The Only Way to Cure Pastoral Depression and Pride

When I began as a pastor I was fully convinced I could fix the church that was interested in hiring me and I was convinced I could fix all the people in it.

If I had left the church after five years like most pastors do, I could have felt satisfied that I had done my job of fixing. Unfortunately, I stayed for over 20 years.

All those years showed me clearly I was pathetic at fixing churches and people.

My Grandfather was a pastor and he fixed the fourth church he went to. The first three didn’t get mentioned much. But the fourth one, like Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the fourth one stood.

He did so well fixing the church and people that he went on the road and fixed people all over America and even Canada. He flitted from town to town fixing people. He was convinced fixing people was easy and he was the man for the job.

After flitting about the country for years, he settled in to pastor one more church. He continued to claim an amazing ability to fix people. I met many of the people he fixed. Boy howdy, were they not fixed people.

My dad was also a pastor. He tried fixing three churches and had limited success. He fixed a couple people along the way too. But for the most part the churches and the people left him depressed. Especially since his father-in-law fixed people all over the country and routinely shamed my dad for his lack of fixing abilities.

My grandpa fixed people and he became a massive egotistical jerk. My dad didn’t fix people and became ashamed and depressed.

I followed in the steps of my father, except I had even less success in fixing.

My 20+ years demonstrate that I cannot fix people or churches. I write today a humiliated person. My confident knees have been knocked out from under me. I have no personal confidence with which to stand upon.

I have not been a pastor now for eight months. I’ve had plenty of time to think. Separation from the church and the people I couldn’t fix has allowed me to examine things as a spectator.

I’ve thought a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that fixing people is not the calling of a pastor.

If the pastor’s job is to fix people you will have one of two results:

1) You will fix people. This will feed your ego and you’ll become proud, above everyone, a spiritual, white bearded guru on a mountain top handing out advice from on high. You won’t weep with those who weep or rejoice with those who rejoice. You’ll just be a jerk above them all no matter their weeping or rejoicing.

2) You won’t fix people. You will examine everyone for fruit and any sign of non-growth will suck the life out of you. When the stupid people are too stupid to listen, their failure is a reflection on you. How dare they despoil your image! You’ll be depressed, but just as arrogant as the fixer; it will just show itself in pity, bitterness, and anger.

Look at how many pastors have fixed their churches, made it grow to multitudes of success. They write books and travel conference circuits, only to be fired for being a bully or for taking advantage of people.

On the flip side, pastors who couldn’t make their churches grow and could never heal the broken part of the Body are depressed. Suicide ranks high among pastors.

Trying to fix people and churches is a recipe for disaster.

Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles or anywhere else in the Bible are we told to fix people.

The pastor’s job is to grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people. God gives the increase.

This is hard to do. Easy to say. Easy to nod your head at this advice.

But try it. Try loving people, and growing, and preaching the Word. People will still be people and you’ll be tempted to count victories and grovel in defeats.

The only way you can pastor without fixating on fixing people is to view yourself before the Lord–Doing the right thing before Him regardless of temporal results.

The only way you can have that view is if you have an eternal perspective and have laid hold of eternal life.

The only way you can do that is by seeing that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’m identified with Christ, thus already dead to this world and alive unto God.

Pastors, know the Gospel. Identify with Christ. Reckon yourself to be dead indeed, no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you.

Earthly measures fire up the ego into either pride or pity. Ignore the world. You’re crucified unto the world and the world is crucified to you. Let it go. Set your affections on things above. Stop counting victories and defeats.

So easy to say; so hard to do, but it is the answer.

You were not called to fix people or churches. You were called to represent Christ as a minister of reconciliation. Grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people and don’t worry about earthly measures.

You will stand before the Lord who will test with fire all you’ve built on the foundation. Earthly praise, recognition, and growing numbers do not impress God. Faithfulness to Him is what we’re here for.

Do that.

Pastors Can’t Magically Fix People

Many young/immature Christians and unbelievers are under the impression that mature believers got their suddenly, that there’s a short cut to maturity and all problems disappear. Based on this, they assume pastors have the magic button to zap people into spiritual maturity.

There is no magic button. There is no zap.

Spiritual maturity comes by work, struggle, suffering, and various temptations, along with the self-control, patience, humility, and love given to the believer by the Holy Spirit gained over time typically through the work, struggle, suffering, and temptations.

Much disillusionment with pastors is because “I went to the pastor and he didn’t fix anything” experience. The assumption is that a few conversations with the pastor oughta do the trick.

Pastors don’t always help this either. We’ve all heard pastors brag about all the people they fixed. “I just take em out for a cup of coffee and by the end they’re great!” I actually had an older pastor tell me this constantly.

I also remember counseling several of the people he bragged about fixing. They were far from fixed, but in his head, he fixed em all (they weren’t fixed after I counseled them either).

Churches don’t help this either! Various churches have invented experiences to convince people they are growing. They provide a zap of spiritual feeling. It’s exciting and fun. Seems to work for a month or so. But as with most supposed spiritual zaps, the emotion dies off along with the apparent growth.

People coming out of these churches tend to be twice the children of hell. They tried Christianity; it didn’t work, and now they are done with it all.

One of the most painful aspects of being a pastor is seeing hurting people resist the hard work necessary to attain spiritual growth. No one wants to hear about self-control and discipline. They just want the zap.

This human tendency is also why so many are trapped by get rich quick schemes. Why people think weight loss happens with magic pills. Why people think excellence at anything comes by good intentions rather than work.

People are lazy, but we want success. Spiritual growth is a thing people think they want, but the ones who truly want it, just like the ones who want to grow wealth, or lose weight, or excel at any interest, will put the work in.

The work is part of the suffering. Tribulation works patience, experience, and hope. You won’t get there without some tribulating.

Hate to break it to ya, but there’s no magic button and no zappy thing. Buckle down and do the work. Bring your body under subjection. Run to win.

And, after hearing this, many conclude I’m legalistic and undermining the power of the Spirit, or throwing out grace for a yoke of bondage, or some other spiritual sounding thing.

You don’t have to do the work, you can pretend and play happy mind games. Get back to me in 10 years, let me know how it went.

This is the reality, yet no one wants to hear it. So the pastor watches people reject this truth over and over and run their lives into the ground. It’s impossible to not be worn down by this. Meanwhile, all the yahoo pastors promising their latest Get Spiritual Quick zappy, magic trick have crowded churches.

Oh well, I’d rather go out staying faithful to God’s Word than playing such games. It still kills to watch so many lives ruined by short cutting the process to the absolute ruination of faith.

But I will affirm constantly that believers ought to do good works if they want to grow (Titus 3:8). It’s a consistent theme in the New Testament.

“And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”
–Titus 3:14

As a Pastor, How do You Not let Anyone Despise You?

Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 to not let anyone despise your youth. He says more generally in Titus 2:15 to let no man despise you.

I’ve often wondered how this was done.

In my time as a pastor I was despised by 75% of the people who came in and out of my church. I had visitors on their first day at church despise me. I had people who attended my church for years despise me.

I had board members despise me. I got little else other than despisement!

I always hoped that the way to stop people from despising me was to punch them in the face. But as much as I searched, I could not find biblical justification for this conclusion.

I think Paul’s intent is twofold:

1) don’t live in such a way as to cause people to despise you. He follows up the phrase in 1 Timothy with being an example.
2) don’t let their despising of you stop you from preaching the word, which seems his intent in the Titus passage.

As to the first, I felt I did ok with my example. I’m not perfect and I definitely grew in my time as pastor because I started immature. But if anyone hung around me over those years they saw my growth. The people despising me routinely had worse lives than mine. I don’t think I was a terrible example, wasn’t perfect, but wasn’t terrible.

With one exception: I did use self-deprecating humor. I think this led people to feel safe in railing on me. Perhaps my humor didn’t help the situation.

Oh, and another exception: my church was not fancy or formal. There was nothing close to being humanly respectable about what we were doing. I did not carry myself with authority, demand titles, wear special robes, or anything like that. I think our humble church helped people bash.

So, OK, those two things didn’t help, but I don’t know that either one was a bad example; it just led to people despising me.

As to the second, no amount of despising me ever stopped my desire and practice of preaching the Word. I felt I did pretty well there. I even purposely hit on controversial issues, knowing full well who would despise me for doing so.

The more despising I got, the more free I felt to let it rip! If I was going to get rejected anyway, might as well preach the Word.

The despising of me just became regular background noise and was never a major influence in determining what I would preach about or say to people.

Pastors should pursue godliness. We are not to give a reason for unbelievers to blaspheme. We should not act in a way that disparages the ministry. The testimony of the pastor should be blameless, as Paul says.

Again, we all slip up, we are still human, but we should actively be dealing with sin in humility and repentance.

The main job is to proclaim the Word of God. Don’t let anything stop you from that.

If you do these two things–maintain a growth in righteousness and preach the Word—you will still be despised. Marvel not if the world hates you. Anyone who desires to live godly will suffer persecution.

In fact, the people who will despise you the most will be the ones whom you make feel guilty because you are pursuing righteousness and preaching the Word.

You can tell who is guilt-ridden simply by listening to what they say about you and the church. Sinners despise, it’s what they do.

Some pastors deserve being despised because they aren’t pursuing godliness and they aren’t preaching the Word. I despise them too!

Don’t be a pastor who brings it on due to a terrible testimony, and when you get despised anyway, don’t let it stop you from preaching the Word.

Will People Really Come to Church if You “Just Preach the Word?”

Many years ago I had an older gentleman “encourage” me as a young pastor by telling me “if you preach the Word, people will come.”

This sounds good. It might remind you of an incredibly stupid baseball movie involving an Iowa cornfield. But it will not remind you of any Bible verses!

But as a young, idealistic preacher I liked the advice. I believed it too.

So I started preaching the Word. I began in Genesis and started going through chapter by chapter (skipping some of the drier chapters). Eventually it took me 16 years to get all the way through to Revelation.

I learned a ton. Spending each week studying a new chapter of Scripture completely changed my faith.

And therein lay the problem. What I believed changed. It’s ok if the average Christian who rarely talks changes their doctrine. No one seems too troubled. People brag to me all the time about how they’ve recently found the magic doctrine that unlocked untold happiness in their life. No one bats an eye.

But if a pastor changes what he believes, boy howdy, what’s wrong with this guy? Paul says a pastor’s growth should be evident to all. Yeah, good advice Paul.

If you grow, if you learn, you will change some of your doctrine. You just will. This is not allowed for a pastor, unless, of course, you change and believe exactly what everyone in your church wants you to believe.

By the time I finished Revelation, probably 25% of my doctrine had changed and I would say it changed for the better, like way better. Most of what I believed before was stuff I heard people that I assumed knew the Bible say.

Spend 16 years preaching through the Bible and you’ll find out real quick very few people are saying what the Bible says.

I continued preaching what I had learned and I learned more and refined my changes. I felt after 21 years of preaching I was way closer to preaching the Word than ever before. I’m not saying I’m never wrong, or that what I believe is always 100% exactly what the Bible says. But I can confidently say I’m closer.

You would expect that over that 21 year span of increasingly preaching the Word that all those people the old guy said would come just flocked in.

You would be wrong. There was hardly anyone left when I resigned. Funny thing is, the old guy who told me people would come if I preached the Word? He left when I was in Ezekiel 14. Yup, I remember the chapter.

Ezekiel is a long way from Revelation.

I preached the Word and pretty much all it did was make people leave.

Remember how the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us? Remember how He came unto His own and His own received Him not? Remember how they nailed the Word made flesh to a cross? Remember how the Word made flesh told you not to be surprised if the world hates you, it hated Him first?

Yeah, me too. If you preach the Word, expect people to leave.

“But,” I can hear you say, “My pastor preaches the Word and we have hundreds of people, our church is growing by leaps and bounds!”

Yup, I know.

It’s possible there are exceptions to the rule, but they would be exceptions, not the rule.

Instead of saying, “If you preach the Word, people will come.” You should say, “Preach the Word.” That’s it. That’s what Paul said (2 Timothy 4:2). He never once seemed concerned about whether people came or not. He just said, “Preach the Word.”

Do that.

Pastors: Watch Out For Eager Volunteers!

There was a family in the church I grew up in that came in and immediately wanted to do stuff. They needed to start a kids’ ministry.

My dad, the pastor, was all for a better kids’ ministry and appreciated their enthusiasm, so he let them do it. They did a good job and had fun and the kids’ ministry went fantastic.

So fantastic that they began to feel they were indispensable. They began making demands on my dad. Since he let them do that thing, he should let them do more things. The requests became more and more outlandish.

My dad, a people-pleaser and nice guy by nature, gave them all the things. For years they gave him grief and demanded more. He did more. They still gave him grief. Eventually they left as they were upset because he didn’t do something they demanded he do (even my dad’s niceness had limits). They took people out of church with them and tried taking more.

Churches are always looking for volunteers to head things up, bring excitement, and offer something the church could really use.

Unfortunately, the volunteers most excited about doing such things usually have strange motives.

There is a trap in serving in the church: There’s power and there’s self-righteousness. If you are a big shot in a church, surely you must be favored by God. Surely you’re way more spiritual than others who don’t do as much.

I hate being cynical, yet anytime anyone volunteered to do anything in my church I immediately got nervous.

As far as I know, these people didn’t go to church anywhere after leaving my dad’s church. They flamed out being busy in my dad’s church. They bad mouthed the church and the pastor, used their experience as justification for not going to church anymore.

People are nuts. People who want to be big shots in a church are the nuttiest of the nuts. As Paul says, “Let them first be tested” (1 Timothy 3:10). Give a minor role, a serving role. If they won’t take that, you don’t want them leading anyway.

Don’t let people do stuff in your church without testing them. Bad things happen when this is ignored.

Ask The Failing Pastor: Should I Take a New Church?

When my dad was in seminary he worked at a grocery store. The manager of the store promised him a full-time job and promotion after he graduated.

Instead my dad took a little, rural church in Michigan. He spent four good years there developing life-long friendships. It was a great first church. He loved them and they loved him.

So, naturally, he left.

Years later (I was 7 when we moved from there) he told me he left because, and I quote, “the church couldn’t go anywhere.” In other words, it wasn’t going to grow as it was in a town of 300 people.

My dad took two other churches before he died about 15 years ago. He struggled mightily in those churches. He had some success and again made some lasting friends, but he was broken up by those churches.

Frequently he would say, “I should have stayed at the grocery store.” Or on other days, “I should have stayed in Michigan.”

I always felt bad for him that he left a good little church for the allure of the bigger church in a bigger city. Moving up to bigger was nothing but a headache for him.

My family and I think those churches caused his early death. We have no way of knowing if this is true. Churches aren’t known to give people cancer. But stress does things to a guy.

The grass is sometimes greener on the other side of the fence, but most of the time it’s brown weeds that looked green with the right lighting.

I saw the torture my dad went through taking new churches, so I stayed at one church for 21 years before I couldn’t take it anymore.  

My dad lasted in ministry longer than I did. I think my church was killing me too, although I have not yet gotten cancer.

The bottom line is this:

If you’re a pastor, should you move and take another church or stay in one place your entire ministry?

I have no idea. More than likely either way it will suck and either way it will have some fruit.

Do what you gotta do and don’t worry about it! No matter what you do, people will judge you and find fault with your decision.

Decide things before the Lord. Don’t blame your move on the Lord though, that would be my one piece of advice. All this, “the Lord is calling me to a bigger church” stuff is just guilt-ridden justification in my occasionally humble opinion.

Be firm in your decision. Don’t make excuses. Don’t lie. Tell the church why you’re leaving. Tell the new church why you’re coming, and not some innocuous, self-righteous blather either. Be truthful why you are quitting and why you are going where you’re going.

If you start off in a new church lying and justifying, you will reap that sowing.

At the end of the day, you probably should have stayed at the grocery store job.

How to Fix the Church

Yesterday my wife and I were walking our dog, minding our own business, and gossiping about the latest goings on in our lives, when another couple walked toward us with their dog.

As is the custom, dogs must meet, so we stopped and chatted. They were up at their lake cabin for the week. Within minutes we discovered that we had both been pastors. He had been in for 17 years.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I had to get out for the safety and wellbeing of my family.”

We commiserated a little. I told him I had made it 21 years.

“Wow, 21 years is a long time. I’m amazed you made it that long.”

“Yeah, me too.”

This sort of thing happens quite a bit. I meet pastors and the majority shares this story: it was brutal, I had to get out for my own spiritual health, and it was messing with our family.

This couple said their kids both left the church because Christians were such nasty people. They seemed like nice, sincere people who honestly tried to help the church and yet received crap for their efforts.

What’s going on out there that this is the majority experience of pastors?

The response you get from Christians is that it’s the pastors’ faults. The response I get from pastors is that it’s the churches’ faults.

It’s time to stop blaming sides and instead have the body itself work to fix things.

For the church to function it takes all believers, all members of the body, to do their part (Ephesians 4). This is not how the typical church works. Most people just show up and find fault with everything to justify all the times they don’t show up.

The whiniest, most argumentative people in my church over 21 years were always the ones who did the least. Conversely, those who were the most involved rarely criticized at all, and when they did their criticisms were constructive.

There should be a rule: before you criticize the church you must have served faithfully in it for 5 years! I know that’s unreasonable, but the point remains.

For the most part, I ignored the fault finding and arguing of people who didn’t do anything. They were typically wrong anyway, as the best way to know what’s going on in a church is to actually be there and be involved.

The more people involved in a church the less likely it is that the pastor’s faults can hurt people, the less likely a person can just have a problem with the pastor, and the less likely the pastor is hanging out there on his own with no one faithfully standing by.

The loneliness of it is what got me. Just standing by myself taking shots because no one else cared. I was the one who did everything; therefore I was the one who got criticized for everything.

“That’s what we pay you for,” was the flippant response. If anything goes wrong, the church knows who to blame. It’s a brutal place to be in. It ruins people.

People who do the least in church feel guilty about it, and to assuage their guilt, they find fault with what was done. It’s human nature, the church has no monopoly on this.

But it breaks the heart of the pastor. The church should be different. Get involved in your church. If you can’t or won’t, at least shut up. This would help everyone tremendously.

When Should Church Discipline be Used?

Protecting the church is a big job of a pastor. False teachers and manipulative jerks abound, if left unchecked, they will destroy people and ruin the church.

At the same time, every person has a little false teaching and manipulative jerkness in them! If the pastor ran out every one of them there’d be no church left to protect.

So the pastor is stuck figuring out how much weird stuff to put up with from people before enacting church discipline.

In my case, church discipline was up to me. The board was mostly unhelpful in actively supporting or going with me to address unruly people. I was sent all by my lonesome into the wolf den. Our church had pastoral discipline more than church discipline. This was terrible for me, but I fear many other pastors are in the same spot.

So, I went by myself. Every time I ever did this the person automatically left right then. Therefore, I knew if I ever went to confront someone, there was a really good chance they would leave.

I didn’t want people to leave the church. I’d rather have them in than out. At least if they’re in there’s a chance they can hear the truth and be edified by the collective body of believers.

Paul says there’s a point in which you turn people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. That’s harsh. I had a hard time getting there (although there were some I was quite eager to do so!).

How much junk should a church put up with from a church person? When is the line crossed where church discipline, or whatever happens with bad apples, begins?

Here were my criteria to confront dorks in the church.

  1. Are they causing division?

There were plenty of people in my church over the years that were not helpful. They believed weird things and told me I was wrong. That was ok. I can put up with that, again, it wasn’t helpful, but it wasn’t doing anything worthy of church discipline. However, if they were promoting and pushing their weird beliefs on others, or they were trying to form cliques, then I’d step in.
–You are free to believe weird things, but don’t spread your weird to others in an effort to divide the church.

  1. Are they hurting another believer?

This is a little subjective. Believers are to edify one another. The two other options are: hurt others or have no effect on others. I welcomed believers who had a desire to edify others, I put up with those who didn’t do anything, but those who hurt others had to go. Hurting other believers looks like one of these

  1. a) leading people into false doctrine
  2. b) doing unrepentant, bold sin that was an awful example
  3. c) convincing others to sin like them
  4. d) various forms of emotional or even physical abuse

If a believer was being hurt under my watch, I held myself accountable for that. The pastor’s job is not just protecting the flock, but the individual sheep. Defend your people.
–people sin and will hurt each other, it happens, but if it appears as though you are calloused or intentional about hurting them, you must be taken out.

  1. Are they ruining the testimony of Christ?

Every sin ruins the testimony of Christ. People sin, there’s a certain degree of forgiveness and forbearance to be employed. This isn’t just about them embarrassing your church either. I think pastors get more worked up about the reputation of their church (and thus their own personal reputation) more than the reputation of Christ. Church represents something huge. Paul dealing with the guy having an affair with his step mom in 1 Corinthians is a perfect example of this. The world is watching. We represent Christ. An actively sinful lifestyle must be confronted. This gets tricky though. I’ve seen divorce play out this way. One couple gets divorced in a church and shortly thereafter several others will. Should I kick newly divorced people out of church then? It’s tough. It just is. People sin. We all ruin the testimony of Christ. It’s tough but something has to be done or else the Son of God is trampled underfoot.
–You sin, but if you turn your sin into a lifestyle that consistently destroys the testimony of Christ, the Word, and the Church (the Body of Christ) then something must be done.

I found these church discipline areas one of the toughest parts of being a pastor. When to step in, how to step in, and who will go with me? I was routinely confused about what I was supposed to do.

On top of that, we’re supposed to act out of love. Many churches have ceased church discipline because it appears unloving. That’s stupid. God, who is love, is the one who said we should use church discipline.

But it must be done right. It’s not about kicking out people who annoy the pastor, or don’t respect or agree with the pastor. It’s about protecting the church and the reputation of Christ and His Gospel.

The point of church discipline is not to create an echo chamber. The point is the salvation of souls. Restoration is the goal of all church discipline. We want them back; they just can’t be doing that if they return.

Being in charge of such decisions and the whole discipline process is a great burden. Being in a spot to know what to do with other people’s stupid is no fun. But it’s part of the job and the church is counting on you to do it well.

So do it well.

Top 5 things that Prepared me the Most for Pastoral Ministry

Let me begin by saying: I do not feel as though I was at all prepared for pastoral ministry. In all honesty, I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for what ended up going down.

Some like to bash on seminaries for not preparing their students. I don’t know. School rarely prepares you for doing anything. It gives you interesting information and connections, but there’s no way it can prepare you for midnight phone calls from a drunk couple, who are often involved in children’s ministry, fighting with each other.

The only thing that will prepare you for pastoral ministry is being in pastoral ministry.

All that being said, there were things I did in my earlier life that helped me the most in my pastoral role.

  1. Scripture Memorization:
    I was in Awana my entire kid life. As a pastor’s kid I was forced to complete all my Awana books to be a good example to all the heathen kids. Despite my routinely bad attitude about it, those verses have stuck in my head. I know how to memorize and verses pop in my head all the time. This is seriously the most helpful thing I did (or was done to me) to prepare me for ministry. Having verses ready at hand, stored away in there, has been amazing. And being able to accuse self-righteous Christian cliques with, “surely you are the people and wisdom will die with you,” sounds awesome and impresses anyone who has actually read Job.
  1. Being a janitor:
    Before I was a pastor I was a janitor for eight years. Cleaning up other people’s mess is humbling. Add on top of that the number of people making the mess who criticize you for not removing their mess as well as they thought it should be removed, was incredible preparation for the unbelievably ridiculous criticisms I heard as a pastor from completely messed up people! The lady who complained to me because the fluorescent lights were humming too loud and she heard voices in them, “isn’t there something you can do to quiet them?” When you are already accustomed to ridiculous complaints on a regular basis, receiving pastoral criticism is much easier. Having a destroyed ego is excellent preparation for what’s about to happen in pastoral ministry.
  1. Living in a pastor’s family:
    Without an entire life spent in a pastor’s home, how would I possibly have developed such a bad attitude about church before even beginning ministry? Nothing prepares you more for the bitterness and frustration the church will cause you than already being bitter and frustrated by church. When your expectations are already non-existent, it really helps when the results are non-existent. Tremendously preparatory.
  1. Church History:
    Knowing where people get their weirdo beliefs, because you know it ain’t from the Bible, is one of the main reasons to study Church History. About 68% of stuff people in your church believe is not actually in the Bible. If you know Church History you will not be shocked when they throw out their latest non-biblical doctrine. You will be prepared for it and perhaps even have an answer for it. There is nothing new under the sun. All the weird stuff people bring in your church has been brought into churches for two thousand years. Study Church History and very little will shock you. You will also learn that no matter how awful your church is, there were many churches that were even worse.
  1. Seminary:
    Seminary taught me the virtue of sitting around for hours listening to old people ramble about loosely biblical stuff. Pastors worth their salt spend lots of time sitting around listening to old people. Old people are great, but they are seldom as entertaining as they think they are. When you’ve heard Bonnie’s story about the toilet backup of ’79 for the thirteenth time, it’s hard to still smile. But if you’ve spent several years listening to tenured professors ramble on for hours, you are more than adequately equipped to endure, and maybe even smile.

If you’re looking to go into pastoral ministry, you’d be well served to major on these five areas of life. You’ll be as well-equipped as possible for what lies ahead, which is basically still not being equipped at all, but hey, you can at least feel a little better the first six months of being a pastor.

Ah, those glorious first six months when you have plans and ideals. People like you because they have no idea who you are or what you believe. Enjoy those first six months. Or, if you’re like me, my six months ended three months before I officially began my pastoral ministry.

In all seriousness though, there is no way you will ever be prepared for the job. My actual true advice is:

  1. Grow in Christ.
  2. Develop your prayer life.
  3. Read the Bible voraciously.
  4. Have some people somewhere who like you for you.
  5. Have outside activities or hobbies that can distract you.
  6. Spend time with old people, you’re about to do a lot of that!
  7. Learn how to ask questions and then learn to listen and remember answers.

Good luck out there! Fight the fight.

What I Learned from Living in a Pastor’s Family

I am a third-generation pastor.

My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a pastor of several churches. One of them in the suburbs of Chicago grew tremendously. He had stuff going on every night and it was the right time in American Christianity for such things.

As his church grew his family took a back seat. He largely ignored his kids after his church took off. My mom said she knew to hide on board meeting nights because he’d come home mad and she didn’t want any wrath directed at her. Pretty much the only time she was noticed was as an example to the church.

This was during the age of the miniskirt. My grandpa enjoyed talking about grace and flaunting his non-legalism. He insisted his teenage daughter wore the shortest skirt in church. I still can’t believe how messed up that is! He also didn’t help by informing his daughter about her weight and how she looked in those miniskirts.

Meanwhile, he was developing a nation-wide radio program for marriage and family advice from a Christian perspective, a new thing at the time. He rode this wave to much notoriety and money. You better believe I picked up on the irony at a young age.

My mom married a pastor from the hills of Pennsylvania. When they got married my dad was my grandpa’s associate pastor in the thriving suburban church. My grandpa made my dad do all the annoying stuff he didn’t want to do.

My dad’s first solo church was a very small church in rural Michigan. He loved it there, but he also had a strong drive to prove himself, to move up to a bigger church, and compete with his father-in-law more or less. He specifically admitted he left that church because it couldn’t “go anywhere,” which meant it couldn’t grow huge.

He moved to a church in Wisconsin and grew the church to several hundred. He was getting closer, but he felt this church had run its course too, so he took a church in Illinois and got to work growing that one. Unfortunately he died of cancer about ten years into his time at that church.

Most of my growing up took place at the church in Wisconsin. I hated church as a kid. I was there constantly. My parents talked forever after every service. One night as a teenager I picked up my mom and carried her to the car so she would leave and get me home.

My life was more or less spent living for my dad’s church. My dad was a nice guy. He’d do anything for anyone, and I often joined him. He bent over trying to please the craziest of people. In the end, after all that effort and patience, the people would still get ticked off and leave.

A pastor’s unhealthy motivation for ministry will be felt by the pastor’s family.

I saw example after example in my life and my mom’s life of how church was more important than family. The pain our family had because of church. The sacrifices I was forced to make, that I did not volunteer for, really burned me. When I left for college I didn’t go to church for several years.

I was willing to sacrifice some things for the church as a kid, I got it, it was part of the job. But man was I forced to give up way more than I think was right and healthy.

It is only by the grace of God and several godly people in those various churches that I am even in a church today. I saw glimpses of what it could be and that keeps me hopeful.

Pastoral ministry is a strange job. I don’t know that many come out of it with healthy family relationships, which is ironic, since having healthy family relationships is a qualification for ministry according to 1 Timothy 3:4-5!

People often trot out Jesus’ words about hating mother and father, and wife and children to follow Christ as a justification for pastors ignoring their family for their church. I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about at all.

If your family relationships are struggling, you’re not doing ministry right. According to Paul, you shouldn’t be in ministry.

Much pastor family tension arises over forcing the family to live up to the human standards placed on them by a church. This destroys kids’ souls when forced to do this. My parents constantly made my sister and I perform for the church. We were examples for other families. We couldn’t just have our friends at our birthday parties; we had to invite every single kid in the church lest someone at church find out their kid wasn’t invited to the pastor’s kid’s party and leave the church.

My entire childhood was dictated by our appearance before the church. Don’t do that to your kids. They are not showpieces, they are not examples; they are people with souls who happen to be your kids.

Pastors: protect your kids from the church. If you have to leave ministry to guarantee your kids will not hate Christianity, please do so. The eternal weight of your kid’s souls will be far more important to you on Judgment Day than whether you kept the Robinson family happy for one more month.