Why I am Still a Pastor

If you read my stuff, you know I have some “issues” surrounding my pastoral career. It begs the question: Why are you still doing this if it’s that bad?

Here are my answers to that question in no particular order:

1. I do actually occasionally help people. Not many, not as many as I’d like. But there are some. I can see their growth in Christ and to know I had a part in planting or watering is so awesomely cool I can’t even explain it. I fail to see how I’d get this many shots at that by not being a pastor. To be of use to hurting, questioning, and doubting people is very cool.

2. I just wouldn’t do these things otherwise. I get opportunities to be with people in very personal moments. Weddings, funerals, counseling, just talking. I have sat next to more crying people in the last 20 years than I ever thought possible. These are things this job requires me to do and people view me as someone they can invite in. I would never in a million years get this many opportunities to be with people otherwise.

3. I have grown in Christ tremendously. Much of what I share on the Failing Pastor is my flesh’s cynical take on being a pastor. The reality is a tad more balanced. I have had so many people and things ripped away from me, I’ve only had Christ left. Only His Word to stand on. If my pastoral career had been successful, I’m quite sure I’d have lost my soul. I cannot thank Him enough for how terrible my church is for what it’s done for me spiritually!

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Why I Became a Pastor

When I was nearing high school graduation, everyone asked me, “So, what do you want to do for a living?”

My standard answer was, “I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to be a pastor.”

I am a third-generation pastor. I grew up in a pastor’s home. I knew things about people at a very young age. I saw my dad practically kill himself trying to keep people happy. I knew the arguments, pettiness, and judgmentalism of Christianity before I was out of grade school.

My dad did not hide these things. I don’t think he could have even if he wanted to. He just felt stuff and I could clearly figure out what he was feeling.

It also helped that on many occasions he’d come home from a visitation and say to me, “Be careful who you marry” or “stay away from alcohol.” I knew who he visited; even I could do that math!

Half my life was spent at church. I cleaned, folded tables and chairs, learned to use a dust mop, and knew the inner workings of the church. I waited for hours as my parents yammered on after church.

I was in college when I saw my first complete Super Bowl. Many a Sunday after church was spent out in my parent’s car in the church parking lot listening to the football games get started without me. This may not seem like a big deal, but to a teenage boy who completely loved sports, this was torture.

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A Poor Pastor’s Advice to Poor Pastors

It used to be that being a pastor was synonymous with being poor. This changed at some point with televangelism or something. I don’t know. I just know it changed.

Pastors became celebrities and churches began competing with Business for larger buildings and programs. As churches grew; so did pastors’ salaries. (One might cynically conclude the desire for a larger church is actually a desire for a larger salary. But only very bad, cynical people would actually state that opinion publically.)

While many pastors are making a comfortable living, there are many who struggle to get by.

I’d be one of those pastors.

It’s cute and easy to tell me how to grow my church and be like those famous pastors with large churches and salaries, but no. It doesn’t work in towns in rural America. I can Saddleback on that Church Growth horse all day and it aint happening. I would also feel like a complete sellout that is close to shipwrecking his faith if I did that.

Over the years I have supplemented my income in several ways. I’ve worked as housekeeping in local resorts. I’ve done grounds crew for a millionaire’s home. I do some writing. I flip things on the internet. None of these things has made me rich, but they’ve all gotten my family and I through to this point. My wife has also taken part in such things and now that our kids are out of the house, she works part-time. She’s struggled along at my side the whole time too. My kids were all employed at young ages as well. It was a family effort.

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The Failing Pastor’s Wife

I’m not talking about wives who fail at being pastors wives, I’m talking about my wife who is the wife of a failing pastor.

When we came to this church I told them my wife was not an employee. She should not be expected to do a bunch of stuff, and if you have something to tell me, tell me.

These parameters are not remembered by anyone, so it has to be demonstrated consistently. People don’t listen to words; they might eventually pick up on habits.

All the grandiose statements about “my wife is not an employee” are great and everything, but when no one else shows up to watch kids in the nursery, guess who watches kids in the nursery?

I think there were years where my wife heard maybe five of my messages because no one else would serve in the nursery. This was not good. Spare me the lectures about “Well, you need to make people do it, that’s not right.”

Yeah, ok, and who exactly are these people I want to entrust the care of other people’s children to? Not to mention that my wife felt bad making a mom who brought the kids stay in the nursery with the kids. What’s the point of going to church then?

My wife knows my theological brilliance anyway, she’ll just watch the kids. She’d rather give other people an “opportunity” to hear sermons than her.

But it still got old.

The nursery thing was annoying, but we’ve since taken care of that by not having any little kids in our church anymore. But perhaps the two biggest sacrifices she makes being married to a failing pastor are these:

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The Feeling of Failure because no one Listens

I look at God’s word and think, “Man, this is great! These are the words of life.”

When I preach God’s word, I fully expect everyone else to see how great His word is too. But usually people just ignore it, shuffle out the door, and go right back to the idiocy they were dong before.

I sit back and observe the lives around me, I see the beauty of God’s word, I see that the wrecked lives are not hearing God’s word. How can they not want more of this beautiful, life-giving word?

My only conclusion is: it must be me. I must be screwing it up. I must preach really badly. Maybe my life, my testimony, maybe I don’t demonstrate it enough.

I reflect on how I act and what I’ve done in front of these people who continually don’t hear God’s word, I can think of things I did in front of them that weren’t right. I can see my blame. And since I know God’s word is so perfect and beautiful, it can’t be His fault. It’s got to be me.

When people reject God’s word, it must be my fault. I’m to blame. It’s all me.

I feel this way quite often. There is some truth. I can’t deny I have a part in all this.

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4 Kinds of Questions Pastors Get Asked

As a pastor I am accustomed to being questioned. Every week I have people emailing and asking questions in person. I am specifically talking about questions related to the Bible and Christianity, not stuff like, “Did you see the game? or “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

People often say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” People who say this have obviously never been a pastor. There are stupid questions; I’ve been asked most of them. But in the midst of the gloom of inane questions are the shining lights of brilliant questions. These are rare and cherished.

I can throw all these questions into the following categories. Most of these categories consist entirely of stupid questions, with one shining exception, which you will readily recognize when you see it.

1. Testing Questions
Many questions I’m asked are tests. The questioner has no interest at all in my answer. They want to corner me, challenge me, condemn me, mock me, or in some other way make me look ridiculous. These questions used to bother me quite a bit. Now I just answer them as succinctly as possible. “How many angels can stand on a pin head?” My answer: “7.” because seriously how are they going to verify this? These are insincere questions asked by people who want to lecture. These questions are the stupidest questions of all

2. Doubtful Questions
I don’t mind if people ask me about their doubts about the Bible, faith, or Christianity. I’m cool with people questioning such things. Unfortunately, what I’ve realized is that people who have doubts about the veracity of Christianity are usually people who just don’t want to commit to it. So, after I’ve answered their question about their doubt as reasonably as I can, they’ll nod their head and walk away. Six months later they’ll ask the same question. I’ll give the same answer. They nod and go away. Six months later they ask the same question, I give the same answer, they nod the same and walkaway. Six months later . . . on and on and on it goes. These people have doubts and they aren’t interested in the answers because they are enjoying their sin too much. This is stupid.

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Top 5 Things that Make This Pastor Sad

Pastoral ministry isn’t hard physically. Many aspects are actually totally enjoyable. One of my favorite things in the world is developing sermons and preaching them. Visiting people has become a good source of entertainment and fellowship. Hospital visits are even becoming more, well “enjoyable” isn’t the right word, manageable?!

Pastoral ministry is hard in other ways. It takes an emotional toll after a while. There are many sad aspects of the job that suck the life and energy out of me. Here are the leading causes of pastoral sadness.

1. Tragedies
Bad things happen to a lot of people. Watching the elderly woman take care of her husband slipping away with Alzheimer’s. Watching people slowly succumb to cancer. Parents who give birth to kids with health issues. Suicide. Accidents and injuries. Man, it’s tough walking with people through these things. It also seems like these things come in bunches. There have been times where these things just compound and I wonder where the energy comes from to deal with another one. I have learned to not take seasons free of these things for granted.

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