Dear Clergy friends,

We need you to lead.

Most of us good people in the pews know that leadership is a difficult task. Many of us have day jobs that require similar things from us so we get how difficult it can be to inspire and motivate, placate and administrate. As understanding as some of us might be, we need you to lead because we’re not all quite so reasonable. If it appears that you are driving our proverbial car (the church) into the ditch it’s likely because we (the laity) set it on fire. When you fail to lead our creativity, energy, and passion for the church begins to feel like a poor investment.

We need you to lead with sincerity rooted in a deep experience of our faith lived out. It’s not enough for you to talk about the things which get a person closer to God, you actually need to practice them. It’s not our place to tell you which things to do, or what things to avoid; don’t let us. But we need to see that your life is different than ours in ways that literally reek of the Gospel. Again, the sane among us don’t mind that our pastors are imperfect people but we may notice if you are a total mess.

We need you to lead in ways that move beyond cheap partisanship and model holy relationship. As excited as we might be at first, we will tire of sermons ripped straight from Fox News or MSNBC. We don’t need to see you win a public debate. We need to see that your faith is mature enough to allow you to see, and seek out, the person beyond the ideology. We need to see that God is bigger than our politics.

We need to see that God is bigger than our politics.

We need you to lead forward and outward. We lay folks are like hobbits and we tend to like things that are comfortable and familiar. But in our comfort we are likely to fall asleep, literally and figuratively, as if we’ve just enjoyed second breakfast. Be our Gandalf and challenge us to adapt and change with the times and remind us that God loves us no more than the people outside of our comfortable hobbit holes. But when you do so, remember that we aren’t the enemy and that patience is one of those spiritual gifts of which Saint Paul spoke.

We need you to lead beyond fear and anxiety. No one wants to be on a sinking ship but they might be willing to accept a slow cruise if the toilets are all working. Despairing over the church budget may move some us to the urgency you hope to inspire but we’d much rather hear about the amazing weather at some tropical locale where we are going. Be our captain and navigator and count on us to repair the hull and to kick tale at shuffleboard.

No one wants to be on a sinking ship…

We need you to lead with boldness and hope. Start some new things from time to time but try to invest at least as much hope in the crazy ideas we might bring to the table. And when an innovation fails, stop looking for someone to blame; that sort of negativity will make it less likely that you’ll try something again and may burn some bridges unnecessarily.

We need you to lead with honesty. We love to hear how amazing we are, just like the next person, but when the church is literally crumbling down around us we get that we’re in the spin zone. Thanks for keeping it positive but our discipleship, personal and corporate, also requires a certain amount of honesty.

Finally, we need you to lead with emotional intelligence. Our pastors can present the most amazing vision for what could be, but if they can’t understand and deeply listen to what is going on in the life of the congregation, very few of us are likely to respond.

Agree or disagree? Did I miss something? Leave a comment below and join in the conversation.


  1. In addition to EQ/EI, knowing how to get a congregation assessed for personality preferences, spiritual gifts, and places they are motivated to ‘make a difference’. It doesn’t make any difference who initiates that process (lay or ordained), it’s just the kind of information that church folks will benefit from having as they “team up” to move forward.

    • Great comment. There is a wealth of resources in this area for the faith communities and leaders willing to dive in.

  2. Dear Patrick, respectfully, the charge was to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, not to wait for your pastor to smooth the way for you. Man up. There is no wrong place to be on the path except stopped.

    • I don’t have a problem with “personing up” and would agree that is the general call of discipleship to all people. If we are going to have a special category of people set apart for leadership however, they need to be able to show the path ahead, right?

  3. Patrick, absolutely right. Leader can be lay or ordained, and the task of leadership is to explain/train/resource/hold accountable for “the path ahead” ALL who would be Jesus’ disciples in the team ministry. Jesus had a team (the disciples), and he trained, modeled, resourced them to “be ministry”.

  4. Leadership falls with clergy and lay together – we are all disciples meant to disciple others for Jesus Christ to transform the world. We do it together not just clergy (though we do need to inspire and be visionaries, not the same ol’ same ol’ – with no vision we die 🙂

  5. This open letter appeared out of context from what I usually read on your posts, and I do read your posts. My first reaction was to feel that once again I was being told that I’m not good enough (a common feeling among clergy in our Conference). After reading and rereading, I’m not sure I feel differently from my initial reaction. Recently I have wondered how clergy can do it all: preach, teach, visit, be the visionary, write intriguing articles for the newsletter, be scholar, youth leader or friend (depending upon our situation), yada, yada. So I will continue to ponder your words and be grateful for them because they make me think. And I will fight the feeling of “not being good enough” once again. Thank you, Patrick. You make me uncomfortable sometimes and that is a good thing, a really good thing.

    • First, thank you for reading and for engaging, mulling over, and even disagreeing. I cast things out hoping that, even on a rare occasion, someone may be moved to think differently or dialogue with others (or themselves). I suspect you can relate.

      Clergy can’t do it all and they will never be perfect. I get that, I’m quite okay with it, and I’m sorry if I communicated otherwise. I really wasn’t trying to provoke a feeling of judgement but was actually trying to express a deep need. While I think lay leadership is incredibly important I don’t see our churches going anywhere without a complementary leadership from our pastors and consider that their role has been diminished in unhelpful ways at times. Strange as it may sound, I was trying to be affirming of a more significant pastoral role.

      Again, thank you for reading and allowing some discomfort to creep in.

  6. I think I would add one more thing to ask the minister. Is there trust between him/her and the congregation. Thank you for this.

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