Failing Pastoral Counseling

Counseling people was never my strong point. I wanted to help, but pretty much all I figured out was how to listen and tell people what their problem was. I was pretty skilled there.

How to help them overcome their problem was beyond me.

I usually started with something like, “So, there’s this thing called the Gospel. You don’t seem to understand what it means.” Then I’d try to explain it. But it was quickly shot down because every person in a church thinks they believed the Gospel when they were six and have “heard that all before.”

Things would stall there. This is either because they had no interest in hearing the Gospel again or because I had no clue how to get them to implement the Gospel into their lives when I didn’t think they even understood what it meant.

I got nowhere. I’m not blaming the counselees either. I sincerely couldn’t figure out how to get them to grasp Gospel solutions to their flesh problems.

You’ll know you do pastoral counseling like me when 90% of your counseling opportunities go like this:

Step one: listen to them. Figure out what they are trying to fix, not the symptom but the underlying issue, which is typically, “you need to really grasp the Gospel.” Explain to them the Gospel and make sure they believe and understand it. And not just mentally agree with the facts of the Jesus story, but that they’ve been crucified and raised up to new life where they should be—pursuing righteousness, showing love and forgiveness, sacrificing for others. Give them scripture after scripture dealing with their problem and the Gospel’s solution for it.

Sept two: wait for them to tell you they already did all that. They will sigh and leave depressed, or they will buck up and feel great because they already have the Gospel nailed, so now all their problems will disappear! Either way, they will leave soon after.

Step three: get ready to hear nothing from them for a long time: except for the happy ones, they will email you the next day, “Thanks pastor, I feel so much better today!” Then you’ll hear nothing. Your calls, emails, and texts will be ignored for a time. Eventually they will tell you that they’ve been “busy. But we should really try to get together again.”

Step four: agree to get together again and mention a few specific times that will work for you.

Step five: get ready to hear nothing from them for a long time. You may never see them again, in fact.

Step six: pray and cry before the Lord for their soul.

Step seven: shoot an email, text, or phone call their way every once in a while. After several times doing this with no response, proceed to step eight.

Step eight: resign yourself that another one is lost, you failed again. Consider once again working at the grocery store or being a janitor or working construction or selling cars.

Sound familiar? Then you may be a failing pastoral counselor too! Welcome to the club.

Sorry, I have no advice for you. I could never figure out how to help people.

The only exceptions were people who really, truly seemed to grasp the Gospel and were growing. I could help them, but usually because people who were doing that didn’t have any irreversible problems staring them in the face.

Funny how that works.

I’m a terrible counselor. I admit it. I have no idea how to help you. None. I’m going to quote the Bible a lot and mention the Gospel and the Holy Spirit a bunch. That’s all I got. Sorry.

To all you who know how to do it, great. Go for it. Please. You have plenty of potential customers. I got nothing.

Pastors Ruin People’s Faith, Or so the Story Goes

Let me begin by saying there are and have been many bad pastors who ruin people’s faith. Many a wolf has chomped on God’s sheep. “Test the spirits” is not a throwaway line. Do that. Constantly.

With that being said, I know many pastors and most are sincerely trying to help. Most pastors have sacrificed to do ministry. It’s not an easy job.

No pastor is 100% correct in theology or application. Pastors have a sin nature too. This is why the Bible repeatedly says not to put your trust in people but in God. Do that. Constantly.

I have heard many a backslidden Christian blame a pastor for their backsliding.

(Again, there are bad pastors and they certainly hurt people’s faith, no doubt about that.)

I know some of the pastors who got blamed though and, no, they were not terrible people set on destroying people’s faith.

I’ve been told that my teaching has kept people immature and has hurt them spiritually. People who leave church take time to tell me how much happier they are now that they’re out of my church.

They’ve never been happier. It was my teaching and my church that kept them from all this happiness and peace they now have.

I know who these people are and I understand the desire to let me know how awful I was. But I also know these people were shaky at best in their faith.

Most of these people, when they began attending my church, told me about their last pastor who kept them from all the happiness and peace they now have in my church.

And that’s the problem: Many church goers think going to a new church will solve their problem. Learning a new system, getting initiated is exciting. Makes you feel rebellious. Throwing off the shackles of Last Church for New Church makes you feel like you’re spiritually growing.

But guess what happens when New Church gets boring or the anticipated nirvana of New Church never materializes (which it won’t)? They leave for the next New Church.

Guess what they say to New Pastor at New Church? “Oh man, that last pastor, never helped me. I’m so glad I’m here now where I have so much happiness and peace like never before.”

The cycle continues.

I used to take it personally when people would leave my church and I’d bump into them at Walmart, or they’d email me and let me know how happy and at peace they are to be out from under my faith-destroying ministry. It hurt.

OK, I still take it personally. It still hurts.

I never set out to destroy anyone’s faith or annihilate their happiness and peace. Most of these people were annoying. I sacrificed just to spend time with them and put up with their insults. They typically fell into weird sins and hurt other people in the church. Yet, in the end, their conclusion is that it was the pastor’s fault their lives aren’t better.

Nope, not buying it.

These people will whirlwind through your church. They will excite you at first because it really looks like you’re helping them and they say they are so happy and at peace finally! You’ll feel like you’re a way better pastor than all those other loser pastors, which you kind of knew anyway!

But it won’t last. Soon you’ll be the loser who is keeping them down. Out the door they will go and the inevitable email letting you know how happy and at peace they are will soon pop up in your inbox.

Pray for them. Pray for the next pastor who will get jerked around by them.

People are weird. Pastors are in the job of dealing with weird people. Get used to it. It still hurts. Check yourself, maybe you didn’t handle them the best, it’s possible.

Work it through before the Lord. His opinion of your ministry and their faith is the only one that matters.

Pastors Can’t Magically Fix People

Many young/immature Christians and unbelievers are under the impression that mature believers got their suddenly, that there’s a short cut to maturity and all problems disappear. Based on this, they assume pastors have the magic button to zap people into spiritual maturity.

There is no magic button. There is no zap.

Spiritual maturity comes by work, struggle, suffering, and various temptations, along with the self-control, patience, humility, and love given to the believer by the Holy Spirit gained over time typically through the work, struggle, suffering, and temptations.

Much disillusionment with pastors is because “I went to the pastor and he didn’t fix anything” experience. The assumption is that a few conversations with the pastor oughta do the trick.

Pastors don’t always help this either. We’ve all heard pastors brag about all the people they fixed. “I just take em out for a cup of coffee and by the end they’re great!” I actually had an older pastor tell me this constantly.

I also remember counseling several of the people he bragged about fixing. They were far from fixed, but in his head, he fixed em all (they weren’t fixed after I counseled them either).

Churches don’t help this either! Various churches have invented experiences to convince people they are growing. They provide a zap of spiritual feeling. It’s exciting and fun. Seems to work for a month or so. But as with most supposed spiritual zaps, the emotion dies off along with the apparent growth.

People coming out of these churches tend to be twice the children of hell. They tried Christianity; it didn’t work, and now they are done with it all.

One of the most painful aspects of being a pastor is seeing hurting people resist the hard work necessary to attain spiritual growth. No one wants to hear about self-control and discipline. They just want the zap.

This human tendency is also why so many are trapped by get rich quick schemes. Why people think weight loss happens with magic pills. Why people think excellence at anything comes by good intentions rather than work.

People are lazy, but we want success. Spiritual growth is a thing people think they want, but the ones who truly want it, just like the ones who want to grow wealth, or lose weight, or excel at any interest, will put the work in.

The work is part of the suffering. Tribulation works patience, experience, and hope. You won’t get there without some tribulating.

Hate to break it to ya, but there’s no magic button and no zappy thing. Buckle down and do the work. Bring your body under subjection. Run to win.

And, after hearing this, many conclude I’m legalistic and undermining the power of the Spirit, or throwing out grace for a yoke of bondage, or some other spiritual sounding thing.

You don’t have to do the work, you can pretend and play happy mind games. Get back to me in 10 years, let me know how it went.

This is the reality, yet no one wants to hear it. So the pastor watches people reject this truth over and over and run their lives into the ground. It’s impossible to not be worn down by this. Meanwhile, all the yahoo pastors promising their latest Get Spiritual Quick zappy, magic trick have crowded churches.

Oh well, I’d rather go out staying faithful to God’s Word than playing such games. It still kills to watch so many lives ruined by short cutting the process to the absolute ruination of faith.

But I will affirm constantly that believers ought to do good works if they want to grow (Titus 3:8). It’s a consistent theme in the New Testament.

“And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”
–Titus 3:14

Pastors: Watch Out For Eager Volunteers!

There was a family in the church I grew up in that came in and immediately wanted to do stuff. They needed to start a kids’ ministry.

My dad, the pastor, was all for a better kids’ ministry and appreciated their enthusiasm, so he let them do it. They did a good job and had fun and the kids’ ministry went fantastic.

So fantastic that they began to feel they were indispensable. They began making demands on my dad. Since he let them do that thing, he should let them do more things. The requests became more and more outlandish.

My dad, a people-pleaser and nice guy by nature, gave them all the things. For years they gave him grief and demanded more. He did more. They still gave him grief. Eventually they left as they were upset because he didn’t do something they demanded he do (even my dad’s niceness had limits). They took people out of church with them and tried taking more.

Churches are always looking for volunteers to head things up, bring excitement, and offer something the church could really use.

Unfortunately, the volunteers most excited about doing such things usually have strange motives.

There is a trap in serving in the church: There’s power and there’s self-righteousness. If you are a big shot in a church, surely you must be favored by God. Surely you’re way more spiritual than others who don’t do as much.

I hate being cynical, yet anytime anyone volunteered to do anything in my church I immediately got nervous.

As far as I know, these people didn’t go to church anywhere after leaving my dad’s church. They flamed out being busy in my dad’s church. They bad mouthed the church and the pastor, used their experience as justification for not going to church anymore.

People are nuts. People who want to be big shots in a church are the nuttiest of the nuts. As Paul says, “Let them first be tested” (1 Timothy 3:10). Give a minor role, a serving role. If they won’t take that, you don’t want them leading anyway.

Don’t let people do stuff in your church without testing them. Bad things happen when this is ignored.

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.

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.

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.

Can Churches be Doctrinally Right and Loving?

“Well, of course!” is the happy answer.

But I don’t know. I know the opposite is true: a church can be doctrinally bankrupt and unloving!

The church I came to pastor over 21 years ago was neither doctrinally right nor loving. They had a weird brand of hyper-dispensationalism and over-emphasized the word “grace” to the point of lasciviousness.

The previous pastor once told the congregation he didn’t care if a non-married couple moved in with each other, “it’s all grace, it doesn’t matter.” He said this from the pulpit, not as an aside in a conversation at a restaurant.

Their notion of grace was very extreme, hardly anyone else in Christianity went as far and weird with it as they did. This led them to believe they were the sole possessors of truth. They prided themselves on their doctrinal rightness. They were the sole defenders of truth.

The church was made up of many ex-legalistic people. They happily threw off the bonds of legalism and lived it up in their notion of “grace.”

My favorite episode in learning how weird the church I came to was, was when I wore a tie to church one Sunday. The assumed “leader of the church” came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t wear a tie.” I said, “What?” not as though I didn’t hear him, but more “what in the world are you talking about?”

He replied, “We don’t wear ties; we’re not legalistic.” I was so thrown off by this I don’t think I replied at all. I probably laughed nervously. If you’re not legalistic, then how come you have a dress code about not wearing ties?! So weird.

But that’s where they went. They turned grace into lasciviousness and a reverse-legalism. You indeed sinned so people knew grace was abounding. And they were massive jerks. One outsider described the church this way, “Oh yeah, they talk a lot about grace but don’t show it to anyone.”

This was a case where a church’s bad doctrine eliminated love entirely. I felt my job was to correct the doctrine and hope that a true understanding of the Gospel would result in love.

I began correcting the doctrine. People left. Many thought I was becoming legalistic because I taught that sin actually was bad and we weren’t supposed to do it.

There was some progress. Some people got it, some already had an issue with the old pastor and his increasingly weird grace stuff. Some love showed up.

But it just never really clicked. After 21 years of banging my head on this one wall, I just got worn out. Unfortunately I was losing love going over this same stupid doctrinal error and getting hurt by so many people. As my doctrine improved, which I believe it did, my love was dying.

The wounds were deep and waiting for the next wound to show up was driving me insane. On top of all that, my grandfather was the previous pastor! As my church increasingly had a problem with me, so did my family. I got it from all sides and I honestly can say that the hurt and rejection sucked love right out of me.

Is it possible for a church to emphasize right doctrine and be loving? I imagine there are many people who think so. I hope it’s true. I’d like to be part of one.

What I know for sure is, besides glib answers of the possibility, I have no idea how it’s done. Which is where Twitter tells me, “Well, that’s because you tried to do it! You can’t do it! Only God can.”

Yup, thanks. Apparently He doesn’t know how to do it either then! I asked Him so many times with tears to do so.

When you’re part of the In-Group in your church, it’s easy to think your church is loving. When your church’s doctrine doesn’t bother you, it’s easy to think your church has right doctrine.

Maybe we’re bad judges on this. Maybe I was a bad judge of my own “ministry.” God is the judge, He will let me know the true judgment, whether I had wood, hay, and stubble, or precious stones.

I pray for pastors that you would figure out the balance between doctrine and love. Knowledge puffs up. It’s what it does. But being stupid can’t be the answer!

It’s a tough thing. I pray you and your church can figure it out.

Can Pastors Have Friends? I know they can have Enemies!

When I was a pastor there were about a dozen guys in my church over the years who treated me like a best friend, for some of them, I think I was their best friend, who later blew up at me, left, and never talked to me again.

We did stuff together. We talked. We laughed. We ate food.

There was a line as a pastor that I could never quite figure out: when was I a pastor and when was I a friend?

In some cases, being a pastor is being a professional friend. People pay you to be their friend. I know that sounds cynical and cold, but my personal experience along with my knowledge of other pastors’ experiences lets me know this is true.

What many of them viewed as friendship I viewed as my job. I wouldn’t have been hanging out with these guys under other circumstances.

Many of these guys expressed problems with me all along. They’d pick apart my sermons, they’d make judgments about my behavior, and find fault with any number of things I did and said. In only one of these cases did I ever go off on one of them as they did on me (I regret this. It wasn’t good).

I tried to exercise patience and forgiveness as that’s what I felt I was supposed to do. But no matter how much patience and forbearance I used with them, inevitably they got mad enough at me to leave the church.

The friendship was gone. The time together, the patience, all of it was thrown out because I did some obscure thing that set them off.

On one hand I get it, if I approached the friendship as my job, they probably picked up on that! I’m not an overly outgoing, social guy, I don’t make friends easily. They were only my friend because I was the pastor and they were my friends because I was their pastor.

I’ve heard it said that pastors can’t have friends. This isn’t true. I had true friends while I was a pastor and they remain friends even after I’m no longer their pastor.

Friendship with pastors breaks off because often there was no real friendship to begin with. They were using me, how spiritual it makes one feel to be friends with a pastor! If the pastor likes me, certainly God does. And I viewed many of these relationships as duty. They weren’t going to last.

On top of that, people leave churches. If you have a friendship with the pastor and you don’t want to go to church anymore, you have to find some ridiculous problem with the pastor so you can blow up at him and get gone.

It took me a while to figure this out, but often this explosion to end the friendship had very little to do with me. I wasn’t perfect, but clearly I didn’t do anything deserving this treatment.

One inside tip: Many men take out their anger at their dads on pastors. I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. The guys who’ve had the worst relationships with their dads were the most explosively rude in their expression of dislike toward me. There’s other stuff going on; it’s not all you.

Another factor is that people are fickle. When the apostle Paul did a miracle the crowd thought he was a god, then they changed their mind and wanted to stone him. Jesus was hailed as the coming king in what has been called “The Triumphal Entry,” only to be crucified by the same mob at the end of the week.

This isn’t a Church Thing. Christians have no monopoly on fickleness. Observe the Cancel Culture overspreading our society. Famous people that no one had a problem with, accidentally say something slightly off from what the crowd wants to hear and that person is cancelled. Off with their heads.

People are weird. We just are. We get tired. We want change. True friendship requires forgiveness and patience. Those things are hard. People carry religious baggage into the church, who knows how that will work itself out over time. Not well, usually.

Jesus Christ said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”

You can’t be everyone’s friend. You’ll destroy yourself trying.

What you can do is do your best to love people, be patient, forgiving, and forbearing. But also know that at any time for any odd reason they can turn on you. It’s terrible to go into a relationship thinking, “I wonder when this guy will turn on me.” But for the pastor, you’re going to end up thinking that anyway!

God knows our frame, He knows we are dust. We can truly wonder “what is man, that God is mindful of him?” Why does He care for us knowing full well we will be His enemy many times?

Love. God is love. This is part of the job for God.

Even after these guys got mad and disrespected me and ran off, I still love em. I can’t help it. I care about them. I’d still help them today. Well, ok, there’s a couple I’d be happy to never see again, but still, I’d do my best!

It’s part of the job of being a Christian—love your enemies. What praise is there if you love those who love you?

Loving people is part of the job and don’t be surprised if you get fired! Happens to God every day and He’s doing love perfectly.