How to Fix the Church

Yesterday my wife and I were walking our dog, minding our own business, and gossiping about the latest goings on in our lives, when another couple walked toward us with their dog.

As is the custom, dogs must meet, so we stopped and chatted. They were up at their lake cabin for the week. Within minutes we discovered that we had both been pastors. He had been in for 17 years.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I had to get out for the safety and wellbeing of my family.”

We commiserated a little. I told him I had made it 21 years.

“Wow, 21 years is a long time. I’m amazed you made it that long.”

“Yeah, me too.”

This sort of thing happens quite a bit. I meet pastors and the majority shares this story: it was brutal, I had to get out for my own spiritual health, and it was messing with our family.

This couple said their kids both left the church because Christians were such nasty people. They seemed like nice, sincere people who honestly tried to help the church and yet received crap for their efforts.

What’s going on out there that this is the majority experience of pastors?

The response you get from Christians is that it’s the pastors’ faults. The response I get from pastors is that it’s the churches’ faults.

It’s time to stop blaming sides and instead have the body itself work to fix things.

For the church to function it takes all believers, all members of the body, to do their part (Ephesians 4). This is not how the typical church works. Most people just show up and find fault with everything to justify all the times they don’t show up.

The whiniest, most argumentative people in my church over 21 years were always the ones who did the least. Conversely, those who were the most involved rarely criticized at all, and when they did their criticisms were constructive.

There should be a rule: before you criticize the church you must have served faithfully in it for 5 years! I know that’s unreasonable, but the point remains.

For the most part, I ignored the fault finding and arguing of people who didn’t do anything. They were typically wrong anyway, as the best way to know what’s going on in a church is to actually be there and be involved.

The more people involved in a church the less likely it is that the pastor’s faults can hurt people, the less likely a person can just have a problem with the pastor, and the less likely the pastor is hanging out there on his own with no one faithfully standing by.

The loneliness of it is what got me. Just standing by myself taking shots because no one else cared. I was the one who did everything; therefore I was the one who got criticized for everything.

“That’s what we pay you for,” was the flippant response. If anything goes wrong, the church knows who to blame. It’s a brutal place to be in. It ruins people.

People who do the least in church feel guilty about it, and to assuage their guilt, they find fault with what was done. It’s human nature, the church has no monopoly on this.

But it breaks the heart of the pastor. The church should be different. Get involved in your church. If you can’t or won’t, at least shut up. This would help everyone tremendously.

Why Have so Many Pastors Been Resigning Lately?

I have seen a couple statistics that a lot of pastors have resigned in the past year. I don’t know whether the numbers are true or not, is it really more than usual?

Whether it’s true or not, I am one of the pastors who resigned. I can at least tell you my reasons for doing so. Here are some of the current contributing factors that make the pastorate something to resign from!

  1. Material Prosperity
    There has been a time of prosperity over the last ten years or so in America and the church and Christians got carried along with it. New churches sprang up and older churches built bigger barns. This is a giant underlying issue that is the root cause of many of the following reasons.
  1. Lack of Disciples
    Actual godly Christians are few and far between. Our Church Growth techniques have worked, but what you attract them with, you keep them with. The modern church, although appearing to be huge, has about 33 actual godly Christians. Slight exaggeration, but essentially true! There’s lots of noise and activity along with very little edification and spiritual growth. The modern church looks big and impressive, but it is hollow. It is a giant loaf of bread with lots of leaveny air pockets and very little dough.
  1. Church Now Exists to Entertain
    It is unbelievably hard to be a pastor attempting to make disciples and preach the Word in season and out while people leave your church to go places that offer more polished music and kid’s programs. All the hip pastors who will take moral tumbles at some point in the near future, do quite well before the moral failings do them in. Read Jeremiah or Ezekiel to know what this feels like. The consistent preaching of the Word is mocked and rejected while false prophets claiming “Peace, peace” when there is no peace, attract the crowds. The people you’ve sacrificed for in an effort to edify them leave for these pleasure palaces of churches, sucking the joy and life right out of ministry.
  1. “Busy” People
    While the 33 godly Christians go to church, all the other people are out being “busy.” Pastors hear people say they are “busy” approximately 754 times a week. It’s probably true too: worldly people are indeed busy in the world. When everything the church offers is rejected because people need to hunt, fish, work, attend youth sports, go on vacation, or skip church for various other “busy” reasons, it creates massive depression. At the same time, people joke about binge watching Netflix. How come so many can binge watch Netflix while being too busy to go to church? Odd.
  1. Pandemics
    The Covid pandemic and subsequent response to it has caused people to skip church for “health reasons.” Some of this is legitimate and is not condemned in those cases. However, the amount of people who can’t go to church for “health reasons” who post photos of what they did with their friends all weekend was/is quite large. The excitement in people’s voices when they actually had a legitimate reason to skip church was nauseating. I can attest that the people who skipped church for Covid were largely the same group who skipped it the year before because they were “busy.” Their Facebook profile lets me know they are still busy, just happy to have a legit sounding excuse now.
  1. Financial Freedom
    Perhaps another issue, and this one might hurt a little, is that everyone seems to have money coming out their ears right now. The government is handing out money like candy on Halloween. There have always been pastors itching to get out of ministry (for many of these stated reasons) but couldn’t afford it. Perhaps our stimulus money and extended unemployment allowed many pastors to finally take that leap.
  2. Politics
    Churches are dependent on money to a frightening extent in our day. Churches have built large buildings and support impressive shows, er, church services. These things cost money. Churches need rich people. This forces the church and their rich people to be mindful of earthly things like politics, which increasingly controls everything. We need lower taxes on one side and we need the government to provide living wages on the other side. Fights ensue. The amount of time I listened to church members argue politics before and after church would make you think politics was our main focus at church. Politics has overtaken the church. This does not create a proper environment for edification.
  3. Pandemic Decisions
    To mask or not to mask was THE question and was a recipe for fighting, division, and skipping church. Pastors get sick and tired of making decisions that will guarantee half the church will be mad and leave no matter what is decided. Everyone knows what is best for the church to do and everyone has a different opinion. You hate people if you mask; you hate people if you don’t. You hate God if you cancel church; you hate God if you don’t cancel church. Everyone’s an expert. I got to the point where I felt, “Fine, you people know everything; go for it. I don’t need this.” And I didn’t.
  4. Disrespect
    America has always been disrespectful to authority and this trend has gotten worse. The past couple years the disrespect of politicians, police, and various other authorities has been on full violent display. People take this same attitude toward pastors. Unless you are an extrovert, people-pleasing pastor acting like everyone’s best friend and you never take a stand on anything, churches view you as their own private punching bag. I have been shocked at some of the stuff people have said and done to me over the years. Although any one single incident bothers me very little, over the course of 20 years, it does get old. It’s just unnecessary and unhelpful.
  5. Pastoral Futility
    People are largely not in the church for spiritual reasons. It’s just another part of the world for most. The world’s junk is brought in and defeats the entire purpose for meeting as a church. The main reason I resigned is because what’s the point? Everything I was doing seemed futile, misunderstood, and easily rejected by the people I was doing it for. It leaves a guy feeling like there’s no reason to continue. Why bother, no one’s listening anyway? The Word of God is not heard over the deafening din of the world’s clamor. I have no interest in trying to yell louder. After over 20-years of being a pastor, I had to get out for my own spiritual sanity, to get me to a place where I could again hear the still, small voice of God.

I resigned last year because in large part the church is made up of people who really don’t want God and I didn’t want to be around that anymore. I don’t know how else to say it: today’s church is not interested in hearing from the Lord. Why talk to walls anymore? I couldn’t find a compelling reason, so I resigned. Was this the right decision? Not according to many, but I will stand before the Lord with it and only His opinion counts as He is my judge.

My hat’s off to all those pastors still slugging it out, faithfully teaching the Word of God week in and week out. Your reward will be in heaven, as it surely will not be here. Fight the fight.

Why are the Dusty Old Negative Prophets even in Our Bibles?

I was raised in a Christian tradition that undervalued the Old Testament. The most undervalued part of the Old Testament was the prophets. In our church, all the prophets were minor!

I was told once “I don’t know why anyone would even read the prophets.” I am reading a Bible that used to belong to one of my teachers. It has his notes and highlights in it. The Old Testament is light on highlighting! The prophets are empty. I don’t know if he ever read them.

I don’t think my upbringing is uncommon in this regard. Many people have no idea what the prophets are doing in our Bible. “It’s just a bunch of judgments on places that don’t even exist anymore.”

However, once I began reading the Bible regularly, the prophets fulfilled an important role. Israel was going down, they had turned their back on God while going through the empty motions of religion. The prophets were warning that judgment was coming if they didn’t shape up.

The prophets were at best met with silence, and at worst met with imprisonment or death (with the awesome exception of mopey Jonah!). They saw clearly the rebellion of Israel and God’s displeasure. The people consoled themselves with the message of false prophets who said “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace.

Our neglect of the prophets has now resulted in Christianity being in the exact same spot. Sure our churches look nice and we do many God-looking things, but our heart is not in it. This is proved easily just by looking at the inconsistency of people’s attendance at church. People are busy. Spiritual obligations are typically the first to go. People don’t skip work for church, but they have no problem skipping church for work.

Our heart isn’t in it. We’re missing it. Judgment is coming.

This message goes over about as well as the OT prophet’s message! No one likes to listen to prophets. Prophets were called to talk to people who would not listen. They are professional talkers to walls.

We look around in our churches today and see our wealth and happiness, our impressive shows and programs, surely God is blessing us.

If you read the prophets you’ll know this is EXACTLY what Israel said!

The Apostle Paul tells us that whatever was written before was written for our learning. The prophets are not some dead guys warning other dead guys. Their essential message persists into our day.

No one wants to hear warnings and heavy-handed repentance messages. People want the happy and the peace. We’ll continue ignoring the prophets and patting ourselves on our backs for our happy little worship we decide to do, not knowing we’re following exactly the downfall of Israel.

God is paying attention. He’s still the all-knowing, righteous Judge. He’s not sleeping. He’s watching us treasure up wrath against ourselves for the Day of Wrath. The Judgment is coming. I know it’s not happy enough for us, but it’s still coming. I suggest we wake up and get ready.

What is A Fruitful Ministry?

Pastors are praised for having “fruitful ministries.” I’ve often wondered what that means.

Based on how people use the phrase I think it has to do with how big the church gets under their tenure. How many people are coming, how many additions were made to the building, maybe it will get into how many were baptized or “saved.”

The constant of these things is numbers. “Fruitful” means more numbers. Numbers can only represent physical things. A “fruitful ministry” then seems to mean by common usage: more physical things.

I find this disturbing.

It’s one thing for the book of Acts to say “many were added to their numbers.” Acts was written under the inspiration of the Spirit. The Spirit knows the heart and knew when people were saved and truly added to their numbers.

Our estimation of who is saved is suspect. We don’t know the heart of others, in fact, our own heart is deceitful, which you better believe will skew our counting!

Fruitful ministry isn’t about numbers and counted objects. Here’s what I think fruitful ministry is based on how the Bible describes ministry.

–By the way, when I use the word “minister” I’m not using it like the formal word for pastor. I mean anyone who serves someone else for Christ. The one doing ministry, whatever that ministry looks like.

  1. The fruit of the minister
    The Bible puts high moral qualifications for someone taking upon themselves an official role in the church. Paul tells Timothy that his growth should be seen by others in the church. If love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are not increasingly seen in the minister, then that minister does not have a fruitful ministry.
  1. The fruit of the minister’s family
    Provided the minister has a family, the family members should be growing in spiritual fruit. One of the qualifications for official church roles according to Paul is that the marriage is sound and the kids are in subjection. If the family of the minister is not growing love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, then that minister does not have a fruitful ministry.
  1. The fruit of those being ministered to
    Fruitful ministry is not measured by how many people showed up to be ministered to. Fruitful ministry is measured by how much spiritual fruit is developed in those ministered to. In other words, if 500 people go to a church and are entertained and fed donuts yet none have gotten anywhere close to edification resulting in fruit, then no fruitful ministry occurred. However, if you minister to one person and that person receives edification resulting in fruit, then that is a fruitful ministry.
  1. The fruit continues to grow
    A true sign of fruitful ministry is that fruit continues to grow long after the minister is gone. Growing fruit is a process and is not dependent on a specific person. A pastor who serves faithfully for 40 years and retires should still bring forth spiritual fruit. If all spiritual interest disappears when the official ministry spotlight is turned off, there wasn’t a fruitful ministry. If the one ministering to you leaves and your life falls apart, it’s questionable whether you were part of a spiritual ministry.

True spiritual fruit is dependent upon the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ and those gifted to serve it by the Spirit are an essential aspect of spiritual growth. But at no point should your spiritual growth be dependent on one individual. If you only “grow” under one specific person’s ministry, you’re probably in a cult more than a fruitful ministry.

A true minister leads people to Christ and the Holy Spirit. You‘ll continue to grow long after the person is gone.

Spiritual fruit doesn’t stop. The new life of Christ doesn’t retire. The Spirit doesn’t finish His work in you at some point down here on earth. You’re never done. Truly saved people are like a cedar of Lebanon and “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”

If love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are not resulting from what you think is your “ministry,” then it’s not fruitful. It might be big, it might be impressive, and you might have people tell you it’s fruitful, but if there’s no spiritual fruit, it’s not fruitful!

I feel a need to add:
The Spirit can work through not-so-spiritual ministers. I’ve learned incredible spiritual lessons from terrible examples! It can happen, but should not be the model. “Well, if God can use Balaam’s ass, guess I’ll be an ass for Jesus.” The desire should be to grow fruit so others will be built up to grow fruit. Do your part. It should also be added: you may grow tremendously and yet be surrounded by people who don’t seem to grow at all. There is nuance in the entire discussion. Be nuanced in your thinking about it, but not for the sake of finding loopholes for immaturity!

The Isms Against Christianity and How to Battle Them

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church during Russia’s communist heydays. He was not a fan. He spent eight years in a gulag for criticizing Stalin in a private letter. His book The Gulag Archipelago is one I’m still trying to read.

He has incredible insights into atheism, Marxism, Leninism, Communism, socialism and life. His first hand witness to the tragedies of these isms is worth our attention.

I’d like to point you to a quote of his I recently saw:

“Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions.”

The hatred of God is not a fruit of these isms; it is the very foundation. It is no shock that the most Communist of nations is also the most atheistic of nations. They go together. Collectivism of the sort that Marx and Lenin came up with, along with other collectivist systems, smacks of the Tower of Babel.

Another quote for us to consider is this:

“Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable.”

America has begun down the road to hating and rejecting God. It is now cool to be an atheist. This atheism rests upon a hatred of God. People have long hated God, this is no new thing; the isms just have new names. Strong governments are always a sign that the people have turned from God. This isn’t a judgment from on high; it’s reaping what you sow. Remember when Israel asked for a king? Not a good idea. God said they were rejecting Him by doing so.

Unfortunately, the church is heading right down the government trap. We are celebrating OUR politicians and not realizing that the whole political system is never something we are to put our trust in.

The answer to government getting bigger is not to pick a side. The answer is to, as always, promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who happens to be the King of Kings.

God is the Creator of the universe. Humanity is the one part of creation that has volition. Even the rocks would cry out if given the chance. But people? Nope, we’re the dumber than rocks. We enjoy worshiping and serving the creation more than the Creator.

It is this pull within us toward creation rather than the Creation that is the seed of atheism, which then gives rise to socialism and communism and other destructive systems which will inevitably destroy creation and kill people who are made in God’s image.

America is made up of people. People, as a group, will always refuse to worship their Creator. Individuals can be freed from the system through the Gospel. This is always the answer, even though many are bored and disappointed with this answer.

The Gospel means loving enemies, serving, maybe dying, but in all cases denying self for God’s will. It is hard. It is not esteemed by the world. It won’t make the news or get tremendous victories. We suffer with Christ that we may be glorified with Him.

The church doesn’t find this very fun. What’s more fun is to pick a side and go, fight, win! Get on the news for our tremendous world-esteemed wins. The church chucks the Gospel. We are currently doing this. Atheism is growing. Socialism is chasing us down. Worse things will follow, they always do. The church continues to whine about symptoms instead of promoting the cure.

There’s always been a remnant. There remains one today. Have the Gospel given guts to stand for Jesus Christ and not bow the knee to the human decline that surrounds us on the broad road.

Listen to those who’ve come before. Heed the warning. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Fight the fight until you see Christ. Our victory will be then. Be sober. Be vigilant. We have an enemy who wants to eat you for lunch.

Put on the armor of God and stand!

Blind People Want Blind Pastors

People only see in the Bible what they want to see. People are massively adept at ignoring Scripture.

People will gravitate to those passages that make them feel how they desire to feel about their sin. Some want all grace and love and happy. Some want all judgment, holiness, and heavy dread. Some just want everything on an even keel and will ignore the “extreme” passages.

The Bible speaks of believers being “enlightened.” Having our eyes opened. Not being blind. There’s a reason God uses this imagery concerning us. It’s because we aren’t naturally seeing things for what they are. We aren’t seeing the verses right in front of our faces.

Christians gravitate toward the denominations or churches that are blind in the right spots. Therefore, blind Christians desire blind pastors. Or, as Paul says, people desire teachers who will scratch their ears and tell them what they already agree with.

Just as it was in the days of Jesus Christ dealing with the scribes and Pharisees, the blind lead the blind.

All the while the blind think they are seeing perfectly.

Blindness sounds like this:

“I only believe what the Bible says.”
“I believe what Jesus believed.”
“My supernatural experience proves I believe right doctrine.”
“Anyone who disagrees with me is a heretic.”
“If you don’t go to our church/adhere to our doctrine, you are going to hell.”

I hear such statements, to varying degrees of bluntness, frequently by Christians. It’s scary. If you honestly think you believe exactly what the Bible says, you aren’t believing what the Bible says! If you think you believe absolutely everything Jesus taught, then you didn’t hear His warnings about people who thought they believed everything God said. “We have one father and that is God.” “Your father is the devil.”

Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.

There’s a reason the Bible tells us to ask for wisdom: it’s because you don’t have it all yet. If you think you do, welcome to the Job’s Friends’ Club.

The Bible tells us to ask that our eyes might see and our ears might hear. As soon as you think you’ve arrived and see everything; you begin the long, slow decent into massive error.

Doctrinal cliques have a feeling of security and rightness. They also go a long way in making people twice the children of hell.

Make sure the church under your care is not getting uppity about “having right doctrine.” Watch out for the party spirit that assumes we are the people and wisdom will die with us.

Humility is what faith looks like. Knowledge puffs up, even right knowledge. It’s what knowledge does. Keep the humility to continue to know how much you don’t know and keep asking in dependence for more wisdom. He gives to those who ask. If you’ve stopped asking for wisdom because you feel you’re already wise, beware!

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.

Continue reading “Failing Pastor’s Response to Church Buildings and Jesus Statues Being Attacked”

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 Cause of All Church Splits and the Solution to Our Disunity: From an Anonymous Moron on the Internet

I like reading Church History. It lets me know my church is just one in a long line of stupid churches.

Solomon tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Solomon is correct.

Churches have come and gone, and most have split first. Christians are disturbed by the Church Tradition of splitting churches. So much division, so much hostility, how can this be true of people who follow the Prince of Peace?

There are many reasons why this is the case. One is that the Prince of Peace said He came the first time, not to bring peace but a sword. As Paul said, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Division kind of has to happen. There are wolves pretending to be sheep, test the spirits for there are “many false prophets.”

At the core of most of the division is a tension that runs all the way thru Church History. Rather than explain it, I’ll show examples of the tension:

Reason vs. Emotion
Cold Knowledge vs. Warm Love
The Bible vs. The Spirit
The Institution of the Church vs. The Body of Christ Church
Expository Preaching vs. Singing

All these things are the same battle.

Continue reading “The Cause of All Church Splits and the Solution to Our Disunity: From an Anonymous Moron on the Internet”

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!”

Continue reading “When Should a Pastor Quit?”