Pastor Visibility: Why Less is More

February 15th, 2012

I’ve attended churches where the pastor is a highly visible presence in the worship service from beginning to end. I’ve also been to churches where you’d probably have a difficult time figuring out who the lead pastor is until well into the service. So I’ll just throw a question out there for consideration: How visible should a pastor be during the main weekend service? My observations and instincts are telling me that less is more. I’ll share a few reasons why:

Strong personalities who try to dominate the service risk giving the congregation “pastor fatigue.” If your pastor is doing most of the prayers, leading the entire service, and preaching, people will be tempted to reach for their mental remotes and change the channel. Most growing churches have figured this out. Think about some of the larger “sermon-centric” churches you’ve been to. In many cases, I’m betting you didn’t even see the pastor until it was time for the message. That’s because pastors usually seem fresher and more effective during preaching if the congregation hasn’t already been watching and listening to them for 20 or 30 minutes. An unwritten rule in the entertainment industry is to “leave ‘em wanting more.” Some think it’s sacrilegious to draw parallels between the church and show business, but this principle applies to church too. No matter how talented a pastor is, there’s always a risk of having too much of a good thing.

Most pastors work better as part of an ensemble. Have you ever seen actors who are great in supporting roles but can’t carry a film by themselves to save their life? There are pastors like that too. And when they try to insert themselves into too many parts of the worship service, they come across as boring and insecure. In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon’s friend Amy is helping him process the hard truth that he’s really not the nucleus of his group of friends—that distinction goes to his roommate Leonard. Their neighbor (and Leonard's ex-girlfriend) Penny interrupts their conversation with, “A lot of people think I’m fun to be around.” Amy replies, “Don’t be needy, bestie. That’s probably part of what chased Leonard away.” Ouch. Now there’s a life lesson—and it’s from a sitcom of all places. Don’t be needy, pastors. You don’t want to chase away your congregation.

Some pastors don’t have the gift of preaching. Yet many of them still insist on preaching week after week. Don’t misunderstand me—these pastors might be adequate preachers, but they’re not necessarily the most effective preachers. If that’s the case in your church, perhaps it would be judicious to train some gifted lay preachers (or associate pastors) to help carry the load. And it would free the lead pastor to develop areas of their ministry where they are more gifted. And even pastors who do have a big preaching gift need to give up the pulpit a few Sundays a year to get refreshed and give others in the church the opportunity to explore and develop their preaching or teaching gifts.

Too much pastor visibility sends the wrong message. The most effective churches train laypeople to do the bulk of their ministry. Some pastors would even tell you that they want more laypeople involved in the church’s ministries—but their services on Sunday mornings suggest otherwise. In setting a tone for how a church functions, perception can quickly become reality. If the congregation sees a variety of church members praying, taking the offering, reading scripture—even preaching—then they’re more likely to feel that they have permission to get involved in ministry on some level. But if they see a one-man or one-woman “show” every weekend, they’re probably going to treat Christianity like a spectator sport or rock concert. We can’t underestimate the power of personality in today’s culture, but placing too much emphasis on personality can be deadly for a church.

Pastors need opportunities to worship as part of the community. I noticed last Sunday that the pastor of my church was worshiping in a seat halfway to the back of the sanctuary. He didn’t go up front until it was time to deliver the sermon. This accomplished at least two things—it allowed him an opportunity to worship God without feeling like he was “under the spotlight” and for those who did notice him, it reinforced the fact that pastors are “regular people” just like everyone else, not “super-Christians.”

Can you think of other reasons why some pastors might do well to make themselves more scarce during the worship service? Can you think of reasons why lower visiblity might not be a good idea?


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