What Killed My Joy in Pastoral Ministry

In my darkest times of pastoral depression, I was reminded of such verses as Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

I’d buck up my spirit, manufacture some joy type thing, and get back to it. Except it never lasted. I used to think this was a lack in my spiritual growth, and that’s possible, I’m not perfect. But the more I think about it, the problem wasn’t the joy part; the problem was the persecution part.

No one treated me that bad. Sure there were some unfriendly moments and comments. I did get hurt pretty bad by some people, but those times were spread over 21 years. It really wasn’t that bad. The real problem wasn’t rejection and hatred; the thing that got me most was being ignored. Hardly anyone cared.

It makes me think of Revelation and the Church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I know there are many theories about what this means. In recent years it’s cool to talk about an irrigation system up in the mountains with cold water and yadda, yadda, yadda. That illustration sounds too good to be true. Without doing any fact checking, it sure smells fake.

We don’t like saying that God wishes people were on or off, that it’s better to be an unflinching, confident unbeliever. But I don’t know. From my experience, I can totally see it being that. I love it when someone responded to Christ and the Word, I loved being a part of helping people see more. I did not like outright rejection, yet I also knew where the person stood. It was easier to take than lying ambivalence and apathy. That drove me nuts.

If you want to know the main cause of my pastoral depression and eventual resignation, I’d chalk it up to luke-warmness. “Pick a side!” I wanted to yell. “How long will you halt between two opinions?” Or as James put it, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Choose you this day whom you will serve.

The people in the middle, the ones who sort of came and sort of listened and played the game and said the same things and had the same problems, they defeated me. The ones who were always stuck, always learning and never coming to the truth, they ate me up inside. The ones who wanted to sin and then have the church or me absolve them so they could get back to sinning again. It tore me up.

This futility, this pointlessness, this vanity of the whole thing made me tap out. I did not leap for joy under persecution because I didn’t get any persecution. I just got nothing followed by more nothing. Twenty one years of nothing. Deadness. Apathy. There was no discernible point. I doubt I would have enjoyed persecution and hatred more than apathy, but there would have at least been something to hang my hat on. I could have felt part of the great cloud of witnesses, to have been numbered with the prophets. That would be sweet.

Instead, I was ignored. There was nothing to feed my joy. There were few successes. There were few rejections. Just blah. Blah does not lead to joy. I’m hoping there will be a reward in heaven for talking to walls. I won’t count on it, but it would be nice. If there is one, I will definitely leap for joy then because I got lots of that reward coming.

Pastoral Shame and Accusations

Through 21 years of pastoring I was accused of many things:

–I ruled the church with “my way or the highway”

–I was too legalistic

–I wasn’t legalistic enough

–I was becoming Catholic

–I wasn’t Catholic enough

–I abuse my wife and kids

–I have too nice of a car

–I’m too close-minded

–I don’t understand grace

Most of these accusations are complete nonsense, but they also take an accumulative toll on a guy.

I was also aware at times that there was something bigger going on. There was a stretch of events in our church that sure seemed like an organized Satanic/demonic accusation going on. It was weird. Way too coincidental. Satan is an accuser and does a fine job.

And, in all honesty, my worst accuser was myself. My background in life was one of shame and insecurity. I’m legally blind, which created a lifelong feeling of inadequacy, and being made fun of by many didn’t help. My family was a very passive aggressive, guilt-based family. I had no self-confidence. I was trained to think if there was a problem, it was all my fault.

When you’re insecure and guilt-ridden naturally, with strong tendencies toward depression, accusations by others are enough to do you in. The pastorate did not help any of these negative characteristics in me; it massively made them worse.

Now that I’ve had a break from it (I resigned in November of 2020) I’m gaining perspective, not only on my sin and flaws, but also on the culpability of others in the whole mess.

I was recently struck with 1 John 2:1, “You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” When it was said to me, tears came to my eyes.

The context is about not sinning, and the help we have through Christ when we do. Sin is a tangled mess. I have my own sin and any other person who is around me has theirs. Something is going to go down. I’m either going to be accused, accuse them, or accuse myself, or any number of combinations of accusations.

There are places of confusion where I don’t even know if the accusations are wrong or not. I could go either way!

Regardless of where the accusations come from, I have an advocate with the Father. He’s my defense lawyer to all the prosecution’s accusations. And He’s THE righteous one. Who better to sort through the mess?

Unfortunately, His decision is not always seen or known, leaving me in a cloud of confusion. I have no idea if I did the right thing many times. I know I prayed about it and talked to the Lord, I explained my reasons as best as I understood them, but I’m also aware of my abilities in self-justification.

I have no idea. I’m a terrible judge. I’ll let Jesus Christ the righteous defend me. If I need vindication; I will let Him take care of it. If I need correction; He can give me that too.

Being a pastor is not easy; at least it wasn’t for me. Second-guessing and fault finding ruined my confidence, and that was just the noise in my head! After 21 years of having people in the church pointing out my faults too, well, yeah, not cool.

I have no idea if I did a good job as a pastor. I anxiously await the Lord’s opinion on that. I look forward to clarity. I hope we review everything I did so I can hear whether I did well there or not. Then again, maybe it’s better I don’t know!

Either way, I have an advocate with the Father. He understands my frame and knows that I am dust. I’ll let Him worry about the verdict. I’ll continue to grow and learn and implement. I don’t know what else to do.

From this point forward, anytime I or someone else accuses me, I’m going to tell them to, “Talk to my lawyer, Jesus Christ the righteous!”

But this isn’t a joke. It’s easier said than done. I know the weight of accusations. But with eternity in mind and THE Righteous One on my side, I imagine I will survive. I hope to be like Paul when he said:

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

–1 Corinthians 4:3-5

I hope also to see the blessing in it. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). To be numbered with the prophets and all those in the great cloud of witnesses. Unfortunately, my negativity and shame kept me from being so arrogant to put myself on a level with them. “I’m just a loser, I’m no Jeremiah or Isaiah. I deserve this treatment.”

It was a deep hole. I’m still trying to find a biblical and healthy way to get out of it. I know the answer is in here somewhere.

Even so, come quickly.

Whose Fault is it that Your Church Sucks?

I’ll get some objections out of the way first:

–The problem is that you think the church is yours.

Stop it. I don’t mean it belongs to me as in I possess the church. I mean it simply as the church I go to, whether as pastor or not the pastor. The church I go to is my church. The church you go to is your church. I mean nothing more than that.

–Church’s don’t suck, they are all part of the Body of Christ.

This is possibly true. But I’d maintain that no, not all churches are part of the Body of Christ. I will spare you the details of pointing out who I mean, but to assume that everyone in every church is part of the Body of Christ is not clear thinking.

–You’re not the judge of a church.

Probably true. But also, if you’re fully involved in your church, you get a pretty good sense of whether it sucks or not. Your judgment may still be wrong, but you can get a sense. Some churches legitimately do.

–You shouldn’t use the word “sucks.”

True I shouldn’t, but it’s a good summation of the idea that no one in your church is doing anything, there is little to no life, people who come to the church don’t even come to church, no one cares if a church thing is cancelled, people will do pretty much anything other than come to church, no one will help fulfill a need, there is no light at the end of any tunnel, and the whole exercise seems futile and a waste of time, it’s just a place people go and sit in so they can feel like God is happy with them for a little bit for having done so. That’s what I mean by “your church sucks.” It’s easier to just say “sucks.”

Now, after dealing with those objections, stating the problem as clearly as I can, whose fault is it that your church sucks? Here are the possible answers to this question that I have heard:

–God’s.

God is the one who builds His Church. This is the way He wants it. Nothing you can do. It’s all Him. He predestined before the foundation of the world that your church would be what it is. And, since you’re in this church, God brought you there and put you there: deal with it. It’s His building. What, do you think people determine the success of a church? Not true. Why would God put His church in the hands of people? The solution is to get the power out of your hands and put it back in God’s.

–Satan’s.

Satan is the prince of the power of the air and the god of this age. You better believe Satan wants to see churches fall apart and be terrible. He’s all over the place in your church, making people lazy and fight with each other. If you’re not actively involved in spiritual warfare, Satan will have his way with your church. If Satan can overthrow the church, what else remains to uphold the Gospel? He’s coming at you daily. Spiritual warfare is the solution.

–The people’s.

Every member of a body of believers has a role. If people in your church are not fulfilling the role they were given through the Holy Spirit’s provision, the church will suffer. Love is the basis of edification. Preach on love. Do more fellowship. Do more programs. Do more work days. Give people a sense of belonging. Force people to get involved. Only when each member takes up their part will the church work.

–The pastor’s.

Churches are as healthy as their pastors. If you have bad shepherds, what chance do the sheep have? The pastor’s sin and unfaithfulness will be shown by how well the church is doing. I’ve seen over and over that a church is revitalized by bringing in a better pastor. If your church sucks it’s because your pastor doesn’t have enough faith, doesn’t pray enough, doesn’t do discipleship enough, doesn’t emphasize grace enough, doesn’t counsel enough, doesn’t preach the word enough, doesn’t visit people enough, doesn’t take holiness seriously enough, etc.

–The building’s.

You need to update your building. It looks old and dated. You need to use more technology; people are accustomed to being in nice buildings with technological advancements. The church needs to keep up. Attract the youth by having an arcade and a gym. Don’t forget laser lights and smoke machines and top notch concert seating and acoustics. Keep building and expanding: build it and they will come.

Which of those sounds like the reason your church sucks? I’ve heard them all because very few people could resist telling me my church sucked and why it did. I’ve heard all of these. I’m sure there are grains of truth sprinkled about in there.

The people blame the pastor. The pastor blames the people. Some blame God for the very things others blame Satan for. And the building; always with the building.

In the end, I have no idea why your church sucks.

I do know that no one who tells you why it sucks will do anything to help it be better. You will never hear any of them say, “You know, it might be partly my fault. How can I help?”

Personality Driven Churches are Diseased

Pastoral Pro Tip:

If you’re going to pastor a Personality-Driven church,

It really helps if you have a personality that people don’t get sick of real quick.

A church is more than a pastor.

As I look back at the 21 years I was pastor at a church, I’ve identified this as being a prime problem.

The church I pastored was personality driven before I got there. The previous pastor ran the show. If you liked him; you stayed at the church. If you didn’t like him; you left.

I walked into this and this mindset was directed toward me. I tried getting more people involved and had limited success.

But everyone who ever left the church left because they got tired of me. If my personality is the center of a Personality-Driven church, well sir, that there church is gonna have problems.

The more people left because of me, the fewer people were left to do stuff. Toward the end I was the only person doing pretty much everything. There were three other people who bore some burdens, but in the end, it was on me to keep “it” going.

Part of the trap was that there were many aspects of being the only one doing stuff that were nice! I didn’t have to do stuff I didn’t want to do, no one cared if I quit stuff (they weren’t going to do it and probably weren’t coming anyway), I could make decisions quickly, etc.

But all the problems were also all mine. Rarely did anyone lift a finger to help me in any problem. “That’s why you get the big bucks” they would laugh and then go home not to think of church again until next Sunday.

This eventually put me in a death spiral. I really just needed some help. I asked for help. Help never came. I got some sympathy for a few weeks, but never any help. If I wanted something done, I’d have to do it, and take all the blame when it inevitably failed.

I was easy to pick on after a while. Even newcomers learned quickly you could make fun of me and disrespect me. No one would do anything. I lost all confidence.

Many pastors of Personality Driven churches become egotistical jerks. I became a self-loathing, whiny, insecure loser. Two sides of one coin.

One thing I do know is that if you are a pastor at a Personality Driven church, you’re going to get messed up.

I don’t know what the answer is. I couldn’t break the cycle. I eventually just resigned, I couldn’t figure out what else to do. I just knew if I kept going it was gonna turn ugly.

If I do pastor again, which is possible, I’m not doing it alone. I’m not walking back into a situation where everything is up to the pastor. A church that has nothing but the charisma of the Head Guy is a dysfunctional church.

You don’t want to be in a Personality Driven church. If you are, I hope you can change it. You need to. But I apologize for not having any advice in how that change might occur.

I would definitely suggest that you quit as pastor before you hurt people. The Body of Christ is not one giant ear or eyeball. It’s many members all doing their part in one Body. That’s the ideal. Lots of churches don’t want this.

If you’re in a church that doesn’t want all members doing their part, look out. That body will soon be terminally diseased. And, if you’re not careful, pastor, it’ll take you down too.

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.

The Only Way to Cure Pastoral Depression and Pride

When I began as a pastor I was fully convinced I could fix the church that was interested in hiring me and I was convinced I could fix all the people in it.

If I had left the church after five years like most pastors do, I could have felt satisfied that I had done my job of fixing. Unfortunately, I stayed for over 20 years.

All those years showed me clearly I was pathetic at fixing churches and people.

My Grandfather was a pastor and he fixed the fourth church he went to. The first three didn’t get mentioned much. But the fourth one, like Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the fourth one stood.

He did so well fixing the church and people that he went on the road and fixed people all over America and even Canada. He flitted from town to town fixing people. He was convinced fixing people was easy and he was the man for the job.

After flitting about the country for years, he settled in to pastor one more church. He continued to claim an amazing ability to fix people. I met many of the people he fixed. Boy howdy, were they not fixed people.

My dad was also a pastor. He tried fixing three churches and had limited success. He fixed a couple people along the way too. But for the most part the churches and the people left him depressed. Especially since his father-in-law fixed people all over the country and routinely shamed my dad for his lack of fixing abilities.

My grandpa fixed people and he became a massive egotistical jerk. My dad didn’t fix people and became ashamed and depressed.

I followed in the steps of my father, except I had even less success in fixing.

My 20+ years demonstrate that I cannot fix people or churches. I write today a humiliated person. My confident knees have been knocked out from under me. I have no personal confidence with which to stand upon.

I have not been a pastor now for eight months. I’ve had plenty of time to think. Separation from the church and the people I couldn’t fix has allowed me to examine things as a spectator.

I’ve thought a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that fixing people is not the calling of a pastor.

If the pastor’s job is to fix people you will have one of two results:

1) You will fix people. This will feed your ego and you’ll become proud, above everyone, a spiritual, white bearded guru on a mountain top handing out advice from on high. You won’t weep with those who weep or rejoice with those who rejoice. You’ll just be a jerk above them all no matter their weeping or rejoicing.

2) You won’t fix people. You will examine everyone for fruit and any sign of non-growth will suck the life out of you. When the stupid people are too stupid to listen, their failure is a reflection on you. How dare they despoil your image! You’ll be depressed, but just as arrogant as the fixer; it will just show itself in pity, bitterness, and anger.

Look at how many pastors have fixed their churches, made it grow to multitudes of success. They write books and travel conference circuits, only to be fired for being a bully or for taking advantage of people.

On the flip side, pastors who couldn’t make their churches grow and could never heal the broken part of the Body are depressed. Suicide ranks high among pastors.

Trying to fix people and churches is a recipe for disaster.

Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles or anywhere else in the Bible are we told to fix people.

The pastor’s job is to grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people. God gives the increase.

This is hard to do. Easy to say. Easy to nod your head at this advice.

But try it. Try loving people, and growing, and preaching the Word. People will still be people and you’ll be tempted to count victories and grovel in defeats.

The only way you can pastor without fixating on fixing people is to view yourself before the Lord–Doing the right thing before Him regardless of temporal results.

The only way you can have that view is if you have an eternal perspective and have laid hold of eternal life.

The only way you can do that is by seeing that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’m identified with Christ, thus already dead to this world and alive unto God.

Pastors, know the Gospel. Identify with Christ. Reckon yourself to be dead indeed, no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you.

Earthly measures fire up the ego into either pride or pity. Ignore the world. You’re crucified unto the world and the world is crucified to you. Let it go. Set your affections on things above. Stop counting victories and defeats.

So easy to say; so hard to do, but it is the answer.

You were not called to fix people or churches. You were called to represent Christ as a minister of reconciliation. Grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people and don’t worry about earthly measures.

You will stand before the Lord who will test with fire all you’ve built on the foundation. Earthly praise, recognition, and growing numbers do not impress God. Faithfulness to Him is what we’re here for.

Do that.

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

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.

6 Criticisms the Resigning Pastor Will Hear

People assume there’s something wrong with the pastor who resigns. It’s been six months since I resigned from the church I was at for 21 years. Although I haven’t heard too many of these comments to my face, these are the comments I’ve heard about other pastors who quit and a few directed my way.

So pastors, when you quit, expect to hear a few of the following:

  1. There must be sin going on.
    Since so many pastors take moral falls—affairs, embezzling, being a jerk, etc.—people assume any pastor who quits must be doing it because of sin. Something more is going on. What is it? Surely someone knows. They dig around, snooping, trying to figure out what he did. Some even ask prying questions of his wife and family, trying to get the scoop on the Real Story of what went on. Clearly resigning from being a pastor is a sign of spiritual backsliding.
  1. Shows he shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with.
    This one I hear a lot. It’s just God’s way of weeding out the guys who are terrible at being a pastor. If they can’t handle it obviously they shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with. Apparently the only people who should ever do ministry are ones who can guarantee success. Curious how that is known before starting? Is observable success the sole measure of who should be doing ministry?
  1. He wasn’t called.
    “People whom God calls don’t quit” is how the story goes. They keep going, presumably until their deathbeds, just like everybody else in the world that only had one job their entire life. I heard this one, “You treated it like a job, not the sacred call it was.” Really? Because I got tired and burned out by lethargic people after 21 years, I’m the one who was wimpy here? The only reason I actually lasted 21 years is because it was more than a job to me. There were easier ways to make a shrinking salary.
  1. Tried to do it on his own and not with God.
    Gotta love this one too. Obviously, since I quit after failing in the church, God wasn’t in it. I must have been arrogantly assuming all along that I was man enough to build God’s church without God. Now I’ve been shown the reality that I wasn’t trusting God enough. Weird, because I remember all the days and nights of crying out to God with tears to stir up the church, to do what I was completely unable to do. This criticism is from someone who has never tried to help anyone ever.
  1. He cares too much about people’s opinions.
    “If a guy truly had his mind set on God’s view of the world and not man’s, he would never be discouraged.” Pastors only quit when they can’t measure up to people’s opinions of ministerial success. Although people’s opinions are largely discouraging and may contribute to many pastors leaving their churches, what about the pastor who quits in light of this person’s opinion? So if your opinion is that a pastor should never quit, and I quit, how is this proof I only follow people’s opinions? No matter what a pastor does, it’s against someone’s opinion.
  1. That’s what happens when you aren’t faithful to God’s Word.
    Presumably if I preached the Word people would come. The Field of Dreams Theory of church growth. If you simply preach the word (which usually means “If you tell me what I want to hear”), the church would have grown huge and everything would be great. Who would quit then? Obviously he only quit because of all his worldly compromise he made while forsaking the truth of Scripture. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among men, those men killed the Word made flesh. People don’t like the Word. Perhaps, and this is just a wild guess, perhaps some pastors quit because it’s obvious no one has any interest in hearing God’s Word?

I don’t know if this is common to other people quitting their jobs, maybe it is, but I don’t think so. I know a guy who has quit two jobs in the past six months, I doubt anyone has questioned his spiritual health. I didn’t.

One of the traps of pastoral ministry is that getting out of it is very hard. The criticism you know you’ll receive for quitting looms, not just from the church but from your mom, your family and friends, and random strangers. I’ve been compared to Jonah several times.

And, to top it all off, many of these criticisms come from the very people you just sacrificed for, the same people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help, the same people who largely led the pastor to resigning in the first place!

In the end, whatever. People can say what they want. It doesn’t matter. If you’re a pastor long enough you know this. I will stand before the Lord with my decisions made inside and outside the church. I don’t think my eternal security is based upon how many years I survived pastoral ministry.

This is a heads up though to all pastors planning on leaving the ministry: this is what will be said about you. Enjoy! Take heart though, these same people were criticizing you in equally dumb ways while you were in the ministry! At least after this one you’ll never hear them again!

In the end, people’s criticisms matter none at all. In one way it’s kind of funny, waiting to hear all the above criticisms. They’ll come. You’ll hear em if you stick around to listen. Pastor Resignation BINGO!

But conclude with the Apostle Paul’s conclusion:

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
–1 Corinthians 4:2-5

How to be a Successful Failing Pastor

In my first year of pastoring I knew everything.

The church doubled in size and we had to add chairs to fit the crowd one Sunday.

People came to me for counseling.

I was someone!

Fortunately, all these things ended real quick.

It began when I realized I had no idea what I was preaching about. I was toeing the party line, going along with the church’s doctrine and slowly realized that it wasn’t entirely consistent with the Bible.

This put me in a conundrum. Here I thought I knew everything and all of a sudden I realized I didn’t know anything. Even I wasn’t buying my arguments for what I was preaching.

I began expressing in my sermons some of my doubts and questions about the standard doctrine. This caused people to get mad at me and leave the church.

As people leave, people who don’t know much assume others must know something, so then a leaving trend slowly begins. People stopped coming to me for counsel, look at how he shipwrecked the church, what can he possibly know?

There was a stretch of time when we didn’t break 20 people a Sunday for months. We didn’t even bother setting up all the chairs let alone adding more.

This was a brutal thing to live through. I can’t tell you how brutal it was on me. I was shattered in many ways. I wish I could tell you it all turned around once I learned the Magic Lesson that Unlocked the Church’s Potential, one I’ll sell to you for $49.95!

But no, the church never recovered.

But in hindsight I thank God it happened like this! If I had continued to preach the church’s established doctrine, which was in error, and the church continued to flourish, who knows where I’d have ended up.

People fear failure, but I gotta be honest, from what I’ve seen with pastors in churches, success seems to be as, or maybe even more damaging than failure.

Success goes to your head. Arrogance creates abuse, power trips, flippancy, gathering “yes men” who do your bidding, and all manner of weird stuff.

There are very few people equipped to handle success. I would not have been one of them.

In fairness, I sucked pretty bad at handling failure too! I’m perhaps equipped for mediocrity!

The Bible says a couple times that humility goes before glory. If your glory comes first, don’t be shocked when humility follows. Take heed you who stand, a fall might be coming.

Take heart failing pastors! Success might be the worst possible thing that could happen to you!