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!

Spiritual Growth and Bamboo Tree Illustrations

There’s a new sermon illustration going around, I’ve heard it several times in the last couple weeks. Whenever too good to be true illustrations get popular, I get skeptical. I do this weird thing called “Googling it.”

The illustration goes like this:

When you plant a Chinese bamboo tree, you need to water it, nurture it, and fertilize it every day. But nothing happens the first year. You do the same thing the next year, and still nothing happens. That’s right, you see no results for 4 long years!

You’re waiting for results, not seeing any evidence of progress. But then what happens on the fifth year is just awesome. One morning you wake up and see a small bamboo sprig, then the next day an even bigger one and in 5 weeks it has grown up to 90 ft.

The application is obvious: you read your Bible, pray, and go to church. Nothing happens. Still a sinner. Still a pathetic, nominal Christian. But shazam! After four years of no results, one year you will produce so much spiritual fruit you’ll smell like strawberries.

Couple problems with this:

1) Technical gardening people will tell you that there is no such thing as a bamboo tree. They are technically grass, therefore their growing process is completely different from a tree.

2) It is not true that you see no growth for four years, it grows and you can see it grow. Yes, eventually it can grow fast, not 90 feet in five weeks out of nothing fast though.

3) It’s probably also not true that it needs to be nurtured and fertilized every day. Bamboo trees grow in the wild without any effort from anyone at all.

4) This illustration is nothing more than happy thoughts for people who aren’t growing spiritually. “Well, I might be getting pathetic results, but Bamboo Tree Guy said I can be pathetic for years and then, shazam, I will grow fruit out my ears.”

Look, if you’re not growing spiritually, you’re doing something wrong, There’s no magic moment when all of a sudden you sprout out of nowhere.

The Bible consistently says we grow as babies into mature sons. Nowhere does it say we grow like bamboo trees. Paul told Timothy his progress should be evident before people in the church. You can see it. It happens gradually, like a baby turning into a grown adult.

Don’t use stupid illustrations. Look stuff up. Google makes verifying things really easy. Using wrong illustrations gives the impression that you’re lazy and copying your sermons from the internet.

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).”
___________________________

“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.”


_________________________

“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!”
____________________

“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.”

_____________________

“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.”
_____________________

“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!”

__________________________

“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.

________________________________

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

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

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

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

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.

Continue reading “The Failing Pastor on “Good Friday””

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:

Continue reading “The Failing Pastor’s Wife”

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.

Continue reading “The Feeling of Failure because no one Listens”

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.

Continue reading “Preaching Against Things Feels Good, but is it Good?”