What Is the Best Way to Help People Spiritually?

I was a pastor for 21 years and was continually around people I had a desire to help, people who were making unbiblical decisions and heading the wrong way. It was heart breaking.

One of the hardest aspects of pastoral ministry for me was the confusion over what I was supposed to do to help people doing crazy stuff.

Helping people spiritually is not easy. The best explanation of it was by Paul in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”

Giving birth is hard, so I’ve heard! Although I’ve never done it, I have watched it. It didn’t look fun. Getting people to grow in Christ feels like that! Perhaps not as intense into a moment, but it hurts.

Childbirth is natural, like, it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not if you’re pregnant. Getting people to grow in Christ is not natural. Many actively fight against it. Trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is gut wrenchingly difficult.

It would be nice if the Bible told us how to do it. It does, but you’ll find it’s not exact to specific situations and people.

The Bible presents a broad spectrum of possible ways you can help people. Here are some examples:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23—Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means he might win some. This seems like he’s saying “do whatever you gotta do.”

Jude 22-23—some people you show compassion to and that works, others you actively go grab and drag them out of the fire. No time for compassion, you just gotta go get em.

1 Peter 3:14-16—be ready for when people ask you. If they aint askin, they probably don’t care to hear your opinion.

Matthew 15:11-14—Jesus tells the disciples that the Pharisees are blind leaders of the blind. He tells the disciples to “leave them alone!” That’s fascinating. They will fall into a ditch, so let em. Some people have to hit rock bottom and you should let em go do that.

Philippians 3:15-17—Paul says God will show people where they are off. It’s not always your job. Leave room for God to lead people.

1 Corinthians 5:5—some people you hand over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This is primarily talking about church discipline.

So, on one end you do all things for all men to save some, show compassion on some, yank others out of the fire, leave them alone, wait for them to ask, let God show them, and on the opposite end is handing people over to Satan.

Those are quite the options!

So, after 21 years of accumulated pastoral experience and wisdom, what do I think you should do to help people spiritually?

I have no idea.

People and situations are different. I can’t answer specifics, but I’ve at least gained these general insights.

The one theme that runs through the New Testament is that you should pursue righteousness and holiness yourself. If you’re not, odds are they won’t listen to you anyway. And, if you’re not growing in righteousness, it’s debatable that you are the one who is equipped to help anyway.

Before getting all fussy about sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, take the beam out of your eye. Clean your own mess first. There are too many busybodies in Christianity trying to fix everyone.

You’re not everyone’s mom. It’s not your job to fix everyone.

If you are in a place where you think you can help someone, then pay attention. Listen to them. Don’t just judge and lecture without knowing what’s truly going on. Study the Bible. Look at the contexts above to see why they acted this way toward certain people, because there are reasons!

Pray. Really think this over with the Lord. There are no cookie cutter approaches to helping people spiritually. You really need to pay attention to them, you, the Word, and prayer.

Also remember Paul’s warning to consider yourself when dealing with other people and their sin lest you also be tempted. If you struggled with addiction of any sort, maybe you’re not the one to try and deliver others from addiction if you feel tempted to relapse.

Leave room for people to respond to God Himself. Cult leaders make everyone listen to them. God is the enemy at that point. Don’t do that!

Many people obsessed with fixing others actually just like power and the feeling of being needed. It has little to do with helping others and much to do with inflating their pride.

One of the urges to help people or to fixate on the sins of others is to keep you distracted from your own sins. If you’re always the fixer, you convince yourself you don’t need fixing. A guilty conscience often makes people obsess about other people’s problems.

Helping people spiritually is very difficult. If people don’t listen to God very well, I can’t imagine they’d listen to you very well either!

I don’t know how to fix people, but I have figured out this: pray, study the Word, pay attention, listen, pursue righteousness, and consider your own condition first. If you do these things, there’s an off chance you might actually be helpful to someone at some point. But don’t hold your breath!

If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!

5 Reasons Why People Ask Their Pastors Questions

“There’s no such thing as a dumb question” is a popular quote. I’m not sure why, because it’s incredibly wrong.

As a pastor, you might think it’s a good thing that people ask you questions. It might be. It might mean you are approachable and humble enough to be questioned. It might even mean that people value your answers.

It might.

It doesn’t, but it might.

In my pastoral experience I have found most questions have other motives besides getting an answer. Here are some popular reasons why people ask pastors questions:

1. Tests and traps
Some of these questions almost sound sincere, like they are really thinking about theology, maybe even your sermon, but really they’re trapping you. Taking a page out of the Pharisee’s playbook, they are trying to corner you and pounce on you when you unwittingly answer their carefully crafted trap question. These people will keep coming at you and they start with a question every time. When they approach, your heart drops because you know they’re ready to brawl.

2. For permission
Having a question is a nice way to get the pastor to approve the thing you want to do. “Do you think people should get tattoos/smoke weed/drink alcohol/get divorced?” It’s never “me” or “I,” it’s always “people.” They don’t care about your answer, they’re looking for permission. And if they don’t like your answer, no worries, they’ll keep asking the question until they find someone who will give them the answer/permission they want. You might be flattered that they cared to ask you. Don’t be, you’re the seventh person they’ve asked.

3. They were too stupid to listen earlier
If people would simply listen most questions would disappear. If they had listened to the 43 announcements or the previous eight times you preached on that very topic, they wouldn’t have to waste their breath and your time asking questions. If they’da been listening they’d already know.

4. Doubts, angst, and uncertainty
Some people can’t stop asking questions. They think having questions is the height of spirituality. If they knew the answers, then they’d be accountable to change and behave better. Easier to be stuck in angsty, questioning doubts. It’s all about the journey, not the destination, don’t ya know. If I knew where I was going I’d have to take steps to get there. Too hard. I’ll just keep asking directions to nowhere I’ll get.

5. Segue into their spiel
These people want “equal time.” You just preached for 38 minutes, they heard your side, now they want to set you straight. But they open easy. They’ll pretend they have a concern, a true question, when in reality it’s just how they’ve chosen to open the conversation. They ask a question and you give a two sentence answer, and then they set into their four point outline they prepared while you were preaching instead of listening to your context for whatever statement they are now railing against. They especially like to do this when there are eight other people waiting to talk to you.

So, those are the five kinds of questioners. And, yes, as I said before, there are people in your church who will ask you good questions so they can think a subject through more intelligently. They exist, all three of them.

But the rest? They’re in one of these groups above.

How should you handle these questiony people? I recommend doing what Jesus did: flip their tables over and curse their trees. No, not yet.

Ask them a question in return. Figure out why they are asking. Throw them off a little bit. Get them to think, get them to consider the answer themselves; most people only listen to themselves anyway. This is a great tactic used by our Master, it would be good if we disciples of His wouldn’t take questions as flattery, but rather as an opportunity to reveal hearts.

Good luck out there. Fight the fight. Be ready always to give an answer, just don’t be shocked if your answer is not why they’re questioning.  


For more overly cynical takes on pastoral ministry, CLICK HERE to get a copy of the book I wrote, because it will show you why I’m overly cynical about pastoral ministry!

“Some Plant, Some Water, God Gives the Increase” Has Nothing to do With How Big Your Church Is

Many times over the years of pastoring a small, rural church that never really grew, I was told that “some plant, some water, but God gives the increase.”

This was told to me by people with larger churches, and the idea behind the quote is that large churches got large because God gave them the increase, implying that God likes them better, approves of their doctrine more, likes the pastor more, etc.

“Increase,” in most people’s minds, means numerical growth. This is why anytime a church grows people will say that “God has blessed them.” People also assume “increase” means larger buildings. Again I’ve been told, “God is really blessing us, we just built a new addition to the church.”

Although it’s possible “increase” means physical things (number of people, bank balance, square footage, etc.), I find it unlikely.

“Increase” is used here as an agricultural term. If you plant and water, a plant will grow. The point of a plant growing is not to see how big it can get, but to bring forth fruit. In fact, the bigger the plant the less energy goes into fruit production, that’s why pruning is a thing. The point of the farmer in planting and watering is to have something to eat. The New Testament emphasizes spiritual fruit quite a bit and rarely mentions physical fruit (number of people, bank balances, square footage, etc.).

Paul was the first one in Corinth. Apollos came next and watered the seeds that Paul put in the ground. Any spiritual growth that occurred from the efforts of these two men was credited to God. It wasn’t a competition between Paul and Apollos.

Many in Corinth thought it was a competition and took sides. “I’m of Apollos,” “I’m of Paul,” “I’m of Cephas.” They were loyal to the man who brought them to faith. Paul told them to knock it off! They were all on the same team and God gets the credit for anything spiritually beneficial.

Several verses after talking about God giving the increase, Paul says everyone will build on the foundation of the church laid by the apostles. All will give an account before God for how they built on it.

I take this passage not to be about our general stand before the Lord as a believer and our personal conduct (every man will give an account for every deed done in the body whether good or bad), but specifically about what they did in the church.

Lots of stuff goes on in churches. Many people think they did or are doing a great thing for the Lord. But after the fire of judgment, lots of this work will be burned up.

This has to mean that there will be many people who will do many worthless things in the church. Now, what would those worthless things be? What would be the things that won’t last for eternity?

Here are a couple things it might mean—number of people sitting in pews, bank balances, square footage, etc.

The fact that your church is bigger in people or square footage and busier and richer, doesn’t mean you did anything that will pass the test of God’s judgment.

Growth in the Bible always refers to spiritual growth. In fact, Paul is not happy with the church in Corinth. They brag because they are big and rich and yet Paul has a problem with pretty much everything they are doing.

The church in Corinth sounds a lot like the American church. We’re rich and proud and loyal to “our guys,” but we are also adulterous, immoral, spiritually illiterate, and carnal babes in Christ that are next to impossible to get spiritual things across to.

But they were sure proud of their awesomeness! Look how big and impressive we are! God has surely blessed us.

Paul disagreed and feared for their souls.

Some plant, some water, and God gives the increase. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, and the preaching of the Word, causes people to grow in Christ and bring forth spiritual fruit.

The church in Corinth majored on the wrong things and took sides. They lost sight of the supremacy of Christ and instead gloried in the efforts of people and the material, countable results they saw.

But all that would be burned up. Growth in Christ lasts for eternity.

God gives the increase and the increase He gives is always spiritual growth into Christ. The New Testament is pretty clear that the more we grow into Christ-likeness, the more the world will hate us. Don’t count on Christ-likeness to draw in crowds and increased bank balances and square footage.

When God gives the increase people become like Christ. That’s what happens. Material or countable results are never mentioned in the New Testament as a thing a church should worry about. They are irrelevant.

Christ is the head. We all serve Him. Serve Him well as He is the Judge. Don’t have a ministry that ends up as an ash heap.

If you want to hear more about my ideas to not worry about growing your church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

The Two Stupidest Criticisms I Heard About My Pastoral Ministry

Over my 21 years of pastoral ministry I heard many criticisms of me, the church, and my ministry. Some of them had merit, others did not. But there are two that stand out as the stupidest criticisms of all time. Some details have been changed to protect the stupid.

1) A couple in our church were having marriage difficulties. One day the man got arrested for threatening his wife.

While he was in jail the wife called me a few times seeking help. One time she asked if someone could mow her lawn. I arranged for someone to mow her lawn. We had several discussions on the phone about the “situation” involving her husband.

When the husband got out of jail he found out that the wife had talked to me. So he came over to my house. When I saw his SUV pull up in the driveway I went outside to meet him. I had three small kids in the house and figured it would be best to keep him outside.

He parked behind our car that was in the garage. He proceeded to go off on me and my ministry, rolling through his list of reasons I was an idiot. I knew his whole deal had nothing to do with me and was more his own guilt and self-justifications. I did not respond much at all. Just stood there and listened to his rant.  

When he exhausted his list, he made up one more problem. He pointed to my seven year old Toyota Camry in the garage. “Pretty nice car for a pastor,” he said. “Must be nice.” I just laughed because seriously a Toyota Camry? Meanwhile, his brand new SUV was parked right behind it! Unreal.

This happened about 10 years ago. The guy is now dead. The Camry still runs fine. My son just got it stuck in a snowbank this afternoon. But yeah, a Camry is too nice of a car for a pastor. A classic moment in my illustrious career.

2) A person who attended our church sporadically for a few years used to go around to churches all over the state asking for money. She had an alleged handicap, which prevented her from working but did not prevent her from asking churches all over the state for money.

I had many unusual moments with this individual, including her asking my recently widowed grandma to give her my grandma’s house since that’s what Jesus would do and also once made veiled threats to kidnap my kids.

Anyway, I, who have an actual handicap, am not able to drive because I am legally blind. I would often ride my bike for transportation, many of those places had to do with my job. I’d visit people and go to meetings and all sorts of stuff via my bike. Everyone in the church was well aware of this arrangement. I received a letter from this woman once that said, and I quote, “I saw you on your bike again. You seem to do that a lot. Must be nice to be a pastor where you can play all week.”

So, there you have it. Two of the stupidest criticisms I received as a pastor.

Now I know that everyone receives criticism in their jobs and general life, but I gotta tell ya, being a pastor sure brought out the stupid criticisms. Finding fault with a pastor is necessary for many people to assuage their guilt. They have to prove they are better than you to buttress their spiritual superiority. People can’t just leave churches, they have to be better than the people they are leaving, especially better than the pastor.

Every pastor has heard completely stupid criticisms of their ministry. The thing that always blew my mind was that there were plenty of legitimate criticisms people could have thrown at me! But they skipped those ones and made up ones that weren’t even remotely factual.

Fun stuff. Good luck out there pastors! Fight the fight. Do well and prepare yourself for the stupidest criticisms possible because they’re coming.

If you want to hear more about my completely stupid ministry, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

My Failed Attempt to Pastor a Diseased Church

One criticism I hear frequently from Christians is that when a pastor resigns or a church doesn’t grow, it’s because the pastor wasn’t called, or lacked faith, or was doing it in his own power and not the Spirit’s, and other similar things.

In other words, it’s the pastor’s fault if a church doesn’t grow or the pastor quits.

As if the church doesn’t have anything to do with it.

I know good pastors who had churches with problems. Those pastors left in total discouragement. They did a good job. They had good hearts. The church is at least partially at fault.

I’m observant enough to know it’s not always the church’s fault. There are bad pastors who do their job terribly. I am not attempting to justify terrible pastors. My attempt is to defend quality pastors.

I, in my own humble opinion, was a quality pastor! Was I perfect? No, I made mistakes and can list the top ten without too much pause for reflection.

But my heart was right. I was devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word and His Gospel. I preached the Word faithfully. I prayed regularly, visited people, knew the people, and honestly loved the people even if I was often confused about what that love should do. I took stands for righteousness and truth, while doing my best to extend grace and mercy.

I got nowhere.

The church didn’t grow. It shrunk. I earned less per year after 21 years than I did when I began. To all measurable standards of success, I was a complete failure.

Although many miss this, the reason I call myself the Failing Pastor is not because I think I’m a failure; it’s because the church clearly let me know I was. Before the Lord, I did what I thought was right and I’ll let Him judge my ministry. Before people, well, they all let me know what a loser I was.

As I said, it doesn’t take long for me to come up with legit mistakes I made. No pastor thinks they nailed everything correctly.

But I also know my church had issues that more or less made it impossible for anything good to occur.

No doubt some of you are thinking, “Wow, who does this guy think he is?” Let me explain some stuff about the church I was at and you tell me if this church didn’t have issues!

Here are some facts about the church I served for 21 years. All of these things were true of the church before I got there. None of these things were my doing! They were in place before I arrived.

1. They thought the only part of the Bible we had to follow were the epistles of Paul. You could not make any point to them from any other book of the Bible. The Old Testament was right out. The previous pastor even said OUT LOUD that he didn’t think the Apostle Paul understood grace until the last two chapters of 2 Timothy!

2. Salvation was proved by having said The Prayer. That’s it. Nothing else was needed or required. Repentance was out. Obedience was legalism. Faith was simply a mental assent that Jesus did a thing and I like it.

3. Grace was emphasized so much that good works were viewed as being bad. If you did something good, now you had your own righteousness to depend on. It’s better to sin and rely on grace. Should we sin that grace may abound? They pretty much yelled, “ABSOLUTELY, YES!”

4. They determined that baptism and communion were not necessary for the church age. All physical things like that were Jewish and law.

5. They turned grace into legalism. My favorite example is when I wore a tie to church one Sunday a few months into my pastoral career. I was confronted in the hallway, backed up against the wall by the supposed “head of the church,” and told “Why are you wearing a tie? We don’t wear ties here; we’re not legalists.” The irony of that statement has not even to this day ceased to amaze me.

6. They had no board. Church leadership resided in the pastor and his two yes-men. They controlled the money and all decisions in the church and did a fine job lording it over the people. The two yes-men continued to lord it over me when I got there.

7. There were many odd money things going on in the books that I soon discovered upon getting there. Their largest expense of the year was “Miscellaneous.” There was some money laundering going on. It was a mess to sort it out and get it cleaned up.

8. The only thing the church did was a one hour meeting each Sunday. That was it. One hour. Fifty-five minutes of which was the pastor berating the people about his peculiar views of gracish legalism.

9. The previous pastor once preached that he hoped more people in his church would live with each other and do all the sexing outside of marriage so they would know they trusted God’s grace. If anyone disagreed with him, he once said (in a sermon recorded on tape) “you can go to hell.”

10. People on one side of the church didn’t know the names of people on the other side of the church. There was no love, no fellowship, just a worshipping of the pastor with some Pauline verses about grace sprinkled in.

So, yeah, go right ahead and tell me the reason I failed at this church was because of me! I confronted all these issues. I confronted the two yes-men (who left soon after). I preached the Bible. This church who didn’t like the Old Testament, guess what I did? “Take your Bible and open to Genesis chapter 1.” Then I spent twelve years expositorally preaching through the Old Testament. Ha! That still cracks me up.

I did not back down from the church’s weirdness and endeavored to do all I could to rescue the perishing in the church. Several were set free from the false teaching. But most clung to it desperately and fought me for years before leaving in terrible, not very gracious, ways.

I added a Sunday School, a midweek Bible Study, social events, we supported missionaries, which they had never done before. I began a benevolence fund. We did communion regularly and I baptized people. I had a board of deacons and always endeavored to train up more elders. I tried doing church the way the New Testament says to do it.

I fought the fight. I thought it might work. It didn’t. It just slowly died.

Two weeks after I resigned the church voted to cancel all church events except one hour of preaching on Sundays. Right back where it started. They didn’t want a church. I didn’t want to pastor a non-church.

Any charge that my resignation was a result of me not caring, only doing it for the money, not being called, or anything else, is rather humorous to me. I took a diseased church and tried to get the people to heal it. They preferred the disease.

I got out before I got diseased.

That’s my story. Sometimes there are bad churches. I applaud all pastors who are fighting to help those churches become true, legit, New Testament churches. It’s a battle worth fighting, even if in the end you “lose.”

You were at least in the arena fighting it out. There came a point for me where I had to get out. It wasn’t working, nor was it going to. I was done. I tried. The swine won’t get any more pearls from me. I’m out.

21 years, to all appearances, I failed. The church is right back where it started before I spent 21 years trying to help it. I have something to do with the failure, I have to admit I wasn’t perfect. But the Lord knows my heart was in it and I tried to do the right thing.

Fight the fight, pastors! Do the right thing before the Lord and don’t let the goats get you down. The Lord is the ultimate judge of my ministry and I’ll let Him do it and let me know if I failed or not. He’ll do the same for you.

Pastor like you’re standing before the Lord, because some day you will be.

If you want to hear more about my failed attempt to do what I could do help a diseased church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

What People Hear When You Preach

Two people recently told me that they’ve begun attending another church and informed me that, “They preach the same stuff you did.”

One person who told me this goes to a liberal Anglican church pastored by a woman. The other person goes to a Presbyterian church pastored by an angry homeschooling Calvinist man.

These are pretty different churches! Yet both told me that these churches that have little in common with each other, both “teach the same stuff you do.”

Is it possible that I preach the same thing as a liberal woman and an angry Calvinist man? Is it possible for anyone to do that?

So, what’s going on here?

In the case of the one person who told me this, they were rarely in church. When they were in church they were frequently staring up and to the right at the ceiling. I can see them in my mind in their typical seat, staring up and to the right. Even when they were there they weren’t paying attention!

The other person is one of those older ladies who think everything is wonderful. She also told me that I preached the same stuff our church’s former pastor did. This is funny because more than half of the people who left my church over the years left because I was not preaching what the previous pastor taught! I don’t think this dear lady has a judgmental bone in her body toward anything with Jesus attached to it.

So, here’s my opinion of what’s going on:

No one is really listening to preaching. People hear what they want to hear. They will either hear what affirms them or offends them regardless of whether the preacher said those things or not.

People are in their own worlds. Over time you will discover the three people who actually hear the real words coming out of your mouth and think about them.

No one else is hearing you. Oh sure, they’ll hear your illustration and the funny story about your dog, but that’s it.

Anglican women and Calvinist men have nice dog stories too. “You guys all preach the same thing!”

No one is listening. Understand that. This will do three great things for you:

1) It will free you up to preach what you believe in your style.

2) It will help explain when people find problems with stuff you never said.

3) It will help explain why people keep saying you preach the same stuff as people who wouldn’t agree with you.

No one is listening. This fact explains a lot of otherwise confusing input! Might as well go for it, they aint listening.

The Failing Pastor has a new book, How To Not Grow Your Church available on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, or hardcover. CLICK HERE to get your copy because you know you need a smaller church!

How to Make Someone Learn

STEP ONE: You can’t. Just give it up.

That’s it. That’s the only step.

How to Teach Someone has more steps. There is a system for that, but there is no possible way for you to make someone learn.

Learning requires humility. Humans by nature are not humble. Pride is our biggest sin and weakness. Pride causes most sin.

If you’re not humble you will not learn.

The only way someone will learn is if they are humbled.

Typically the only thing that will humble a person is when life falls apart. When the reaping of the actions sown comes. When the eggs hatch. When rock bottom hits.

Life has a way of smacking people in the face. When this occurs, pride will typically step in. Pride will deal with life falling apart by ignoring it, drowning it with mind altering chemicals, blaming others like a good victim, talking incessantly about it to therapists or friends, or doubling down on your actions and concluding everyone else is the idiot.

One would think life falling apart would humble everyone. If you think this, you don’t know humans.

However, there’s a chance that when life falls apart humility will make you honestly analyze yourself and look for ways to learn and make things better.

If this occurs then learning will happen.

And, for the record, you don’t have to wait for life to smack you. It’s possible to learn from life smacking other people!

This is one of the reasons the Bible was written. It’s why there are so many unflattering stories in the Bible about otherwise godly people.

“These things were written for our learning,” Paul says. We learn from the mistakes of others so we don’t repeat them.

You can actually avoid life smacking you by being humble through the example of others, understanding that you are also a fallen human susceptible to the same sin.

But if you’ve ever been in a small group Bible study, you know that when we read about Peter and David and Samson we simply just bash on these guys and wonder how they could be so stupid.

This is a sure sign you will not learn from their mistakes. If you think you’re immune to sin, better than Peter, David, and Samson, then you’re probably setting yourself up for a fall.

You cannot make someone else learn. You can warn them and teach them and yell at them and love them and correct them and pray for them and snatch them out of the fire, but you can’t learn for them.

Watching someone destroy their life further and further is heart wrenching. You want to rewire their brains, to infuse them with knowledge, but they don’t see or hear.

Today, harden not your hearts as they did in the provocation, but humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up in due time.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is what humility is. Please do this. Your life doesn’t have to keep getting terrible fruit.

That’s what I teach. Up to you whether you learn!

The Failing Pastor has a new book, How To Not Grow Your Church available on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, or hardcover. CLICK HERE to get your copy because you know you need a smaller church!

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