My Failed Attempt to Pastor a Diseased Church

One criticism I hear frequently from Christians is that when a pastor resigns or a church doesn’t grow, it’s because the pastor wasn’t called, or lacked faith, or was doing it in his own power and not the Spirit’s, and other similar things.

In other words, it’s the pastor’s fault if a church doesn’t grow or the pastor quits.

As if the church doesn’t have anything to do with it.

I know good pastors who had churches with problems. Those pastors left in total discouragement. They did a good job. They had good hearts. The church is at least partially at fault.

I’m observant enough to know it’s not always the church’s fault. There are bad pastors who do their job terribly. I am not attempting to justify terrible pastors. My attempt is to defend quality pastors.

I, in my own humble opinion, was a quality pastor! Was I perfect? No, I made mistakes and can list the top ten without too much pause for reflection.

But my heart was right. I was devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word and His Gospel. I preached the Word faithfully. I prayed regularly, visited people, knew the people, and honestly loved the people even if I was often confused about what that love should do. I took stands for righteousness and truth, while doing my best to extend grace and mercy.

I got nowhere.

The church didn’t grow. It shrunk. I earned less per year after 21 years than I did when I began. To all measurable standards of success, I was a complete failure.

Although many miss this, the reason I call myself the Failing Pastor is not because I think I’m a failure; it’s because the church clearly let me know I was. Before the Lord, I did what I thought was right and I’ll let Him judge my ministry. Before people, well, they all let me know what a loser I was.

As I said, it doesn’t take long for me to come up with legit mistakes I made. No pastor thinks they nailed everything correctly.

But I also know my church had issues that more or less made it impossible for anything good to occur.

No doubt some of you are thinking, “Wow, who does this guy think he is?” Let me explain some stuff about the church I was at and you tell me if this church didn’t have issues!

Here are some facts about the church I served for 21 years. All of these things were true of the church before I got there. None of these things were my doing! They were in place before I arrived.

1. They thought the only part of the Bible we had to follow were the epistles of Paul. You could not make any point to them from any other book of the Bible. The Old Testament was right out. The previous pastor even said OUT LOUD that he didn’t think the Apostle Paul understood grace until the last two chapters of 2 Timothy!

2. Salvation was proved by having said The Prayer. That’s it. Nothing else was needed or required. Repentance was out. Obedience was legalism. Faith was simply a mental assent that Jesus did a thing and I like it.

3. Grace was emphasized so much that good works were viewed as being bad. If you did something good, now you had your own righteousness to depend on. It’s better to sin and rely on grace. Should we sin that grace may abound? They pretty much yelled, “ABSOLUTELY, YES!”

4. They determined that baptism and communion were not necessary for the church age. All physical things like that were Jewish and law.

5. They turned grace into legalism. My favorite example is when I wore a tie to church one Sunday a few months into my pastoral career. I was confronted in the hallway, backed up against the wall by the supposed “head of the church,” and told “Why are you wearing a tie? We don’t wear ties here; we’re not legalists.” The irony of that statement has not even to this day ceased to amaze me.

6. They had no board. Church leadership resided in the pastor and his two yes-men. They controlled the money and all decisions in the church and did a fine job lording it over the people. The two yes-men continued to lord it over me when I got there.

7. There were many odd money things going on in the books that I soon discovered upon getting there. Their largest expense of the year was “Miscellaneous.” There was some money laundering going on. It was a mess to sort it out and get it cleaned up.

8. The only thing the church did was a one hour meeting each Sunday. That was it. One hour. Fifty-five minutes of which was the pastor berating the people about his peculiar views of gracish legalism.

9. The previous pastor once preached that he hoped more people in his church would live with each other and do all the sexing outside of marriage so they would know they trusted God’s grace. If anyone disagreed with him, he once said (in a sermon recorded on tape) “you can go to hell.”

10. People on one side of the church didn’t know the names of people on the other side of the church. There was no love, no fellowship, just a worshipping of the pastor with some Pauline verses about grace sprinkled in.

So, yeah, go right ahead and tell me the reason I failed at this church was because of me! I confronted all these issues. I confronted the two yes-men (who left soon after). I preached the Bible. This church who didn’t like the Old Testament, guess what I did? “Take your Bible and open to Genesis chapter 1.” Then I spent twelve years expositorally preaching through the Old Testament. Ha! That still cracks me up.

I did not back down from the church’s weirdness and endeavored to do all I could to rescue the perishing in the church. Several were set free from the false teaching. But most clung to it desperately and fought me for years before leaving in terrible, not very gracious, ways.

I added a Sunday School, a midweek Bible Study, social events, we supported missionaries, which they had never done before. I began a benevolence fund. We did communion regularly and I baptized people. I had a board of deacons and always endeavored to train up more elders. I tried doing church the way the New Testament says to do it.

I fought the fight. I thought it might work. It didn’t. It just slowly died.

Two weeks after I resigned the church voted to cancel all church events except one hour of preaching on Sundays. Right back where it started. They didn’t want a church. I didn’t want to pastor a non-church.

Any charge that my resignation was a result of me not caring, only doing it for the money, not being called, or anything else, is rather humorous to me. I took a diseased church and tried to get the people to heal it. They preferred the disease.

I got out before I got diseased.

That’s my story. Sometimes there are bad churches. I applaud all pastors who are fighting to help those churches become true, legit, New Testament churches. It’s a battle worth fighting, even if in the end you “lose.”

You were at least in the arena fighting it out. There came a point for me where I had to get out. It wasn’t working, nor was it going to. I was done. I tried. The swine won’t get any more pearls from me. I’m out.

21 years, to all appearances, I failed. The church is right back where it started before I spent 21 years trying to help it. I have something to do with the failure, I have to admit I wasn’t perfect. But the Lord knows my heart was in it and I tried to do the right thing.

Fight the fight, pastors! Do the right thing before the Lord and don’t let the goats get you down. The Lord is the ultimate judge of my ministry and I’ll let Him do it and let me know if I failed or not. He’ll do the same for you.

Pastor like you’re standing before the Lord, because some day you will be.

If you want to hear more about my failed attempt to do what I could do help a diseased church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

Why My Current Job is so Much Easier than Being a Pastor

I recently tweeted:

I used to be a pastor and now I am a small business owner.

Owning a small business is a breeze and way less stressful. I know everyone thinks all job problems are the same.

They aren’t. Pastoral ministry was brutal.

This has gotten a mixed response. Mostly the response from pastors who have left professional ministry for another career agreed entirely. Maybe two did not, citing their new job as equally stressful (one is a junior high teacher!).

Current pastors were largely sympathetic, but several told me in so many words what a loser I am. One said he enjoyed his church, but also understood my sentiment.

To clarify the confusion, here is a larger explanation as to why I say running a business is way easier than being a pastor.

1. No one is going to hell if I mess up. And, yes, I know all the theological explanations about how I’m not actually sending anyone to hell. I get it. But still. Do you know how many people have left the church over my 21 years of being a pastor and specifically said it was because of me or what I teach? Try doing it for 21 years in a church sucked deep into false teaching, hearing regularly that my teaching has ruined their life, some have left the faith, others sit at home feeling justified. I even think I was preaching what was right. I take the Bible very seriously. I wasn’t playing games. I know I was speaking truth and correcting false teaching in the church. And for 21 years the overall response was denial of what I taught. There comes a point where casting pearls before swine is done.

2. I know what I’m supposed to do. Business is simple: make money. You can judge how you’re doing by the Bottom Line. Being a pastor has no Bottom Line that is measurable. I know God is the judge and I know if I deserve any reward He is the only one who can grant them. I’m fine with that, it’s the only reason I made it 21 years! But so much of my ministry to people stuck in sin and false teaching, I had no clue what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t the one with the problems. I wasn’t the one doing weird stuff, but I was constantly put in a position to figure out how to best show grace and righteousness with weird people doing weird things. I had no discernable way to measure my effectiveness. This is why churches end up counting baptisms, attendance, offerings, building expansions, etc. It’s a tangible way to prove that “God is really working here.” Is it though? I know discipleship, spiritual fruit, Christ-likeness, and spiritual maturity are the measures, but they are hard to measure in others. Pastors who leave churches assume those who were “doing well” when they left are still doing well. Stick around long enough to see that those you thought were progressing really weren’t.

3. No matter what I say, someone will throw back at me some over simplified spiritual point with a Bible verse attached to tell me how wrong I am. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the reason why my ministry didn’t go well and why I resigned is because “You were serving yourself not God.” “You were just in it for the money.” “You were doing it in your own power not in the Spirit’s power.” Hey, it’s possible, I’m human. But I was there the whole time with the Lord. He and I went through it together. I know what I did and where my heart was. One thing I learned after 21 years of being a pastor is to not listen to glib judgments, especially when received from people on the internet. Say whatever you want, but I’m just letting you know that constantly telling pastors the reason they are failing is because they don’t have faith is one of the reasons they are depressed. Are all pastors supposed to remain pastors until they die? Even OT priests were done after 20 years. I know a guy who has changed careers 6 times in two years. No one has ever quoted a verse or doubted his salvation or told him he lacked faith because he did this. Why, after a guy serves for 21 years at the same church, do the judgmental, sanctimonious statements come flying? It’s a bizarre thing. As Job said to his friends, “Miserable counselors are you all.”

4. My family does not have to sacrifice or get steamrolled. The accusations said about me and my family over the years are amazing. My wife and kids went to all kinds of church stuff. They filled in doing things when no one else showed up. They didn’t get paid. I hardly got paid. I couldn’t provide for them as I would have liked. They saw me get pummeled by people. Take shots and come home and just be shattered. They saw the people who slowly stop coming to church and saw the ridiculous things their lives soon brought forth. Pastor’s families see and hear it all. It’s why so many pastors’ kids walk away. Mine have not. I am eternally grateful for this. And from now on they don’t have to see and hear it all anymore.

5. I don’t have to know all the sordid details of every customer’s life. I knew everyone in my church. I knew most of their sins and problems, sometimes because they told me, sometimes because the church is really good at gossip. I paid attention. I knew what was going on with people. I cared for them. I knew things. I’m so glad I don’t have to know everything about everyone I know anymore. Most of what I knew broke my heart. I spent time with people. Communicated with them regularly. I also knew every single problem they had with me, either because they told me or because the church is really good at gossip. It was too much. I simply couldn’t carry on knowing this much about people. I’m not equipped to do it.

6. Guilty people and their dumb excuses have been wonderfully absent from my life. No one lies to me about what they were doing Sunday. No one immediately changes their behavior and speech around me when they find out I’m a pastor. No one tries to avoid me. Even people who left my church in terrible ways talk to me now that I’m not a pastor. It’s amazing. If you want every relationship in your life to be ruined by people’s guilt, then be a pastor.

I guess I’ll stop here. I‘m sure I could keep going, but this gives the general idea.

Running a business is simple in comparison. I know what I’m doing and I know how I’m doing. No one is guilty around me. No one over spiritualizes stuff around me. After a bad day with the business, no one judges me and throws verses at me letting me know my lack of faith is what caused that. I can just do my business without all the weirdness.

And, as many have asked, I am going to church. I get to preach and teach occasionally. I am way more emotionally and mentally able to do such things and have found it immensely enjoyable.

If you’d like more of what my pastoral ministry was like, some more details of how it went, I did recently publish a book about my experience. It’s one pastor’s experience and certainly I hope it won’t be any other pastor’s experience. Perhaps you will find something helpful in it.

CLICK HERE to get a copy because I went through the trouble of writing it!

What People Hear When You Preach

Two people recently told me that they’ve begun attending another church and informed me that, “They preach the same stuff you did.”

One person who told me this goes to a liberal Anglican church pastored by a woman. The other person goes to a Presbyterian church pastored by an angry homeschooling Calvinist man.

These are pretty different churches! Yet both told me that these churches that have little in common with each other, both “teach the same stuff you do.”

Is it possible that I preach the same thing as a liberal woman and an angry Calvinist man? Is it possible for anyone to do that?

So, what’s going on here?

In the case of the one person who told me this, they were rarely in church. When they were in church they were frequently staring up and to the right at the ceiling. I can see them in my mind in their typical seat, staring up and to the right. Even when they were there they weren’t paying attention!

The other person is one of those older ladies who think everything is wonderful. She also told me that I preached the same stuff our church’s former pastor did. This is funny because more than half of the people who left my church over the years left because I was not preaching what the previous pastor taught! I don’t think this dear lady has a judgmental bone in her body toward anything with Jesus attached to it.

So, here’s my opinion of what’s going on:

No one is really listening to preaching. People hear what they want to hear. They will either hear what affirms them or offends them regardless of whether the preacher said those things or not.

People are in their own worlds. Over time you will discover the three people who actually hear the real words coming out of your mouth and think about them.

No one else is hearing you. Oh sure, they’ll hear your illustration and the funny story about your dog, but that’s it.

Anglican women and Calvinist men have nice dog stories too. “You guys all preach the same thing!”

No one is listening. Understand that. This will do three great things for you:

1) It will free you up to preach what you believe in your style.

2) It will help explain when people find problems with stuff you never said.

3) It will help explain why people keep saying you preach the same stuff as people who wouldn’t agree with you.

No one is listening. This fact explains a lot of otherwise confusing input! Might as well go for it, they aint listening.

The Failing Pastor has a new book, How To Not Grow Your Church available on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, or hardcover. CLICK HERE to get your copy because you know you need a smaller church!

How to Make Someone Learn

STEP ONE: You can’t. Just give it up.

That’s it. That’s the only step.

How to Teach Someone has more steps. There is a system for that, but there is no possible way for you to make someone learn.

Learning requires humility. Humans by nature are not humble. Pride is our biggest sin and weakness. Pride causes most sin.

If you’re not humble you will not learn.

The only way someone will learn is if they are humbled.

Typically the only thing that will humble a person is when life falls apart. When the reaping of the actions sown comes. When the eggs hatch. When rock bottom hits.

Life has a way of smacking people in the face. When this occurs, pride will typically step in. Pride will deal with life falling apart by ignoring it, drowning it with mind altering chemicals, blaming others like a good victim, talking incessantly about it to therapists or friends, or doubling down on your actions and concluding everyone else is the idiot.

One would think life falling apart would humble everyone. If you think this, you don’t know humans.

However, there’s a chance that when life falls apart humility will make you honestly analyze yourself and look for ways to learn and make things better.

If this occurs then learning will happen.

And, for the record, you don’t have to wait for life to smack you. It’s possible to learn from life smacking other people!

This is one of the reasons the Bible was written. It’s why there are so many unflattering stories in the Bible about otherwise godly people.

“These things were written for our learning,” Paul says. We learn from the mistakes of others so we don’t repeat them.

You can actually avoid life smacking you by being humble through the example of others, understanding that you are also a fallen human susceptible to the same sin.

But if you’ve ever been in a small group Bible study, you know that when we read about Peter and David and Samson we simply just bash on these guys and wonder how they could be so stupid.

This is a sure sign you will not learn from their mistakes. If you think you’re immune to sin, better than Peter, David, and Samson, then you’re probably setting yourself up for a fall.

You cannot make someone else learn. You can warn them and teach them and yell at them and love them and correct them and pray for them and snatch them out of the fire, but you can’t learn for them.

Watching someone destroy their life further and further is heart wrenching. You want to rewire their brains, to infuse them with knowledge, but they don’t see or hear.

Today, harden not your hearts as they did in the provocation, but humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up in due time.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is what humility is. Please do this. Your life doesn’t have to keep getting terrible fruit.

That’s what I teach. Up to you whether you learn!

The Failing Pastor has a new book, How To Not Grow Your Church available on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, or hardcover. CLICK HERE to get your copy because you know you need a smaller church!

The Failing Pastor’s New Book

I am definitely a guy who processes things through writing. This blog and my twitter account have been immensely helpful in helping me process my 21 years of pastoral ministry.

I also began putting together some of my blog posts along with other stuff into book form. My daughter, who is in college for graphic design, made the book look pretty nice and is now available on Amazon.

How to Not Grow Your Church by the Failing Pastor can be yours today!

I detail the things I did that I thought were biblical that ended up making my church shrink. Not sure if that will happen in every church if these things are done, but it sure did in mine!

The book is short and broken up into short sections. The advice inside might very will ruin your life. But take it from me: it’s totally worth it.


CLICK HERE to get your copy. It’s available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book.

My Resignation Sermon

I put a battery in my old MP3 player that I used to record my sermons and found an audio file I don’t remember making!

It was a rehearsal sermon of my resignation from my church. I did it in the quiet of my office with the intent of posting it for the church to hear.

The situation was a little weird as to why I recorded it. My mother was struggling with cancer and the week of my resignation she took a turn for the worse. I thought I might miss the Sunday my resignation was planned for to have to go see her.

I managed to stay in town until then, so I never used this audio file at all, which is why it escaped my memory.

Anyway, for pastors out there who are thinking of resigning or are curious about pastoral resignations, here’s how mine went! I basically said this to the church in person, just a lot more crying and blubbering was involved. I did not record the actual resignation sermon knowing I’d just be sniffing through the whole thing.

It’s over two years later now. I am glad I did not toast the church or go out burning bridges, which I could have done. My flesh would have enjoyed that. But I am grateful that did not occur. You can, or at least I can, hear when I got close!

So, I put this here in the off chance someone is interested. Click here to give it a listen.

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.