“How can you be a failing pastor when you serve the Great King Jesus?”
–Tweet from a person who doesn’t know me
Well, it isn’t hard really. How, in fact, could I not be failing while serving the Great King Jesus?
Why do I refer to myself as a failing pastor?
I consider myself a failure by every measure of success the world, and most of the church, upholds. I make less money today than when I started. More people have left my church over the years than are in it, by multiples. I have not built a large church building. I speak at no conferences. No one has any idea who I am outside of the handful of people who still somewhat regularly show up at church.
I do not buy into church growth advice. I do not pursue hip, trendy, or relevant ends with hip, trendy, relevant means. I find zero scriptural support for such things. I know, “Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he might win some.” True and this is the same guy who said he did not come to them with persuasive words of man’s wisdom. The same guy who said if he pleased men he would not be the servant of Christ.
The Gospel is an offense and is foolishness to the world. Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Gospel, was crucified when He came into the world. That should be an indicator.
Churches know the Gospel is offensive. Churches know there is no money in preaching the Gospel. Therefore, churches become places that preach a specific agenda to win their chosen target demographic. “Find out what the people want and give it to them” is Church Growth 101.
Paul said that as this age progresses, few will be interested in sound doctrine, but will want teachers who will scratch their itching ears. That’s King Jamesian for “tell them what they want to hear.”
When I started as a pastor, I did pretty well. After a year I had doubled our church attendance. I remember the day they brought in extra chairs for the crowd.
This would have been an awesome feeling except I knew I was lying. The stuff I was preaching didn’t make sense to me. I was saying what the church wanted to hear, not what I believed. The inner tension drove me nuts.
I quit. I walked out. I didn’t feel like I was being genuine. I was uncomfortable teaching things I couldn’t defend and things I did not fully understand. I was a student of the party-line and I preached the party-line. That worked until I realized I wasn’t in the party.
I took a couple months off and looked for other work. The whole thing bugged me. I wanted to be a pastor and I liked the church and I cared about the people. I just couldn’t be a hypocrite. The church made zero progress on hiring a new pastor. After several months, I decided I’d offer myself back to the church, but I told the board, “If you hire me back, I’m going to preach what I believe. Here’s a list of people who will leave if I do that.”
They hired me back.
Every person on that list left the church fairly quickly. My prognostication was way too optimistic, however. Way more people left than I ever imagined would.
Most Sundays empty chairs outnumber filled chairs. I have describe my church as, “even people who come to my church don’t come to my church.” On my 15th year pastoral anniversary there were 15 people at church. Three weeks in a row.
I could go on. My point is: as a pastor, I completely fail. There is zero evidence I should be doing this job from an earthly perspective. I’ve got no credentials, no shining results. I’ve been told by many people I shouldn’t be a pastor. They look more right every passing year.
But here’s the thing: I can’t stop. I want to stop. I’ve tried to stop. I did stop once! But I can’t pull the plug on it. Maybe it’s sunk cost. Maybe it’s my stubbornness. Maybe I’m too proud to admit defeat.
Or, get this; maybe I’m following in a long line of people who tried their best to follow God’s Word and got hardly any results, praise, recognition, or anything that bordered on earthly success.
Over my years of failing, the Prophets have come alive to me. I identify with these guys. The Prophets used to bore me. “Who would even read that stuff? It’s just a bunch of warnings to people who don’t even exist anymore.”
The prophets were called to deliver God’s message to people who would not hear. To people who would listen to pretty much any other supposed prophet and any other message. True prophets were ignored and didn’t enjoy earthly success.
One can say the same thing about the Apostles, most of whom were martyred. We like to think of Paul as being successful. Paul was alone and in prison at the end and said, “No man stood with me.”
And, of course, you can’t forget the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Himself. All His guys fled and He was crucified. We’re told that if we become like Christ, we’ll get rejection too.
Now, I’m arrogant enough to lump myself in with these guys, but also humble enough to feel really weird about doing so. By no means do I look at myself as a messianic figure. Nor do I have the confidence in my flesh to put myself on par with Paul, Peter, John, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel.
But it is interesting that pretty much every person in the Bible who sold out for Jesus Christ and proclaimed the Truth, had a miserable existence. Read Hebrews 11. They sure appear to be complete failures by earthly standards.
The difference is that they were specifically told who to speak to and what to say. I have no idea if I‘m speaking to the right people, and I’ve changed my mind so much on doctrine over the years, I hesitate to say I’ve got it all correct now!
Here’s what I do have that keeps me going: There are a handful of people I have been able to help. I see some growing in Christ. The change I’ve seen in myself, the desire I have today for God’s Word and to help God’s people is like nothing I had at the beginning of my “ministry.” My marriage and my kids are doing pretty well (although I’ve heard enough people say this and then have their families implode shortly after to make me cringe saying it). Our church is looking outward more. We support missionaries, something our church never did before. We have a benevolence fund. The people in our church actually know each other by name and get along.
In other words, there’s evidence that something Holy Spiritish is going on. It may not look impressive. It may not make the news. It may not get any attention. It may, in fact, be completely despised and dumb to any casual observer. But our church is a tiny part of the Body of Christ and there’s something there worth fighting for.
I’m a failing pastor. I fail by all earthly measures. But the church was not put here to measure up to earthly standards. The church, the Body of Christ, is here to do the Father’s will. There is one opinion of our church that matters: God’s. There’s one opinion of my ministry that matters: God’s. I will wait for His judgment and ignore people’s opinions.
I fail. I’m fine with failing. Sort of, not really. I’m human. It’d like some applause. I’d like some success. I’d like to be given credit for doing a great work. I’m tired of people telling me about their amazing church growth. All the new buildings they build because “God is blessing us.” It gets old. I get tired and weak and envious and I despair.
But then I get my head straight again. I prepare another sermon and I preach it to mostly chairs, hoping that today, maybe today is the day that people come alive to the Lord Jesus Christ and souls are saved and believers are edified. You’ll get zero fruit if you plant zero seeds. Hope springs eternal. It’s the only reason a failing pastor continues.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
–1 Corinthians 15:58