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.
2 thoughts on “How to Fix the Church”
I am so glad you keep writing. I’m still in it, but there is a strange comfort that comes from knowing what I have experienced is not isolated. Its disheartening and yet cathartic at the same time. Your posts consistently remind me my identity is in Christ, not being a pastor. I hope you keep sharing as things come to mind.
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Thank you, sir. It’s hard to keep the job separate from who you are or what your faith is. I think that’s one of the hardest aspects. Making my private faith a public issue does get old. Not easy.