7 Signs of a Bad Pastor

Somehow the mysterious inner workings of the Google search engine has ordained that one of the searches that often brings people to the Pastor on the Edge is “signs of a bad pastor.” I imagine that someone looking for these on Google is probably looking for evidence to confirm a hunch about their own pastor. And, as much as I hesitate to provide ammunition for church fights, or to increase the amount of grief pastors get when they fail to meet the often unreasonable expectations of everyone’s opinions, it’s probably worth listing at least a few of the things that, over 20 years of pastoral experience, seem essential. And, there are, as in any profession, a few bad ones out there. Just be sure not to paint the whole profession red on the account of a few.

So, here they are: 7 signs of a bad pastor.

  1. Pastor can’t preach. It goes without saying that someone whose job is to talk for 10-20 minutes better not be boring as hell. No “invite a friend Sunday” is going to make up for people getting their friends out only to have them sit through a monotone monologue, a tirade, or an infomercial. Not everyone can be brilliant every week, but consistently bad performance is a problem.
  2. Pastor can’t teach. At minimum, a pastor needs to be familiar with the Bible and the rudiments of theology, and be able to hold an intelligent conversation about them. Beyond the minimum, a pastor needs to be able to help people, one on one, and in groups, make the connections between what the Bible says and how it applies to them. Having an understanding and ability to appropriate various modes of learning helps a lot.
  3. Pastor can’t administer. Like it or not, the pastor (at least in the context of the American church) is in charge of keeping all the dishes spinning on all the sticks that make the church’s ministries work. Delegation is important. The ability to keep track of more than a few things simultaneously is also important. There should be a lot of other people involved in making ministry happen. But the buck stops at the pastor’s desk.
  4. Pastor thinks he or she’s a psychologist (unless he or she really does have a degree and a license to practice). Over the years, there has come to be a popular expectation that pastors should be good counselors. And, ideally, they should be able to help people with common sense advice, be able to provide a listening ear, and offer an objective point of view, when asked, to help people get unstuck. But most pastors are not trained to be counselors in the modern clinical sense. A good pastor will refer clinical cases to qualified clinical counselors.
  5. Pastor acts like a diva. Another way of saying this could be, the pastor seems to think more of himself or herself than he or she thinks of Jesus. Having self-esteem is one thing. Having to be the center of attention at all times is quite another. The ministry is not the opportunity for self-promotion, it’s an opportunity for Jesus promotion and building up of others.
  6. Pastor doesn’t care about people in the congregation. Aptitudes for pastoral care will differ. So will the perceptions of how much attention is called for in any given instance. When you’re a pastor, it can often seem like everybody wants a piece of you, and they want it now. In an online world, the expectations for immediate response and instant gratification are unreasonable. But simply not caring is a deal-breaker.
  7. Pastor doesn’t care about people outside the congregation. Jesus cared for people who had not yet followed. He cared for them, regardless of their inclination to follow, their ability to put a danarius into the ministry, or even their religious commitments. A pastor who is following Jesus will have an openness to people on the outside and encourage the congregation to make room for them on the inside.

It’s worth noting that of these, the first three are matters of competence, and the last three are a matter of attitude. Number 4 could be either. In matters of competence, the solution is to send the pastor for continuing education and see if that improves the situation. In the case of attitude, well… fish or cut bait.

5 thoughts on “7 Signs of a Bad Pastor”

  1. Rev. are people and not God they are subject to the same temptation and sin they preach about. If a Rev. if yielded to the Holy Spirit it shows. He is not expected to be perfect. He is expected to set an example and that is not possible without accountability here on earth. Those who he is accountable to should “not be” his yes men, and should be knowagable in the Bible and what God expects from him. They need discernment to weed out the silly complaints we all focus on so they can deal with the real issues before they get out of control. They (and I stress they) need to be servants of Jesus. There is a difference between Rev. that serve God and serve themselves. While we do expect Rev. to be on call 24/7 for our emergencies they need to strike a ballance in order to be effective when they are truely needed. I admire Rev. that go the extra mile without looking for some kind of compensation, That’s Love! and it can not be faked. It is sad that so many Rev. have chosen the job baised on income,bennefits, no to low supervision and not a heart for God. For those seeking God or to serve God and encounter a “bad” Rev.they loose out and become scared, sometimes for life. I take my relationship with God seriously amd I encourage you to as well, One on one God will always lead you in the correct way. Pray to HIM for guidance and He will not let you down like a bad Rev. AMEN!

  2. There wasn’t anything notably problematic about his congregation. It is just that there were scarcely any left. The church building had been constructed in 1950, though the parish was erected by the diocese some decades prior to that. The same priest who supervised the construction was the pastor until shortly before his death. The evolution of the frequency of observance in the Church being what it has been, and the demographic decay of the metropolitan region in which that particular parish was nestled being what it has been, one might have expected a decline in attendance of about 70% from whenever the peak was (in the Catholic Church in general in this country, the peak would have been around 1960). Given the dimensions of the building and the number attending ca. 2007, I would guess that the decline in that particular parish must have been around 90%. No one remaining there seemed to have a clue why the man’s ministry failed so thoroughly. Unlike all but a few Catholic parishes, worship there had not been distorted and disfigured by liturgical tinkering and all the music was traditional chant. The pastor had no jagged personality problems and in his teaching did not traffic in mush.

  3. I can give you the name of a Catholic priest, recently deceased, who had none of these deficiences. His parish was nevertheless a ruin at the time of his retirement. Good priest though.

    1. Thanks, Art. I’m sure there are a lot of great priests (and pastors) who you’d never know it by their congregations. (Perhaps I should write a follow-up from the opposite point of view: Seven Signs of a Bad Congregation.) Either way, the presence of one doesn’t guarantee (or preclude) the presence of the other.

  4. I agree with you, but divas and bad preachers do rise through the ranks of “success” which means that not everyone would agree.

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