Ask The Failing Pastor: Should I Take a New Church?

When my dad was in seminary he worked at a grocery store. The manager of the store promised him a full-time job and promotion after he graduated.

Instead my dad took a little, rural church in Michigan. He spent four good years there developing life-long friendships. It was a great first church. He loved them and they loved him.

So, naturally, he left.

Years later (I was 7 when we moved from there) he told me he left because, and I quote, “the church couldn’t go anywhere.” In other words, it wasn’t going to grow as it was in a town of 300 people.

My dad took two other churches before he died about 15 years ago. He struggled mightily in those churches. He had some success and again made some lasting friends, but he was broken up by those churches.

Frequently he would say, “I should have stayed at the grocery store.” Or on other days, “I should have stayed in Michigan.”

I always felt bad for him that he left a good little church for the allure of the bigger church in a bigger city. Moving up to bigger was nothing but a headache for him.

My family and I think those churches caused his early death. We have no way of knowing if this is true. Churches aren’t known to give people cancer. But stress does things to a guy.

The grass is sometimes greener on the other side of the fence, but most of the time it’s brown weeds that looked green with the right lighting.

I saw the torture my dad went through taking new churches, so I stayed at one church for 21 years before I couldn’t take it anymore.  

My dad lasted in ministry longer than I did. I think my church was killing me too, although I have not yet gotten cancer.

The bottom line is this:

If you’re a pastor, should you move and take another church or stay in one place your entire ministry?

I have no idea. More than likely either way it will suck and either way it will have some fruit.

Do what you gotta do and don’t worry about it! No matter what you do, people will judge you and find fault with your decision.

Decide things before the Lord. Don’t blame your move on the Lord though, that would be my one piece of advice. All this, “the Lord is calling me to a bigger church” stuff is just guilt-ridden justification in my occasionally humble opinion.

Be firm in your decision. Don’t make excuses. Don’t lie. Tell the church why you’re leaving. Tell the new church why you’re coming, and not some innocuous, self-righteous blather either. Be truthful why you are quitting and why you are going where you’re going.

If you start off in a new church lying and justifying, you will reap that sowing.

At the end of the day, you probably should have stayed at the grocery store job.

How to Fix the Church

Yesterday my wife and I were walking our dog, minding our own business, and gossiping about the latest goings on in our lives, when another couple walked toward us with their dog.

As is the custom, dogs must meet, so we stopped and chatted. They were up at their lake cabin for the week. Within minutes we discovered that we had both been pastors. He had been in for 17 years.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I had to get out for the safety and wellbeing of my family.”

We commiserated a little. I told him I had made it 21 years.

“Wow, 21 years is a long time. I’m amazed you made it that long.”

“Yeah, me too.”

This sort of thing happens quite a bit. I meet pastors and the majority shares this story: it was brutal, I had to get out for my own spiritual health, and it was messing with our family.

This couple said their kids both left the church because Christians were such nasty people. They seemed like nice, sincere people who honestly tried to help the church and yet received crap for their efforts.

What’s going on out there that this is the majority experience of pastors?

The response you get from Christians is that it’s the pastors’ faults. The response I get from pastors is that it’s the churches’ faults.

It’s time to stop blaming sides and instead have the body itself work to fix things.

For the church to function it takes all believers, all members of the body, to do their part (Ephesians 4). This is not how the typical church works. Most people just show up and find fault with everything to justify all the times they don’t show up.

The whiniest, most argumentative people in my church over 21 years were always the ones who did the least. Conversely, those who were the most involved rarely criticized at all, and when they did their criticisms were constructive.

There should be a rule: before you criticize the church you must have served faithfully in it for 5 years! I know that’s unreasonable, but the point remains.

For the most part, I ignored the fault finding and arguing of people who didn’t do anything. They were typically wrong anyway, as the best way to know what’s going on in a church is to actually be there and be involved.

The more people involved in a church the less likely it is that the pastor’s faults can hurt people, the less likely a person can just have a problem with the pastor, and the less likely the pastor is hanging out there on his own with no one faithfully standing by.

The loneliness of it is what got me. Just standing by myself taking shots because no one else cared. I was the one who did everything; therefore I was the one who got criticized for everything.

“That’s what we pay you for,” was the flippant response. If anything goes wrong, the church knows who to blame. It’s a brutal place to be in. It ruins people.

People who do the least in church feel guilty about it, and to assuage their guilt, they find fault with what was done. It’s human nature, the church has no monopoly on this.

But it breaks the heart of the pastor. The church should be different. Get involved in your church. If you can’t or won’t, at least shut up. This would help everyone tremendously.

When Should Church Discipline be Used?

Protecting the church is a big job of a pastor. False teachers and manipulative jerks abound, if left unchecked, they will destroy people and ruin the church.

At the same time, every person has a little false teaching and manipulative jerkness in them! If the pastor ran out every one of them there’d be no church left to protect.

So the pastor is stuck figuring out how much weird stuff to put up with from people before enacting church discipline.

In my case, church discipline was up to me. The board was mostly unhelpful in actively supporting or going with me to address unruly people. I was sent all by my lonesome into the wolf den. Our church had pastoral discipline more than church discipline. This was terrible for me, but I fear many other pastors are in the same spot.

So, I went by myself. Every time I ever did this the person automatically left right then. Therefore, I knew if I ever went to confront someone, there was a really good chance they would leave.

I didn’t want people to leave the church. I’d rather have them in than out. At least if they’re in there’s a chance they can hear the truth and be edified by the collective body of believers.

Paul says there’s a point in which you turn people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. That’s harsh. I had a hard time getting there (although there were some I was quite eager to do so!).

How much junk should a church put up with from a church person? When is the line crossed where church discipline, or whatever happens with bad apples, begins?

Here were my criteria to confront dorks in the church.

  1. Are they causing division?

There were plenty of people in my church over the years that were not helpful. They believed weird things and told me I was wrong. That was ok. I can put up with that, again, it wasn’t helpful, but it wasn’t doing anything worthy of church discipline. However, if they were promoting and pushing their weird beliefs on others, or they were trying to form cliques, then I’d step in.
–You are free to believe weird things, but don’t spread your weird to others in an effort to divide the church.

  1. Are they hurting another believer?

This is a little subjective. Believers are to edify one another. The two other options are: hurt others or have no effect on others. I welcomed believers who had a desire to edify others, I put up with those who didn’t do anything, but those who hurt others had to go. Hurting other believers looks like one of these

  1. a) leading people into false doctrine
  2. b) doing unrepentant, bold sin that was an awful example
  3. c) convincing others to sin like them
  4. d) various forms of emotional or even physical abuse

If a believer was being hurt under my watch, I held myself accountable for that. The pastor’s job is not just protecting the flock, but the individual sheep. Defend your people.
–people sin and will hurt each other, it happens, but if it appears as though you are calloused or intentional about hurting them, you must be taken out.

  1. Are they ruining the testimony of Christ?

Every sin ruins the testimony of Christ. People sin, there’s a certain degree of forgiveness and forbearance to be employed. This isn’t just about them embarrassing your church either. I think pastors get more worked up about the reputation of their church (and thus their own personal reputation) more than the reputation of Christ. Church represents something huge. Paul dealing with the guy having an affair with his step mom in 1 Corinthians is a perfect example of this. The world is watching. We represent Christ. An actively sinful lifestyle must be confronted. This gets tricky though. I’ve seen divorce play out this way. One couple gets divorced in a church and shortly thereafter several others will. Should I kick newly divorced people out of church then? It’s tough. It just is. People sin. We all ruin the testimony of Christ. It’s tough but something has to be done or else the Son of God is trampled underfoot.
–You sin, but if you turn your sin into a lifestyle that consistently destroys the testimony of Christ, the Word, and the Church (the Body of Christ) then something must be done.

I found these church discipline areas one of the toughest parts of being a pastor. When to step in, how to step in, and who will go with me? I was routinely confused about what I was supposed to do.

On top of that, we’re supposed to act out of love. Many churches have ceased church discipline because it appears unloving. That’s stupid. God, who is love, is the one who said we should use church discipline.

But it must be done right. It’s not about kicking out people who annoy the pastor, or don’t respect or agree with the pastor. It’s about protecting the church and the reputation of Christ and His Gospel.

The point of church discipline is not to create an echo chamber. The point is the salvation of souls. Restoration is the goal of all church discipline. We want them back; they just can’t be doing that if they return.

Being in charge of such decisions and the whole discipline process is a great burden. Being in a spot to know what to do with other people’s stupid is no fun. But it’s part of the job and the church is counting on you to do it well.

So do it well.

Top 5 things that Prepared me the Most for Pastoral Ministry

Let me begin by saying: I do not feel as though I was at all prepared for pastoral ministry. In all honesty, I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for what ended up going down.

Some like to bash on seminaries for not preparing their students. I don’t know. School rarely prepares you for doing anything. It gives you interesting information and connections, but there’s no way it can prepare you for midnight phone calls from a drunk couple, who are often involved in children’s ministry, fighting with each other.

The only thing that will prepare you for pastoral ministry is being in pastoral ministry.

All that being said, there were things I did in my earlier life that helped me the most in my pastoral role.

  1. Scripture Memorization:
    I was in Awana my entire kid life. As a pastor’s kid I was forced to complete all my Awana books to be a good example to all the heathen kids. Despite my routinely bad attitude about it, those verses have stuck in my head. I know how to memorize and verses pop in my head all the time. This is seriously the most helpful thing I did (or was done to me) to prepare me for ministry. Having verses ready at hand, stored away in there, has been amazing. And being able to accuse self-righteous Christian cliques with, “surely you are the people and wisdom will die with you,” sounds awesome and impresses anyone who has actually read Job.
  1. Being a janitor:
    Before I was a pastor I was a janitor for eight years. Cleaning up other people’s mess is humbling. Add on top of that the number of people making the mess who criticize you for not removing their mess as well as they thought it should be removed, was incredible preparation for the unbelievably ridiculous criticisms I heard as a pastor from completely messed up people! The lady who complained to me because the fluorescent lights were humming too loud and she heard voices in them, “isn’t there something you can do to quiet them?” When you are already accustomed to ridiculous complaints on a regular basis, receiving pastoral criticism is much easier. Having a destroyed ego is excellent preparation for what’s about to happen in pastoral ministry.
  1. Living in a pastor’s family:
    Without an entire life spent in a pastor’s home, how would I possibly have developed such a bad attitude about church before even beginning ministry? Nothing prepares you more for the bitterness and frustration the church will cause you than already being bitter and frustrated by church. When your expectations are already non-existent, it really helps when the results are non-existent. Tremendously preparatory.
  1. Church History:
    Knowing where people get their weirdo beliefs, because you know it ain’t from the Bible, is one of the main reasons to study Church History. About 68% of stuff people in your church believe is not actually in the Bible. If you know Church History you will not be shocked when they throw out their latest non-biblical doctrine. You will be prepared for it and perhaps even have an answer for it. There is nothing new under the sun. All the weird stuff people bring in your church has been brought into churches for two thousand years. Study Church History and very little will shock you. You will also learn that no matter how awful your church is, there were many churches that were even worse.
  1. Seminary:
    Seminary taught me the virtue of sitting around for hours listening to old people ramble about loosely biblical stuff. Pastors worth their salt spend lots of time sitting around listening to old people. Old people are great, but they are seldom as entertaining as they think they are. When you’ve heard Bonnie’s story about the toilet backup of ’79 for the thirteenth time, it’s hard to still smile. But if you’ve spent several years listening to tenured professors ramble on for hours, you are more than adequately equipped to endure, and maybe even smile.

If you’re looking to go into pastoral ministry, you’d be well served to major on these five areas of life. You’ll be as well-equipped as possible for what lies ahead, which is basically still not being equipped at all, but hey, you can at least feel a little better the first six months of being a pastor.

Ah, those glorious first six months when you have plans and ideals. People like you because they have no idea who you are or what you believe. Enjoy those first six months. Or, if you’re like me, my six months ended three months before I officially began my pastoral ministry.

In all seriousness though, there is no way you will ever be prepared for the job. My actual true advice is:

  1. Grow in Christ.
  2. Develop your prayer life.
  3. Read the Bible voraciously.
  4. Have some people somewhere who like you for you.
  5. Have outside activities or hobbies that can distract you.
  6. Spend time with old people, you’re about to do a lot of that!
  7. Learn how to ask questions and then learn to listen and remember answers.

Good luck out there! Fight the fight.

What I Learned from Living in a Pastor’s Family

I am a third-generation pastor.

My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a pastor of several churches. One of them in the suburbs of Chicago grew tremendously. He had stuff going on every night and it was the right time in American Christianity for such things.

As his church grew his family took a back seat. He largely ignored his kids after his church took off. My mom said she knew to hide on board meeting nights because he’d come home mad and she didn’t want any wrath directed at her. Pretty much the only time she was noticed was as an example to the church.

This was during the age of the miniskirt. My grandpa enjoyed talking about grace and flaunting his non-legalism. He insisted his teenage daughter wore the shortest skirt in church. I still can’t believe how messed up that is! He also didn’t help by informing his daughter about her weight and how she looked in those miniskirts.

Meanwhile, he was developing a nation-wide radio program for marriage and family advice from a Christian perspective, a new thing at the time. He rode this wave to much notoriety and money. You better believe I picked up on the irony at a young age.

My mom married a pastor from the hills of Pennsylvania. When they got married my dad was my grandpa’s associate pastor in the thriving suburban church. My grandpa made my dad do all the annoying stuff he didn’t want to do.

My dad’s first solo church was a very small church in rural Michigan. He loved it there, but he also had a strong drive to prove himself, to move up to a bigger church, and compete with his father-in-law more or less. He specifically admitted he left that church because it couldn’t “go anywhere,” which meant it couldn’t grow huge.

He moved to a church in Wisconsin and grew the church to several hundred. He was getting closer, but he felt this church had run its course too, so he took a church in Illinois and got to work growing that one. Unfortunately he died of cancer about ten years into his time at that church.

Most of my growing up took place at the church in Wisconsin. I hated church as a kid. I was there constantly. My parents talked forever after every service. One night as a teenager I picked up my mom and carried her to the car so she would leave and get me home.

My life was more or less spent living for my dad’s church. My dad was a nice guy. He’d do anything for anyone, and I often joined him. He bent over trying to please the craziest of people. In the end, after all that effort and patience, the people would still get ticked off and leave.

A pastor’s unhealthy motivation for ministry will be felt by the pastor’s family.

I saw example after example in my life and my mom’s life of how church was more important than family. The pain our family had because of church. The sacrifices I was forced to make, that I did not volunteer for, really burned me. When I left for college I didn’t go to church for several years.

I was willing to sacrifice some things for the church as a kid, I got it, it was part of the job. But man was I forced to give up way more than I think was right and healthy.

It is only by the grace of God and several godly people in those various churches that I am even in a church today. I saw glimpses of what it could be and that keeps me hopeful.

Pastoral ministry is a strange job. I don’t know that many come out of it with healthy family relationships, which is ironic, since having healthy family relationships is a qualification for ministry according to 1 Timothy 3:4-5!

People often trot out Jesus’ words about hating mother and father, and wife and children to follow Christ as a justification for pastors ignoring their family for their church. I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about at all.

If your family relationships are struggling, you’re not doing ministry right. According to Paul, you shouldn’t be in ministry.

Much pastor family tension arises over forcing the family to live up to the human standards placed on them by a church. This destroys kids’ souls when forced to do this. My parents constantly made my sister and I perform for the church. We were examples for other families. We couldn’t just have our friends at our birthday parties; we had to invite every single kid in the church lest someone at church find out their kid wasn’t invited to the pastor’s kid’s party and leave the church.

My entire childhood was dictated by our appearance before the church. Don’t do that to your kids. They are not showpieces, they are not examples; they are people with souls who happen to be your kids.

Pastors: protect your kids from the church. If you have to leave ministry to guarantee your kids will not hate Christianity, please do so. The eternal weight of your kid’s souls will be far more important to you on Judgment Day than whether you kept the Robinson family happy for one more month.

6 Criticisms the Resigning Pastor Will Hear

People assume there’s something wrong with the pastor who resigns. It’s been six months since I resigned from the church I was at for 21 years. Although I haven’t heard too many of these comments to my face, these are the comments I’ve heard about other pastors who quit and a few directed my way.

So pastors, when you quit, expect to hear a few of the following:

  1. There must be sin going on.
    Since so many pastors take moral falls—affairs, embezzling, being a jerk, etc.—people assume any pastor who quits must be doing it because of sin. Something more is going on. What is it? Surely someone knows. They dig around, snooping, trying to figure out what he did. Some even ask prying questions of his wife and family, trying to get the scoop on the Real Story of what went on. Clearly resigning from being a pastor is a sign of spiritual backsliding.
  1. Shows he shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with.
    This one I hear a lot. It’s just God’s way of weeding out the guys who are terrible at being a pastor. If they can’t handle it obviously they shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with. Apparently the only people who should ever do ministry are ones who can guarantee success. Curious how that is known before starting? Is observable success the sole measure of who should be doing ministry?
  1. He wasn’t called.
    “People whom God calls don’t quit” is how the story goes. They keep going, presumably until their deathbeds, just like everybody else in the world that only had one job their entire life. I heard this one, “You treated it like a job, not the sacred call it was.” Really? Because I got tired and burned out by lethargic people after 21 years, I’m the one who was wimpy here? The only reason I actually lasted 21 years is because it was more than a job to me. There were easier ways to make a shrinking salary.
  1. Tried to do it on his own and not with God.
    Gotta love this one too. Obviously, since I quit after failing in the church, God wasn’t in it. I must have been arrogantly assuming all along that I was man enough to build God’s church without God. Now I’ve been shown the reality that I wasn’t trusting God enough. Weird, because I remember all the days and nights of crying out to God with tears to stir up the church, to do what I was completely unable to do. This criticism is from someone who has never tried to help anyone ever.
  1. He cares too much about people’s opinions.
    “If a guy truly had his mind set on God’s view of the world and not man’s, he would never be discouraged.” Pastors only quit when they can’t measure up to people’s opinions of ministerial success. Although people’s opinions are largely discouraging and may contribute to many pastors leaving their churches, what about the pastor who quits in light of this person’s opinion? So if your opinion is that a pastor should never quit, and I quit, how is this proof I only follow people’s opinions? No matter what a pastor does, it’s against someone’s opinion.
  1. That’s what happens when you aren’t faithful to God’s Word.
    Presumably if I preached the Word people would come. The Field of Dreams Theory of church growth. If you simply preach the word (which usually means “If you tell me what I want to hear”), the church would have grown huge and everything would be great. Who would quit then? Obviously he only quit because of all his worldly compromise he made while forsaking the truth of Scripture. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among men, those men killed the Word made flesh. People don’t like the Word. Perhaps, and this is just a wild guess, perhaps some pastors quit because it’s obvious no one has any interest in hearing God’s Word?

I don’t know if this is common to other people quitting their jobs, maybe it is, but I don’t think so. I know a guy who has quit two jobs in the past six months, I doubt anyone has questioned his spiritual health. I didn’t.

One of the traps of pastoral ministry is that getting out of it is very hard. The criticism you know you’ll receive for quitting looms, not just from the church but from your mom, your family and friends, and random strangers. I’ve been compared to Jonah several times.

And, to top it all off, many of these criticisms come from the very people you just sacrificed for, the same people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help, the same people who largely led the pastor to resigning in the first place!

In the end, whatever. People can say what they want. It doesn’t matter. If you’re a pastor long enough you know this. I will stand before the Lord with my decisions made inside and outside the church. I don’t think my eternal security is based upon how many years I survived pastoral ministry.

This is a heads up though to all pastors planning on leaving the ministry: this is what will be said about you. Enjoy! Take heart though, these same people were criticizing you in equally dumb ways while you were in the ministry! At least after this one you’ll never hear them again!

In the end, people’s criticisms matter none at all. In one way it’s kind of funny, waiting to hear all the above criticisms. They’ll come. You’ll hear em if you stick around to listen. Pastor Resignation BINGO!

But conclude with the Apostle Paul’s conclusion:

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
–1 Corinthians 4:2-5

Why Have so Many Pastors Been Resigning Lately?

I have seen a couple statistics that a lot of pastors have resigned in the past year. I don’t know whether the numbers are true or not, is it really more than usual?

Whether it’s true or not, I am one of the pastors who resigned. I can at least tell you my reasons for doing so. Here are some of the current contributing factors that make the pastorate something to resign from!

  1. Material Prosperity
    There has been a time of prosperity over the last ten years or so in America and the church and Christians got carried along with it. New churches sprang up and older churches built bigger barns. This is a giant underlying issue that is the root cause of many of the following reasons.
  1. Lack of Disciples
    Actual godly Christians are few and far between. Our Church Growth techniques have worked, but what you attract them with, you keep them with. The modern church, although appearing to be huge, has about 33 actual godly Christians. Slight exaggeration, but essentially true! There’s lots of noise and activity along with very little edification and spiritual growth. The modern church looks big and impressive, but it is hollow. It is a giant loaf of bread with lots of leaveny air pockets and very little dough.
  1. Church Now Exists to Entertain
    It is unbelievably hard to be a pastor attempting to make disciples and preach the Word in season and out while people leave your church to go places that offer more polished music and kid’s programs. All the hip pastors who will take moral tumbles at some point in the near future, do quite well before the moral failings do them in. Read Jeremiah or Ezekiel to know what this feels like. The consistent preaching of the Word is mocked and rejected while false prophets claiming “Peace, peace” when there is no peace, attract the crowds. The people you’ve sacrificed for in an effort to edify them leave for these pleasure palaces of churches, sucking the joy and life right out of ministry.
  1. “Busy” People
    While the 33 godly Christians go to church, all the other people are out being “busy.” Pastors hear people say they are “busy” approximately 754 times a week. It’s probably true too: worldly people are indeed busy in the world. When everything the church offers is rejected because people need to hunt, fish, work, attend youth sports, go on vacation, or skip church for various other “busy” reasons, it creates massive depression. At the same time, people joke about binge watching Netflix. How come so many can binge watch Netflix while being too busy to go to church? Odd.
  1. Pandemics
    The Covid pandemic and subsequent response to it has caused people to skip church for “health reasons.” Some of this is legitimate and is not condemned in those cases. However, the amount of people who can’t go to church for “health reasons” who post photos of what they did with their friends all weekend was/is quite large. The excitement in people’s voices when they actually had a legitimate reason to skip church was nauseating. I can attest that the people who skipped church for Covid were largely the same group who skipped it the year before because they were “busy.” Their Facebook profile lets me know they are still busy, just happy to have a legit sounding excuse now.
  1. Financial Freedom
    Perhaps another issue, and this one might hurt a little, is that everyone seems to have money coming out their ears right now. The government is handing out money like candy on Halloween. There have always been pastors itching to get out of ministry (for many of these stated reasons) but couldn’t afford it. Perhaps our stimulus money and extended unemployment allowed many pastors to finally take that leap.
  2. Politics
    Churches are dependent on money to a frightening extent in our day. Churches have built large buildings and support impressive shows, er, church services. These things cost money. Churches need rich people. This forces the church and their rich people to be mindful of earthly things like politics, which increasingly controls everything. We need lower taxes on one side and we need the government to provide living wages on the other side. Fights ensue. The amount of time I listened to church members argue politics before and after church would make you think politics was our main focus at church. Politics has overtaken the church. This does not create a proper environment for edification.
  3. Pandemic Decisions
    To mask or not to mask was THE question and was a recipe for fighting, division, and skipping church. Pastors get sick and tired of making decisions that will guarantee half the church will be mad and leave no matter what is decided. Everyone knows what is best for the church to do and everyone has a different opinion. You hate people if you mask; you hate people if you don’t. You hate God if you cancel church; you hate God if you don’t cancel church. Everyone’s an expert. I got to the point where I felt, “Fine, you people know everything; go for it. I don’t need this.” And I didn’t.
  4. Disrespect
    America has always been disrespectful to authority and this trend has gotten worse. The past couple years the disrespect of politicians, police, and various other authorities has been on full violent display. People take this same attitude toward pastors. Unless you are an extrovert, people-pleasing pastor acting like everyone’s best friend and you never take a stand on anything, churches view you as their own private punching bag. I have been shocked at some of the stuff people have said and done to me over the years. Although any one single incident bothers me very little, over the course of 20 years, it does get old. It’s just unnecessary and unhelpful.
  5. Pastoral Futility
    People are largely not in the church for spiritual reasons. It’s just another part of the world for most. The world’s junk is brought in and defeats the entire purpose for meeting as a church. The main reason I resigned is because what’s the point? Everything I was doing seemed futile, misunderstood, and easily rejected by the people I was doing it for. It leaves a guy feeling like there’s no reason to continue. Why bother, no one’s listening anyway? The Word of God is not heard over the deafening din of the world’s clamor. I have no interest in trying to yell louder. After over 20-years of being a pastor, I had to get out for my own spiritual sanity, to get me to a place where I could again hear the still, small voice of God.

I resigned last year because in large part the church is made up of people who really don’t want God and I didn’t want to be around that anymore. I don’t know how else to say it: today’s church is not interested in hearing from the Lord. Why talk to walls anymore? I couldn’t find a compelling reason, so I resigned. Was this the right decision? Not according to many, but I will stand before the Lord with it and only His opinion counts as He is my judge.

My hat’s off to all those pastors still slugging it out, faithfully teaching the Word of God week in and week out. Your reward will be in heaven, as it surely will not be here. Fight the fight.

An Update on My Non-Pastoral Life

It’s been six months since I resigned from being a pastor. I have enjoyed it! We began attending a new church back in December and I have enjoyed not being in charge of it!

I have long desired to simply go to church and be edified, to not have to do anything for a while. To sit and take it in. To be friendly to people simply from being friendly not out of professional duty. To go home afterwards and not beat myself up the rest of the day for all the poor encounters, or things I forgot to say in my sermon, or dumb stuff I did say.

It’s been magical! I have felt no burden in relationship to church for the first time in 21 years.

Several weeks after attending our new church I met with the pastor. I knew him before, we are pretty close doctrinally, which is why I went to his church.

In the course of our meeting he asked me if I would ever be willing to preach for him if illness or other things popped up.

I know how nice it is to have people who can fill in for you, even if they never do, it’s nice to know they could. Gives a pastor some relief to know being gone is ok. I said, “sure.” Why not? What are the odds?

Well, the odds were pretty good.

Our pastor is in the hospital in pretty rough shape. He has several physical conditions that are acting up, some of which were kicked off by a bout with Covid.

Even after he recovers he will need heart surgery. He’s going to be out quite a while. I preached last Sunday for the first time there. The board is now asking to meet with me next week to set up a long term arrangement to fill in.

Part of me is sad because I feel for my pastor. He’s a good guy. He’s going through a lot and it’s putting his family through a lot. This is no fun for any of them.

Part of me is scared because when I resigned I told my wife I would never pastor again unless it fell into my lap. Not that I’m going to be the pastor there, but I’m getting drawn back in. A pastoral role of one sort or another appears to be falling in my lap. This terrifies me.

Part of me is excited because I love preaching. I also told my wife that even if I were never a pastor again, I would be involved in a church and I’d love to preach some. I’m surprised it happened this quickly, but I look forward to the opportunity to proclaim God’s word.

I’m endeavoring to not make this all about me. Our pastor and our church are hurting. This is a thing I can do to help both. I want to do my best before the Lord in this opportunity.

This is not how I saw things going, nor would it ever be how I’d want things to go. But it is how it’s gone and here I am. I’d appreciate your prayers in figuring out how to handle all of this.

How to be a Successful Failing Pastor

In my first year of pastoring I knew everything.

The church doubled in size and we had to add chairs to fit the crowd one Sunday.

People came to me for counseling.

I was someone!

Fortunately, all these things ended real quick.

It began when I realized I had no idea what I was preaching about. I was toeing the party line, going along with the church’s doctrine and slowly realized that it wasn’t entirely consistent with the Bible.

This put me in a conundrum. Here I thought I knew everything and all of a sudden I realized I didn’t know anything. Even I wasn’t buying my arguments for what I was preaching.

I began expressing in my sermons some of my doubts and questions about the standard doctrine. This caused people to get mad at me and leave the church.

As people leave, people who don’t know much assume others must know something, so then a leaving trend slowly begins. People stopped coming to me for counsel, look at how he shipwrecked the church, what can he possibly know?

There was a stretch of time when we didn’t break 20 people a Sunday for months. We didn’t even bother setting up all the chairs let alone adding more.

This was a brutal thing to live through. I can’t tell you how brutal it was on me. I was shattered in many ways. I wish I could tell you it all turned around once I learned the Magic Lesson that Unlocked the Church’s Potential, one I’ll sell to you for $49.95!

But no, the church never recovered.

But in hindsight I thank God it happened like this! If I had continued to preach the church’s established doctrine, which was in error, and the church continued to flourish, who knows where I’d have ended up.

People fear failure, but I gotta be honest, from what I’ve seen with pastors in churches, success seems to be as, or maybe even more damaging than failure.

Success goes to your head. Arrogance creates abuse, power trips, flippancy, gathering “yes men” who do your bidding, and all manner of weird stuff.

There are very few people equipped to handle success. I would not have been one of them.

In fairness, I sucked pretty bad at handling failure too! I’m perhaps equipped for mediocrity!

The Bible says a couple times that humility goes before glory. If your glory comes first, don’t be shocked when humility follows. Take heed you who stand, a fall might be coming.

Take heart failing pastors! Success might be the worst possible thing that could happen to you!

Why are the Dusty Old Negative Prophets even in Our Bibles?

I was raised in a Christian tradition that undervalued the Old Testament. The most undervalued part of the Old Testament was the prophets. In our church, all the prophets were minor!

I was told once “I don’t know why anyone would even read the prophets.” I am reading a Bible that used to belong to one of my teachers. It has his notes and highlights in it. The Old Testament is light on highlighting! The prophets are empty. I don’t know if he ever read them.

I don’t think my upbringing is uncommon in this regard. Many people have no idea what the prophets are doing in our Bible. “It’s just a bunch of judgments on places that don’t even exist anymore.”

However, once I began reading the Bible regularly, the prophets fulfilled an important role. Israel was going down, they had turned their back on God while going through the empty motions of religion. The prophets were warning that judgment was coming if they didn’t shape up.

The prophets were at best met with silence, and at worst met with imprisonment or death (with the awesome exception of mopey Jonah!). They saw clearly the rebellion of Israel and God’s displeasure. The people consoled themselves with the message of false prophets who said “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace.

Our neglect of the prophets has now resulted in Christianity being in the exact same spot. Sure our churches look nice and we do many God-looking things, but our heart is not in it. This is proved easily just by looking at the inconsistency of people’s attendance at church. People are busy. Spiritual obligations are typically the first to go. People don’t skip work for church, but they have no problem skipping church for work.

Our heart isn’t in it. We’re missing it. Judgment is coming.

This message goes over about as well as the OT prophet’s message! No one likes to listen to prophets. Prophets were called to talk to people who would not listen. They are professional talkers to walls.

We look around in our churches today and see our wealth and happiness, our impressive shows and programs, surely God is blessing us.

If you read the prophets you’ll know this is EXACTLY what Israel said!

The Apostle Paul tells us that whatever was written before was written for our learning. The prophets are not some dead guys warning other dead guys. Their essential message persists into our day.

No one wants to hear warnings and heavy-handed repentance messages. People want the happy and the peace. We’ll continue ignoring the prophets and patting ourselves on our backs for our happy little worship we decide to do, not knowing we’re following exactly the downfall of Israel.

God is paying attention. He’s still the all-knowing, righteous Judge. He’s not sleeping. He’s watching us treasure up wrath against ourselves for the Day of Wrath. The Judgment is coming. I know it’s not happy enough for us, but it’s still coming. I suggest we wake up and get ready.