In a survey among pastors conducted by LifeWay Research in 2015, the question was asked, “Why did you leave your last church?”

While 54% decided to leave because they felt they had taken the church as far as they could, there were others who attributed their separation to consistently difficult interactions with their congregation.

  • 23% left because of conflict in the church.
  • 19% left because the church did not embrace their approach to ministry.
  • 18% felt the church had unrealistic expectations of them.
  • 18% felt as though they were not a good fit for the church.
  • 8% were asked to leave their church.


Among the many things revealed by this study, the one thing we can see clearly is that many congregants tend to make things very difficult for pastors who have different goals or visions than they do.

There are few things more agitating than a “backseat driver.” We all tend to be quickly frustrated by that passenger who consistently assaults you with their opinions about how you could drive faster, safer, or more efficiently.

Most of us generally try to avoid being a “backseat driver” on the roads, but occasionally, we can often find ourselves leaning toward similar tendencies in the church environment. Sometimes, sitting in the pew, we can begin to form our own ideas about how things should be done, how the service should be laid out, and what the priorities of the church should be, etc. While there is certainly nothing wrong with sharing ideas, some wrongly expect them to be met with no resistance and implemented immediately.

Before you try to grab the proverbial wheel from your elders, think through a few things.

What’s my role in this church body?

What’s your position in the organization? Have you been entrusted with a leadership role? If so, try to determine how much liberty do you have to speak into the church as a whole, or into the area you want to see change. For example, if you are a choir member, you may not necessarily have liberty to speak into the youth ministry.

If elders or pastors within your church give you the opportunity to voice your thoughts regarding the direction of the ministry, by all means, graciously share, but remember that the primary leadership role within the church belongs to them, not you.

It should go without saying, but I add that your role is not to engage in guerilla warfare against the leadership by spreading your disagreements or differences of opinions on a congregational level.

Do I know why things are the way they are?

I remember talking to a pastor at one time who was very slowly and methodically implementing changes to the way the church operated. Upon asking why he didn’t make the changes more rapidly, he shared an interesting analogy.

He said that guiding a church was like steering a large ship. If you turn too suddenly, the hull of the ship has the potential to break. As he made changes, he was wisely keeping in consideration the weaknesses and strengths of his flock, and helping to cultivate and maintain a spirit of unity and health within the body.

Frankly, there are things pastors know about your church that you don’t. You may be heavily rooted and invested in your church, but you aren’t in every counseling session, elder meeting, or conversation that takes place – therefore, your ability to make the “best decision” for the church is far more inhibited than theirs.

Am I quick to voice my disagreement and slow to encourage?

When is the last time you wrote a letter of encouragement to your church leaders or just said a simple thank you?

It’s never a bad idea to examine your heart to see if you’ve developed a generally negative or ungrateful spirit toward the leaders God has placed in your life. Many are quick to be the contentious backseat driver, but far too few take the time to be the encourager, the supporter, or the helper.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing your heart or expressing an opinion, but there is something wrong with constantly pushing for your way above all else.

Ultimately, in all areas of preference, including those within your church, ask the Lord for wisdom, and do your best to preserve unity with those leaders He has placed in your life. Remember, the task your pastor has been entrusted with can be a very difficult one, and one of the greatest things we can do as a church member is to rally behind them as prayerful and understanding supporters. Determine your specific role and areas of influence, seek to understand why things are the way they are, and examine your motives in advocating for change.

But please, whatever you do, don’t be a backseat minister.

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