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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The Pastor and Sin

Pastors sin. This may shock some and be unbelievably obvious to others. I don’t know. People are weird when it comes to pastors.

Perhaps I should more accurately say, “This pastor sins.” Perhaps there are some pastors out there who don’t. I don’t know every single pastor in the world. Perhaps there are some. In fact, maybe I’m in the minority.

The way many pastors act and talk, they certainly want you to believe they don’t sin. They preach in such a way that everyone knows the preacher is high above them in spiritual stature. They give the impression that sin is something you little people deal with.

There are also people who hold pastors on a pedestal and can’t imagine a pastor ever doing anything wrong, and, if a pastor does sin, they should resign immediately. God forbid they catch you sinning. There are many church attenders who feel it is their duty to keep the pastor judged and potentially fired.

Although I risk starting a fight, I really don’t get the pastors who use the title “Reverend.” I could never use such a title. Reverend literally means “one deserving of reverence.” Reverence means “worthy of awe and respect.”

Now, I do think a pastor should behave in a way that produces respect, and I don’t mind if people respect a pastor, but to have the nerve to call yourself worthy of respect? That takes balls right there.

I said “balls.” There are some who would take that as a sin. I have just shot to pieces my statement earlier that pastors should act in a way that produces respect.

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My 10 Steps to Pastoral Depression

There’s a lake near my house where I go when I’m down to talk things over with the Lord. I pace up and down the dock, sometimes just stand and stare, but all the while praying for help.

I’ve been there many times. I’ve wept there more than any other place. One afternoon in a state of despair, my head thought, “I could just jump in the water and never come back up.” Before that thought scared me, it seemed rather attractive.

Pastoral depression is a thing. Actually, depression is a thing, doesn’t matter what your job is. Pastoral depression is like any other depression, it’s just more shocking because pastors are supposed to have everything together and know Jesus so well. “Knowing Jesus” in American Christianity is supposed to look happy.

Best life now, don’t ya know.

Depression, in some ways, is no big deal. We live in a culture that over-values happiness and anyone not sufficiently happy is deemed to have “issues.” Moses, Elijah, and Job all asked God to kill them. Paul said he desired to depart. Jesus asked “How much longer must I be with this faithless generation?”

Ministry is tough. It’s ok to acknowledge that. But if a pastor admits his struggles, he merely sets himself up for a lecture. “You gotta have faith, man. All things work together for good.”

Pastors spend all week listening to people complain, yet if the pastor dares complain one time, lectures fly. So now the depression is doubled. The pastor has the initial problem and now the pastor is told repeatedly not to be sad about anything. The pastor has no one to talk to.

The steps to my pastoral depression descend like this:

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Dealing With People Who Sleep in Church

Pastors, next time you feel your sermons are too boring, remember: The Apostle Paul once preached someone to death.
@FailingPastor

 

God bless Eutychus. Acts 20 says that Paul was preaching late into the night and dear Eutychus couldn’t take it anymore. He even moved to the window. I’m guessing he did this as a strategy to stay awake.

But even sitting at the window didn’t work. He zonked off and out he fell. Paul raises him from the dead, and then, get this, it says Paul then “talked until morning!” I love this!

Paul bores someone to death, raises him up, and then keeps on preaching for more hours!

Thank God this passage is in the Bible.

Do you know how many pastors over the years of Church History have put people to sleep and yet remained confident to keep going because Acts 20 is in the Bible?

Eutychus probably had an excuse. He probably worked long hours, or walked a long ways to get there. I do think he moved to the window in an effort to keep awake. The spirit was willing, the flesh was exhausted.

I give him the benefit of the doubt. I do this because many people have fallen asleep on me while I was talking. Most of these people work long and late hours. One guy worked a moving shift of crazy hours and often just got done with work before coming to church after working all night. He could have just gone home, but he made the effort to be there.

People are busy and here’s the other thing: I’m not always that exciting.

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How to be a Sane Failing Pastor, Which Should be Your Pastoral Goal

“Their church is doing great. They just built a second building.”

–What people base church success on and why so many pastors feel like failures.
@FailingPastor

 

One of the main sources of pastoral depression, and all other forms of depression, is comparison.

“Comparison steals contentment” is the old quote you hear in various forms. There is truth there.

Most comparison is based on what you see. Being the pastor of a small church with a pathetic building situation is depressing on many levels.

People in your church will frequently demand the impossible from the group and make fun of its small size. It develops a complex as everyone feels a little foolish in our little group. People visit the church and then never come back, making the whole group feel rejected, embarrassed, and a tad defensive.

People from other churches constantly tell you how great their church is. How many got saved. How many attend. How much their new building project costs. The new exciting programs your church could never afford that they started and won their whole city to Christ.

Pastors are constantly given advice from “more successful” pastors (and there will always be a more successful pastor) about how to do things and “here’s your problem.” If we could all just be as cool as those cool guys in their cool churches.

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