Pastors and Image Maintenance

I’m working on a project related to Paul’s pastoral aims and strategies. In a few places, he has some things to say about the dynamics of image-maintenance (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:5-6). I’ve been reflecting a bit lately on the pressures of image-maintenance and how they affect pastors.

I’m thinking of dynamics like the following:

  • An (over-)sensitivity to controlling how one is perceived, or how others think about oneself.
  • Attempts and efforts to manage others’ perception.
  • The pressure to display no uncertainty at all about the rightness of one’s cause, one’s course of action, or certain decisions.
  • Pastors feeling that they can’t be vulnerable. They can’t show any weakness.
  • Authenticity is not an option, or perhaps one’s “authenticity” is one that is conjured up when performing for an audience – an inauthentic authenticity.
  • The fear of disappointing people who have expectations about the sort of experience they’re expecting at church.

The source of these pressures is the need to keep people happy. And, if we’re honest, the pressure to keep money rolling in, and to keep people attending – to keep the numbers up. And in a consumer culture, the consumer / customer demands can be overwhelming and yet their desires for experiences are paramount. All of these work together to put pressure on pastors to be certain kinds of people.

Now, it’s easy to see these dynamics in celebrity pastors – pastors of mega-churches, or those who lead large para-church ministries or organizations. But I’m more interested in how these pressures and dynamics affect average pastors.

In what ways do pressures distort and corrupt your motivations in ministry? Do they distort your home life? Is there a radical disconnect between the person others perceive at church and the person your spouse and children encounter at home? Do you feel that vulnerability and openness is a threat?

Pastors, what other pressures do you face? I’m thinking especially of pressures that relate to maintaining an image. And what sort of image do you feel pressure to project?



2 thoughts on “Pastors and Image Maintenance

  1. Tim Cole

    Hi Professor:

    Your questions are especially germane to this generation of leaders. Thanks for asking. Hope you receive a generous response.

    I couch all the current pressures in terms of desire, craving, want, and expectation. These desires might translate out into ‘needs,’ but at root are nothing more than culturally birthed and manipulated ‘wants’.

    The following pressures I have faced in 30 plus years of Shepherding/Teaching/Equipping: the pressure not to expose and step on toes with regard to racism, materialism (pursuit of the American dream), comfortable Christianity, idolatry (sports, travel, toys), the failure to pursue Christ in worship as a priority, the failure to disciple children, and the use of entertainment as a substitute for worship.

    Many responses might be cited here; but one is noteworthy to our family. It is because we have not bowed to the pressure and refused to meet these cultural expectations that our three (millennial) sons have made our faith their own faith.

    Thank you for listening.

  2. Andrea

    Tim, I’ll admit that when I read the title of your post I immediately thought of the physical appearance of some pastors. I can’t always understand the middle-aged pastors who dress like twenty-somethings with their t-shirts and sport coats or Charlie Sheen-like bowling shirts, and the Caesar haircuts. We all hate to grow old but there is nothing sadder than watching someone not accept it, whether in Hollywood or in the church.

    As to the real point of your post, you know my story and how I lived with someone maintaining an image that was a lie for many years – and I didn’t know it. I pray that pastors could be honest with people about their struggles or else get out of the ministry. The long-term damage to those who look to their pastor for support, shepherding, and teaching is great if you are not honest.

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