral or insubordinate.

Surely the Church can do better than this!