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.

Ask The Failing Pastor: Should I Take a New Church?

When my dad was in seminary he worked at a grocery store. The manager of the store promised him a full-time job and promotion after he graduated.

Instead my dad took a little, rural church in Michigan. He spent four good years there developing life-long friendships. It was a great first church. He loved them and they loved him.

So, naturally, he left.

Years later (I was 7 when we moved from there) he told me he left because, and I quote, “the church couldn’t go anywhere.” In other words, it wasn’t going to grow as it was in a town of 300 people.

My dad took two other churches before he died about 15 years ago. He struggled mightily in those churches. He had some success and again made some lasting friends, but he was broken up by those churches.

Frequently he would say, “I should have stayed at the grocery store.” Or on other days, “I should have stayed in Michigan.”

I always felt bad for him that he left a good little church for the allure of the bigger church in a bigger city. Moving up to bigger was nothing but a headache for him.

My family and I think those churches caused his early death. We have no way of knowing if this is true. Churches aren’t known to give people cancer. But stress does things to a guy.

The grass is sometimes greener on the other side of the fence, but most of the time it’s brown weeds that looked green with the right lighting.

I saw the torture my dad went through taking new churches, so I stayed at one church for 21 years before I couldn’t take it anymore.  

My dad lasted in ministry longer than I did. I think my church was killing me too, although I have not yet gotten cancer.

The bottom line is this:

If you’re a pastor, should you move and take another church or stay in one place your entire ministry?

I have no idea. More than likely either way it will suck and either way it will have some fruit.

Do what you gotta do and don’t worry about it! No matter what you do, people will judge you and find fault with your decision.

Decide things before the Lord. Don’t blame your move on the Lord though, that would be my one piece of advice. All this, “the Lord is calling me to a bigger church” stuff is just guilt-ridden justification in my occasionally humble opinion.

Be firm in your decision. Don’t make excuses. Don’t lie. Tell the church why you’re leaving. Tell the new church why you’re coming, and not some innocuous, self-righteous blather either. Be truthful why you are quitting and why you are going where you’re going.

If you start off in a new church lying and justifying, you will reap that sowing.

At the end of the day, you probably should have stayed at the grocery store job.

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

Can Pastors Have Friends? I know they can have Enemies!

When I was a pastor there were about a dozen guys in my church over the years who treated me like a best friend, for some of them, I think I was their best friend, who later blew up at me, left, and never talked to me again.

We did stuff together. We talked. We laughed. We ate food.

There was a line as a pastor that I could never quite figure out: when was I a pastor and when was I a friend?

In some cases, being a pastor is being a professional friend. People pay you to be their friend. I know that sounds cynical and cold, but my personal experience along with my knowledge of other pastors’ experiences lets me know this is true.

What many of them viewed as friendship I viewed as my job. I wouldn’t have been hanging out with these guys under other circumstances.

Many of these guys expressed problems with me all along. They’d pick apart my sermons, they’d make judgments about my behavior, and find fault with any number of things I did and said. In only one of these cases did I ever go off on one of them as they did on me (I regret this. It wasn’t good).

I tried to exercise patience and forgiveness as that’s what I felt I was supposed to do. But no matter how much patience and forbearance I used with them, inevitably they got mad enough at me to leave the church.

The friendship was gone. The time together, the patience, all of it was thrown out because I did some obscure thing that set them off.

On one hand I get it, if I approached the friendship as my job, they probably picked up on that! I’m not an overly outgoing, social guy, I don’t make friends easily. They were only my friend because I was the pastor and they were my friends because I was their pastor.

I’ve heard it said that pastors can’t have friends. This isn’t true. I had true friends while I was a pastor and they remain friends even after I’m no longer their pastor.

Friendship with pastors breaks off because often there was no real friendship to begin with. They were using me, how spiritual it makes one feel to be friends with a pastor! If the pastor likes me, certainly God does. And I viewed many of these relationships as duty. They weren’t going to last.

On top of that, people leave churches. If you have a friendship with the pastor and you don’t want to go to church anymore, you have to find some ridiculous problem with the pastor so you can blow up at him and get gone.

It took me a while to figure this out, but often this explosion to end the friendship had very little to do with me. I wasn’t perfect, but clearly I didn’t do anything deserving this treatment.

One inside tip: Many men take out their anger at their dads on pastors. I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. The guys who’ve had the worst relationships with their dads were the most explosively rude in their expression of dislike toward me. There’s other stuff going on; it’s not all you.

Another factor is that people are fickle. When the apostle Paul did a miracle the crowd thought he was a god, then they changed their mind and wanted to stone him. Jesus was hailed as the coming king in what has been called “The Triumphal Entry,” only to be crucified by the same mob at the end of the week.

This isn’t a Church Thing. Christians have no monopoly on fickleness. Observe the Cancel Culture overspreading our society. Famous people that no one had a problem with, accidentally say something slightly off from what the crowd wants to hear and that person is cancelled. Off with their heads.

People are weird. We just are. We get tired. We want change. True friendship requires forgiveness and patience. Those things are hard. People carry religious baggage into the church, who knows how that will work itself out over time. Not well, usually.

Jesus Christ said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”

You can’t be everyone’s friend. You’ll destroy yourself trying.

What you can do is do your best to love people, be patient, forgiving, and forbearing. But also know that at any time for any odd reason they can turn on you. It’s terrible to go into a relationship thinking, “I wonder when this guy will turn on me.” But for the pastor, you’re going to end up thinking that anyway!

God knows our frame, He knows we are dust. We can truly wonder “what is man, that God is mindful of him?” Why does He care for us knowing full well we will be His enemy many times?

Love. God is love. This is part of the job for God.

Even after these guys got mad and disrespected me and ran off, I still love em. I can’t help it. I care about them. I’d still help them today. Well, ok, there’s a couple I’d be happy to never see again, but still, I’d do my best!

It’s part of the job of being a Christian—love your enemies. What praise is there if you love those who love you?

Loving people is part of the job and don’t be surprised if you get fired! Happens to God every day and He’s doing love perfectly.

How Can I Encourage My Pastor?

Since announcing my resignation from pastoral ministry, several people have asked me “how can I encourage my pastor?”

It’s cool to be asked this. Every pastor is different, no doubt, but here are my thoughts on the subject.

  1. Nothing really
    I mean, seriously, any pastor worth their salt is serving the Lord Jesus Christ. If the pastor’s ultimate encouragement does not come from Christ, then things will not turn out well! Pastors need to learn not to be dependent on people for encouragement. Easier said than done. At the same time pastors need to find out how to not be discouraged by people. I found this impossible. I’m of the temperament that will find reason to be discouraged no matter what. So, this is the annoying part of the answer: not much really. Much of being encouraged is up to the pastor.
  1. Grow in Christ
    The people who encouraged me most all had one thing in common: they were massively concerned about their spiritual health and growth. Nothing makes me feel better about my ministry than seeing that some people grew in Christ. Words aren’t enough, I don’t want to hear people tell me they grew; growth is evident if it happens. You will know them by their fruit.
    The people most effusive in their praise of me after I resigned were people I never saw grow; they were, in fact, people I rarely saw! Many of them were heading the opposite direction. They knew that. They felt guilty, which is why they were effusive with praise! Nice words don’t cut it. True life-changing growth is the best, because not only do they grow, they help others grow.
  1. Money
    This probably isn’t true for all pastors since many churches are businesses and raking in big money. But for small town, small church pastors, man a little cash is helpful. There were years I had literally no money. I had a wife and three little kids and no money left. This was great for me in growing my faith and showing me the Lord’s provision, but there were also sleepless nights and inner tension while those lessons were learned. A little extra gift here and there was fantastic. Financially support the church as well. Take an interest in the ministries and missionaries your church’s money goes to. Actually know where the money goes and perhaps this will help you be more generous. Be invested.
  1. A personal touch
    Get to know what your pastor likes. Show some true interest in the PERSON, not the image of a pastor. Stained glass crosses or pictures of Jesus smiling over children are given by people who don’t know their pastor. Not one pastor in all the earth wants more of these things! It’s a generic gift to shut up the pastor who they know nothing about. Give me some ice cream, or my favorite candy bar, or a gift certificate to a steak restaurant. Get to know your pastor, get things that you’d get for a friend because you actually know and care about this PERSON.
  2. Show up
    Don’t lie. Don’t make stupid excuses. Show up to church stuff. Nothing more depressing than working on great content for sermons or putting in time to plan events and then having two people show up. Heart breaking. Show up. People skip church for just about everything. It was nice to hear someone skipped something else to be at church! Rarely happened, but it was cool when it did. Sacrifice to be there.

These are some ideas. The basic point though is: Grow in Christ. People who grow in Christ show love to their pastor. They show up to church. They edify others. They don’t lie and make excuses. They give generously. They are understanding and gracious and aren’t going to get upset about irrelevant things.

Grow in Christ. There is nothing more pastors want from the people under their care.

The #1 Best Thing About Not Being a Pastor Anymore

Pastors evoke guilt wherever they go. Simply being in front of people makes them spew forth guilt-ridden justifications, excuses, and lies to cover their inadequacies your presence pulls up in their head.

Oh, I hated this.

I resigned from pastoring a while ago now. One of the best results of this is that I have not heard one person give me a stupid excuse why they weren’t at church!

Excuses annoyed me to no end.

After church on Sundays, my family often stopped at the local Wal-Mart or grocery store to pick up a couple things while in town. Inevitably we would see someone who skipped church. Guilt exuded from their pores.

All I said was, “Hi.” Then, for five minutes I’d hear their reasons for skipping church and how they did devotions today and they’ll be sure to watch that one preacher on TV their aunt likes. Dude, I just wanted some bread. Just running in to grab it and get going.

I tried not to guilt people to attend church. I figured if they want to be there; they’d be there. If they don’t want to be there, the church is probably better off without their bad attitude.

That was my reasoning. Probably I was just chicken to confront people.

If people skipped two weeks in a row I’d check in on them. My heart always sank when people skipped a couple weeks in a row. I hated making that call. Who knows what I’d hear.

Worst case scenario is they’d left the church and were ticked off at me. Best case scenario I’d have to listen to completely lame excuses and justifications, otherwise known as “lies,” about why they weren’t there.

There were always a couple people who refreshingly said, “Yeah, I just didn’t feel like going.” I appreciated the honesty. I’d take that over made up health concerns or blaming it on the same weather everyone else had.

Speaking of weather; bad weather on a Sunday is a great way to tell who’s playing and who’s for real. There are exceptions. In Northern Wisconsin we can have pretty bad weather. But the people who consider bad weather to be moist roads or anything below 47 when it’s cloudy or 35 when it’s sunny, are fake.

I was rarely shocked at who completely tanked spiritually or who flaked out on their faith. I knew this simply by watching what level of weather kept them from church. Bad weather on Sunday is a good barometer of how well people will handle persecution!

Simply seeing their pastor makes people feel guilty and guilt makes people be weird. I don’t miss that at all. It’s a true source of joy for me!