How Churches Become Ineffective

Most churches have boiled down their activity and message to an inoffensive middle.

Offensiveness is not always bad. The Gospel, according to the Bible, is offensive. If your church is not offending people who don’t like the Gospel, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and any number of godly things, then your church is ineffective.

The reason most churches are not offensive is because they can’t afford it.

They have mortgages to pay. There are heating and electric bills and general upkeep for giant buildings. Exorbitant salaries for increasingly expanding paid positions must be paid.

As these things increase for a church, adherence to the offensiveness of the Gospel and truth goes out the window.

Some people want more of a thing while other people want less of that same thing. The church, desiring not to lose any cash givers, finds a comfy middle ground where both parties are happy.

Church traditions are merely hundreds of years of doing this.

This is what we’ve always done and this is what we will continue to do because back in 1893 the Jones and Miller families hashed this out until we found this workable solution. Don’t mess with it. This is what people expect. If we don’t give them what they want; they won’t give us what we need: money.

Your church does not perfectly follow the Word of God. If it did, it would be smaller.

Your church knows this, so it has come up with a handy way to make people feel like they are listening to God while scratching ears to get money.

Cynical? Yes. It’s also very true in most cases.

As a pastor, you know what verses your church has no interest in taking seriously. You know you can’t preach on them without losing people. Do you preach on them anyway and take your lumps, or do you compromise? Maybe skip some uncomfortable parts of the Bible?

Why are you doing that?

After years of playing games with people in my church, I began to simply preach what I saw in the Bible. People left. I made a clear statement to the board that I will take pay cuts. Keep doing everything the church needs with money, I will suffer the consequences of my teaching.

I taught what I believed. People left. My salary shrunk. There were many times I could have skipped verses or not preached certain sermons. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk or purposely poke people in the eye (most of the time!), but I was trying to be faithful to the Word.

My church shrunk to the point of non-existence. I’m no longer a pastor. The church is no longer in existence. I find both things to be ok under the circumstances. I tried to correct what the church taught and did with biblical teaching.

People left. People aren’t interested in biblical teaching; they are interested in an inoffensive institution they can use to assuage their guilt.

Cynical? Yes. Unfortunately, also very true.

Try it sometime. Do you have the guts to preach the verses you know your church ignores? It’ll cost you. Is it worth it? Well, you won’t have as much stuff and you’ll have fewer people, but you’ll also have a clean conscience before the Lord.

The church is here to proclaim the Light of Jesus Christ. Men love darkness and hate light. Don’t be surprised when the world hates you, and also don’t be surprised about how much world is currently in your church.

Don’t be an inoffensive, ineffective, worthless church. Proclaim the Word of God, forsake your dependence on worldly things, and speak the truth in love.

Pastors: Are You Valiant for the Truth?

People complain that pastors do not preach the word or stand up for the truth enough. I guess I can’t argue.

At the same time, it’s slightly ridiculous for people to complain that pastors don’t stand for the truth when the people don’t either. The pot calling the kettle black, don’t ya know? I did my best to preach the truth of God’s word. Many people left. This didn’t stop me, but it also made life difficult.

Not going to sugar coat it: if you as a pastor preach the actual words of Scripture in context, you will suffer for it. That’s why pastors don’t do it. Pastors especially don’t do it if the building fund needs funding, or the massive mortgage needs paying, or the Jones’ church is bigger.

The more you want or need earthly things, the odds that you will preach the truth decline.

Preaching the truth is hard because the truth hurts. People like the darkness and hate the light. Truth shines around in peoples’ hearts and makes em cry. It’s fun on some level! But watching people flee over and over again breaks your heart.

I saw a cool phrase in Jeremiah 9:3. The prophet is bemoaning the demise of Israel. Jeremiah says he’s so tired of Israel, he wishes he could run away from the people of Israel to a band of guys in the wilderness! I hear ya there, Jerry!

And here’s verse 3:

And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord.

They like to speak lies and they are not “valiant for the truth.” Ooo, I like that phrase! The Hebrew word for “valiant” means to show yourself mighty, to be powerful, to be great and prevail. That’s the kind of truthiness you need to be an approved pastor.

Are you valiant for the truth?

This would imply at least two things:

1) You know the truth. You’ve read the Bible so many times you know what it’s talking about. You don’t copy sermons off the internet. You don’t rely on commentaries to inform you what to preach. You actually know the Bible, you know the truth of God’s Word. Beyond that, you’ve taken this knowledge into practical experience. You’ve tried out the truth. You’ve worked with it, planted it, and have experiences with it. You’ve seen the validity of the truth right before your eyes. Are you strong in your understanding of and experience with God’s truth?

2) You have set your face like flint and have removed all obstacles and temptations that would make you veer from the truth. You are not reliant on money or ego-feeding compliments or followers. You are also not an arrogant jerk with a desire to smash everyone into the ground with your intellect, we’re not talking macho strength. No, you simply stand unwaveringly on the truth. You’re rooted, grounded, and built up in it. You’ve read it and lived it to know it’s true and there’s nothing on this old earth of ours that will knock you off that firm footing. You don’t cave or back down when lies are thrown your way. You don’t back off the truth even if it means you will lose people, money, followers, reputation, rights, or who knows what else. You’re completely sold out for the truth and it’s all you’ve got and all you need. Here you stand; you can do no other.

This, I believe is what it means to be valiant for the truth. Israel had fallen away from the truth. Verse 5 explains why people like lies:

And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.

People like lies and hate the truth because they want to sin. They want sin and they don’t want guilt. The only way to sin without guilt is to deny the truth. Eliminate the verses and the commands that ruin the fun. And especially get rid of the messenger that brought that truth.

You will be attacked if you preach the truth. They will examine everything you do until they find some trumped up charge to bring against you. Expect it. Make sure there’s nothing for them to find! If you’ve been valiant for the truth, there won’t be. But don’t be shocked when they simply make stuff up! Let em. Be valiant for the truth.

Toward the end of the chapter we have these beautiful verses, ones you should memorize and remind yourself of regularly:

Thus says the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

Do you know the Lord? Do you know who He is and what He loves? Do you love Him and the things He loves? Are you valiant for the truth? Remember, Paul tells us that love rejoices in the truth.

Pursuing truth does not make you arrogant, you don’t run around boasting in all you know and all your fantastic wisdom. Instead you rejoice that you know the Author of Truth. You know He who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Pastors, be valiant for the truth. This is your one calling. Be valiant for the truth. Don’t let anything keep you from this. Fight the fight.

Some Tests to See If You Should Enter Pastoral Ministry

I, and many other pastors, did not have an easy time being a pastor. It was the most brutal stretch of my life.

Anyone who asks me whether they should enter pastoral ministry, I give the same answer my dad, who was a pastor, gave me, “Don’t do it, it’ll break your heart. But if you have to, you have to.” Know up front that pastoral ministry can be brutal, and nothing going on in our world makes me think it will get easier.

But avoiding hard things is no recipe for a life well lived. If you realize the potential brutality and still want to do it, then by all means, go for it.

If you have any skills or interests that could provide you a living outside of pastoral ministry, pursue that. One of the first tests will be whether you’ll take the more enjoyable job over ministry. I know many guys who were qualified to be well-paid employees who instead went into the ministry. The choice was clear and I think that helped them in their resolve to stick with ministry.

The Big Question is Why do you want to be a pastor? What’s your motivation?  What’s your answer to that? Write it down somewhere, I’ll give you the right answer at the end of the article. You can see if you passed this test!

Being a pastor is not a switch you flip. Being a pastor should be an extension of who you are as a person. If you’re already not doing pastoral things, then don’t be a pastor. It’s not just a job, and we don’t need any more people doing it as a job. The church has enough hirelings.

So, here are six things you should already be doing in your life before you are a pastor. If you’re not doing these things, I’d suggest not being a pastor.

1. Reading the Bible. I mean, like, really reading it. Over and over. Not just as a checklist activity, but reading for comprehension. You can defend your doctrine with verses, and not just catechism type verses, but actual verses you’ve read in context and thought through. You are so familiar with God’s Word that you can recognize what someone says as consistent or not with the voice of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Are you in the Word, systematically reading and studying it?

2. Living the Bible. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. He is the revelation of the righteousness of God apart from the Law and the Prophets. Is the life of Christ manifest in your life? Reading the Bible is not for arguing theology and being good at Bible Trivia. Reading the Word correctly always leads to doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so the man of God is thoroughly equipped to do good works. Is your life increasingly a reflection of Jesus Christ and His Word?

3. Helping people. Are you bearing the burdens of others? Do you talk to old people, because you’ll be doing a lot of that! Do you attend funerals, visit old folks, attend church events, and generally are helpful to those around you? If you won’t help your mom do the dishes, will you really serve others who actually can’t stand you? Are you developing love, service, compassion, and burden bearing? Are these a part of your life right now?

4. Accepting responsibility. Do you make decisions and deal well with the consequences? Pastors make a lot of decisions that have big time implications. If you blame others or act like a victim already in life, good luck leading a group of people! You have to know what you’re doing and be responsible enough to admit when you messed up, to humbly ask for forgiveness, and even on the off chance you’re right, how to be right graciously. Do you make decisions and deal with the consequences with maturity?

5. Dealing with feedback. A pastor’s actions get judged by EVERYBODY. Very few people in your life will not judge your pastoral actions. How well do you handle criticism? Do you consider it long enough to examine whether it’s right, or do you just flip out a comeback and move on? How well do you handle praise? Do you get arrogant easily, gloating over others, and rubbing faces in their mistakes and your glory? You need to understand that cheers and boos mean nothing. They are two sides of the same coin. Do you over-value the opinions of people?

6. Handling money. Pastors need to watch out for money. Many pastors have gotten in trouble over money. If you are massively in debt when you are a pastor, you will be tempted to water down your messages to keep people happy. You will play with conforming to the world to make more money. Get out of debt. Learn to buy very little. The more you need money, the greater the temptations will be to destroy your ministry. Get a grip on money and the deceitfulness of riches. Money destroys people. It destroys pastors and churches. Jesus said if we can’t handle earthly treasure, why would He entrust to us spiritual treasure (Luke 16:11)? How are you with money?

If these six things are not things you are aware of and working on right now, if these things seem irrelevant to you, if they seem too hard, legalistic, or laborious, or if you think you already have them all nailed down at age 23, please, for the sake of the Body of Christ and God’s Church, do not become a pastor.

Paul’s guidelines for church leadership as given in the Pastoral Epistles, are strict and they are moral/spiritual in nature. The church today does not hire pastors according to these guidelines; it hires based on education or communication skills or past success. The church is suffering today because of this.

So, what was your answer to my earlier question: Why do you want to go into pastoral ministry? What’s your motivation? If your answer was anything other than something like: to make much of Christ, to edify people and grow them into Christ, to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to glorify Jesus Christ, please do not go into ministry. Paul said he came to do nothing except preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Don’t do the job for money, for fame, for some proof of your spiritual vitality, for respect, or for any other human means. Do it to grow people into the perfect man Christ Jesus. Read Ephesians 4. This chapter tells you what church is for. The pastor’s job is to help Ephesians 4 happen in a local church. If Ephesians 4 doesn’t sound like something you want to be part of, then please do not enter pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. You’re not. If your answer did not include Jesus Christ, your motivation is suspect.

Pastoral ministry is brutal. The vast majority of people do not want truth, nor do they want to grow into Christ. They think they do, they tell you they do, but their actions and reactions will clearly demonstrate this is not the case. There has always been a remnant. You will reach a couple people, if that. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

Our world is increasingly hostile to Jesus Christ. If you truly represent Him, you will suffer for it. You will. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It’s a brutal calling, but it also has eternal reward. Understand the responsibility.  James says, “Let not many of you be teachers.” When you open your mouth before God’s people, you are bringing on yourself more judgment. Take the job seriously. Many pastors are not taking it seriously and they are getting away with it for the time being. They have their reward and they will also give an account before the Lord and receive His full judgment on what they did in His name.

If you desire to be a pastor, you desire a good thing, but it is also a brutal thing. Go into it with your eyes open and prepare yourself for what’s about to hit you. Start today. I wish you well. Fight the fight.

Some Thoughts on Why Pastors Have No One to Talk to

I regularly get emails and messages from pastors who say they have no one to talk to.

This is sad.

I don’t know these pastors personally and they only know me from what I’ve said on the internet. They know I’ve struggled, and they are struggling, and I’m probably safe to talk to.

I am safe to talk to, by the way, and I don’t mind.

But I think it’s too bad that so many pastors have no one to talk to.

From my experience, here’s why pastors can’t talk to anyone:

1) Pastors can’t divulge everything they know about people.
Much of the stuff that depresses a pastor has to do with other people. Being a gossip and airing out the dirty laundry doesn’t help and can cause lots of problems.

2) Pastors who struggle get lectures.
People want a perfect pastor. They want a pastor who is above struggles. If a pastor lets on that they are struggling; they are probably immature and shouldn’t be listened to. People want confidence and assurance, not some dude with problems.

3) Pastors have weird jobs that people don’t understand.
Most pastors who talk about their job struggles will eventually hear, “Yeah, well, we all have problems at work. Let me tell you all mine.” Without being too sanctimonious, I’ve had many jobs in my life, none of them come close to the perils of pastoral ministry. I know non-pastors don’t believe that and I can’t say anything to convince you, but yeah, it’s a tough gig. There is eternal weight to it that is soul crushing, and that’s beside any degree of physical or mental stress.

4) Pastors could be faking it.
I know pastors and I’m just being honest when I say this: Pastors at church are often different from pastors not at church. If a pastor lets the façade slip, who knows what problems will ensue. So when the act can’t be carried on anymore, who to talk to? If word gets out I’m not who I’m acting to be, it’ll all be over.

5) Pastors are supposed to answer people’s questions and solve people’s problems.
What if the church finds out I have no idea what I’m doing? I can’t be The Answer Man if all I have are questions. Sometimes reality has a way of calling your bluff. This is a tough spot.

There are many reasons, but these are some of the ones that make pastors feel like they can’t talk to people.

So, how can you be someone your pastor can talk to? I can give some pointers, not sure too many people are equipped to actually do it though!

1) Be an actual friend to your pastor. Get to know them. Spend time with them. You may not be able to be friends with your pastor, sometimes people don’t click like that. Don’t force it. Just offer some kind gestures and spend some time listening. No one listens to pastors and pretty much all pastors do is listen to people talk about their problems. For the love of all things holy, please be quiet for a minute and listen and see if your pastor is a human with human abilities to talk and feel and discuss things.

2) Hold off the judgment. Listen for a while before chalking up your pastor’s opinions as immature, or unqualified for ministry, or “obviously God hasn’t called you to ministry.” Unhelpful. Often there are back stories to a pastor’s opinions and thoughts that he’s not sure he can divulge. Many of the pastor’s problems and opinions are based on disastrous things he’s seen in other people’s lives. He can’t explain everything. Give em some slack. Work with em.

3) Skip the flippant answers, lectures, and clichés. Sincerely listen and then offer thoughtful responses.

4) Be involved in church. Any pastor worth their salt is massively concerned about the church and the people in it and around it. If you’re not in it and don’t know the people, you’re not going to understand anything your pastor is talking about. A pastor can’t give sufficient background all the time; it really helps if you know what’s going on to understand the issues the pastor is struggling with.

5) Keep your mouth shut and treat conversations as private. Don’t blab around what the pastor told you, because that will be the last time the pastor tells you anything even remotely personal.

6) Don’t use what the pastor says against them. I confided in a guy once who immediately used what I told him against me and caused problems. This makes it very difficult to confide in anyone again.

7) Don’t take the pastor’s reservations about talking personally. Most pastors have been hurt by numerous people who violated confidentiality. It is hard not to get jaded in ministry, or get a little leery about people, slightly paranoid. It’s not you; it’s the constant stabbing in the back by others. Be patient, kind, gentle, and please listen.

These are some things that might help both pastors and potential friends or counselors. Pastors can have friends in their church. It is possible, but it is also rare. Pastors need to slowly reveal things, test the waters if the person is reliable to truly open up to. If a pastor divulges too much too soon, people can get hurt.

None of these things are easy but any good friendship and trustworthy relationship requires time. Don’t rush. Pastors: don’t get so cynical you stop trying to find someone to confide in. Parishioners: don’t get judgy, pretend grace is a thing you’re supposed to show too.

We’re all sinners. Sometimes the pastor is the main one at fault. There are creepy pastors out there. Sometimes the parishioners are at fault, they can be creepy too. In the end forgiveness, grace, and love are the keys behind it all. Show those things and perhaps pastors and a few parishioners can actually communicate in a way where all are edified.

How Can I Get Out of Pastoral Ministry?

About once a week I receive a message from a pastor who found my Failing Pastor blog or Twitter account who is discouraged and wants to know how to get out of ministry.

This is cool and sad.

I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for over a year now. I don’t get much material for Twitter or the blog anymore. It’s crossed my mind to quit many times. But the private messages I get from hurting pastors keeps me doing it.

I remember so well the loneliness I felt as a failing pastor. Nothing I did mattered or seemed to help. The surrounding apathy was sucking the life out of me. But I didn’t know what other job I could do.

Several times a year I hit the depths of quitting depression. I sent out resumes to teach for Christian schools. I even sent a few for janitorial positions. All my education and experience was in and for church. The exit seemed impossible.

I didn’t want to move to another church. I’d just have to start the battle all over. Stabbed in the back for brand new reasons by brand new people. Step in issues I didn’t know about all over again. No thanks.

I figured my only true out would be going into business. Doing something I was entirely in charge of. I didn’t need a fancy resume or have to meet any qualifications.

I’ve always liked books. I began buying and selling books. For about three years my wife and I talked about having a bookstore. I researched bookstores, interviewed bookstore owners, and learned more about the book business while selling books online.

My hope was to hang on until our last kid graduated from high school. All the kids would be out of the house, expenses would lower, and we’d be free to try it out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang on that long. A very frustrating time hit and I lost all joy and hope and motivation. I had to get out. If I stayed in longer I’d hurt someone.

Also during this time my mom was dying and she was not handling it well. I was stressed from both things. I resigned on a Sunday. Took my Mom into the hospital on that Tuesday and two weeks later she died. Things went so quickly and dramatically, I never even told her I resigned from being a pastor.

We opened our bookstore about three months ago and are completely thrilled with the decision and how things have worked out.

Pastors ask me all the time “How do you make money now? I’d quit in a heartbeat if I could make money some other way.” This is what I did. It’s probably not what you should do. I have no idea.

I know the pain and the anguish and I feel for you. I do. I get it so much. All I can suggest is that you work on an alternative plan while still pastoring. This is especially true if you have a family. Your decision affects other people.

At the same time, I got to the point where I had to scrap my plan because I was done. Like, legit done. I felt something shift in me. I had to get out. You might be there too. In that case, you go on faith that the Lord will help you out.

We are in an economy right now where everyone is looking for good help. I know it might be embarrassing to get the job at Home Depot, but hey, it’s better to do that than to disparage the ministry with a bad attitude. Take a grunt job for a while and work on an alternate plan.

I don’t know. I feel unqualified to give advice really. All I can do is tell you what I did. I know several pastors who went into business as an avenue out of ministry. It’s scary, but also a fascinating learning experience. Many pastoral functions are good preparation for going into business: dealing with people, operating budgets, filling out forms/office work, etc.

As an added bonus: I have received more encouragement and compliments in the last three months in our bookstore than I did in 21 years of being a pastor! That’s kind of nice! I know it’s not everything and it’s really not all that important, but when you get beat up for so long, it is nice to be appreciated!

Anyway, I feel for you if you feel stuck in your pastoral job. You’ll get criticized and judged by other pastors and anyone else you share your feelings with. It’s a bummer and part of what makes pastoral depression even worse.

I don’t judge. I know what it’s like. It’s tough. Life is bigger than ministry. Do the right thing before the Lord and I am convinced He will take care of you. Make the right call for you before Him. Hang in there. Fight the fight.

Problems of a People Pleasing Pastor

I think most pastors think they are doing pastoring the right way. Many even think they are doing it biblically.

Perhaps some are, but I think the major influence on how a guy pastors is simply personality. I come from a people-pleasing family. Serving people and being empathetic is what we do. We feel things for people and do what we can to help. This all sounds good and there are many verses that say we should do such things.

However, most of my empathy, care, and service was done out of fear. People pleasers are afraid of rejection, among other things. Much of my service was not done out of spiritual conviction but out of fleshly fear. This was especially true when my church began to shrink and I wasn’t getting paid much. I couldn’t afford more people to leave.

I would say my family and I were on the extreme end of people pleasers. My dad was probably the most people pleasery person ever. I was never as bad as he was. People liked him as their pastor, but he also attracted bullies. Bullies identify weak people and take advantage of them. I was pretty successful at attracting them too!

Both my dad and I did a lot of good for a lot of people, yet we also have long lists of people who took advantage of us, people who trampled on us and we were not always able to stand up for ourselves. We can justify it as Christlikeness; in reality it was simply fear.

Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum. Those who are oblivious to other people’s feelings. They don’t mind fighting and arguing. They are confident in who they are and what they believe and kind of don’t respect anyone but their own brilliant selves. They are sometimes known as Calvinists. I tease, I tease. Sort of.

These are the pastors who when I express my frustrations and failures as a pastor tell me I wasn’t called to ministry. They don’t empathize at all; they simply pile on and tell me how utterly awful I am. They are right to the extent that I was wrong, but they go too far. They don’t understand that the reason they don’t have the same experiences as a pastor as I do is because they are oblivious to all the things that make people with my personality miserable. I felt them too much; they feel them none at all. Both are problematic.

(One way to tell which end of the spectrum you are on is this: when someone argues with you do you enjoy it and it makes your day, or do you get tight and can feel your pulse in your eyes?!)

I think the best pastor is a combination of both, knowing when to please and when not to. Paul said if he yet pleased me he would not be the servant of Christ. The same Paul also said he became all things to all men so that by all means he might save some. That’s the balance.

I was unable to hit it. Most of my inability was wired into me. I was raised to fear people, although I have gotten better. Yes, I did lots of nice things and took many shots without responding and served. But I also resented the people I had to serve, especially if there was no reciprocation. That’s what people pleasers do. We please people with the assumption they will please us back. If I visit this person they will come to church. They don’t. I get bitter.

The non-people pleaser doesn’t get this at all. Their response to that paragraph is “yup, you are one sick person. Never should have been a pastor, that’s for sure.” Pause for a second though. Perhaps your response is a sign that you are too far the other way. You don’t weep with those who weep, you belittle those who weep.

A good pastor would have balance. They know how to serve out of love, out of Christlike compassion, yet also know how to confront and speak truth. I could and did speak truth, but felt awful about it for days afterward. Sick to my stomach at times when people had problems with what I said. Was that right? I don’t know. I know I cared deeply about people hearing the Gospel.

I don’t yet know the answer to either side of the spectrum. How does a pastor reach the right balance? I don’t know, that’s why I resigned! But I also know, after a year and a half out of ministry, where my problems came from. I’m still seeking to address this issue in my personality and in my faith even if I never pastor again. I want to do things right. I want to fix what is wrong and make progress.

In the end, the fact that you do pastoring a certain way and it feels good or “works,” or it feels terrible and “doesn’t work,” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. God’s opinion on the matter is what counts. I’ve learned that my personality dictated much of what I did as a pastor. This wasn’t always good and was sometimes terrible. We’re all in this together, aint none of us perfect. There is hope though! Growth is always out there for us to go for. Keep going for it.

Where I Was Edified as a Pastor (it Wasn’t Church)

I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for a good year and a half. And it has definitely been a good year!

One of the main reasons I resigned was that I was not edified at church. Church was a drain on me. I never left church services edified. Furthermore, I felt my edifying effects on others were diminishing. I don’t know if that part is true or not, it might just be self-loathing, it seemed like it. God will judge.

But I do know I was not being edified at church.

This was in large part due to being born in a pastor’s family. Church was another family member, often one that took precedence over the rest of the family members. It ruined my dad. I hated watching him get beat up by church people.

I had a bad attitude about church before I even began as a pastor. Being a pastor myself, getting beat up by church people for 21 years, did not help my bad attitude. It was time to get out.

I have been attending another church over the last good year and a half and have been edified and encouraged, built up and strengthened. And this is good.

In thinking back over the 21 years of non-edifying pastoral work, my faith still did ok. I personally was growing; it just wasn’t due to being built up by the local body of believers.

Not that there weren’t a few people who edified me, there were, but church as a meeting was not edifying. The place where I got the most edification was in my study.

In my study I read the Bible over 40 times cover to cover. I memorized Romans and Galatians. I read hundreds of theology books. I prayed and wept. I studied, wrote, and preached to walls. My study was my place of edification. Church was a place of draining out what I gained in my study.

The fact we call it the “pastor’s office” now instead of the “pastor’s study” says volumes. We’ve lost our focus. We’re running businesses rather than searching the Scriptures daily.

I will always appreciate the dead guys who wrote great books, even the dead guys who wrote not so great books that got me ticked off so I would look things up. I appreciate the living guys who wrote a few books as well, and also many sermons I listened to.

I grew and learned. I prayed and contemplated how to incorporate my knowledge into loving action. Some brutal hours were spent alone in my study, curled up on the floor weeping over broken lives. Some rapturous hours were spent too, glorying in the truth of God’s Word and the beauty of His wisdom, creation, and Gospel.

Tremendous.

Pastors, please develop the habit of being alone with the Lord, alone with the Bible, contemplating, meditating on it, and putting it into action in your own life. Even if all your church does is suck the life out of you, have a study that builds you up. I would not have lasted 21 years as a pastor without an edifying study.

Be alone with the Word, both the physical book and the risen Savior Jesus Christ. When the people take and take, have done the work that enables you to give and give.

What Killed My Joy in Pastoral Ministry

In my darkest times of pastoral depression, I was reminded of such verses as Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

I’d buck up my spirit, manufacture some joy type thing, and get back to it. Except it never lasted. I used to think this was a lack in my spiritual growth, and that’s possible, I’m not perfect. But the more I think about it, the problem wasn’t the joy part; the problem was the persecution part.

No one treated me that bad. Sure there were some unfriendly moments and comments. I did get hurt pretty bad by some people, but those times were spread over 21 years. It really wasn’t that bad. The real problem wasn’t rejection and hatred; the thing that got me most was being ignored. Hardly anyone cared.

It makes me think of Revelation and the Church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I know there are many theories about what this means. In recent years it’s cool to talk about an irrigation system up in the mountains with cold water and yadda, yadda, yadda. That illustration sounds too good to be true. Without doing any fact checking, it sure smells fake.

We don’t like saying that God wishes people were on or off, that it’s better to be an unflinching, confident unbeliever. But I don’t know. From my experience, I can totally see it being that. I love it when someone responded to Christ and the Word, I loved being a part of helping people see more. I did not like outright rejection, yet I also knew where the person stood. It was easier to take than lying ambivalence and apathy. That drove me nuts.

If you want to know the main cause of my pastoral depression and eventual resignation, I’d chalk it up to luke-warmness. “Pick a side!” I wanted to yell. “How long will you halt between two opinions?” Or as James put it, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Choose you this day whom you will serve.

The people in the middle, the ones who sort of came and sort of listened and played the game and said the same things and had the same problems, they defeated me. The ones who were always stuck, always learning and never coming to the truth, they ate me up inside. The ones who wanted to sin and then have the church or me absolve them so they could get back to sinning again. It tore me up.

This futility, this pointlessness, this vanity of the whole thing made me tap out. I did not leap for joy under persecution because I didn’t get any persecution. I just got nothing followed by more nothing. Twenty one years of nothing. Deadness. Apathy. There was no discernible point. I doubt I would have enjoyed persecution and hatred more than apathy, but there would have at least been something to hang my hat on. I could have felt part of the great cloud of witnesses, to have been numbered with the prophets. That would be sweet.

Instead, I was ignored. There was nothing to feed my joy. There were few successes. There were few rejections. Just blah. Blah does not lead to joy. I’m hoping there will be a reward in heaven for talking to walls. I won’t count on it, but it would be nice. If there is one, I will definitely leap for joy then because I got lots of that reward coming.

What People Mean when they tell their Pastor “Good Sermon”

I was told, “Good sermon” every single Sunday I preached. Even I know I didn’t have a good sermon every single Sunday of my 21-year pastoral career. So, what exactly do people mean when they say, “Good sermon?” There are several possibilities.

1. They actually thought it was a good sermon.

I mean, you know, it could happen. There’s an outside chance that you had a good sermon with good content and delivery that met someone right where they needed to be met. It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible. So, let’s be optimistic and assume they meant “Good sermon,” because it actually was a good sermon.

2. They don’t know what else to say.

In many churches the pastor stands between the audience and the exit. In order to get out of the room you have to say something. “Good sermon” is a nice way to deflect attention, hide behind the compliment while making the escape. A giant smoke screen while the wife and kids scoot by real quick.

3. Lies, it’s all lies.

Most people are nice, they don’t want to pick a fight with the pastor. It’s easier to say “good sermon” than in it is to mention a few fine points of doctrine they thought were off. Many people don’t like confrontation.  It’s just a little white lie, doesn’t hurt anyone.

4. The one illustration they heard was good.

Most people aren’t listening to the sermon. They are staring at the ceiling or on their phone. They did, however, hear that one time when you told that story about the McRIb. They liked that. They have no idea what point was illustrated, but the McRib story was a nice diversion. Helped them pass the time.

5. Sarcasm.

It’s like when I hold up a plate with grease all over it after my son does the dishes, “Hey, nice job washing dishes, boy.” They hated the sermon. It was awful, you’re a heretic, they should have preached instead of you. It’s just sarcastic derision. Usually you can tell if it’s sarcasm, but the three page email you’ll get Tuesday will definitely confirm it.

I don’t like being cynical. “Love believes all things,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. I struggle with that. I’d like to simply take a compliment, but I struggle, especially when it’s the same person every Sunday without fail. It seems insincere after a while.

The way I know it was a good sermon is when people implement biblical change into their life. That’s the ultimate and maybe only real compliment: changed lives. That’s too much to ask for and hard to see though, so you’re left with “good sermon.”

When people say “Good sermon,” I say, “Thank you” and let it go at that. Judgment Day will let me know how good my sermons were. If the Lord says to me, “Good sermons,” I will be ecstatic. Until then I’ll keep doubting the compliments, but hoping they’re true.  

And, hey, good job reading this post.

Why don’t churches contact people when they leave?

I’ve heard many people say, “When I left my church no one called me,” or “I wish someone cared enough to ask why I left.”

Here’s my attempt to explain why churches don’t ask why someone left. There are two possible people at fault here: 1) the church and 2) the person who left, with a possibility that both are at fault.

If someone leaves a church and no one calls it could be entirely the church’s fault. Here are some possibilities:

1) Some churches are bad. Maybe it was a bad church where the members didn’t love each other or care. It happens. It could be a dysfunctional place. The pastor might be a total inept loser. If this is the case, sounds like you made the right move, so don’t worry about it.

2) Some churches are big and busy. They have no idea who is there from week to week. If you’re not in a position to be noticed by “those who call people,” they won’t call. This is a big problem for large churches. Many leave them because they don’t feel like they belong. When they leave they don’t get called confirming that they didn’t belong. Don’t worry about it. You were right. Find a smaller church.

3) Some churches are cliquish. If you don’t belong to a clique you don’t get paid attention to. When you leave no one really cares because you weren’t in their clique. They assume you were in some other clique and that clique cares enough to call.

4) Some churches are afraid. There were several people over the years that I was literally afraid of. Like, feared for my and my family’s personal safety. I’m not walking back into that situation. Should I have anyway? It’s entirely possible. I will stand before the Lord with it. On a lesser level than physical harm even, people are scary sometimes.

5) Churches assume someone else is doing that. This happens with big churches, busy churches, distracted churches, and other possible reasons. Many churches are so busy welcoming in new people and favoring the desired members that they aren’t really paying attention to who is there. Maybe you were bad for their image, not their desired demographic.

6) Churches aren’t dumb. I did not contact every single person who left my church. I know why they left and who they left with. I did not desire to hear more of their goofiness. Am I wrong for this? It’s entirely possible. I will stand before the Lord with it.

Sometimes the fault is with the person who leaves.

1) No one knows you left because you were a non-participating member of the body. I have been shocked many times by people who claimed they were a part of my church. My wife saw a lady who hadn’t been to church in more than 10 years who introduced my wife as “her pastor’s wife.” Determining who comes and who doesn’t isn’t always easy.

2) Some members who leave were total cancers in the body. There were a number of people who left the church, which caused the church to breathe a sigh of relief. No one cared why they left; they were just happy they did.

3) There were hurt feelings and it was too difficult to contact. People forget that pastors are people too. We get hurt. Calling someone who has truly hurt me was sometimes impossible. People do really creepy things to pastors. A good pastor won’t rat on them. You’ll never know what happened. There were people I honestly was unable to speak to again. Am I at fault for this? It’s entirely possible.

4) You actually were contacted but your selective, self-justifying memory tells a better story. I’ve been told that so-and-so is mad because no one from church called when they left and I distinctly remember calling them. Sometimes I contacted them several times in several ways. As time goes by, more and more people remember that no one called them, when in reality people did. Or maybe it wasn’t THE PERSON you wanted to have call you. The Lord knows whether you were contacted or not. He will judge the situation accordingly.

5) Before you left, how many people who left that church did you call? Exactly. At your next church, feel free to call people who leave, and then maybe you’ll learn why people don’t like calling people who leave!

6) Maybe you’re weird. There was a couple who left my church, but before they left they had an anonymous person call me during supper to threaten me that they would leave if I didn’t do what they said. I did not do what they said. They left.  I did not call them. We’re not in kindergarten here; we’re fighting a fight against the Kingdom of Darkness. I don’t have time for this. I’m not playing games. Just go. Some people spent their time in church finding fault with everything. When they left, I really didn’t want to hear any more of their whining.

7) You were a moocher. Many people enter churches asking for stuff. Churches and pastors have been around. They know who is merely trying to take advantage of them. People get the impression you’re not there for the church or for others, but to see what you can get out of this church before they catch on to you, and you move on to exploit the next one. Yes, Jesus told us to give to everyone who asks of us. It does get old though. Does that make it right? I don’t know, probably not, but goodness.

In the end, I have no idea why no one contacted you when you left your church. It might be the church’s fault and it might be yours. Maybe just take it as proof that you were right to leave that church. Maybe consider that you don’t remember correctly. Maybe consider you’re a cancer and that church is breathing easier because you are gone.

Self-reflection is always good. Are you at any extent responsible for the fact that no one called you? Maybe you’re not. Maybe you were wronged, it’s possible. But humility is good on both parts.

I didn’t do everything right as a pastor. I made mistakes. I’ve never had anyone leave the church and tell people maybe they were at fault. Never.  The church is always at fault. Always. Every time. I gotta be honest: I don’t buy it.

So what do we do? We forget those things that are behind, learn from them, and do our best not to repeat our mistakes.

Find a better church or make the church you’re in now better. Be part of the body and be humble and peaceful. Do your part to edify and be edified. Don’t let a bad experience at another church color your opinion of every other church on the planet.

Let’s do better on both parts.