How Can I Get Out of Pastoral Ministry?

About once a week I receive a message from a pastor who found my Failing Pastor blog or Twitter account who is discouraged and wants to know how to get out of ministry.

This is cool and sad.

I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for over a year now. I don’t get much material for Twitter or the blog anymore. It’s crossed my mind to quit many times. But the private messages I get from hurting pastors keeps me doing it.

I remember so well the loneliness I felt as a failing pastor. Nothing I did mattered or seemed to help. The surrounding apathy was sucking the life out of me. But I didn’t know what other job I could do.

Several times a year I hit the depths of quitting depression. I sent out resumes to teach for Christian schools. I even sent a few for janitorial positions. All my education and experience was in and for church. The exit seemed impossible.

I didn’t want to move to another church. I’d just have to start the battle all over. Stabbed in the back for brand new reasons by brand new people. Step in issues I didn’t know about all over again. No thanks.

I figured my only true out would be going into business. Doing something I was entirely in charge of. I didn’t need a fancy resume or have to meet any qualifications.

I’ve always liked books. I began buying and selling books. For about three years my wife and I talked about having a bookstore. I researched bookstores, interviewed bookstore owners, and learned more about the book business while selling books online.

My hope was to hang on until our last kid graduated from high school. All the kids would be out of the house, expenses would lower, and we’d be free to try it out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang on that long. A very frustrating time hit and I lost all joy and hope and motivation. I had to get out. If I stayed in longer I’d hurt someone.

Also during this time my mom was dying and she was not handling it well. I was stressed from both things. I resigned on a Sunday. Took my Mom into the hospital on that Tuesday and two weeks later she died. Things went so quickly and dramatically, I never even told her I resigned from being a pastor.

We opened our bookstore about three months ago and are completely thrilled with the decision and how things have worked out.

Pastors ask me all the time “How do you make money now? I’d quit in a heartbeat if I could make money some other way.” This is what I did. It’s probably not what you should do. I have no idea.

I know the pain and the anguish and I feel for you. I do. I get it so much. All I can suggest is that you work on an alternative plan while still pastoring. This is especially true if you have a family. Your decision affects other people.

At the same time, I got to the point where I had to scrap my plan because I was done. Like, legit done. I felt something shift in me. I had to get out. You might be there too. In that case, you go on faith that the Lord will help you out.

We are in an economy right now where everyone is looking for good help. I know it might be embarrassing to get the job at Home Depot, but hey, it’s better to do that than to disparage the ministry with a bad attitude. Take a grunt job for a while and work on an alternate plan.

I don’t know. I feel unqualified to give advice really. All I can do is tell you what I did. I know several pastors who went into business as an avenue out of ministry. It’s scary, but also a fascinating learning experience. Many pastoral functions are good preparation for going into business: dealing with people, operating budgets, filling out forms/office work, etc.

As an added bonus: I have received more encouragement and compliments in the last three months in our bookstore than I did in 21 years of being a pastor! That’s kind of nice! I know it’s not everything and it’s really not all that important, but when you get beat up for so long, it is nice to be appreciated!

Anyway, I feel for you if you feel stuck in your pastoral job. You’ll get criticized and judged by other pastors and anyone else you share your feelings with. It’s a bummer and part of what makes pastoral depression even worse.

I don’t judge. I know what it’s like. It’s tough. Life is bigger than ministry. Do the right thing before the Lord and I am convinced He will take care of you. Make the right call for you before Him. Hang in there. Fight the fight.

Problems of a People Pleasing Pastor

I think most pastors think they are doing pastoring the right way. Many even think they are doing it biblically.

Perhaps some are, but I think the major influence on how a guy pastors is simply personality. I come from a people-pleasing family. Serving people and being empathetic is what we do. We feel things for people and do what we can to help. This all sounds good and there are many verses that say we should do such things.

However, most of my empathy, care, and service was done out of fear. People pleasers are afraid of rejection, among other things. Much of my service was not done out of spiritual conviction but out of fleshly fear. This was especially true when my church began to shrink and I wasn’t getting paid much. I couldn’t afford more people to leave.

I would say my family and I were on the extreme end of people pleasers. My dad was probably the most people pleasery person ever. I was never as bad as he was. People liked him as their pastor, but he also attracted bullies. Bullies identify weak people and take advantage of them. I was pretty successful at attracting them too!

Both my dad and I did a lot of good for a lot of people, yet we also have long lists of people who took advantage of us, people who trampled on us and we were not always able to stand up for ourselves. We can justify it as Christlikeness; in reality it was simply fear.

Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum. Those who are oblivious to other people’s feelings. They don’t mind fighting and arguing. They are confident in who they are and what they believe and kind of don’t respect anyone but their own brilliant selves. They are sometimes known as Calvinists. I tease, I tease. Sort of.

These are the pastors who when I express my frustrations and failures as a pastor tell me I wasn’t called to ministry. They don’t empathize at all; they simply pile on and tell me how utterly awful I am. They are right to the extent that I was wrong, but they go too far. They don’t understand that the reason they don’t have the same experiences as a pastor as I do is because they are oblivious to all the things that make people with my personality miserable. I felt them too much; they feel them none at all. Both are problematic.

(One way to tell which end of the spectrum you are on is this: when someone argues with you do you enjoy it and it makes your day, or do you get tight and can feel your pulse in your eyes?!)

I think the best pastor is a combination of both, knowing when to please and when not to. Paul said if he yet pleased me he would not be the servant of Christ. The same Paul also said he became all things to all men so that by all means he might save some. That’s the balance.

I was unable to hit it. Most of my inability was wired into me. I was raised to fear people, although I have gotten better. Yes, I did lots of nice things and took many shots without responding and served. But I also resented the people I had to serve, especially if there was no reciprocation. That’s what people pleasers do. We please people with the assumption they will please us back. If I visit this person they will come to church. They don’t. I get bitter.

The non-people pleaser doesn’t get this at all. Their response to that paragraph is “yup, you are one sick person. Never should have been a pastor, that’s for sure.” Pause for a second though. Perhaps your response is a sign that you are too far the other way. You don’t weep with those who weep, you belittle those who weep.

A good pastor would have balance. They know how to serve out of love, out of Christlike compassion, yet also know how to confront and speak truth. I could and did speak truth, but felt awful about it for days afterward. Sick to my stomach at times when people had problems with what I said. Was that right? I don’t know. I know I cared deeply about people hearing the Gospel.

I don’t yet know the answer to either side of the spectrum. How does a pastor reach the right balance? I don’t know, that’s why I resigned! But I also know, after a year and a half out of ministry, where my problems came from. I’m still seeking to address this issue in my personality and in my faith even if I never pastor again. I want to do things right. I want to fix what is wrong and make progress.

In the end, the fact that you do pastoring a certain way and it feels good or “works,” or it feels terrible and “doesn’t work,” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. God’s opinion on the matter is what counts. I’ve learned that my personality dictated much of what I did as a pastor. This wasn’t always good and was sometimes terrible. We’re all in this together, aint none of us perfect. There is hope though! Growth is always out there for us to go for. Keep going for it.

Where I Was Edified as a Pastor (it Wasn’t Church)

I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for a good year and a half. And it has definitely been a good year!

One of the main reasons I resigned was that I was not edified at church. Church was a drain on me. I never left church services edified. Furthermore, I felt my edifying effects on others were diminishing. I don’t know if that part is true or not, it might just be self-loathing, it seemed like it. God will judge.

But I do know I was not being edified at church.

This was in large part due to being born in a pastor’s family. Church was another family member, often one that took precedence over the rest of the family members. It ruined my dad. I hated watching him get beat up by church people.

I had a bad attitude about church before I even began as a pastor. Being a pastor myself, getting beat up by church people for 21 years, did not help my bad attitude. It was time to get out.

I have been attending another church over the last good year and a half and have been edified and encouraged, built up and strengthened. And this is good.

In thinking back over the 21 years of non-edifying pastoral work, my faith still did ok. I personally was growing; it just wasn’t due to being built up by the local body of believers.

Not that there weren’t a few people who edified me, there were, but church as a meeting was not edifying. The place where I got the most edification was in my study.

In my study I read the Bible over 40 times cover to cover. I memorized Romans and Galatians. I read hundreds of theology books. I prayed and wept. I studied, wrote, and preached to walls. My study was my place of edification. Church was a place of draining out what I gained in my study.

The fact we call it the “pastor’s office” now instead of the “pastor’s study” says volumes. We’ve lost our focus. We’re running businesses rather than searching the Scriptures daily.

I will always appreciate the dead guys who wrote great books, even the dead guys who wrote not so great books that got me ticked off so I would look things up. I appreciate the living guys who wrote a few books as well, and also many sermons I listened to.

I grew and learned. I prayed and contemplated how to incorporate my knowledge into loving action. Some brutal hours were spent alone in my study, curled up on the floor weeping over broken lives. Some rapturous hours were spent too, glorying in the truth of God’s Word and the beauty of His wisdom, creation, and Gospel.

Tremendous.

Pastors, please develop the habit of being alone with the Lord, alone with the Bible, contemplating, meditating on it, and putting it into action in your own life. Even if all your church does is suck the life out of you, have a study that builds you up. I would not have lasted 21 years as a pastor without an edifying study.

Be alone with the Word, both the physical book and the risen Savior Jesus Christ. When the people take and take, have done the work that enables you to give and give.

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.

What I Miss and Don’t Miss About Being a Pastor

2021 was the first year I wasn’t a pastor since 1999. It was a good year. Here are the things I enjoyed the most about not being a pastor:

–I never spent a Sunday afternoon worried why someone wasn’t at church.

–I was not concerned with how many people were at church and I never once took it personally when hardly anyone showed up.

–I loved attending church and having no official responsibility for anything.

–Often I would enter church and just go sit down. I didn’t have to schmooze, or talk about all the problems people had with my sermon, or feel awkward when they bring up their weird political points in the hearing of someone else with opposite political points and the ensuing argument I’d have to referee. Lovely.

–Hardly anyone told me about their health problems. I am so grateful I don’t have to know all the details of old ladies’ bowel movements anymore. I can’t express to you how thankful I am for this.

–No one emails, calls, texts, Facebook messengers me with stupid excuses why they weren’t at church.

–I could go to the store after church on Sundays and not run into people who skipped church who would then get all weird and guilty-defensive around me.

–When people ask me what I do for a living I don’t say “pastor” anymore, which is great because people always got weird when they found that out.

Those were the things I was glad to not have to do anymore. But there were things I missed:

–No one calls me with theological questions anymore. It’s like once you’re not a pastor you forget knowing the Bible I guess.

–Preaching is gone. I loved preaching and studying. I miss preaching and studying.

–I miss getting paid.

–There were many confidential issues people would bring to me, a closeness and a desire to help, which again, now that I’m not an official pastor, people don’t think I can help anymore.

–As awkward as weddings, funerals, and hospital and death bed visits were, it was also nice to be in those personal moments with people. Those things developed friendships and closeness, a unity that is now missing. I’m not called anymore to comfort and console.

That’s about it. The things I miss, I miss much less than the things I don’t miss. I’m glad I got out when I did. Will I ever get back in? It’s possible, but it’d have to be the right situation at the right time in the right place and I have no idea how any of that would be determined.

I was always curious what life would look like outside of pastoral ministry. I’m pleased with it. I still go to church several times a week. I still read the Bible. I still check in with people. We still have people over to the house.

It’s pretty much the same minus all the unbelievably annoying aspects of pastoral ministry. I’m grateful for that. I’ve already gotten opportunities to preach and teach at our new church, so that’s been enjoyable.

So, it’s worked out well. Thanks for reading.

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.

It’s Been a Year Since I Resigned from Being a Pastor.

It’s been a year and a month since I resigned from being a pastor.

I wasn’t sure how I would do outside “the ministry” since I’ve been doing it since leaving seminary in 1999.

I gotta be honest: I’m doing just fine!

I had questions about what I would do if I weren’t a pastor: Would I still go to church? Would I be able to listen to sermons? Will I love people and serve them now that I don’t get paid to do so? How will I make money?

I’m still working on that last one. We’re doing fine, haven’t exhausted our options, but it is challenging.

I do go to church. I even go to Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. Thank you. From being a pastor I have seen how important church attendance and being part of a body of believers is to spiritual growth. Bad things happen to people when they isolate themselves from Christian fellowship. I need church.

I can listen to sermons. Yeah, it’s tough sometimes. I would have said things differently. My style is what I enjoy listening to and not everyone has my style, but that’s my problem. My style isn’t the only one. I also know how it feels to preach and get responses. I’ve relaxed tremendously.

Pretty sure I still love people and serve. I don’t get as many opportunities now that I’m not a pastor. It’s one of the things I miss. People used to call me for help. Now no one calls me for any reason. But I still make myself available and look for opportunities. The new church I’m a part of is still learning who I am and I’m still learning who they are. It takes me awhile to make friends (see my 21 years of being a pastor for why that is). But we’re warming up. I have a desire to be helpful.

It has been my honor and privilege to preach a handful of times this past year when our pastor had a medical condition that sidelined him. That was cool for me. I got to preach and didn’t have to worry about all the pastoral angles in play! That was fun. Almost too fun, but I think I kept myself in check!

The church I resigned from has done some things that have confirmed my decision to leave, which was nice, if not disappointing. I’m still in contact with some of them and continue our friendships.

All in all, life goes on as does my faith. It’s nice to know my faith continues while not being a pastor. I figured that was the case but sometimes a guy gets to wondering! It’s even crossed my mind that I could be a pastor again. Wasn’t sure that would happen! Somewhat shocking to me and somewhat disappointing to my wife.

Going into this new church and my new role in it, I’ve tried to be more positive in my head. I have a negative, pessimistic bent and it did not help my pastoral career. I want to battle that and be in this church better. Forget those things that are behind and press forward.

That being said, my whole shtick here on The Failing Pastor is to be pessimistic and negative. That’s how my humor works. So I’m debating what to do with this stuff. From the feedback I’ve received, several pastors find my experiences helpful. I hope that is the case. I want to help.

I also want to be more positive about church and the pastor role. It’s easier doing that when I’m not in it! But it’s also not as funny to me! I will survive.

So, that’s what’s been going on. Thanks for reading. I’m honored that you’re interested!

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