Emails from Failing Pastors to The Failing Pastor

Over my years of whining about being a pastor on the internet, many pastors have contacted me, either in an effort to comfort me, or share in the misery. Although I don’t have anyone’s permission, here are some snippets of emails I’ve received, perhaps some may be of encouragement to you, or at least let you know the pain is real and I’m not totally making stuff up.

“Just found your site. I am now on my third senior pastor position over the course of 34 years. Only 53, but I’m tired–fatigued–and the “all spent” feeling has largely defined my attitude/outlook for three or four years. Still I need to work to provide for my family. I feel guilty whenever I think of quitting. I’m afraid of losing the parts of ministry I deeply love. I don’t want my children to be influenced poorly should I give up. Yet, I dream of being free. Freedom to volunteer for what I want to do in the church. Freedom to travel and see family and natural wonders. Freedom to not worry how ends will meet this month. Freedom to not be on the board (non-stop for 32 years). Freedom to take longer than a week off at a time. Freedom to go on vacation and not receive messages and calls. Freedom to go home in the evening and not have church conflicts on my mind. Freedom to not be in the middle of disagreements (i.e. COVID, social justice stuff). Freedom to be a grump. Freedom from discouragement, disappointment, disillusionment. Freedom from wondering that maybe the failures are my fault and I really am a bad pastor, a boring preacher, a poor administrator, an uncaring person. Reading your blog was like reading my own journal if I had one (and assuming I had one, was honest enough to type this stuff).”
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“Just wanted to say how refreshing it is to hear someone say what you say. I thought I was the only one. At so many ministers’ conferences the one topic of conversation is: “How’s your church doing? Mine is doing great!” So I smile… but inside…
I think you and I were separated at birth.”


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“I’m a pastor of a church with a normal attendance of 70-80 people. I was planted out by a charismatic/prosperity focused church when I had only been following Jesus for six years. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Needless to say, planting a church from the ground up, with no formal training, a skewed view of the gospel, and an ever increasing anxiety that the church that I still report to is in so many ways not in line with scripture, has been both devastating and glorious. If not for the families who call this church their home, (many of which I’ve been honored to baptize) I would have walked away long ago. I’ve discovered His faithfulness in my fear, His peace in my anxiety. Yet the depression you blogged about is and has been a reality for me. I followed you on Twitter for your tongue and cheek comments. I realize I have no idea who you are or where you pastor. But, today I heard the encouragement of a brother who has walked some of the same paths with Jesus that I am. He will get us home. I just wanted to say thank you!”
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“Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your blog posts. Many of them have been a help and encouragement. I am the pastor of a small church. Me and my family go through/have gone through many of the things that you write about. However, God has consistently proven Himself to us, and we are able to say that His grace is sufficient. If we can ever be a blessing to you all, please let us know. Thank you for being a voice to encourage us small church pastors.
God Bless.”

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“In your blog, you said 50% of you wants to quit and 50% can’t imagine life without ministry… My fear is not quitting, but that I will coast/drone through the next 30+ years hardened, emptied of compassion, living my ministry the way many of my congregants live their faith.”
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“Hey, just have to say that your twitter feed is strangely encouraging to me. I say, “strangely” because some of the things you say are “awful” but perfectly state what I think but am afraid to say. It’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one! (I am pastoring a failing church plant in Brazil.)
I just have to ask, do I know you in real life? Some of the things you say seem so close to home, that I just have to wonder!”

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“After reading your comments about pastor conferences I felt a kindred spirit. I went to a conference once and there was this “Worship Group” (they sang, preached and had a couple of sketches). At the end, they said, “This is what you guys should be doing on a weekly basis at your church.” To be completely honest, it was very good. Great singers, great script. Wonderfully presented. It was about a professional as you could get. So after it was over, I met up with one of the people in leadership of that group and I asked if they’d be presenting another presentation? He said no, they’d been working on just this one presentation for about 6 months. WAIT A MINUTE!!!!! You just kicked my butt for not doing this every weekend and then you tell me you’ve been working on this one show for 6 months? You guys need to shut up and sit down because you have no credibility.
Thanks for letting me vent.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Failing Pastor on “Good Friday”

It’s Good Friday. This has always struck me as a really dumb name for this day. Christ was betrayed and crucified.

Yes, I’m fully aware that His death was a necessary component of the Gospel. Got it.

But this is the rejection of the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He came to His own and His own received Him not. This is heart breaking.

Our Christianity focuses way too much on the positive. I know the Gospel is “Good News.” Got it. But before the Good News comes the Bad News.

In all our discussing of the Gospel, never forget to emphasize just how awful we are. We killed the Lord of Glory.

People do not like God. They do not like anything that God likes. What man esteems is an abomination in the sight of God. We’re on completely different pages.

If you are approaching pastoral ministry thinking, “If I preach the Word, if I emphasize Christ, my church will grow.” You’re in for a surprise.

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The Failing Pastor’s Wife

I’m not talking about wives who fail at being pastors wives, I’m talking about my wife who is the wife of a failing pastor.

When we came to this church I told them my wife was not an employee. She should not be expected to do a bunch of stuff, and if you have something to tell me, tell me.

These parameters are not remembered by anyone, so it has to be demonstrated consistently. People don’t listen to words; they might eventually pick up on habits.

All the grandiose statements about “my wife is not an employee” are great and everything, but when no one else shows up to watch kids in the nursery, guess who watches kids in the nursery?

I think there were years where my wife heard maybe five of my messages because no one else would serve in the nursery. This was not good. Spare me the lectures about “Well, you need to make people do it, that’s not right.”

Yeah, ok, and who exactly are these people I want to entrust the care of other people’s children to? Not to mention that my wife felt bad making a mom who brought the kids stay in the nursery with the kids. What’s the point of going to church then?

My wife knows my theological brilliance anyway, she’ll just watch the kids. She’d rather give other people an “opportunity” to hear sermons than her.

But it still got old.

The nursery thing was annoying, but we’ve since taken care of that by not having any little kids in our church anymore. But perhaps the two biggest sacrifices she makes being married to a failing pastor are these:

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The Feeling of Failure because no one Listens

I look at God’s word and think, “Man, this is great! These are the words of life.”

When I preach God’s word, I fully expect everyone else to see how great His word is too. But usually people just ignore it, shuffle out the door, and go right back to the idiocy they were dong before.

I sit back and observe the lives around me, I see the beauty of God’s word, I see that the wrecked lives are not hearing God’s word. How can they not want more of this beautiful, life-giving word?

My only conclusion is: it must be me. I must be screwing it up. I must preach really badly. Maybe my life, my testimony, maybe I don’t demonstrate it enough.

I reflect on how I act and what I’ve done in front of these people who continually don’t hear God’s word, I can think of things I did in front of them that weren’t right. I can see my blame. And since I know God’s word is so perfect and beautiful, it can’t be His fault. It’s got to be me.

When people reject God’s word, it must be my fault. I’m to blame. It’s all me.

I feel this way quite often. There is some truth. I can’t deny I have a part in all this.

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Preaching Against Things Feels Good, but is it Good?

I like to put emotion in my preaching, not over the top, I’m not skipping and jumping and trying to stir up emotion. I just mean I want to have an emotional attachment to my subject.

Anytime I struggle to come up with another sermon idea (preaching three times a week for 20 years and not doing reruns causes this problem occasionally), my fallback is to talk about subjects I’m passionate about.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that “passion” usually means “disgust.” I generally revert to preaching about things I despise, doctrines that are wrong, and frequently I call out theologians, churches, and denominations that promote such things.

Now, this is fun and will allow you to write a quick sermon. The audience eats it up too. There are laughs and nodding of heads. Everyone leaves feeling good about themselves and their church.

But is this good? Is it good for people to leave church feeling better about US than we do about THEM? Does this foster love?

The longer I’m a pastor the less appealing this approach becomes to me. I still fall into it from time to time, old habits die hard, but I’m making a concerted effort to eliminate bashing on others in my preaching.

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What Pastoral Success Looks Like to the Failing Pastor

What would pastoral success look like to me?

I can sum it up simply by saying: when my church grows in the unity of the faith into the perfect man, Christ Jesus. I’d want to see Christlikeness in the people in my church. Not perfection, but a definite moving in that direction.

What would that look like?

People would show up, not just to church, but for each other. They would visit each other, provide needs for each other, fellowship on their own initiative, do acts of mercy and kindness for those outside the church, shepherd their own families, witness to their neighbors, and such like.

If these things were happening, I’d feel like I was succeeding at my job.

At the same time, it would probably never be enough to make me not feel like a failure. Christlikeness is a high standard. It is perfection. “Be perfect” is like a thing commanded in the New Testament.

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When Should a Pastor Quit?

My church gives me many reasons to quit. I don’t want to list them; it will just make me depressed and sound whiny. Just trust me; it does.

I have thought about quitting many times. Ask my wife, and she’s only heard a tiny fraction of them.

Many times the quitting-feeling is just self-pity. Things didn’t go as well as I wanted them too, that one person is doing “their thing” again, no one showed up again, another board member is acting weird again, and stuff like that. I get over these fairly quickly.

But there have been some dark times, times where all point and motivation were completely gone. I phoned it in for a while. No one noticed because no one was there, which didn’t help.

I once asked a pastor who makes a partial living telling other pastors how to be a pastor, when a pastor should admit defeat and move on.

“After five years is the standard principle,” was his answer. My mouth dropped.

“Five years? Wow, I could have quit my church four times!”

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Top Three Pastor Insults

Insulting pastors is a good source of entertainment for many. The amazing thing is how many feel the need to actually stand in front of the pastor to level the insults. The brazenness of it all is amazing.

There’s a person in my church who has sworn at me and called me more names than anyone else on the planet. It’s unreal. There’s something about being a pastor that causes people to have to go overboard with disagreements, to just blast you in the face. I wonder if it’s an attempt to see if they can get a sinful reaction out of me? I don’t know. Perhaps car mechanics and plumbers deal with the same stuff. I believe they probably do, I just wonder if they get the same frequency.

I’ve never sworn at a mechanic or a plumber or another employee of anywhere. I was a janitor for years and was frequently complained about, but never to my face, it was always to my boss. This pastor gig has opened my eyes to the hostility residing in many people.

Of all the insults I’ve gotten about being a pastor, there are a couple areas that seem to show up most frequently. Here they are and my responses to them.

1) Lack of work

“You only work one day a week”

“What else to you do for a living?”

“This isn’t your real job is it?”

“What do you do all week?”

I’ve gotten this one a lot. In some cases I can’t blame the question. What do I do all week? There are weeks I wonder the same thing. There’s no product produced, there’s no tangible proof that I did anything, so in some ways I have the same question!

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