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.

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.

Pastors and Vacations

Vacations are nice. During my childhood my parents, who never had much money, always saved up enough so we could take a road trip in the summer. Although there were many miserable moments, I have fond memories of these trips. I couldn’t wait to take my family.

Vacations were a high point in my year.

Then I became a pastor.

Several issues spring up with pastors and vacations:

  1. I need someone to speak for me. If I miss a Sunday (and what’s a pastoral vacation without missing a Sunday), someone has to speak. Church goes on. I used to have a number of guys in church who could fill in for me. Several of them died. Several disqualified themselves for various reasons. I pretty much have one guy left. I hate making him do it. I have to arrange my vacation around whether he’s available or not. He’s gotten much better at preaching, but it’s not his favorite thing. He agonizes over it and takes the responsibility very seriously. I appreciate that, but it puts a burden on me to not leave because I don’t want to burden him.

  2. Many people skip when they know I’ll be gone. About half my church is just waiting for an excuse to not come. Me being gone is a great one. One time, the guy who preached for me said the only people who were there were people in his family. Good for his family being there, but how sad. This is probably the thing that depresses me most about missing a Sunday. Usually I try not to let anyone know I’ll be gone so they can’t plan on skipping. But even then, one time a family got up and walked out when they realized I wasn’t there and a guy they didn’t like got up to speak for me! This is not healthy or right, but it is the situation and it makes missing a Sunday that much more of a burden on me.

  3. There will be inevitable comments made. “Vacation from what? You only work one day a week." “How can you afford to go on vacation? My family hasn’t been able to afford that for years. Must be nice.” Whether anyone says anything or not, I hear them anyway. They’ve been said enough times to let me know people think it. How much I spend, where I go, what hotels I stay in, and all sorts of things will be analyzed and scrutinized. I can’t help but feel guilty if I admit I had fun while gone.

  4. If I miss church, it gives people an OK to miss church themselves. Granted, I miss only one Sunday a year, whereas most people in my church miss about 20. But inevitably, me missing church will be raised as justification for others to miss. “Well you miss Sundays every once in a while too.”

  5. Shouldn’t spiritual leaders be reading the Bible and not vacationing? There’s a spiritual weight to being a pastor that sometimes makes me wonder if I should miss. Is this a good example? Should I be spending all this money and time doing something “fun?” Maybe this is just my head, but I still think it and feel it. Taking a break from pastoring is often taking a break from Bible study and from talking to people. It just feels weird!

After saying all this, I know there will be much advice given to me about getting over it and everyone needs rest and Sabbath day, even God rested. I know, it still doesn’t change any of this.

I don’t feel like I should be gone. When I am gone, I can’t stop thinking about how this is ruining someone’s faith. It’s amazing how many times I’m gone and we will have visitors! Occasionally the person who speaks for me will preach on something controversial and start stuff. Who will be mad this time? When I’m gone, it does burden other people with responsibility.

There is no escaping. People can text and call all the time now anyway.

Pastor vacations are needed. I take them anyway. But I do try not to miss Sundays much. I have responsibilities there and it’s on me to carry them. Granted, it would be nice if I got a break from the weight of being gone and others stepped up a bit. But this IS my job.

In the end, this is one weird job! This weird job makes vacations from the job weird too.

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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Pastoral Incompetence, Incompetent Advice, and Prayer Chains

“You know, your church should really have a . . .”

Every pastor has heard sentences begin like this. Who knows how the sentence will end, but probably with you doing something you’re intentionally not doing after much thought and counsel. Most people assume you’re not doing it because you’re a moron.

“You know, our church should have a prayer chain.” This is one I’ve heard countless times. “The last church I went to had a prayer chain and I just loved it, I could keep up with everything and everyone.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s why we don’t have one.” Now listen, if your church does a prayer chain, great, go for it. I am not seeking to dictate what your church does.

I and the board of our church have discussed this issue many times. We don’t have a prayer chain. Here is a brief list of reasons why:

They promote gossip.
They too often share things people don’t want shared.
I’d rather have people in my church talk to each other and be friends and find out what to pray for.
They promote gossip.
Our church isn’t that big; it’s not hard to keep up.
Anything the whole church needs to know is announced at church. Want to know what’s going on at church? Here’s an idea: go to church and you’ll know.
They promote gossip.

I’m not interested in any arguments on these points. This is not up for debate. Nothing you can say to me will change my mind.

Prayer chains are not biblically mandated. Prayer for each other is; but I believe prayer is centered on love. Love would be friends with people and know how to pray for people.

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My Thoughts When Someone Tells Me They Watched a Televangelist Instead of Coming to Church

Telling your pastor what TV preachers you watch while you skip church is not helping your cause.
@FailingPastor

 

 

One thing I hate about being a pastor is listening to people’s excuses for skipping church. I’m not interested. If there is a reason you weren’t there, that’s fine, but excuses drive me nuts.

One of the justifications for not coming to church is telling the pastor what other means of edification you partook in while skipping church. This frequently involves telling your pastor what televangelist you watched Sunday morning instead.

Here’s the thing: The majority of pastors on TV are heretical nut-jobs. Yeah, I said it.

If watching a televangelist makes up for not coming to hear me preach, then good Lord, I should have quit years ago.

Watching heretics is about the worst possible thing you could do while skipping church. You’d be better served getting another hour of sleep. Or wake up and drink coffee and stare out the window Talk to your kids. Even going to their baseball tournament is better than watching televised heresy.

Telling me that you watched a televangelist is not winning any points with me. It makes me worry that you think my messages are similar to what you saw on TV. That imbibing in that drivel equals drinking, what I thought, were rivers of living water proclaimed from God’s Word in my sermon.

I’m now more worried for you. I now feel that you need at least four more church services just to make up for the heretical information that is now swimming loose in the slosh of your brain. Instead of justifying your absence of one church service, you now indebt yourself to four more of my church services.

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How Should a Pastor Respond When Someone Says They Probably Won’t be at Church Sunday?

WHAT THEY SAY: “There’s a chance we won’t be at church Sunday.”

WHAT I HEAR: “We won’t be at church Sunday.”
@FailingPastor

 

Typically people skip church without saying anything before, during, or after the skipping. You are left to peruse Facebook for the details of what they were up to. They’re probably just out having fun with the family. Or they have left your church in a huff and you’ll never see them again. One or the other.

If someone goes out of their way to say to you, “We might not be at church Sunday.” The only reason they are saying this is because they will not be there. When people hint at not being at church, that’s them telling you they won’t be there.

Incidentally, when people say “We will see you at church Sunday,” They probably won’t be there either.

Look, no one is going to be at church Sunday.

Just give up on that.

Content yourself with preaching to those nice quiet chairs that faithfully show up every Sunday. They never complain. They don’t open cellophane wrapped candies. They don’t get up in the middle of your finest sermon point to go to the bathroom. They don’t do that stupid crouching walk across the front of the church in an effort to avoid distracting people, which results in the oddest walk ever, which distracts absolutely everyone, so instead of repenting they are thinking, “People who duck to avoid getting attention actually seem to get a lot of attention.” Empty chairs don’t show up late. They don’t spill coffee on the carpet. They don’t cough and hack and blow loogies. They just sit there patiently and quietly, waiting for you to wrap it up so they can go back to whatever it is chairs do in the dark.

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Why Church Hopping Exists

Our new Church Motto:
If you didn’t like your old church, you won’t like this one either. Go away.
@FailingPastor

 

 

An older man told me he’s left every church he’s been involved with because of conflict with leadership. Imagine my surprise when he left my church over a problem with me.

Another guy who left my church in the rudest way anyone has, later got kicked out of, yes “kicked out of,” the next church he went to.

A family left my church because they disagreed with pretty much everything we did. The wife decided to go to school to be a pastor. Now she can run a church right.

I was told that one family who left my church has also left every church in town. All the pastors know them, as they all were their pastor at one point.

One couple, who attends my church about six-months at a time, constantly bounces in and out of churches six-months at a time, trying all the new pastors as they come in. They never settle anywhere.

The majority of people who have left my church haven’t joined another church. I believe this will work out well for the church, but be a complete disaster for them personally.

When you’ve been a pastor long enough you get used to people coming and going. Sometimes you know why; sometimes you don’t. But news travels. I end up hearing what they are up to after they leave. Based on the later stories and interactions, I understand more why they left and most of the time, it wasn’t our church; it was just troubled people having troubles with everything.

When people leave my church, I try not to take it personally. I feel bad for them, most of them go on to prove they have deep spiritual issues that need dealing with. Some do hurt the church. Some hurt me deeply. Some are misunderstandings and personality conflicts that make me wonder if I should still be a pastor. Others just make sense.

“There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people,” is the cute cliché that’s supposed to make us feel better about our ineptitude. There is a point to be made there, but I still think churches can be better.

Hopping around until you find one that already meets all your requirements, will not only frustrate you, it won’t help any church.

There is much irony in pastors complaining about church-hoppers when pastors stay at a church for four years on average. Perhaps people are just following our lead? Dedicate yourself to a church.

Churches are not commodities to be weighed and compared and priced. The church is a family. You’re not supposed to ditch your family for a better one. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where ditching your family for another one is no longer taboo.

The church is a body. When one member hurts, all members hurt. We do our part collectively to keep the whole body strong. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where most of us are overweight and lazy. We don’t take care of problems, we just get them medically treated or covered up. Easier to buy a drug than maintain disciplined diet and exercise.

The church is like a building. It’s made to last, to weather the storm, and provide shelter and comfort for years. Of course, this illustration doesn’t make much sense in our culture where people move and we ditch old parts of town for new houses on the outskirts.

So, yeah, none of the illustrations for church make much sense anymore. It should not shock you that people are not loyal to your church. Grass tends to be greener in other fields. Other pastors are always better than the one you have.

I don’t let people leave without checking in on them. It saddens me to see the state of the church today, but more so to see the state of people who leave churches all the time. These are hurting people and the church is hurting right along with them.

 

 

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
–Ephesians 4:15-16

How to Get People to Come to a Church Event

“You understand that no one is going to show up, right?”

 –Me every time someone excitedly tells me what new thing they want to start at church.
@FailingPastor

 

People always have ideas of great events the church can do. Obviously my ideas aren’t working, so the smart people will excitedly suggest an event. “Go for it,” I say. “But just know that no one is going to come.”

They pat my little head and give a condescending little smile to the cute, widdle pastor. “Oh you poor soul. Of course they will. Unlike your events, ours will actually be good.”

People will excitedly go about organizing their event and tell everyone about it. They’ll do all the things they know will work. The big day comes and no one shows up.

I don’t say anything. Why bother.

Unfortunately, this also happens at funerals and important events. People don’t show up for those things either. Here’s the thing: If you don’t show up for other people’s funerals; people probably aren’t going to show up for yours either.

If you don’t show up for people’s Bible studies; they won’t show up for yours either. If you don’t attend people’s picnics; they won’t attend yours either.

This is a hard cycle to break. I’ve yet to figure it out. Yeah, there are techniques you can use to manipulate people into showing up, but I’d rather just have people who want to be there be there. Unfortunately, if attendance is any indicator, no one wants to be there.

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Failing Pastor’s Opinion on “Christianity is a Relationship not a Religion”

“Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship”

–said by many who can’t keep church unity nor marriage vows.
@FailingPastor

 

Let me begin by saying that I do believe a believer can have a relationship with God through Christ by the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

That being said, the idea that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion is a false dichotomy. Why can’t it be both? It, in fact, is.

“Religion” is a word that gets lots of heat. I’m really not sure why. Religion merely means stuff you do religiously, as in regularly, habitually, as a pattern. People religiously do their mornings the same. We do the same stuff at work. We do the same stuff when we come home from work. We are “creatures of habit.” Habit and religion are pretty much the same.

My wife and I have a great relationship. We love each other and have fun together. We also religiously do the same things. We eat the same types of supper, go to the same restaurants, go to bed at the same time. In fact, as any married person knows, if you veer from your typical behavior, your spouse will very quickly ask, “Why are you doing that? You never do that.”

I began eating cereal at night. I told my wife one week to get me a box of Froot Loops from the store. You would have thought the world was coming to an end. The Spanish Inquisition broke out, which I was not expecting (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition). “Look, I just want a bowl of Froot Loops, that’s all. It’s no big deal.”

Relationships are religious, that’s kind of what makes them relationships.

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