Why Preachers and Elders May Sabotage Church Growth

I received a link to an interesting article from an elder friend, Glenn Holland: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/354846-the-rancher-shepherd-divide.html?utm This started my thinking for this post.

This is my reply to Glenn:

Thank you for a blog idea.

This is on target. The article is talking about the preacher.

When we expect the preacher to be the pastor (shepherd), we limit the size of the church. There are only so many miles one car can drive in 30 days. As a young preacher I made rules for myself:

  • Visit every member in hospitals every day, twice if they were very sick, three times or stay with them if they were dying.
  • Visit shut-ins and nursing homes every month.
  • Visit every visitor.
  • Be present before a surgery patient gets the “happy shot” and have prayer with them before surgery; sit with family during surgery; stay until they wake up in recovery, have another prayer, then leave.

Those were my rules. No one told me I had to do it. I made them. I lived with them as long as I could.

Many people loved it. They thought I cared about them. I did. The congregation grew from 200 to 300. It became more difficult to keep my rules. The church was 150% of what it was when I came. Eight years later I had no old sermons to recycle. New Bible classes every week. Weekly radio sermons. More counseling. More weddings. More funerals. A key leader who did much of the shepherding died. People got sad and unhappy. I didn’t know how to deal with increased work, criticism, and conflict.

It was almost a relief when an elder called me into the office one Sunday morning between Bible study and worship and told me he thought I should resign.

So I moved to a new congregation — almost twice the size of the previous congregation — and started the same process again. Now I had a daily radio program, a weekly newspaper article (due at 5:00 p.m. every Wednesday), taught a class at a preacher training school in Atlanta every Thursday morning and taught four personal work training classes each week (at least three hours each session).

That continued until three things happened:

  1. An elder’s wife asked me NOT to come to the hospital next Tuesday when her husband was having knee surgery. She said it made her nervous to try to entertain someone when she was already anxious about her husband. She said she’d call if something unexpected happened. Otherwise, don’t come. I wondered how many people I’d aggravated during the years with my rules. I could’ve done something else and many would have been relieved with my absence.
  2. My wife wrote me a kind, but direct, note about probable consequences of not spending enough time with our children.
  3. My elders gave me a command to slow down and make more time for my family.

I didn’t want to get fired again. I didn’t want to neglect my duties and opportunities. I was in a bind. I had understanding and caring elders who encouraged me to make adjustments in my rules and work-load. I had a loving and forgiving family. I had a counselor who was helpful.


  • Much of my pain was self-inflicted.
  • There are only so many miles you can drive one car in 30 days.
  • The preacher isn’t THE pastor of the church. We teach that. There was a plurality of shepherds in New Testament churches. The preacher can be one overseer-shepherd-elder, but not the only one. We don’t want people calling him Pastor if he isn’t.
  • Elders (notice plural) are shepherds. More people can care for more people — Jethro rules (Exodus 18).
  • We need to be caring for each other. I’m thankful for good elder-shepherds, my wife, and other concerned people who have tried to keep me in line.


  • Let elders be shepherds.
  • Don’t think elders are being the shepherds they should be when they try to make their preacher a shepherd who does most of the visiting, correcting, and counseling.
  • Encourage elders and preachers to evaluate themselves and evaluate each other. Suggest ways to maintain healthy relationships to God, family, each other, and the congregation.
  • Evaluate your personal rules and group rules periodically and make helpful changes.

How do you maintain good balance in your family and ministry?


(Visited 260 times, 33 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

8 Responses to “Why Preachers and Elders May Sabotage Church Growth

  • Travis Irwin
    5 years ago

    I took it upon myself to shepherd 300+ sheep because I didn’t think my shepherds were doing it. I burned out in 2003 and had to leave the pulpit for one year and only went back part time and now I’m out of the pulpit entirely. I neglected my wife, my children and myself. I failed the Lord who told me to fulfill my ministry. (see 2 Tim.4:5)
    God has set up the church to function well. Just do your job and do it well and let the Lord take it from there.*

    • Travis,

      It is amazing what the Lord can do with slow learners like you, me, and others.

      I appreciate your excellent work and sharing your journey of how you arrived where you are.

    • Jerry Stumpf
      5 years ago

      Travis, so glad to see your new ministry is about empowering members to do their part. BTW, some of those members may be MUCH BETTER at visiting than we preachers are.
      Keep your good work! I look forward to being with you in early November for your workshop!

      Also “Too many preachers sacrifice their family on the altar of work.”

  • David W Barton
    5 years ago

    You are right, I may not be a preacher but what you said made sense, we should try to spread the work around so that the preacher is not the only one doing this.

  • Camacho LM
    5 years ago

    Great article! To answer your question at the end here it is. I realized early on by talking to other preachers of what NOT to do. Everything you wrote about is what you don’t do. At least I have yet to fall into that trap. (I refuse to neglect my family.) If you do then you set yourself up for failure either by getting fired or burning out. At the same time you take on so much responsibility you don’t give others the opportunity to serve therefore spiritually stagnating a congregation. for many reasons I don’t believe that the life of a congregations should revolve around the preacher. Unfortunately, some or even most congregation are so complacent that any attempt to get them to serve they look at the preacher as the employee and think, ” thats your job you get paid to do that”. I’m a firm believer in 2 Timothy 2:2. great post!

    • I’m glad you’ve been able to learn from others.

      May God continue to bless your ministry.

      Thank you for reading and responding.

  • Dave Nance
    5 years ago

    Jerry, excellent thoughts! One of the things that I’ve wondered over the years (and even thought of writing an article on it, but wouldn’t know how to get it published) is this: Why don’t we call them pastors? It’s a perfectly biblical name for elders, although shepherd has become fashionable. But in fact, few non-Christians or believers who aren’t part of our fellowship know what an elder or shepherd is or does. But pastor is a term that has a wide familiarity in our culture (with some misconceptions, of course: mostly it’s application to one person). If we called them pastors, members (and visitors) would immediately know what their work is and they themselves might even be more sensitive to their own requirement to actually get amongst their flock to feed it.

    Have fun!

    • Dave,

      Good observation.

      It would be good to think more and be intentional about what we say and do and why.

      Thank you for your thoughts.