Pastors vs. Church People, A Classic Confrontation

Many times while praying alone, I will intercede for people in my church.

Intercession soon turns into bemoaning the direction people are heading.

“Lord, help him to take the spiritual lead in his family, because he’s totally not doing that. His kids are going nuts. Oh Lord, the things they are doing. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. I told him. I don’t know. Did he not hear anything I was preaching the last ten years? And then his wife. What’s up with her? No wonder the kids are nuts.”

What started out as true spiritual concern devolves into judging and condemning.

After “interceding” for people in my church for a good fifteen minutes, it’s become clear: it’s me and God on one team and people in my church on the other.

This feeds self-righteousness, bitterness, judgmentalism, and all manner of evil things one shouldn’t do.

But I’m just stating the facts! And, at the end of the facts, sure looks like me and God against the people.

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Guilt Keeps Many Pastors Employed

Through my 20+ years of being a pastor I have thought of quitting many times. The Failing Pastor persona has put me in touch with many other pastors who feel the same way.

Large portions of me want to quit being a pastor. Yet here I am, still a pastor.

There are many reasons I’m still in my job. I’d like to talk about one of them: guilt.

I fear that if I quit I won’t get the same opportunities to serve the Lord. I fear that I will have quit right before a harvest. I fear that everything in my life will fall apart until I’m driven back into the “ministry.” I feel like I’m quitting on God. It’s not just leaving a 9-5 job; it’s all entwined with my spiritual life. It feels like quitting being a pastor is quitting part of my spiritual life. Like I’m turning from faith. It feels like guilt.

Some of these guilt feelings are just dumb. They go away quickly with a little bit of thought and prayer. Yet they come back.

Anytime I feel like walking out the door for good, guilt keeps me put.

I read about Jonah. What if as I walk away I get swallowed by a large aquatic creature? I know for sure I will drive and not take a boat as I head out. Takes care of that threat, but no doubt a giant buffalo will do me in.

Many pastors feel they had a “call” to the ministry. I have some skepticism over such things, mostly from watching people who were “called” to take a church, who then come to not like that church after three years and have yet another “call” to another, supposedly better, church. It looks like people just doing their thing and putting a spiritual veneer on it so no one can question them.

“Sorry, God said I gotta go.” You can’t argue with that.

I don’t think I had a “call” to come to this church I’m at. It fell into my lap, more or less. I heard no voice, no spine tingle, no sign. It just kind of happened. Some have told me that’s the “call.” Obviously God was behind it if it was that easy.

Yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes I’m lazy and just do the thing that happens.

I know why I came to this church. I knew what needed to be done and I tried to do it. It also hasn’t really worked. I’m also tired and burned out and close to punching people if they do that one thing one more time. I hate that feeling.

Sometimes I feel it would be best if I just quit now before messing it up big time. But then The Guilt. “You will reap if you faint not.” Yah, yah, yah.

But here’s the thing: I heard no voice calling me to this church, not even a voice telling me to be a pastor, it was just a thing I felt I had to do. So I did.

I also know that there are many things I have been called to do directly in God’s Word, things that all believers are called to do: Love the Lord, love your neighbor, provide for your family, use your spiritual gifts, do good and develop spiritual fruit.

I can do that anywhere with anyone at any time. It does not require being a pastor. And, in some ways, being a pastor takes away the love aspect by making it “just my job.” I want to know what life is like outside the professional church office (I was born into a pastor’s family, I’ve known nothing else). I want to love my neighbor because I’m following Christ, not because I probably just do it so people will come to my church.

I write these things down because I know other pastors struggle with these thoughts and The Guilt. I’m working thru my thoughts on the subject. I’ve not come to any definite conclusions.

There are perks to being a pastor, there are reasons I do it, it’s not all terrible and in many ways it’s incredible. But I’m also feeling the need to move on. I’m continuing to work these thoughts out and do what is right, not based on guilt or people’s expectations, but as a man who will stand before the Lord and give an account.

I want to do the right thing before Him. I pray you do as well. Perhaps we can help each other do that. Fight the fight.

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.

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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.

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True Pastoral Pain

There are days where I’m not sure why I even bother being a pastor.

These days are not helped by pithy advice, happy thoughts, and “God is in control” statements.

There is a deep soul hurt. A pain that is so real, so vital; there’s no blood, no broken bones, no evidence of physical trauma. But on the inside I’m bleeding out.

It’s a hurt for people. It’s a hurt that wants to do so much more. A hurt that I have no idea what “so much more” means.

If I knew what to do for people; I’d do it. I just have no clue. I’ve tried everything I know. Been doing this long enough to have exhausted my ideas and resources. And yes, I know, “See, that’s your problem! It’s not about you and your ideas and resources. You gotta let go and let God.” I know. I tried that idea too.

I do what I think I can, what I think I am gifted to do. It’s not working. I feel helpless and yet I long so badly to help.

My personal life is fine. My marriage is good, my kids are turning out quite nicely, I’m doing ok financially. Spiritually I’m doing better than ever, making real strides against sin.

But as a pastor, nothing is working.

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Freak Out With Those Who Freak Out?

There are several people in my church who freak out about everything.

One has written me worried emails repeatedly about Donald Trump starting World War III. I see and hear worries about the Covid 19 Pandemic that no one should ever leave their house ever, we’re all going to die! Then there’s the constant cycle of “the next election is the MOST IMPORTANT election in all history!”

There’s always something with these kinds of people. There will always be a crisis, always impending doom. They never seem to catch on to the fact that none of their worries actually ever happen.

The Bible tells me to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Some of these people are weeping with their worries. Am I to worry with those who worry?

A good biblical example is when the disciples are out on the boat in a storm. They are freaking out, thinking they’re going to die. Unlike Covid 19 Pandemics, they were probably pretty close to death.

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My Top Funny/Sad Stories of People Leaving the Church

There was a guy at my church years ago who struggled with every sin imaginable. And, to be clear, most of them were not past tense: he was currently doing them. He insisted he was saved because when he was a kid he said “the prayer” at camp, so he was “Once saved, always saved.” He was absolutely certain that because of God’s grace nothing he did mattered. “I’m not saved by works.” “True,” I said, “but a believer has been created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” He insisted he didn’t have to. “Ephesians 2:8-9 says works don’t save.” “I know, but there’s a verse 10.” “Nope,” he insisted, “verse 10 is too far.” “What? It’s the next verse?” He left my church after the 22nd time we had this conversation.

There was a guy at my church who was a “leader” in our youth group. Several weeks in a row he made one of the kids cry with his harsh words, and one night he made not only a kid cry, but also an adult fellow leader. I said to him, “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop making people cry.” He left the church because I was too dictatorial.

There was a guy at my church who decided to chuck his entire doctrinal background. He eventually adopted Catholic theology. He told me that my church needed to change its doctrine if we wanted him to stay. He left.

There was a guy at my church who got mad because I said that Christians will struggle with sin as long as they have a flesh body. Nope, not him. He hadn’t sinned for years. And if this is the kind of immature thing my church taught, he’d go elsewhere. He did.

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Why I Became a Pastor

When I was nearing high school graduation, everyone asked me, “So, what do you want to do for a living?”

My standard answer was, “I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to be a pastor.”

I am a third-generation pastor. I grew up in a pastor’s home. I knew things about people at a very young age. I saw my dad practically kill himself trying to keep people happy. I knew the arguments, pettiness, and judgmentalism of Christianity before I was out of grade school.

My dad did not hide these things. I don’t think he could have even if he wanted to. He just felt stuff and I could clearly figure out what he was feeling.

It also helped that on many occasions he’d come home from a visitation and say to me, “Be careful who you marry” or “stay away from alcohol.” I knew who he visited; even I could do that math!

Half my life was spent at church. I cleaned, folded tables and chairs, learned to use a dust mop, and knew the inner workings of the church. I waited for hours as my parents yammered on after church.

I was in college when I saw my first complete Super Bowl. Many a Sunday after church was spent out in my parent’s car in the church parking lot listening to the football games get started without me. This may not seem like a big deal, but to a teenage boy who completely loved sports, this was torture.

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A Poor Pastor’s Advice to Poor Pastors

It used to be that being a pastor was synonymous with being poor. This changed at some point with televangelism or something. I don’t know. I just know it changed.

Pastors became celebrities and churches began competing with Business for larger buildings and programs. As churches grew; so did pastors’ salaries. (One might cynically conclude the desire for a larger church is actually a desire for a larger salary. But only very bad, cynical people would actually state that opinion publically.)

While many pastors are making a comfortable living, there are many who struggle to get by.

I’d be one of those pastors.

It’s cute and easy to tell me how to grow my church and be like those famous pastors with large churches and salaries, but no. It doesn’t work in towns in rural America. I can Saddleback on that Church Growth horse all day and it aint happening. I would also feel like a complete sellout that is close to shipwrecking his faith if I did that.

Over the years I have supplemented my income in several ways. I’ve worked as housekeeping in local resorts. I’ve done grounds crew for a millionaire’s home. I do some writing. I flip things on the internet. None of these things has made me rich, but they’ve all gotten my family and I through to this point. My wife has also taken part in such things and now that our kids are out of the house, she works part-time. She’s struggled along at my side the whole time too. My kids were all employed at young ages as well. It was a family effort.

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The Failing Pastor’s Wife

I’m not talking about wives who fail at being pastors wives, I’m talking about my wife who is the wife of a failing pastor.

When we came to this church I told them my wife was not an employee. She should not be expected to do a bunch of stuff, and if you have something to tell me, tell me.

These parameters are not remembered by anyone, so it has to be demonstrated consistently. People don’t listen to words; they might eventually pick up on habits.

All the grandiose statements about “my wife is not an employee” are great and everything, but when no one else shows up to watch kids in the nursery, guess who watches kids in the nursery?

I think there were years where my wife heard maybe five of my messages because no one else would serve in the nursery. This was not good. Spare me the lectures about “Well, you need to make people do it, that’s not right.”

Yeah, ok, and who exactly are these people I want to entrust the care of other people’s children to? Not to mention that my wife felt bad making a mom who brought the kids stay in the nursery with the kids. What’s the point of going to church then?

My wife knows my theological brilliance anyway, she’ll just watch the kids. She’d rather give other people an “opportunity” to hear sermons than her.

But it still got old.

The nursery thing was annoying, but we’ve since taken care of that by not having any little kids in our church anymore. But perhaps the two biggest sacrifices she makes being married to a failing pastor are these:

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The Feeling of Failure because no one Listens

I look at God’s word and think, “Man, this is great! These are the words of life.”

When I preach God’s word, I fully expect everyone else to see how great His word is too. But usually people just ignore it, shuffle out the door, and go right back to the idiocy they were dong before.

I sit back and observe the lives around me, I see the beauty of God’s word, I see that the wrecked lives are not hearing God’s word. How can they not want more of this beautiful, life-giving word?

My only conclusion is: it must be me. I must be screwing it up. I must preach really badly. Maybe my life, my testimony, maybe I don’t demonstrate it enough.

I reflect on how I act and what I’ve done in front of these people who continually don’t hear God’s word, I can think of things I did in front of them that weren’t right. I can see my blame. And since I know God’s word is so perfect and beautiful, it can’t be His fault. It’s got to be me.

When people reject God’s word, it must be my fault. I’m to blame. It’s all me.

I feel this way quite often. There is some truth. I can’t deny I have a part in all this.

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