Some Thoughts on Why Pastors Have No One to Talk to

I regularly get emails and messages from pastors who say they have no one to talk to.

This is sad.

I don’t know these pastors personally and they only know me from what I’ve said on the internet. They know I’ve struggled, and they are struggling, and I’m probably safe to talk to.

I am safe to talk to, by the way, and I don’t mind.

But I think it’s too bad that so many pastors have no one to talk to.

From my experience, here’s why pastors can’t talk to anyone:

1) Pastors can’t divulge everything they know about people.
Much of the stuff that depresses a pastor has to do with other people. Being a gossip and airing out the dirty laundry doesn’t help and can cause lots of problems.

2) Pastors who struggle get lectures.
People want a perfect pastor. They want a pastor who is above struggles. If a pastor lets on that they are struggling; they are probably immature and shouldn’t be listened to. People want confidence and assurance, not some dude with problems.

3) Pastors have weird jobs that people don’t understand.
Most pastors who talk about their job struggles will eventually hear, “Yeah, well, we all have problems at work. Let me tell you all mine.” Without being too sanctimonious, I’ve had many jobs in my life, none of them come close to the perils of pastoral ministry. I know non-pastors don’t believe that and I can’t say anything to convince you, but yeah, it’s a tough gig. There is eternal weight to it that is soul crushing, and that’s beside any degree of physical or mental stress.

4) Pastors could be faking it.
I know pastors and I’m just being honest when I say this: Pastors at church are often different from pastors not at church. If a pastor lets the façade slip, who knows what problems will ensue. So when the act can’t be carried on anymore, who to talk to? If word gets out I’m not who I’m acting to be, it’ll all be over.

5) Pastors are supposed to answer people’s questions and solve people’s problems.
What if the church finds out I have no idea what I’m doing? I can’t be The Answer Man if all I have are questions. Sometimes reality has a way of calling your bluff. This is a tough spot.

There are many reasons, but these are some of the ones that make pastors feel like they can’t talk to people.

So, how can you be someone your pastor can talk to? I can give some pointers, not sure too many people are equipped to actually do it though!

1) Be an actual friend to your pastor. Get to know them. Spend time with them. You may not be able to be friends with your pastor, sometimes people don’t click like that. Don’t force it. Just offer some kind gestures and spend some time listening. No one listens to pastors and pretty much all pastors do is listen to people talk about their problems. For the love of all things holy, please be quiet for a minute and listen and see if your pastor is a human with human abilities to talk and feel and discuss things.

2) Hold off the judgment. Listen for a while before chalking up your pastor’s opinions as immature, or unqualified for ministry, or “obviously God hasn’t called you to ministry.” Unhelpful. Often there are back stories to a pastor’s opinions and thoughts that he’s not sure he can divulge. Many of the pastor’s problems and opinions are based on disastrous things he’s seen in other people’s lives. He can’t explain everything. Give em some slack. Work with em.

3) Skip the flippant answers, lectures, and clichés. Sincerely listen and then offer thoughtful responses.

4) Be involved in church. Any pastor worth their salt is massively concerned about the church and the people in it and around it. If you’re not in it and don’t know the people, you’re not going to understand anything your pastor is talking about. A pastor can’t give sufficient background all the time; it really helps if you know what’s going on to understand the issues the pastor is struggling with.

5) Keep your mouth shut and treat conversations as private. Don’t blab around what the pastor told you, because that will be the last time the pastor tells you anything even remotely personal.

6) Don’t use what the pastor says against them. I confided in a guy once who immediately used what I told him against me and caused problems. This makes it very difficult to confide in anyone again.

7) Don’t take the pastor’s reservations about talking personally. Most pastors have been hurt by numerous people who violated confidentiality. It is hard not to get jaded in ministry, or get a little leery about people, slightly paranoid. It’s not you; it’s the constant stabbing in the back by others. Be patient, kind, gentle, and please listen.

These are some things that might help both pastors and potential friends or counselors. Pastors can have friends in their church. It is possible, but it is also rare. Pastors need to slowly reveal things, test the waters if the person is reliable to truly open up to. If a pastor divulges too much too soon, people can get hurt.

None of these things are easy but any good friendship and trustworthy relationship requires time. Don’t rush. Pastors: don’t get so cynical you stop trying to find someone to confide in. Parishioners: don’t get judgy, pretend grace is a thing you’re supposed to show too.

We’re all sinners. Sometimes the pastor is the main one at fault. There are creepy pastors out there. Sometimes the parishioners are at fault, they can be creepy too. In the end forgiveness, grace, and love are the keys behind it all. Show those things and perhaps pastors and a few parishioners can actually communicate in a way where all are edified.

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.

What Killed My Joy in Pastoral Ministry

In my darkest times of pastoral depression, I was reminded of such verses as Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

I’d buck up my spirit, manufacture some joy type thing, and get back to it. Except it never lasted. I used to think this was a lack in my spiritual growth, and that’s possible, I’m not perfect. But the more I think about it, the problem wasn’t the joy part; the problem was the persecution part.

No one treated me that bad. Sure there were some unfriendly moments and comments. I did get hurt pretty bad by some people, but those times were spread over 21 years. It really wasn’t that bad. The real problem wasn’t rejection and hatred; the thing that got me most was being ignored. Hardly anyone cared.

It makes me think of Revelation and the Church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I know there are many theories about what this means. In recent years it’s cool to talk about an irrigation system up in the mountains with cold water and yadda, yadda, yadda. That illustration sounds too good to be true. Without doing any fact checking, it sure smells fake.

We don’t like saying that God wishes people were on or off, that it’s better to be an unflinching, confident unbeliever. But I don’t know. From my experience, I can totally see it being that. I love it when someone responded to Christ and the Word, I loved being a part of helping people see more. I did not like outright rejection, yet I also knew where the person stood. It was easier to take than lying ambivalence and apathy. That drove me nuts.

If you want to know the main cause of my pastoral depression and eventual resignation, I’d chalk it up to luke-warmness. “Pick a side!” I wanted to yell. “How long will you halt between two opinions?” Or as James put it, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Choose you this day whom you will serve.

The people in the middle, the ones who sort of came and sort of listened and played the game and said the same things and had the same problems, they defeated me. The ones who were always stuck, always learning and never coming to the truth, they ate me up inside. The ones who wanted to sin and then have the church or me absolve them so they could get back to sinning again. It tore me up.

This futility, this pointlessness, this vanity of the whole thing made me tap out. I did not leap for joy under persecution because I didn’t get any persecution. I just got nothing followed by more nothing. Twenty one years of nothing. Deadness. Apathy. There was no discernible point. I doubt I would have enjoyed persecution and hatred more than apathy, but there would have at least been something to hang my hat on. I could have felt part of the great cloud of witnesses, to have been numbered with the prophets. That would be sweet.

Instead, I was ignored. There was nothing to feed my joy. There were few successes. There were few rejections. Just blah. Blah does not lead to joy. I’m hoping there will be a reward in heaven for talking to walls. I won’t count on it, but it would be nice. If there is one, I will definitely leap for joy then because I got lots of that reward coming.

What People Mean when they tell their Pastor “Good Sermon”

I was told, “Good sermon” every single Sunday I preached. Even I know I didn’t have a good sermon every single Sunday of my 21-year pastoral career. So, what exactly do people mean when they say, “Good sermon?” There are several possibilities.

1. They actually thought it was a good sermon.

I mean, you know, it could happen. There’s an outside chance that you had a good sermon with good content and delivery that met someone right where they needed to be met. It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible. So, let’s be optimistic and assume they meant “Good sermon,” because it actually was a good sermon.

2. They don’t know what else to say.

In many churches the pastor stands between the audience and the exit. In order to get out of the room you have to say something. “Good sermon” is a nice way to deflect attention, hide behind the compliment while making the escape. A giant smoke screen while the wife and kids scoot by real quick.

3. Lies, it’s all lies.

Most people are nice, they don’t want to pick a fight with the pastor. It’s easier to say “good sermon” than in it is to mention a few fine points of doctrine they thought were off. Many people don’t like confrontation.  It’s just a little white lie, doesn’t hurt anyone.

4. The one illustration they heard was good.

Most people aren’t listening to the sermon. They are staring at the ceiling or on their phone. They did, however, hear that one time when you told that story about the McRIb. They liked that. They have no idea what point was illustrated, but the McRib story was a nice diversion. Helped them pass the time.

5. Sarcasm.

It’s like when I hold up a plate with grease all over it after my son does the dishes, “Hey, nice job washing dishes, boy.” They hated the sermon. It was awful, you’re a heretic, they should have preached instead of you. It’s just sarcastic derision. Usually you can tell if it’s sarcasm, but the three page email you’ll get Tuesday will definitely confirm it.

I don’t like being cynical. “Love believes all things,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. I struggle with that. I’d like to simply take a compliment, but I struggle, especially when it’s the same person every Sunday without fail. It seems insincere after a while.

The way I know it was a good sermon is when people implement biblical change into their life. That’s the ultimate and maybe only real compliment: changed lives. That’s too much to ask for and hard to see though, so you’re left with “good sermon.”

When people say “Good sermon,” I say, “Thank you” and let it go at that. Judgment Day will let me know how good my sermons were. If the Lord says to me, “Good sermons,” I will be ecstatic. Until then I’ll keep doubting the compliments, but hoping they’re true.  

And, hey, good job reading this post.

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.

Failing Pastoral Counseling

Counseling people was never my strong point. I wanted to help, but pretty much all I figured out was how to listen and tell people what their problem was. I was pretty skilled there.

How to help them overcome their problem was beyond me.

I usually started with something like, “So, there’s this thing called the Gospel. You don’t seem to understand what it means.” Then I’d try to explain it. But it was quickly shot down because every person in a church thinks they believed the Gospel when they were six and have “heard that all before.”

Things would stall there. This is either because they had no interest in hearing the Gospel again or because I had no clue how to get them to implement the Gospel into their lives when I didn’t think they even understood what it meant.

I got nowhere. I’m not blaming the counselees either. I sincerely couldn’t figure out how to get them to grasp Gospel solutions to their flesh problems.

You’ll know you do pastoral counseling like me when 90% of your counseling opportunities go like this:

Step one: listen to them. Figure out what they are trying to fix, not the symptom but the underlying issue, which is typically, “you need to really grasp the Gospel.” Explain to them the Gospel and make sure they believe and understand it. And not just mentally agree with the facts of the Jesus story, but that they’ve been crucified and raised up to new life where they should be—pursuing righteousness, showing love and forgiveness, sacrificing for others. Give them scripture after scripture dealing with their problem and the Gospel’s solution for it.

Sept two: wait for them to tell you they already did all that. They will sigh and leave depressed, or they will buck up and feel great because they already have the Gospel nailed, so now all their problems will disappear! Either way, they will leave soon after.

Step three: get ready to hear nothing from them for a long time: except for the happy ones, they will email you the next day, “Thanks pastor, I feel so much better today!” Then you’ll hear nothing. Your calls, emails, and texts will be ignored for a time. Eventually they will tell you that they’ve been “busy. But we should really try to get together again.”

Step four: agree to get together again and mention a few specific times that will work for you.

Step five: get ready to hear nothing from them for a long time. You may never see them again, in fact.

Step six: pray and cry before the Lord for their soul.

Step seven: shoot an email, text, or phone call their way every once in a while. After several times doing this with no response, proceed to step eight.

Step eight: resign yourself that another one is lost, you failed again. Consider once again working at the grocery store or being a janitor or working construction or selling cars.

Sound familiar? Then you may be a failing pastoral counselor too! Welcome to the club.

Sorry, I have no advice for you. I could never figure out how to help people.

The only exceptions were people who really, truly seemed to grasp the Gospel and were growing. I could help them, but usually because people who were doing that didn’t have any irreversible problems staring them in the face.

Funny how that works.

I’m a terrible counselor. I admit it. I have no idea how to help you. None. I’m going to quote the Bible a lot and mention the Gospel and the Holy Spirit a bunch. That’s all I got. Sorry.

To all you who know how to do it, great. Go for it. Please. You have plenty of potential customers. I got nothing.

Pastors Ruin People’s Faith, Or so the Story Goes

Let me begin by saying there are and have been many bad pastors who ruin people’s faith. Many a wolf has chomped on God’s sheep. “Test the spirits” is not a throwaway line. Do that. Constantly.

With that being said, I know many pastors and most are sincerely trying to help. Most pastors have sacrificed to do ministry. It’s not an easy job.

No pastor is 100% correct in theology or application. Pastors have a sin nature too. This is why the Bible repeatedly says not to put your trust in people but in God. Do that. Constantly.

I have heard many a backslidden Christian blame a pastor for their backsliding.

(Again, there are bad pastors and they certainly hurt people’s faith, no doubt about that.)

I know some of the pastors who got blamed though and, no, they were not terrible people set on destroying people’s faith.

I’ve been told that my teaching has kept people immature and has hurt them spiritually. People who leave church take time to tell me how much happier they are now that they’re out of my church.

They’ve never been happier. It was my teaching and my church that kept them from all this happiness and peace they now have.

I know who these people are and I understand the desire to let me know how awful I was. But I also know these people were shaky at best in their faith.

Most of these people, when they began attending my church, told me about their last pastor who kept them from all the happiness and peace they now have in my church.

And that’s the problem: Many church goers think going to a new church will solve their problem. Learning a new system, getting initiated is exciting. Makes you feel rebellious. Throwing off the shackles of Last Church for New Church makes you feel like you’re spiritually growing.

But guess what happens when New Church gets boring or the anticipated nirvana of New Church never materializes (which it won’t)? They leave for the next New Church.

Guess what they say to New Pastor at New Church? “Oh man, that last pastor, never helped me. I’m so glad I’m here now where I have so much happiness and peace like never before.”

The cycle continues.

I used to take it personally when people would leave my church and I’d bump into them at Walmart, or they’d email me and let me know how happy and at peace they are to be out from under my faith-destroying ministry. It hurt.

OK, I still take it personally. It still hurts.

I never set out to destroy anyone’s faith or annihilate their happiness and peace. Most of these people were annoying. I sacrificed just to spend time with them and put up with their insults. They typically fell into weird sins and hurt other people in the church. Yet, in the end, their conclusion is that it was the pastor’s fault their lives aren’t better.

Nope, not buying it.

These people will whirlwind through your church. They will excite you at first because it really looks like you’re helping them and they say they are so happy and at peace finally! You’ll feel like you’re a way better pastor than all those other loser pastors, which you kind of knew anyway!

But it won’t last. Soon you’ll be the loser who is keeping them down. Out the door they will go and the inevitable email letting you know how happy and at peace they are will soon pop up in your inbox.

Pray for them. Pray for the next pastor who will get jerked around by them.

People are weird. Pastors are in the job of dealing with weird people. Get used to it. It still hurts. Check yourself, maybe you didn’t handle them the best, it’s possible.

Work it through before the Lord. His opinion of your ministry and their faith is the only one that matters.

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.

Pastors Can’t Magically Fix People

Many young/immature Christians and unbelievers are under the impression that mature believers got their suddenly, that there’s a short cut to maturity and all problems disappear. Based on this, they assume pastors have the magic button to zap people into spiritual maturity.

There is no magic button. There is no zap.

Spiritual maturity comes by work, struggle, suffering, and various temptations, along with the self-control, patience, humility, and love given to the believer by the Holy Spirit gained over time typically through the work, struggle, suffering, and temptations.

Much disillusionment with pastors is because “I went to the pastor and he didn’t fix anything” experience. The assumption is that a few conversations with the pastor oughta do the trick.

Pastors don’t always help this either. We’ve all heard pastors brag about all the people they fixed. “I just take em out for a cup of coffee and by the end they’re great!” I actually had an older pastor tell me this constantly.

I also remember counseling several of the people he bragged about fixing. They were far from fixed, but in his head, he fixed em all (they weren’t fixed after I counseled them either).

Churches don’t help this either! Various churches have invented experiences to convince people they are growing. They provide a zap of spiritual feeling. It’s exciting and fun. Seems to work for a month or so. But as with most supposed spiritual zaps, the emotion dies off along with the apparent growth.

People coming out of these churches tend to be twice the children of hell. They tried Christianity; it didn’t work, and now they are done with it all.

One of the most painful aspects of being a pastor is seeing hurting people resist the hard work necessary to attain spiritual growth. No one wants to hear about self-control and discipline. They just want the zap.

This human tendency is also why so many are trapped by get rich quick schemes. Why people think weight loss happens with magic pills. Why people think excellence at anything comes by good intentions rather than work.

People are lazy, but we want success. Spiritual growth is a thing people think they want, but the ones who truly want it, just like the ones who want to grow wealth, or lose weight, or excel at any interest, will put the work in.

The work is part of the suffering. Tribulation works patience, experience, and hope. You won’t get there without some tribulating.

Hate to break it to ya, but there’s no magic button and no zappy thing. Buckle down and do the work. Bring your body under subjection. Run to win.

And, after hearing this, many conclude I’m legalistic and undermining the power of the Spirit, or throwing out grace for a yoke of bondage, or some other spiritual sounding thing.

You don’t have to do the work, you can pretend and play happy mind games. Get back to me in 10 years, let me know how it went.

This is the reality, yet no one wants to hear it. So the pastor watches people reject this truth over and over and run their lives into the ground. It’s impossible to not be worn down by this. Meanwhile, all the yahoo pastors promising their latest Get Spiritual Quick zappy, magic trick have crowded churches.

Oh well, I’d rather go out staying faithful to God’s Word than playing such games. It still kills to watch so many lives ruined by short cutting the process to the absolute ruination of faith.

But I will affirm constantly that believers ought to do good works if they want to grow (Titus 3:8). It’s a consistent theme in the New Testament.

“And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”
–Titus 3:14