Most pastors and professional church leaders I know got into the ministry to do… ministry. They’re the kind of people who aren’t just incensed with injustice, they’re compelled to do something about it. When they see a need up close and personal, they’ll move heaven and earth to meet it. If someone they know is in the hospital, they want to be there with them. They’re the ones who offer cold water to strangers, make bag lunches for the homeless, and weep with those are weeping. These folks have the spiritual gift of mercy.

I get it. I really do.

But in today’s church, great leaders either have a very low mercy gift or they’ve learned to check it at the door when needed.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating … church leaders place the good of the church over the good of the individual.

A recent conversation will help you understand. I was speaking with a church council recently. They were just getting started in the transformation process (they are committed to growing through the 200 level) and we were discussing the reality of conflict in seasons of change, and how to prevent bullies and terrorists from scuttling their mission and vision. I hadn’t spoken very long about holding members accountable for their behavior when I began to notice sidelong glances, knowing nods, and shaking heads. Everyone but me knew the church bully.

“What if he threatens to leave the church?” the chair asked.

“Then you respond, ‘We’re going to miss you.'”

“That’s not very nice. We’re the church. We’re Christians. We have to hold on to hope. Hope that he’ll change.”

“How long has he been the church bully?”

No one could remember, but it was clearly years. A bit more discussion and it became clear that the bully had managed to sideline every positive church change that had been proposed in the memory of the members. At least 25 years.

For over 25 years this church has continuously put the desires of the one over the needs of the congregation, and as a result, their attendance and membership had been dwindling down from the “glory days” of the past. One man … and the church leadership’s collective mercy gift was literally killing their church.

I hear the same story about pastors who can’t fire ineffective staff. Churches that tolerate mediocre pastors. All because they feel sorry for… or it wouldn’t be nice… or…

Great leaders get over it. They look at Jesus as their model … the church founder who wasn’t all that “nice” (see Nice Is a Four Letter Word). And they put the good of the church over the good (or the desires, demands, etc.) of the one.

Got an unruly mercy gift?

In today’s church, you need to be able to check it at the door.

Question: How have you seen a pastor’s mercy gift used well – or used poorly? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.