5 principles to help pastors and staff know when to compromise

March 13, 2017 | by Thom Rainer

The statements are sincere and well-intentioned, but sometimes uttered in haste and without consideration of their full ramifications:

  • “I’ll never compromise!”
  • “It’s a matter of principle. I’m sticking to my guns!”

Some of the most painful wounds in ministry are self-inflicted. However, sometimes compromise is in order.

Compromise. Ugh.

Word of weakness

I know. We don’t like that word. It sounds like we are weak. It connotes a person without conviction, or leaders who are yielding their leadership mantle.

This outlook is especially problematic for those who serve in local church ministry. You have been trained to be a person of conviction. You proclaim the Word of God without compromise. You don’t yield. Ever.

And yet, compromising is indeed a necessary trait for leaders, including those in the local church. Perhaps especially for those in ministry.

Principles to follow

Allow me then to offer five basic principles of compromising for those who serve the local church.

1. Decide at the onset of your ministry the doctrinal issues you will not compromise.For example,I will never compromise my ministry to accept any way of salvation other than through belief in Christ. I believe without yielding that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins on the cross.

Yet, I won’t get into a mud-slinging debate over the exact timing of Christ’s return. And, yes, I will accept a brother or sister in Christ who counts more petals of the tulip than I do.

2. Make certain you are fighting for principle over preference.We who are in leadership sometimes fight over issues that are nothing more than what we want, without regard for what is best for the body of Christ, her ministry, and her Great Commission focus.

Ultimately, ministry is not about us. But that reality is easy to forget.

3. Discern if the potential for disunity in the congregation is worth the battle.The question most often asked is, “Is it a hill worth dying on?” Most really divisive church fights and splits have been over largely inconsequential issues. One example is a church that split over an argument about whether to purchase pews or chairs. Yes. Really.

4. Maintain a longer-term perspective.Sometimes leaders are ready to go to battle because they have a short-term perspective. Many of the divisive issues will take care of themselves over time.

Leaders should never start a battle where they will not be around to see it to conclusion. The “fight and flee” syndrome has seriously wounded many congregations.

5. Discern if the issue is personal.If you have an issue that affects you personally, you are more likely to go to battle over it.

Sometimes leaders have to endure a season of personal pain for the sake of the unity of the congregation. It is really tempting to enter the fray when you feel pain, barbs, or criticisms. It takes a strong leader to put the needs of the church first.

A difficult position

I am convinced that local church leadership is one of the most difficult positions a person can have.

It takes prayer, calling, discernment, thick skin, patience, and a willingness to compromise on the less critical issues.

Be sure you aren’t painting yourself into a rigid corner on matters that—in the end—aren’t really that serious.


Topics: Commentary, Conflict, Discipleship, Leadership, Ministry, Teaching Resources, Vision



Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.

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