This is What Caused Me to Resign From Pastoral Ministry

Over 21 years of pastoral ministry I heard many criticisms and compliments. Some really hurt. Some were ridiculous. Some were right.

But the thing that wore me out, the thing that drove me to resign, was not the criticisms or compliments, it was the mundane apathetic silence.

I shared my heartfelt study of the word week after week largely to be ignored, or worse, people went the opposite direction. I counseled, warned, encouraged, did the things I thought I was supposed to do.

Nothing. Nothing followed by nothing followed by eventual destroyed lives.

There are depths of frustration and sorrow you get to when you know you’re bringing exactly what people need (the Gospel and God’s Word) to solve their problems and yet it gets rejected.

In other words, it wasn’t the personal attacks and criticisms that wore me out. It was watching lives implode while yelling the wisdom of God into the abyss they kept falling further into.

Criticize me all you want. Find fault with how I speak, spend money, dress, and all the other stuff. I don’t care. Not an issue. But please listen to the wisdom of God.

At the same time, some people thought simply complimenting me would have made me continue. Some have expressed regret, “We should have appreciated you more.”

I appreciate that, but it’s not the issue really. No amount of compliments will make up for watching lives implode on a regular basis despite efforts to help.

And yes, I know, God is the one that grows people and I can’t do anything. I know. I get that. It still hurts. As Paul said, “Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.” Yet people don’t respond, which is why Paul also said he had “continual sorrow in his heart” by watching his people resist the truth.

I knew where many people were headed and it wasn’t good. I called out to them, begged them, pleaded with them, warned them, comforted them, and I did all that as God by His Spirit worked through me.

I didn’t need a buzz from people to keep me going. I felt a burden from the Lord to serve and teach and pray and do all things for all men so that by all means I might win some.

Eternally I will be judged and rewarded (if deserved) for my ministry. Temporally, on this earth, it looked like it mostly went to waste.

I didn’t need more compliments and fewer criticisms. I learned to not take either one too seriously. What I wanted was to see spiritual life, growth, sanctification, and maturity. With a few exceptions, I mostly saw apathy and lots of sin.

Seeing people grow in Christ would have kept me in the ministry; not more compliments.

I will give an account to the Lord for my ministry. I wanted to do it with joy. Instead I will do it with grief (Hebrews 13:17). This will not be good for anyone involved.


If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!

What Is the Best Way to Help People Spiritually?

I was a pastor for 21 years and was continually around people I had a desire to help, people who were making unbiblical decisions and heading the wrong way. It was heart breaking.

One of the hardest aspects of pastoral ministry for me was the confusion over what I was supposed to do to help people doing crazy stuff.

Helping people spiritually is not easy. The best explanation of it was by Paul in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”

Giving birth is hard, so I’ve heard! Although I’ve never done it, I have watched it. It didn’t look fun. Getting people to grow in Christ feels like that! Perhaps not as intense into a moment, but it hurts.

Childbirth is natural, like, it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not if you’re pregnant. Getting people to grow in Christ is not natural. Many actively fight against it. Trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is gut wrenchingly difficult.

It would be nice if the Bible told us how to do it. It does, but you’ll find it’s not exact to specific situations and people.

The Bible presents a broad spectrum of possible ways you can help people. Here are some examples:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23—Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means he might win some. This seems like he’s saying “do whatever you gotta do.”

Jude 22-23—some people you show compassion to and that works, others you actively go grab and drag them out of the fire. No time for compassion, you just gotta go get em.

1 Peter 3:14-16—be ready for when people ask you. If they aint askin, they probably don’t care to hear your opinion.

Matthew 15:11-14—Jesus tells the disciples that the Pharisees are blind leaders of the blind. He tells the disciples to “leave them alone!” That’s fascinating. They will fall into a ditch, so let em. Some people have to hit rock bottom and you should let em go do that.

Philippians 3:15-17—Paul says God will show people where they are off. It’s not always your job. Leave room for God to lead people.

1 Corinthians 5:5—some people you hand over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This is primarily talking about church discipline.

So, on one end you do all things for all men to save some, show compassion on some, yank others out of the fire, leave them alone, wait for them to ask, let God show them, and on the opposite end is handing people over to Satan.

Those are quite the options!

So, after 21 years of accumulated pastoral experience and wisdom, what do I think you should do to help people spiritually?

I have no idea.

People and situations are different. I can’t answer specifics, but I’ve at least gained these general insights.

The one theme that runs through the New Testament is that you should pursue righteousness and holiness yourself. If you’re not, odds are they won’t listen to you anyway. And, if you’re not growing in righteousness, it’s debatable that you are the one who is equipped to help anyway.

Before getting all fussy about sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, take the beam out of your eye. Clean your own mess first. There are too many busybodies in Christianity trying to fix everyone.

You’re not everyone’s mom. It’s not your job to fix everyone.

If you are in a place where you think you can help someone, then pay attention. Listen to them. Don’t just judge and lecture without knowing what’s truly going on. Study the Bible. Look at the contexts above to see why they acted this way toward certain people, because there are reasons!

Pray. Really think this over with the Lord. There are no cookie cutter approaches to helping people spiritually. You really need to pay attention to them, you, the Word, and prayer.

Also remember Paul’s warning to consider yourself when dealing with other people and their sin lest you also be tempted. If you struggled with addiction of any sort, maybe you’re not the one to try and deliver others from addiction if you feel tempted to relapse.

Leave room for people to respond to God Himself. Cult leaders make everyone listen to them. God is the enemy at that point. Don’t do that!

Many people obsessed with fixing others actually just like power and the feeling of being needed. It has little to do with helping others and much to do with inflating their pride.

One of the urges to help people or to fixate on the sins of others is to keep you distracted from your own sins. If you’re always the fixer, you convince yourself you don’t need fixing. A guilty conscience often makes people obsess about other people’s problems.

Helping people spiritually is very difficult. If people don’t listen to God very well, I can’t imagine they’d listen to you very well either!

I don’t know how to fix people, but I have figured out this: pray, study the Word, pay attention, listen, pursue righteousness, and consider your own condition first. If you do these things, there’s an off chance you might actually be helpful to someone at some point. But don’t hold your breath!

If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!

5 Reasons Why People Ask Their Pastors Questions

“There’s no such thing as a dumb question” is a popular quote. I’m not sure why, because it’s incredibly wrong.

As a pastor, you might think it’s a good thing that people ask you questions. It might be. It might mean you are approachable and humble enough to be questioned. It might even mean that people value your answers.

It might.

It doesn’t, but it might.

In my pastoral experience I have found most questions have other motives besides getting an answer. Here are some popular reasons why people ask pastors questions:

1. Tests and traps
Some of these questions almost sound sincere, like they are really thinking about theology, maybe even your sermon, but really they’re trapping you. Taking a page out of the Pharisee’s playbook, they are trying to corner you and pounce on you when you unwittingly answer their carefully crafted trap question. These people will keep coming at you and they start with a question every time. When they approach, your heart drops because you know they’re ready to brawl.

2. For permission
Having a question is a nice way to get the pastor to approve the thing you want to do. “Do you think people should get tattoos/smoke weed/drink alcohol/get divorced?” It’s never “me” or “I,” it’s always “people.” They don’t care about your answer, they’re looking for permission. And if they don’t like your answer, no worries, they’ll keep asking the question until they find someone who will give them the answer/permission they want. You might be flattered that they cared to ask you. Don’t be, you’re the seventh person they’ve asked.

3. They were too stupid to listen earlier
If people would simply listen most questions would disappear. If they had listened to the 43 announcements or the previous eight times you preached on that very topic, they wouldn’t have to waste their breath and your time asking questions. If they’da been listening they’d already know.

4. Doubts, angst, and uncertainty
Some people can’t stop asking questions. They think having questions is the height of spirituality. If they knew the answers, then they’d be accountable to change and behave better. Easier to be stuck in angsty, questioning doubts. It’s all about the journey, not the destination, don’t ya know. If I knew where I was going I’d have to take steps to get there. Too hard. I’ll just keep asking directions to nowhere I’ll get.

5. Segue into their spiel
These people want “equal time.” You just preached for 38 minutes, they heard your side, now they want to set you straight. But they open easy. They’ll pretend they have a concern, a true question, when in reality it’s just how they’ve chosen to open the conversation. They ask a question and you give a two sentence answer, and then they set into their four point outline they prepared while you were preaching instead of listening to your context for whatever statement they are now railing against. They especially like to do this when there are eight other people waiting to talk to you.

So, those are the five kinds of questioners. And, yes, as I said before, there are people in your church who will ask you good questions so they can think a subject through more intelligently. They exist, all three of them.

But the rest? They’re in one of these groups above.

How should you handle these questiony people? I recommend doing what Jesus did: flip their tables over and curse their trees. No, not yet.

Ask them a question in return. Figure out why they are asking. Throw them off a little bit. Get them to think, get them to consider the answer themselves; most people only listen to themselves anyway. This is a great tactic used by our Master, it would be good if we disciples of His wouldn’t take questions as flattery, but rather as an opportunity to reveal hearts.

Good luck out there. Fight the fight. Be ready always to give an answer, just don’t be shocked if your answer is not why they’re questioning.  


For more overly cynical takes on pastoral ministry, CLICK HERE to get a copy of the book I wrote, because it will show you why I’m overly cynical about pastoral ministry!

“Some Plant, Some Water, God Gives the Increase” Has Nothing to do With How Big Your Church Is

Many times over the years of pastoring a small, rural church that never really grew, I was told that “some plant, some water, but God gives the increase.”

This was told to me by people with larger churches, and the idea behind the quote is that large churches got large because God gave them the increase, implying that God likes them better, approves of their doctrine more, likes the pastor more, etc.

“Increase,” in most people’s minds, means numerical growth. This is why anytime a church grows people will say that “God has blessed them.” People also assume “increase” means larger buildings. Again I’ve been told, “God is really blessing us, we just built a new addition to the church.”

Although it’s possible “increase” means physical things (number of people, bank balance, square footage, etc.), I find it unlikely.

“Increase” is used here as an agricultural term. If you plant and water, a plant will grow. The point of a plant growing is not to see how big it can get, but to bring forth fruit. In fact, the bigger the plant the less energy goes into fruit production, that’s why pruning is a thing. The point of the farmer in planting and watering is to have something to eat. The New Testament emphasizes spiritual fruit quite a bit and rarely mentions physical fruit (number of people, bank balances, square footage, etc.).

Paul was the first one in Corinth. Apollos came next and watered the seeds that Paul put in the ground. Any spiritual growth that occurred from the efforts of these two men was credited to God. It wasn’t a competition between Paul and Apollos.

Many in Corinth thought it was a competition and took sides. “I’m of Apollos,” “I’m of Paul,” “I’m of Cephas.” They were loyal to the man who brought them to faith. Paul told them to knock it off! They were all on the same team and God gets the credit for anything spiritually beneficial.

Several verses after talking about God giving the increase, Paul says everyone will build on the foundation of the church laid by the apostles. All will give an account before God for how they built on it.

I take this passage not to be about our general stand before the Lord as a believer and our personal conduct (every man will give an account for every deed done in the body whether good or bad), but specifically about what they did in the church.

Lots of stuff goes on in churches. Many people think they did or are doing a great thing for the Lord. But after the fire of judgment, lots of this work will be burned up.

This has to mean that there will be many people who will do many worthless things in the church. Now, what would those worthless things be? What would be the things that won’t last for eternity?

Here are a couple things it might mean—number of people sitting in pews, bank balances, square footage, etc.

The fact that your church is bigger in people or square footage and busier and richer, doesn’t mean you did anything that will pass the test of God’s judgment.

Growth in the Bible always refers to spiritual growth. In fact, Paul is not happy with the church in Corinth. They brag because they are big and rich and yet Paul has a problem with pretty much everything they are doing.

The church in Corinth sounds a lot like the American church. We’re rich and proud and loyal to “our guys,” but we are also adulterous, immoral, spiritually illiterate, and carnal babes in Christ that are next to impossible to get spiritual things across to.

But they were sure proud of their awesomeness! Look how big and impressive we are! God has surely blessed us.

Paul disagreed and feared for their souls.

Some plant, some water, and God gives the increase. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, and the preaching of the Word, causes people to grow in Christ and bring forth spiritual fruit.

The church in Corinth majored on the wrong things and took sides. They lost sight of the supremacy of Christ and instead gloried in the efforts of people and the material, countable results they saw.

But all that would be burned up. Growth in Christ lasts for eternity.

God gives the increase and the increase He gives is always spiritual growth into Christ. The New Testament is pretty clear that the more we grow into Christ-likeness, the more the world will hate us. Don’t count on Christ-likeness to draw in crowds and increased bank balances and square footage.

When God gives the increase people become like Christ. That’s what happens. Material or countable results are never mentioned in the New Testament as a thing a church should worry about. They are irrelevant.

Christ is the head. We all serve Him. Serve Him well as He is the Judge. Don’t have a ministry that ends up as an ash heap.

If you want to hear more about my ideas to not worry about growing your church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

The Two Stupidest Criticisms I Heard About My Pastoral Ministry

Over my 21 years of pastoral ministry I heard many criticisms of me, the church, and my ministry. Some of them had merit, others did not. But there are two that stand out as the stupidest criticisms of all time. Some details have been changed to protect the stupid.

1) A couple in our church were having marriage difficulties. One day the man got arrested for threatening his wife.

While he was in jail the wife called me a few times seeking help. One time she asked if someone could mow her lawn. I arranged for someone to mow her lawn. We had several discussions on the phone about the “situation” involving her husband.

When the husband got out of jail he found out that the wife had talked to me. So he came over to my house. When I saw his SUV pull up in the driveway I went outside to meet him. I had three small kids in the house and figured it would be best to keep him outside.

He parked behind our car that was in the garage. He proceeded to go off on me and my ministry, rolling through his list of reasons I was an idiot. I knew his whole deal had nothing to do with me and was more his own guilt and self-justifications. I did not respond much at all. Just stood there and listened to his rant.  

When he exhausted his list, he made up one more problem. He pointed to my seven year old Toyota Camry in the garage. “Pretty nice car for a pastor,” he said. “Must be nice.” I just laughed because seriously a Toyota Camry? Meanwhile, his brand new SUV was parked right behind it! Unreal.

This happened about 10 years ago. The guy is now dead. The Camry still runs fine. My son just got it stuck in a snowbank this afternoon. But yeah, a Camry is too nice of a car for a pastor. A classic moment in my illustrious career.

2) A person who attended our church sporadically for a few years used to go around to churches all over the state asking for money. She had an alleged handicap, which prevented her from working but did not prevent her from asking churches all over the state for money.

I had many unusual moments with this individual, including her asking my recently widowed grandma to give her my grandma’s house since that’s what Jesus would do and also once made veiled threats to kidnap my kids.

Anyway, I, who have an actual handicap, am not able to drive because I am legally blind. I would often ride my bike for transportation, many of those places had to do with my job. I’d visit people and go to meetings and all sorts of stuff via my bike. Everyone in the church was well aware of this arrangement. I received a letter from this woman once that said, and I quote, “I saw you on your bike again. You seem to do that a lot. Must be nice to be a pastor where you can play all week.”

So, there you have it. Two of the stupidest criticisms I received as a pastor.

Now I know that everyone receives criticism in their jobs and general life, but I gotta tell ya, being a pastor sure brought out the stupid criticisms. Finding fault with a pastor is necessary for many people to assuage their guilt. They have to prove they are better than you to buttress their spiritual superiority. People can’t just leave churches, they have to be better than the people they are leaving, especially better than the pastor.

Every pastor has heard completely stupid criticisms of their ministry. The thing that always blew my mind was that there were plenty of legitimate criticisms people could have thrown at me! But they skipped those ones and made up ones that weren’t even remotely factual.

Fun stuff. Good luck out there pastors! Fight the fight. Do well and prepare yourself for the stupidest criticisms possible because they’re coming.

If you want to hear more about my completely stupid ministry, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

How Should Churches Select a Pastor?

This is not an easy question to answer. Well, no, actually, it is easy to answer. The problem is that the answer is not easy for most to do.

The biblical model appears to be that a local congregation should raise up their leaders. There are entry level tasks a person can do in church. If they show themselves faithful, then they can be a more official deacon. If this stage goes well, then the elder role is a possibility.

Paul’s biblical qualifications for pastors and deacons should be the main criteria. Here is the first problem people run into: the Pauline qualifications are all moral character issues. There is no way you can know this about anyone unless they have been in the church for a while.

Here is a second problem: not all churches agree with the deacon and elder roles of church government (I have no desire to argue this issue incidentally).

Here is a third problem: there are many people who don’t like Paul’s qualifications. They are awful male sounding! Pastors’ kids have a bad reputation. According to Paul, a pastor who doesn’t have his kids in subjection shouldn’t be a pastor. The whole “husband of one wife” deal, is this divorce and remarriage or polygamy (I have no desire to argue these issues incidentally)?

If churches got rid of all pastors who did not meet Paul’s qualifications, you’d have many job openings. I think this is fine, but the many churches that would have no pastor would not.

And here is a fourth problem: few pastors would be interested in doing things this way as they like to jump around to greener pastures. It’s not very dignified or impressive to stay in your little local church you grew up in. Most churches that managed to get a biblically qualified and biblically faithful pastor would run em out of church quick anyway!

Most churches today exist to ease the guilty conscience of their pastors and their parishioners. We keep busy doing things that look impressive. All our busy must surely mean we’re serving the Lord. It takes hard work to live by and teach biblical standards, few pastors have the time or desire to do so. And the lovely parishioners will not endure sound doctrine but prefer teachers who will scratch their ears.

So, there are at least four sticking points so far! Issues that churches fight and have fought over for years. Denominations have been formed around these disagreements.

Everything is a mess.

We’re not even trying to use Paul’s qualifications for church roles anymore. Oh sure, a few churches seeking pastoral candidates will throw it in the list of their requirements, but it is basically lip service.

Pastors are hired more on educational degrees and past success growing a church.

Instead of raising up leaders in local congregations to serve that same congregation, we’ve hired out our training to seminaries.

I went to seminary. It prepared me none at all for pastoral ministry.

Using a degree to prove qualifications works ok in the world, but the church is not the world. Yet we’ve completely bought into the world’s system on this issue.

Then we’re shocked so many pastors are awful.

I am not shocked.

The Bible gives us the recipe for a healthy church. Churches do not follow the Bible’s recipe, but cook up their own and then gag on the disgusting pottage they created.

There is a better way: God’s way to build God’s house. Unfortunately, no one really wants to build God’s house God’s way. We mostly want an institution we’ve built for our own ends.

OK, whatever, do what you want. Don’t let the Bible stop ya. You will reap what you sow. Have a nice time. Go back to tweaking seminary classes and being busy in a church and hiring according to your preferences. I’m sure you’re pretty close to the winning recipe.


The opinions expressed in this article are one reason why my church was small! If you’d like to know more ways I shrunk my church, CLICK HERE to get a copy of my new book, because you too want to fail at being a pastor, don’t you?!

How to Overcome Bitterness and Resentment Caused By Church Pain

Many have been hurt by the church, or more specifically, by creepy people in the church.

This shouldn’t shock us. Churches have people in them and people, by nature, do evil things. We’re all arrogant jerks from time to time, some more than others.

But I think in church we have high hopes. Maybe we let our guard down a bit. Maybe we forget that our enemy the Devil is seeking whom he may devour and church is a fantastic staging area for his attacks. If Satan can mess with churches, who knows what fallout that can have?

I was not naïve going into ministry. My dad was a pastor and I lived in his house for 18 years watching churches beat him up. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a pastor and I saw what ministry did to him. I went in knowing what was going to happen.

It was still unreal!

Knowing you’ll be rejected does not diminish the actual pain of being rejected. In some ways it seemed to make it worse. Until I personally received rejection from church people, I assumed my dad and grandpa probably to a degree deserved it! I, however, who know everything and am way more betterer, do not. But then it happened to me too.

I was deeply frustrated, angry, and bitter about my church experience, both as a kid growing up in a pastor’s family and as a pastor myself for 21 years. There is a lot of pain. I still tear up over it and I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for over two years. The pain is still right there.

Part of the pain of ministry is knowing the lives that fell apart in front of you, their souls heading right to hell, and there was nothing that I did that prevented that.

I know all the theology about some plant and some water and God gives the increase. I know God is the one who works in people, not my efforts. I know. I know all that. And it still hurts to watch people you love and care for reject truth and destroy their lives and possibly their souls.

I have plenty of pain and bitterness from the church. How does a person get over such things? Where is the relief? Here are some points to consider.

1. We follow Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He cried over Jerusalem, He wanted to gather them, but they would not be gathered. Ministry, if done right, will hurt. The soldier who signs up for duty, knows it’s going to hurt. It’s not a shock when it does. It’s the “fight of faith,” not the picnic of faith. Ministry will hurt you and hurt you deeply. Embrace that. Come to terms with it. Understand it’s part of the deal. This has helped me let go of the more dangerous side of pain: resentment, vengeance, bitterness, and anger.

2. Know the Gospel. Jesus came unto His own, and His own received Him not. He prayed, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” to those who nailed Him to a cross. Gospel love is about giving yourself sacrificially to others and includes massive amounts of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy. Put yourself in light of Christ’s forgiveness for you. Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. Pray for wisdom in truly understanding the Gospel, not just the facts of it, the story, the events, but the actual new life we have in Christ through it. There is no shortcut to ridding yourself of the pain and hurt. Lose yourself in the Gospel and in the person of Christ. It’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. We die daily. We were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life.

3. Remember Scripture. Don’t consider it strange when the world hates you, it hated Christ first. Woe unto you when all men speak well of you. Blessed are you when you are reproached and reviled for righteousness sake. That I may know Him, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. If we suffer with Him we will be glorified with Him. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Read the prophets!

4. Make sure your pain is actually for righteousness sake. Perhaps one reason your experience in church has been terrible is because you have been terrible. This is what makes this issue hard to discuss with a general audience. Some people’s pain from church is because a church rightly exercised church discipline. Our sin leads to a lot of our pain. The fact that you didn’t get your way in a church, not everyone jumped on board with your weird idea, is not persecution! It might just mean you are a sinful weirdo. Consider where the pain is coming from. Sometimes pain is a warning that you’re doing it wrong. Don’t assume your rejection is because you’re so wonderfully righteous! Consider for a moment maybe your own sin contributed. Some of my pastoral pain is because I made mistakes, had bad judgment, or well, sinned. A source for much of my bitterness and resentment about the church is because they failed to make me look good! I wanted to excel at ministry many times simply for my ego. When you get your pride in check, much bitterness dissipates.

5. Christ is supposedly your first love. No amount of stupid in a church should drive you away from Him. The church, the actual people who sit in your local congregation, are not all saved. Your faith is not in people; your faith is in Christ. For some this is empty-headed, “Yeah, no kidding.” But it’s a real point. People who walk away from faith because of the pain they experienced in the church maybe did not have Christ as their first love. And I’m not minimizing the seriousness of the pain that can be experienced in church. There’s some sick stuff going on out there. But Christ didn’t abuse you. People sinned against you, Christ did not. The pain I experienced in church has driven me closer to Christ. I lost all confidence in people and had Him left. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me spiritually, although completely miserable in experience.

These are some points that have helped me. But it still hurts.

There may be some who think all this is weird. They haven’t experienced pain in church. This could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they are in a really good church. Maybe they are oblivious. Maybe they aren’t really loving people truly, just doing actions and busy stuff that look like love, but their heart has been kept back. Maybe they are the ones hurting others. Maybe they are so happy they just don’t see bad stuff. Who knows.

But to the rest of us, those beaten down, those who have contemplated walking away from the church because who needs it? For those who struggle to open their heart again because what will they do next? For those whose hearts drop just walking through the doors of a church:

Don’t leave it. God’s people are in churches. You might have to look harder in some churches, and sometimes you might need to go to a different church. But God’s people are out there. The fellowship of believers, the like-mindedness and peace the fellowship of the Spirit can bring is worth the search and the effort. In the midst of all my pastoral pain, there were always faithful people who loved me and encouraged me, and I hope I did the same for them. They are worth all the other junk. They really are. Hard to believe at some points, but it’s true. You need them and they need you.

There are no easy answers. I have no pithy strategies to enact this Sunday that will take the pain away. But I know the Gospel is all about this issue. If you think the Gospel is only for unbelievers, you got another thing coming!

There is new life in Christ and there is hope. The glories of the new earth will be so great we will not remember anything from this old dump (Isaiah 65:17. Let me just say again: read the prophets!). Eternity with Christ is the only thing that will fully remove all pain, hurt, and bitterness. When we are made like Him when we see Him as He is. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven, press toward the mark, lay hold of eternal life.

Even so, Lord, come quickly.

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!

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!