How a Pastor’s Sunday Goes From Wonderful to Depressing

8:00am—I’m up, showered, dressed, got my last sermon prep done, praying, getting ready. Really excited to present what I’ve learned from the Bible this week. Great stuff. People will be grateful to hear this! Excited. So glad it’s Sunday! Let’s do this!

9:00am—leave for church.

9:15am—shoot the breeze with some faithful people who are there early to get things set up.

9:25am—becomes obvious not many people are showing up for Sunday School. This does not bode well. Anytime I’m excited to preach, no one shows up.

9:37am—Sunday School starts late because I’m giving a last shot for any late people to wander in. No one wanders in. Slight depression enters my heart. I press on and do my Sunday school Lesson I was excited to bring.

10:02am—someone challenges one of my points. They were kind of right. My answer was terrible. So stupid, I should have looked up those verses and read more carefully. How did I miss that? Bummer.

10:24am—Sunday School goes late because people were arguing about politics and completely missing the entire point of what I just got done teaching. I close in a brief prayer and wait for church. It’s ok, my sermon is awesome! I’ll turn this around.

10:29am—becoming painfully aware that only three more people are coming to church than were at Sunday School. It’s raining and windy. Lord knows they can’t come when it’s rainy and windy.

10:37am—waiting for any latecomers to show up, there has to be more people than this. There isn’t. My spirit lags. I try to ignore it. Crowds don’t mean everything. Just serve the ones who are here, amen.

10:51am—my sermon begins. A late comer walks in three minutes into the sermon completely throwing off my concentration causing me to lose my place and stumble around repeating myself for four minutes.

11:17am—all heads are looking at the floor. I can’t believe I’m making a great passage of Scripture boring. The pressure mounts. Must do better. If only I could remember what I’m talking about.

11:32am—I keep running around in circles trying to make sure I got all my points in and said well. Not feeling like that is happening. Keep talking. So many conclusion statements that don’t quite feel concluding enough. Oh well, whatever. End this disaster.

11:39am—two people argue minor points in my sermon. One person only mentions my funny illustration and seems unaware there was a point to it.

11:51am—I ask my wife on the way home if my sermon made sense. “Well, it wasn’t your best.” OK, I’m done. Depression fully takes over. My kids begin fighting in the backseat demonstrating once again that my sermon point was completely missed.

11:53am—I have now snapped and lost my patience with my kids.

12:07pm—there is no lunch meat. I have nothing to eat for lunch now. I go in my room, shut the door and sulk in my chair.

12:43pm—I have now remembered three points I never made in my sermon, the points I was searching for in my succession of conclusion statements. Also I finally have the perfect answer to the person who argued in Sunday School. I’m sure they will send me an email badgering me further.

2:32pm—email received. Feeling a little dizzy reading it. I write three responses, all of which are erased. I carefully craft a fourth response, which all but concedes the point and throws in the towel because at this point I don’t want to think about it anymore.

3:24pm—not only do I relive all the failed moments of this morning they remind me of all the failed times I’ve had lately. And let’s not forget all the ones I had the last 18 years.

4:05pm—my wife and kids are afraid to come near me after I snapped earlier. I’m a terrible father and husband. The stupid church makes me a terrible person.

5:27pm—supper was late and it had mixed vegetables with broccoli in it. Can this day get any worse?

6:32pm—Yes, the day can get worse. I have received four responses to my earlier capitulating email. They know I capitulated and have now lost all respect for me. So have I.

9:07pm—I had a terrible sermon and didn’t handle myself well at church. I’m an awful pastor. I suck at being a father and husband. I’m a worthless person. Complete depression sets in. I lay on the floor and dry sob into the carpet.

10:32pm—I indulge a few sins, because I’m even worse than the chief of sinners, and go to bed. Sunday’s coming.

The Cause of All Church Splits and the Solution to Our Disunity: From an Anonymous Moron on the Internet

I like reading Church History. It lets me know my church is just one in a long line of stupid churches.

Solomon tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Solomon is correct.

Churches have come and gone, and most have split first. Christians are disturbed by the Church Tradition of splitting churches. So much division, so much hostility, how can this be true of people who follow the Prince of Peace?

There are many reasons why this is the case. One is that the Prince of Peace said He came the first time, not to bring peace but a sword. As Paul said, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Division kind of has to happen. There are wolves pretending to be sheep, test the spirits for there are “many false prophets.”

At the core of most of the division is a tension that runs all the way thru Church History. Rather than explain it, I’ll show examples of the tension:

Reason vs. Emotion
Cold Knowledge vs. Warm Love
The Bible vs. The Spirit
The Institution of the Church vs. The Body of Christ Church
Expository Preaching vs. Singing

All these things are the same battle.

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4 Kinds of Questions Pastors Get Asked

As a pastor I am accustomed to being questioned. Every week I have people emailing and asking questions in person. I am specifically talking about questions related to the Bible and Christianity, not stuff like, “Did you see the game? or “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

People often say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” People who say this have obviously never been a pastor. There are stupid questions; I’ve been asked most of them. But in the midst of the gloom of inane questions are the shining lights of brilliant questions. These are rare and cherished.

I can throw all these questions into the following categories. Most of these categories consist entirely of stupid questions, with one shining exception, which you will readily recognize when you see it.

1. Testing Questions
Many questions I’m asked are tests. The questioner has no interest at all in my answer. They want to corner me, challenge me, condemn me, mock me, or in some other way make me look ridiculous. These questions used to bother me quite a bit. Now I just answer them as succinctly as possible. “How many angels can stand on a pin head?” My answer: “7.” because seriously how are they going to verify this? These are insincere questions asked by people who want to lecture. These questions are the stupidest questions of all

2. Doubtful Questions
I don’t mind if people ask me about their doubts about the Bible, faith, or Christianity. I’m cool with people questioning such things. Unfortunately, what I’ve realized is that people who have doubts about the veracity of Christianity are usually people who just don’t want to commit to it. So, after I’ve answered their question about their doubt as reasonably as I can, they’ll nod their head and walk away. Six months later they’ll ask the same question. I’ll give the same answer. They nod and go away. Six months later they ask the same question, I give the same answer, they nod the same and walkaway. Six months later . . . on and on and on it goes. These people have doubts and they aren’t interested in the answers because they are enjoying their sin too much. This is stupid.

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Top 5 Things that Make This Pastor Sad

Pastoral ministry isn’t hard physically. Many aspects are actually totally enjoyable. One of my favorite things in the world is developing sermons and preaching them. Visiting people has become a good source of entertainment and fellowship. Hospital visits are even becoming more, well “enjoyable” isn’t the right word, manageable?!

Pastoral ministry is hard in other ways. It takes an emotional toll after a while. There are many sad aspects of the job that suck the life and energy out of me. Here are the leading causes of pastoral sadness.

1. Tragedies
Bad things happen to a lot of people. Watching the elderly woman take care of her husband slipping away with Alzheimer’s. Watching people slowly succumb to cancer. Parents who give birth to kids with health issues. Suicide. Accidents and injuries. Man, it’s tough walking with people through these things. It also seems like these things come in bunches. There have been times where these things just compound and I wonder where the energy comes from to deal with another one. I have learned to not take seasons free of these things for granted.

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Preaching Against Things Feels Good, but is it Good?

I like to put emotion in my preaching, not over the top, I’m not skipping and jumping and trying to stir up emotion. I just mean I want to have an emotional attachment to my subject.

Anytime I struggle to come up with another sermon idea (preaching three times a week for 20 years and not doing reruns causes this problem occasionally), my fallback is to talk about subjects I’m passionate about.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that “passion” usually means “disgust.” I generally revert to preaching about things I despise, doctrines that are wrong, and frequently I call out theologians, churches, and denominations that promote such things.

Now, this is fun and will allow you to write a quick sermon. The audience eats it up too. There are laughs and nodding of heads. Everyone leaves feeling good about themselves and their church.

But is this good? Is it good for people to leave church feeling better about US than we do about THEM? Does this foster love?

The longer I’m a pastor the less appealing this approach becomes to me. I still fall into it from time to time, old habits die hard, but I’m making a concerted effort to eliminate bashing on others in my preaching.

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Why there is so Little Arguing on the Failing Pastor Account

One thing I’ve noticed about Christian Internet is the unbelievable amount of arguing. Now, Christians have no corner on this market. Everyone argues on the internet.

I just find it more disappointing to see it so much on Christian Internet.

Do you people not know that arguing with Christians is what church is for?

But what you’ll note about this account is that there’s very little arguing. Oh sure, people voice their disagreements with me. That’s fine. But I’ve noticed it just don’t thrive here like it does other places. Arguing doesn’t flourish here for at least two reasons:

1) This is my account and I don’t take the bait.
2) Most of the faithful readers of this account are pastors who are also worn out by arguing and don’t take the bait either.

There are a number of reasons why I don’t take the bait and argue.

1) I do not care about your opinions.
Now before you get mad at me, call me a jerk, and argue my point, let me explain. I honestly do care about you if I know you. But here’s the thing: I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let the anonymity chill us both. Don’t take an anonymous person’s opinions that seriously. Argue with your friends and family; they theoretically care about you.

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The Terror of Being a Christian Who Is Asked to Recommend a Book, Movie, Musician, Etc.

“I don’t agree with everything the author says”

is Christianese for

“Knowing you, you’ll find something wrong with this book. Don’t burn me at the stake when you do.”
@FailingPastor

 

 

I’m a reader. I read so much people even know I’m a reader. I’m not one of those readers who wanders around telling everyone how much they read. I’m reading.

I’m also a pastor, which means everyone is trying to prove to me how spiritual they are.

When you combine those things, it results in many people giving me “Christian” books to read, but then they get nervous because what if pastor doesn’t like my book? Then I won’t be spiritual.

Therefore, every book a Christian has given me to read has been prefaced with, “I don’t agree with everything the author says.”

Continue reading “The Terror of Being a Christian Who Is Asked to Recommend a Book, Movie, Musician, Etc.”

If It Weren’t For Criticisms of My Sermons, My Sermons Would Be Terrible

If you agree with your pastor 100% of the time, you’re in a cult.
@FailingPastor

 

There is nothing more discouraging to a pastor than spending all week preparing a sermon, getting it together, feeling good about it, and bursting at the seams to deliver it. The juices flow, dreams flash in the mind of conversions and changed lives with weeping and dancing with joy.

Then, three minutes after the “amen” of the closing prayer, Tim, long-time member of the church, walks up and says, “Um, the word you based your sermon on? Yeah, that’s a different Greek word than all the other words those other verses use. Your point doesn’t really carry over.”

If I were a balloon, this would be the time when all the air would blow out of me; I’d make that weird deflating balloon noise, and spin around in the air and then fall flat on the floor. I never checked the Greek. I try to play it off cool, “Oh, well the idea is kind of the same, but yeah, OK, I’ll check on that.”

I go home and check. Yup, Tim was right. I was wrong. My point isn’t actually the point of the rest of those verses. My whole sermon, nay, my whole last week is shot. I blew it. How could I miss that detail? It’s not like Tim isn’t checking everything on his phone the entire time I’m preaching. I know better.

Tim’s are annoying. Tim’s are also amazingly helpful. Tim’s typically share their information well, they try not to be jerks, they know you and you know them. Tim is trying to help. Yet no matter how well Tim helps, how gracious he may be, the deflation is real. Being corrected like that is no fun.

But over the years of dealing with the Tim’s of the church, along with the ones who argue and are wrong and the ones who argue and are right, sometimes done with grace, other times down with disrespectful anger or glee, the pastor grows.

Even when people are completely wrong in their arguments, even when their complaint is perhaps the stupidest thing ever, the pastor can still learn. I listen to the complaints and the fault-finding. Right or wrong they make me think. They make me prepare better for next time. They help me analyze a point or an angle on a subject I never considered before.

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Sometimes Sermon Criticisms Are Actually Compliments

Criticism from “certain people” is often the best way for the pastor to know his sermon was spot on.
@FailingPastor

 

 

For the most part, I get zero feedback from people about my sermons. Therefore, I have to do a little digging to figure out how “well I did.”

Typically the same people will tell you “good sermon” every week. This means very little. I look for the person who asks a question about something I said. To me, that’s a compliment. I got them thinking.

Then there are the criticisms. It’s easier for people to criticize than to praise. If I mispronounce a word or give the wrong reference, you would think I’d just dropped a hydrogen bomb on a village of innocent women and children.

Then there are those who will walk past quickly, not making eye contact and then will write an email on Tuesday. They always wait until Tuesday. They lull you into calm. “I didn’t hear anything bad on Sunday or Monday, guess I did ok! I must be in the clear!”

Nope, Tuesday morning has an email waiting for me. The email begins with:

“On Sunday you said. . .” something that I sort of said but not entirely. By the time Tuesday comes their emotions have stretched what I said into something ridiculous. They will then copy and paste 327 verses pointing out how “what you said Sunday” is not right.

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No One Cares About Your Theological Opinions

Whenever I’m tempted to spout theological wisdom, I just remember: Nobody cares.
@FailingPastor

 

Social Media has taught us that success depends upon branding yourself. You have to produce content, get followers, retweets, and likes. Get your message out there. Effectiveness is measured by how many people you can prove bumped into your content.

This mentality has come into the Christian world as well. Pastors feel this pressure constantly.

We are told to follow the Big Name pastors out there and we’re basically taught to envy their numbers. John Piper can put some cheesy good morning poem on his Twitter feed and by noon it has 2.5k likes. I put out one finely crafted Tweet succinctly summing up justification and it gets zero response.

I then feel pathetic and dumb. John Piper, bolstered by the 2.5k people who liked his poem, continues to write weird poems as though people need such things for sanctification to continue. He Tweets away, then occasionally lectures people for spending too much time on social media.

Sigh.

I did a theologically minded blog for over 15 years. There were about five people who regularly read it. There used to be nine, but I banned four of them from commenting anymore, so they eventually left.

I put out all kinds of stuff for my church people to use. I speak three times a week, yet hardly anyone shows up. I put out, what I think, is good theological content. Really helpful and inspiring stuff.

No one cares.

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