Anti-Legalism is often just Pro-Laziness

“Trying to be a perfect Christian is legalism.”
–Guy who spends thousands of hours and dollars trying to take the slice out of his tee shot

There are a lot of Christians worried about legalism. Many have been hurt by legalistic churches and people. I get it.

But much of the reaction against legalism sounds an awful lot like rebellion against God’s Word.

There are many Christians who think that legalism is anytime anyone tells you to do anything that is right. Some have accused me of being legalistic because I actually talk about commands in the New Testament, of which there are many.

When God tells us to do stuff; that isn’t legalism.

Some of the most adamant responses to legalism come from people who are very skilled in their professions and hobbies. Many are people who diligently apply themselves at their craft. They put hours into perfecting their golf swing.

But God forbid you tell them to bring their bodies under subjection when it comes to following God’s Word.

I’m constantly amazed at the people who think spiritual things will just happen. People who think fruit will show up whether you planted or watered anything.

Continue reading “Anti-Legalism is often just Pro-Laziness”

How the Failing Pastor Deals with Accidental Run-Ins with People who Left Church

People leave churches.

For the pastor, it’s hard not to take these leavings personally; especially when a large percentage of the Leavers tell you they are leaving because of something you did or said (or didn’t do or say).

Feelings get hurt. Hurt feelings tend to linger. I know we are to forgive 70×7 and stuff, but man, it hurts. I also don’t see anywhere in Scripture where forgiving means forgetting. To me, 70×7 means every time the pain comes back up, I need to get to a place once again where I can forgive it and move on. Until it creeps up again. Then forgive and move on again.

Unfortunately, people who leave in hurtful ways usually don’t die immediately. No bears come out of the woods and eat them. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow them. Fire from heaven seldom seems to consume anyone. Nope, they keep being alive and being around.

You’ll inevitably run into these people. Here’s what I’ve learned about these encounters.

1. The Leavers will typically be happy.
People who left usually couch their leaving in spiritual terms. Therefore, they must prove to you that they are better off since they’ve left your disaster of a church that was stifling their spiritual growth. Thus they will be happy. Excessively happy. Ridiculously happy. Happiness is the American signal that all is well. Their happiness will be rubbed in your face non-stop. Get used to it. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

2. The Leavers are just as uncomfortable as you are.
I’m just running into Wal-Mart to get some bread, just minding my business, thinking about sandwiches for lunch. And boom, there they are; the jerk faced Leavers. Fear shoots through all parties. But then the smiles come out. Small talk. Pretend nothing happened, no feelings hurt. Be happy. “Whelp, gotta go” I say as I lift up my loaf of bread. “Lunch is waiting.” Wilderness experts say that if you meet a bear in the wild, don’t worry, the bear is more scared than you are. Leavers are too. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

3. If you did nothing wrong, don’t act like you did.
Pastors typically take people leaving as a personal fault. I could have done more. I shouldn’t have said what I said. You can’t help but feel like you were wrong. There are some cases where I was. But in the majority of cases I can honestly say I don’t think I was massively wrong in any way. If that’s the case, don’t act guilty. I have nothing to fear, nothing to hide, nothing to cover up, and nothing to be ashamed about. If that is true, bring some confidence to the conversation. Let them be the squirmy one. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

4. Act oblivious.
I have developed avoidance skills. Anytime I’m in public I think about the odds of certain people being there. I usually run into the same people at the same places. My ears are alert for people’s voices. I’m constantly scanning out of the corners of my eyes watching out for anything that smacks of a Leaver. I can suddenly get massively interested in the nutrition labels of Doritos when I need to. Usually the Leaver is glad you are ignoring them. They’ll ignore you too. In the off chance they don’t, you’ll at least be prepared for when they approach. Then smile. Nod. Carry on.

5. Don’t be fake.
There are certain Leavers who really honestly were massive jerks to me and people in the church. I feel no need to be friendly. We both know what went down. I’m not playing games. I’m not joking about stuff. I’m not amused. I won’t be a jerk, but I’ll also convey the point that I’m not interested in any further interaction with this psychotic person. There are dangerous people out there that I don’t want to mess with anymore. These are the smallest percentage of my Leavers, but I know who they are and I will not engage. I’m done. Handed them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. I don’t smile or nod. But I do carry on.

Any time I’m in public I’m slightly nervous. Who will I run into next? There are stores in town I do not go in anymore because I know a Leaver works there. You can call it childish if you want. I’m sure this isn’t grace or love or forgiveness. So be it. We all have our limits. I don’t want to blow my testimony and that’s the only way I’ve figured out how to do that with certain people.

Leavers are a massive downer to the ministry. I’m not claiming to be the expert, probably not Christ-like enough, but these are my tactics. Maybe they’ll help. If nothing else, you can feel superior to me and my weaknesses. Fine. I smile. Nod. And carry on.

The Pastor’s Job Is Not to Fix People

As soon as the pastor gets into the mindset of “You people are messed up. It is my job to fix you.” It is all over for all of them.
@FailingPastor

I grew up in a pastor’s home. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night I sat in the car on the way home listening to my parents talk about the messed up people in our church.

I knew who criticized my dad’s sermon. I knew who had an issue about the special music. I know who didn’t like the hymn selection. I knew all the problems and the people who caused them.

I also saw the pain and agony this caused my father.

When a young boy sees his pastor dad suffering and knows why he is and who caused it, that young boy becomes bitter and angry, not only at those people, but at the church.

That’s where I was for many years.

I grew up thinking that I belonged to THE FAMILY that had all the solutions. Everyone else was messed up. My family was pretty close to perfect. We existed to rescue all the idiots around us.

It doesn’t take psychoanalysis to know that this created some “issues” in my head about people.

When you grow up thinking that everyone is a moron set about to cause you pain and suffering, which is why I must save them, you’re going to have some strained relationships.

It does not shock me now, looking back, to understand why so many of my friends left me behind. We were rarely enjoying each other’s company; I was trying to fix them.

Now that I’ve been a pastor for a long time and had some distance from this mentality, and also been shown in many painful ways that my mentality was wrong, I’m changing my views of ministry.

The people in your church are not your projects. They are not “things” you put up with. They are not people who exist for you to demonstrate your skillz and take money from as they bow in adoration of your powers.

No, the people in your church are people. People just like you. People who have issues and sin and yeah, they are messed up. And, by the way, so are you and I.

The job of a pastor is to bring people to Christ. To do the best we can to live out the truth of God’s word and the love of His Gospel. We take every opportunity to know, care for, and serve those around us in hopes of making the Gospel powerful.

We don’t do this for followers, pay raises, building projects, or pastoral bragging rights. We do this because this is what Christ did for us.

Christ is perfect and surrounded by fallen humanity. He didn’t try to fix them; He didn’t charge them money to talk to Him. He laid down His life for them, for us, for me.

It is very easy to lose sight of this and start thinking that we pastors have it all together. The people need us; we don’t need them. They have the problems; we have the solutions. We then judge them as beneath us.

One reason why pastors fail to have friendships is because we look down on people too much and deem others to be beneath us. We show respect of persons rather than the love of Christ.

Watch out for this danger, pastors. It won’t end up well for you or for anyone you come in contact with. We’re all in need of a Savior and lucky for us, we have a great one. Let’s help each other get to Him.

Blind People Want Blind Pastors

People only see in the Bible what they want to see. People are massively adept at ignoring Scripture.

People will gravitate to those passages that make them feel how they desire to feel about their sin. Some want all grace and love and happy. Some want all judgment, holiness, and heavy dread. Some just want everything on an even keel and will ignore the “extreme” passages.

The Bible speaks of believers being “enlightened.” Having our eyes opened. Not being blind. There’s a reason God uses this imagery concerning us. It’s because we aren’t naturally seeing things for what they are. We aren’t seeing the verses right in front of our faces.

Christians gravitate toward the denominations or churches that are blind in the right spots. Therefore, blind Christians desire blind pastors. Or, as Paul says, people desire teachers who will scratch their ears and tell them what they already agree with.

Just as it was in the days of Jesus Christ dealing with the scribes and Pharisees, the blind lead the blind.

All the while the blind think they are seeing perfectly.

Blindness sounds like this:

“I only believe what the Bible says.”
“I believe what Jesus believed.”
“My supernatural experience proves I believe right doctrine.”
“Anyone who disagrees with me is a heretic.”
“If you don’t go to our church/adhere to our doctrine, you are going to hell.”

I hear such statements, to varying degrees of bluntness, frequently by Christians. It’s scary. If you honestly think you believe exactly what the Bible says, you aren’t believing what the Bible says! If you think you believe absolutely everything Jesus taught, then you didn’t hear His warnings about people who thought they believed everything God said. “We have one father and that is God.” “Your father is the devil.”

Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.

There’s a reason the Bible tells us to ask for wisdom: it’s because you don’t have it all yet. If you think you do, welcome to the Job’s Friends’ Club.

The Bible tells us to ask that our eyes might see and our ears might hear. As soon as you think you’ve arrived and see everything; you begin the long, slow decent into massive error.

Doctrinal cliques have a feeling of security and rightness. They also go a long way in making people twice the children of hell.

Make sure the church under your care is not getting uppity about “having right doctrine.” Watch out for the party spirit that assumes we are the people and wisdom will die with us.

Humility is what faith looks like. Knowledge puffs up, even right knowledge. It’s what knowledge does. Keep the humility to continue to know how much you don’t know and keep asking in dependence for more wisdom. He gives to those who ask. If you’ve stopped asking for wisdom because you feel you’re already wise, beware!

Grace and Crazy People in the Church

Undoubtedly you assume this post is about showing grace even to crazy people. You should. It goes without saying. Which is why I’m not really saying that here.

What I want to talk about is the number of crazy people I’ve had in my church who can’t stop talking about grace, specifically God’s grace toward them. They take several forms:

  1. The Jerk
    They don’t even try to be nice to others. They constantly find fault with the pastor and many sermon points. They don’t show up to help others. They don’t give money. They don’t do anything except be mean to people. They will make other people in your church cry, and sometimes are the main reason people will leave your church–just to get away from The Jerk.
  1. The Sinner
    Now, I know, I know, everyone is a sinner. But these people, they go for it. They get themselves into all manner of weird sin. Every time you talk to them they are recovering from a sinful downfall. They are stuck in addictions of one sort or another. They can’t defeat sin, they aren’t even trying really, except for brief moments of sorrow that they get over way before ever doing any battle with their sin. They hurt people and destroy the testimony of the church and the name of Jesus Christ, because their sin does no one any favors.
  1. The Boss
    Some people join churches to take them over, or at least get a degree of power. They move in with suggestions, they actually volunteer (Beware of volunteers!). At first they seem really helpful, how cool to have someone want to be more involved. Then you notice they keep wanting to take things over. Next thing you know, they’re in charge of half the church. You’ll have a church split on your hands before too long. You have to let them do their thing because: grace.

One thing these people have in common is that they can’t stop talking about grace.

Now, for the record, I’m a huge fan of God’s grace! Wouldn’t be here without it. It is a great thing. Amazing, even.

But people who can’t stop talking about, maybe even to the extent that it’s pretty much the only thing they do talk about, are insane.

Here, as far as I can tell, is what they mean when they emphasize grace all the time:

God shows them grace, so you should too. That’s it. They will never talk about how they need to show others grace.

It is my opinion that grace is the key word of the Christian Narcissist. I don’t know if emphasizing grace makes narcissists of people, or if being a narcissist makes you emphasize grace, I just know there’s a connection.

The Jerk is all about himself. They are banking on God being gracious. Since God is gracious, why bother to change? Why take criticism or negative feedback seriously? God doesn’t have a problem with them, suck it up! Grace is the ultimate cop-out for not growing. This mindset (that God loves em just how they are) will keep them just how they are, and it will probably feed their grandiose views and make them even more of a jerk. Nothing empowers sin like thinking God approves of everything you do.

The Sinner will never battle sin, will never overcome their addictions. They’ll feel bad when their sin gets them in trouble, but their repentance will end long before any change occurs. Grace is often the final nail in the repentance coffin. Why go through the tough work of changing when God already forgives me? They will never get victory over any sin, because why bother? God’s already cool with their sin. Grace.

The Boss will react with shock if you question their motives or their power grabbing. How dare you question God’s servant! God’s blessed recipient of grace! Grace inflates the ego of these types. Again, God is on their side, who are you to find fault? Furthermore, they will point out all you are doing wrong, because remember, grace to them never means they have to be gracious, it only means they get to do whatever they want. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let em do what they want, too!

Now, again, let me just state, I’m a fan of God’s grace. This isn’t my hate for God’s grace. It’s a sincere frustration with an unbiblical understanding of Grace.

God’s grace was not given to us so we can sin.
God’s grace was given to us so we might show grace to others.

We even must show grace to people who abuse grace. But grace doesn’t mean approval of sin. Grace works with love. Love rejoices in the truth. God is gracious. God also convicts people of sin and judges. Grace isn’t the only word in the Bible.

You know you have God’s grace when you become more gracious. Dealing with grace abusers has been very difficult for me. In one sense they are right: grace does deal with our sin. Correcting people who are half-right is tough!

Anytime you call them out on their misunderstanding of grace they will accuse you of being under the law or putting a yoke of bondage on them or some such nonsense. It’s very frustrating.

Maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this abuse of grace. Maybe it’s my community and not a Christian-wide phenomenon. I doubt it. “Should we sin that grace may abound? No, in no way” is in the Bible for a reason! This is what people frequently do to grace.

It’s sad that such a beautiful word has been hijacked and ruined. All I know is that when a person comes into my church blathering on and on about grace, warning bells go off in my head. Watch out for it.

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.

Pastors vs. Church People, A Classic Confrontation

Many times while praying alone, I will intercede for people in my church.

Intercession soon turns into bemoaning the direction people are heading.

“Lord, help him to take the spiritual lead in his family, because he’s totally not doing that. His kids are going nuts. Oh Lord, the things they are doing. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. I told him. I don’t know. Did he not hear anything I was preaching the last ten years? And then his wife. What’s up with her? No wonder the kids are nuts.”

What started out as true spiritual concern devolves into judging and condemning.

After “interceding” for people in my church for a good fifteen minutes, it’s become clear: it’s me and God on one team and people in my church on the other.

This feeds self-righteousness, bitterness, judgmentalism, and all manner of evil things one shouldn’t do.

But I’m just stating the facts! And, at the end of the facts, sure looks like me and God against the people.

Continue reading “Pastors vs. Church People, A Classic Confrontation”

Failing Pastor’s Response to Church Buildings and Jesus Statues Being Attacked

Statue Toppling is a thing again.

Iconoclasm is the official name for it, and it’s been around a long time. There is nothing new under the big ol’ sun.

It actually started with people who took the Ten Commandments seriously. “Thou shalt not make any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath.”

It actually reads pretty clear.

But people like images. We like walking by sight. God knew we’d place too much value on our statues. I think He knew they were just one more physical thing we’d fight about.

My opinion about Confederate generals or topplings of Winston Churchill statues does not matter at all. I think it’s highly silly. Inanimate objects should not cause you consternation. They can’t do anything.

They have mouths but they cannot speak, eyes but they cannot see, ears but they cannot hear. You toss one end of the log into the fire to warm yourself, and with the other end you carve an image you worship.

Continue reading “Failing Pastor’s Response to Church Buildings and Jesus Statues Being Attacked”

This Pastor is Not Woke

Being “Woke” is the new cool thing the cool kids are doing. Wokeness is the official religion of the atheist Left.

Wokeness is religion. It’s the latest flavor of the Tower of Babel/Humanism venture.

The problem with Wokeness is that it has no set law. There is no final authority. Their goalposts are on a bullet train. Being against authority (the patriarchy) is a central tenet. Since there’s no central authority, there’s no central, unifying law.

If you give in to The Woke Ones you will never win. They will always push you further and further into Wokeness. White men are out. Women are in. White women don’t count though, must be a woman of color. Women of color are out because of gayness. Gays are out because of transgender. Transgender are out because someone now identifies as a gay tree trunk, which is merely a patriarchal authority over weed, man.

It just doesn’t stop. There is no end.

Therefore, I have decided not to give in to them at all. I do not preach on the Hot Topic of the day Woke Twitter tells me I’m supposed to preach on. I don’t pander to their ideas. They will change next week anyway. Wokeness has a short attention span and I’ll never go far enough in that short amount of time. Too exhausting.

I’ll stay over here following my Good Shepherd next to green pastures and still waters. Perhaps, with the world’s constant Woke Craziness, someone may ask me for a reason for the hope that is in me. The crazier the world, the more rational, peaceful, and hopeful Christianity looks.

Beyond all that, the other tragedy of Wokeness is that since there’s no final authority, there’s also no forgiveness. There is no High Priest.

When you trample on the toes of the Woke, they respond with outrage. They will attempt to get you fired, humiliated, and use every attempt to ruin your life. If they believed in gun ownership, we’d all be in trouble (look for this pivot soon).

There is no forgiveness, they won’t let you up. They destroy you. All you have is damnation with no hope of redemption. What a sad, scary place to live, especially since who knows when you’ll violate one of their ever-changing standards.

Wokeness is contrary to everything the Bible says and all that God is. It’s a return to Babel. Babel didn’t work the first time and it won’t work this time.

Wokeness has to implode. It is not founded on truth. Truth always wins out. Who knows how long this will take.

It is entertaining to watch, unfortunately, people will die because of it. Suicide rates in the next 50 years are going to be terrifying. Ungrounded people do unstable things.

The problem is the same, it’s just a different manifestation of the same reality: no one wants to listen to God and His truth. They will listen to pretty much anything other than that, even a talking serpent.

The solution remains the same too: keep preaching the Word of Truth, in season and out. This is the only answer. All else is vain and leads to death.

Preach the Word. Never quit. Don’t give in to the fads of the outraged world. Lead them to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who can truly give peace that passes understanding.

The Failing Pastor’s “Encouragement” to Struggling Pastors

Earlier this week I wrote a post about not being sure how long I can continue being a pastor. It received quite a bit of response publicly and privately.

Although it is nice to know I am not alone, how discouraging that this is the place so many pastors are in.

Some pastors are living large and don’t have these feelings or frustrations. Others are frustrated for reasons other than those I expressed. I don’t know what to say about those situations.

I would like to talk to those pastors who are doing what they can to faithfully preach the Word, teach and disciple individuals, and otherwise attempt to fulfill the biblical qualifications and expectations of the pastoral role, and yet are met with apathy, rejection, and mockery.

________________________________

I think most pastoral frustration, certainly mine, is not a tiredness of work or the church, but just the sheer pointlessness of it. I do my best to faithfully preach God’s Word and it appears the more I endeavor to do this, the more people leave.

My faith does not require the approval of others, but my sincere desires to help people are constantly thwarted. The lives of people who have dropped out of church do not go well. I hurt for them. I don’t know what to do.

This is the time that the happy pastors tell me “There’s nothing you can do. It’s all God.” Which helps nothing, but appears to be top-drawer advice from most.

This advice only adds to my frustration. God is growing everyone else’s church but not mine? Nice to know He’s so helpful. Can I even trust Him? If He’s not on my side, should I even be doing this? Many have told me “no.”

Thanks.

The gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Kingdom. God does not need me to keep the Church alive.

At the same time I have been called to care for one little part of it, to give my life for it, to sacrifice for it, to let my progress in the faith be seen by all, to take heed to my life and my doctrine so that I and my hearers will be saved.

Continue reading “The Failing Pastor’s “Encouragement” to Struggling Pastors”