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  • Ben Disney

The Lone Ranger Syndrome (And why it Doesn't Work)



The situation looks hopeless. The bad guys have robbed a bank, taken a hostage or wreaked havoc on a town full of innocent people. Just when it looks like there is no hope, the Lone Ranger suddenly arrives just in time to save the day. Good prevails over evil. Hopping on his white horse, the Ranger would say “Hi-Ho, Silver, away!” as they galloped into the sunset. Cue the William Tell Overture and roll the credits; the hero wins again.

    While the Lone Ranger can singlehandedly save the day on TV or in the movies, it’s a bad model for church leaders and a disaster for congregations. Unfortunately, the Lone Ranger Syndrome is alive and well in ministry.

    So why does the Lone Ranger Syndrome still exist, especially when it comes to church leadership? There are numerous reasons, none of which are good for the church and few of which are healthy for the leader.

    Here are a few:

1. It Feeds Your Ego

    Maybe they don’t want to admit it, but most leaders love affirmation and crave compliments. The more you do, the busier you are, the more people will admire and appreciate the countless hours you pour into serving the church. Admit it. It feels good to hear people talk about all the incredible things you do and how invaluable you are to everyone and everything in the congregation.

    People will let it be all about you if you let them. Don’t. It’s not about you. You’re a servant leader. It’s primarily about Jesus. Which means it’s about your people and their relationship to God and each other.

    Or to put it another way, if you ever begin to think you’re indispensable and irreplaceable it’s time to check your ego at the door. There is only one Savior and the last time we checked, it’s not you.


2. Frankly, It’s Easier to Just do it Yourself

    We’ve all been there before. You have a job to do and instead of asking for help or inviting others to join you in the effort, you just take care of it yourself. It is easier. Why go through the time, hassle and frustration of going to other people and getting turned down by potential volunteers? So, you just end up doing it yourself.

     The problem with that, of course, is it’s a bad leadership model and unsustainable in the long run. It’s easier in the moment to do everything by yourself and on your own but eventually it will burn you out. You’ll wake up one day and begin to resent the fact that it seems like you’re the only one doing just about everything. And if you’re wondering why everyone is sitting around watching you work yourself to death, ask yourself who created the problem in the first place.


3. You Believe You Can Do It Better

    There’s some truth to that. If you’re just starting out or serving a small congregation, you may actually be better prepared and better equipped than anyone else around you. It doesn’t matter. One of the great surprises in ministry is to discover people who can do things you can’t do or at least do them far better than you can. Think you can do social media or graphics? Find a twenty-year-old and I promise they can do it better than you. Trying to plan a comprehensive budget? Someone in your congregation has done that in the business world far longer and far better than you have. A seminary education prepares you for some things, but it doesn’t take long to figure out you don’t have all the answers.


4. You Don’t Have the People or Resources to Do What Needs to be Done

    Yes, you do. God doesn’t give you a mission without providing the people or resources to carry it out. I remember hearing a church complaining one time that a larger church in town had a state of the art fog machine for their VBS Summer program. One person lamented, “How can we possibly compete with a fog machine?” Jesus, as far as we can tell, never had access to a fog machine and still managed to change the world. Leaders don’t wait until they have the resources to engage in mission. Leaders cast a compelling vision first, then all the resources and people you need will follow.


5. That’s What You’re Paid to Do

    You’re an ordained clergyperson, Licensed Local Pastor, a paid professional. People in your church are going to let you buy into the notion you’re the paid to do the ministry. Pray? That’s your job, pastor. Help and serve others? That’s what we pay you to do.

    The problem is your primary job is not to do the ministry; it is to equip and engage others to be in ministry. If you’re doing all the ministry, you’re denying your people the experience of serving God and using their gifts to help others. They didn’t come to sit back and watch you do all the ministry. They want to know and experience what it feels like to be a servant of God. They are dying to give themselves to a cause bigger and greater than themselves. Every time you step into do the ministry simply because you’re paid to do it, you deny someone the incredible blessing of knowing God used them in a meaningful way.

    Your job is not to do the ministry for your people. Your job is to lead your people to be in ministry and service to others in the name of Christ.


The Lone Ranger Syndrome doesn’t work. It never does. If you’re still trying to fly solo -doing it all by yourself, chances are you’ll end up in the worst place possible: all alone.

That’s not what you signed up for. It’s a recipe for burnout, anger and isolation. So before you end up withering on the vine so to speak, remember this:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing(John 15:5 NIV).


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