This is What Caused Me to Resign From Pastoral Ministry

Over 21 years of pastoral ministry I heard many criticisms and compliments. Some really hurt. Some were ridiculous. Some were right.

But the thing that wore me out, the thing that drove me to resign, was not the criticisms or compliments, it was the mundane apathetic silence.

I shared my heartfelt study of the word week after week largely to be ignored, or worse, people went the opposite direction. I counseled, warned, encouraged, did the things I thought I was supposed to do.

Nothing. Nothing followed by nothing followed by eventual destroyed lives.

There are depths of frustration and sorrow you get to when you know you’re bringing exactly what people need (the Gospel and God’s Word) to solve their problems and yet it gets rejected.

In other words, it wasn’t the personal attacks and criticisms that wore me out. It was watching lives implode while yelling the wisdom of God into the abyss they kept falling further into.

Criticize me all you want. Find fault with how I speak, spend money, dress, and all the other stuff. I don’t care. Not an issue. But please listen to the wisdom of God.

At the same time, some people thought simply complimenting me would have made me continue. Some have expressed regret, “We should have appreciated you more.”

I appreciate that, but it’s not the issue really. No amount of compliments will make up for watching lives implode on a regular basis despite efforts to help.

And yes, I know, God is the one that grows people and I can’t do anything. I know. I get that. It still hurts. As Paul said, “Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.” Yet people don’t respond, which is why Paul also said he had “continual sorrow in his heart” by watching his people resist the truth.

I knew where many people were headed and it wasn’t good. I called out to them, begged them, pleaded with them, warned them, comforted them, and I did all that as God by His Spirit worked through me.

I didn’t need a buzz from people to keep me going. I felt a burden from the Lord to serve and teach and pray and do all things for all men so that by all means I might win some.

Eternally I will be judged and rewarded (if deserved) for my ministry. Temporally, on this earth, it looked like it mostly went to waste.

I didn’t need more compliments and fewer criticisms. I learned to not take either one too seriously. What I wanted was to see spiritual life, growth, sanctification, and maturity. With a few exceptions, I mostly saw apathy and lots of sin.

Seeing people grow in Christ would have kept me in the ministry; not more compliments.

I will give an account to the Lord for my ministry. I wanted to do it with joy. Instead I will do it with grief (Hebrews 13:17). This will not be good for anyone involved.


If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!

What Is the Best Way to Help People Spiritually?

I was a pastor for 21 years and was continually around people I had a desire to help, people who were making unbiblical decisions and heading the wrong way. It was heart breaking.

One of the hardest aspects of pastoral ministry for me was the confusion over what I was supposed to do to help people doing crazy stuff.

Helping people spiritually is not easy. The best explanation of it was by Paul in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”

Giving birth is hard, so I’ve heard! Although I’ve never done it, I have watched it. It didn’t look fun. Getting people to grow in Christ feels like that! Perhaps not as intense into a moment, but it hurts.

Childbirth is natural, like, it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not if you’re pregnant. Getting people to grow in Christ is not natural. Many actively fight against it. Trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is gut wrenchingly difficult.

It would be nice if the Bible told us how to do it. It does, but you’ll find it’s not exact to specific situations and people.

The Bible presents a broad spectrum of possible ways you can help people. Here are some examples:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23—Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means he might win some. This seems like he’s saying “do whatever you gotta do.”

Jude 22-23—some people you show compassion to and that works, others you actively go grab and drag them out of the fire. No time for compassion, you just gotta go get em.

1 Peter 3:14-16—be ready for when people ask you. If they aint askin, they probably don’t care to hear your opinion.

Matthew 15:11-14—Jesus tells the disciples that the Pharisees are blind leaders of the blind. He tells the disciples to “leave them alone!” That’s fascinating. They will fall into a ditch, so let em. Some people have to hit rock bottom and you should let em go do that.

Philippians 3:15-17—Paul says God will show people where they are off. It’s not always your job. Leave room for God to lead people.

1 Corinthians 5:5—some people you hand over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This is primarily talking about church discipline.

So, on one end you do all things for all men to save some, show compassion on some, yank others out of the fire, leave them alone, wait for them to ask, let God show them, and on the opposite end is handing people over to Satan.

Those are quite the options!

So, after 21 years of accumulated pastoral experience and wisdom, what do I think you should do to help people spiritually?

I have no idea.

People and situations are different. I can’t answer specifics, but I’ve at least gained these general insights.

The one theme that runs through the New Testament is that you should pursue righteousness and holiness yourself. If you’re not, odds are they won’t listen to you anyway. And, if you’re not growing in righteousness, it’s debatable that you are the one who is equipped to help anyway.

Before getting all fussy about sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, take the beam out of your eye. Clean your own mess first. There are too many busybodies in Christianity trying to fix everyone.

You’re not everyone’s mom. It’s not your job to fix everyone.

If you are in a place where you think you can help someone, then pay attention. Listen to them. Don’t just judge and lecture without knowing what’s truly going on. Study the Bible. Look at the contexts above to see why they acted this way toward certain people, because there are reasons!

Pray. Really think this over with the Lord. There are no cookie cutter approaches to helping people spiritually. You really need to pay attention to them, you, the Word, and prayer.

Also remember Paul’s warning to consider yourself when dealing with other people and their sin lest you also be tempted. If you struggled with addiction of any sort, maybe you’re not the one to try and deliver others from addiction if you feel tempted to relapse.

Leave room for people to respond to God Himself. Cult leaders make everyone listen to them. God is the enemy at that point. Don’t do that!

Many people obsessed with fixing others actually just like power and the feeling of being needed. It has little to do with helping others and much to do with inflating their pride.

One of the urges to help people or to fixate on the sins of others is to keep you distracted from your own sins. If you’re always the fixer, you convince yourself you don’t need fixing. A guilty conscience often makes people obsess about other people’s problems.

Helping people spiritually is very difficult. If people don’t listen to God very well, I can’t imagine they’d listen to you very well either!

I don’t know how to fix people, but I have figured out this: pray, study the Word, pay attention, listen, pursue righteousness, and consider your own condition first. If you do these things, there’s an off chance you might actually be helpful to someone at some point. But don’t hold your breath!

If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!

How to Overcome Bitterness and Resentment Caused By Church Pain

Many have been hurt by the church, or more specifically, by creepy people in the church.

This shouldn’t shock us. Churches have people in them and people, by nature, do evil things. We’re all arrogant jerks from time to time, some more than others.

But I think in church we have high hopes. Maybe we let our guard down a bit. Maybe we forget that our enemy the Devil is seeking whom he may devour and church is a fantastic staging area for his attacks. If Satan can mess with churches, who knows what fallout that can have?

I was not naïve going into ministry. My dad was a pastor and I lived in his house for 18 years watching churches beat him up. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a pastor and I saw what ministry did to him. I went in knowing what was going to happen.

It was still unreal!

Knowing you’ll be rejected does not diminish the actual pain of being rejected. In some ways it seemed to make it worse. Until I personally received rejection from church people, I assumed my dad and grandpa probably to a degree deserved it! I, however, who know everything and am way more betterer, do not. But then it happened to me too.

I was deeply frustrated, angry, and bitter about my church experience, both as a kid growing up in a pastor’s family and as a pastor myself for 21 years. There is a lot of pain. I still tear up over it and I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for over two years. The pain is still right there.

Part of the pain of ministry is knowing the lives that fell apart in front of you, their souls heading right to hell, and there was nothing that I did that prevented that.

I know all the theology about some plant and some water and God gives the increase. I know God is the one who works in people, not my efforts. I know. I know all that. And it still hurts to watch people you love and care for reject truth and destroy their lives and possibly their souls.

I have plenty of pain and bitterness from the church. How does a person get over such things? Where is the relief? Here are some points to consider.

1. We follow Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He cried over Jerusalem, He wanted to gather them, but they would not be gathered. Ministry, if done right, will hurt. The soldier who signs up for duty, knows it’s going to hurt. It’s not a shock when it does. It’s the “fight of faith,” not the picnic of faith. Ministry will hurt you and hurt you deeply. Embrace that. Come to terms with it. Understand it’s part of the deal. This has helped me let go of the more dangerous side of pain: resentment, vengeance, bitterness, and anger.

2. Know the Gospel. Jesus came unto His own, and His own received Him not. He prayed, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” to those who nailed Him to a cross. Gospel love is about giving yourself sacrificially to others and includes massive amounts of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy. Put yourself in light of Christ’s forgiveness for you. Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. Pray for wisdom in truly understanding the Gospel, not just the facts of it, the story, the events, but the actual new life we have in Christ through it. There is no shortcut to ridding yourself of the pain and hurt. Lose yourself in the Gospel and in the person of Christ. It’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. We die daily. We were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life.

3. Remember Scripture. Don’t consider it strange when the world hates you, it hated Christ first. Woe unto you when all men speak well of you. Blessed are you when you are reproached and reviled for righteousness sake. That I may know Him, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. If we suffer with Him we will be glorified with Him. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Read the prophets!

4. Make sure your pain is actually for righteousness sake. Perhaps one reason your experience in church has been terrible is because you have been terrible. This is what makes this issue hard to discuss with a general audience. Some people’s pain from church is because a church rightly exercised church discipline. Our sin leads to a lot of our pain. The fact that you didn’t get your way in a church, not everyone jumped on board with your weird idea, is not persecution! It might just mean you are a sinful weirdo. Consider where the pain is coming from. Sometimes pain is a warning that you’re doing it wrong. Don’t assume your rejection is because you’re so wonderfully righteous! Consider for a moment maybe your own sin contributed. Some of my pastoral pain is because I made mistakes, had bad judgment, or well, sinned. A source for much of my bitterness and resentment about the church is because they failed to make me look good! I wanted to excel at ministry many times simply for my ego. When you get your pride in check, much bitterness dissipates.

5. Christ is supposedly your first love. No amount of stupid in a church should drive you away from Him. The church, the actual people who sit in your local congregation, are not all saved. Your faith is not in people; your faith is in Christ. For some this is empty-headed, “Yeah, no kidding.” But it’s a real point. People who walk away from faith because of the pain they experienced in the church maybe did not have Christ as their first love. And I’m not minimizing the seriousness of the pain that can be experienced in church. There’s some sick stuff going on out there. But Christ didn’t abuse you. People sinned against you, Christ did not. The pain I experienced in church has driven me closer to Christ. I lost all confidence in people and had Him left. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me spiritually, although completely miserable in experience.

These are some points that have helped me. But it still hurts.

There may be some who think all this is weird. They haven’t experienced pain in church. This could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they are in a really good church. Maybe they are oblivious. Maybe they aren’t really loving people truly, just doing actions and busy stuff that look like love, but their heart has been kept back. Maybe they are the ones hurting others. Maybe they are so happy they just don’t see bad stuff. Who knows.

But to the rest of us, those beaten down, those who have contemplated walking away from the church because who needs it? For those who struggle to open their heart again because what will they do next? For those whose hearts drop just walking through the doors of a church:

Don’t leave it. God’s people are in churches. You might have to look harder in some churches, and sometimes you might need to go to a different church. But God’s people are out there. The fellowship of believers, the like-mindedness and peace the fellowship of the Spirit can bring is worth the search and the effort. In the midst of all my pastoral pain, there were always faithful people who loved me and encouraged me, and I hope I did the same for them. They are worth all the other junk. They really are. Hard to believe at some points, but it’s true. You need them and they need you.

There are no easy answers. I have no pithy strategies to enact this Sunday that will take the pain away. But I know the Gospel is all about this issue. If you think the Gospel is only for unbelievers, you got another thing coming!

There is new life in Christ and there is hope. The glories of the new earth will be so great we will not remember anything from this old dump (Isaiah 65:17. Let me just say again: read the prophets!). Eternity with Christ is the only thing that will fully remove all pain, hurt, and bitterness. When we are made like Him when we see Him as He is. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven, press toward the mark, lay hold of eternal life.

Even so, Lord, come quickly.

If you want to hear more about my failed attempt to do what I could do help a diseased church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!

My Resignation Sermon

I put a battery in my old MP3 player that I used to record my sermons and found an audio file I don’t remember making!

It was a rehearsal sermon of my resignation from my church. I did it in the quiet of my office with the intent of posting it for the church to hear.

The situation was a little weird as to why I recorded it. My mother was struggling with cancer and the week of my resignation she took a turn for the worse. I thought I might miss the Sunday my resignation was planned for to have to go see her.

I managed to stay in town until then, so I never used this audio file at all, which is why it escaped my memory.

Anyway, for pastors out there who are thinking of resigning or are curious about pastoral resignations, here’s how mine went! I basically said this to the church in person, just a lot more crying and blubbering was involved. I did not record the actual resignation sermon knowing I’d just be sniffing through the whole thing.

It’s over two years later now. I am glad I did not toast the church or go out burning bridges, which I could have done. My flesh would have enjoyed that. But I am grateful that did not occur. You can, or at least I can, hear when I got close!

So, I put this here in the off chance someone is interested. Click here to give it a listen.

How Churches Become Ineffective

Most churches have boiled down their activity and message to an inoffensive middle.

Offensiveness is not always bad. The Gospel, according to the Bible, is offensive. If your church is not offending people who don’t like the Gospel, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and any number of godly things, then your church is ineffective.

The reason most churches are not offensive is because they can’t afford it.

They have mortgages to pay. There are heating and electric bills and general upkeep for giant buildings. Exorbitant salaries for increasingly expanding paid positions must be paid.

As these things increase for a church, adherence to the offensiveness of the Gospel and truth goes out the window.

Some people want more of a thing while other people want less of that same thing. The church, desiring not to lose any cash givers, finds a comfy middle ground where both parties are happy.

Church traditions are merely hundreds of years of doing this.

This is what we’ve always done and this is what we will continue to do because back in 1893 the Jones and Miller families hashed this out until we found this workable solution. Don’t mess with it. This is what people expect. If we don’t give them what they want; they won’t give us what we need: money.

Your church does not perfectly follow the Word of God. If it did, it would be smaller.

Your church knows this, so it has come up with a handy way to make people feel like they are listening to God while scratching ears to get money.

Cynical? Yes. It’s also very true in most cases.

As a pastor, you know what verses your church has no interest in taking seriously. You know you can’t preach on them without losing people. Do you preach on them anyway and take your lumps, or do you compromise? Maybe skip some uncomfortable parts of the Bible?

Why are you doing that?

After years of playing games with people in my church, I began to simply preach what I saw in the Bible. People left. I made a clear statement to the board that I will take pay cuts. Keep doing everything the church needs with money, I will suffer the consequences of my teaching.

I taught what I believed. People left. My salary shrunk. There were many times I could have skipped verses or not preached certain sermons. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk or purposely poke people in the eye (most of the time!), but I was trying to be faithful to the Word.

My church shrunk to the point of non-existence. I’m no longer a pastor. The church is no longer in existence. I find both things to be ok under the circumstances. I tried to correct what the church taught and did with biblical teaching.

People left. People aren’t interested in biblical teaching; they are interested in an inoffensive institution they can use to assuage their guilt.

Cynical? Yes. Unfortunately, also very true.

Try it sometime. Do you have the guts to preach the verses you know your church ignores? It’ll cost you. Is it worth it? Well, you won’t have as much stuff and you’ll have fewer people, but you’ll also have a clean conscience before the Lord.

The church is here to proclaim the Light of Jesus Christ. Men love darkness and hate light. Don’t be surprised when the world hates you, and also don’t be surprised about how much world is currently in your church.

Don’t be an inoffensive, ineffective, worthless church. Proclaim the Word of God, forsake your dependence on worldly things, and speak the truth in love.

Pastors: Are You Valiant for the Truth?

People complain that pastors do not preach the word or stand up for the truth enough. I guess I can’t argue.

At the same time, it’s slightly ridiculous for people to complain that pastors don’t stand for the truth when the people don’t either. The pot calling the kettle black, don’t ya know? I did my best to preach the truth of God’s word. Many people left. This didn’t stop me, but it also made life difficult.

Not going to sugar coat it: if you as a pastor preach the actual words of Scripture in context, you will suffer for it. That’s why pastors don’t do it. Pastors especially don’t do it if the building fund needs funding, or the massive mortgage needs paying, or the Jones’ church is bigger.

The more you want or need earthly things, the odds that you will preach the truth decline.

Preaching the truth is hard because the truth hurts. People like the darkness and hate the light. Truth shines around in peoples’ hearts and makes em cry. It’s fun on some level! But watching people flee over and over again breaks your heart.

I saw a cool phrase in Jeremiah 9:3. The prophet is bemoaning the demise of Israel. Jeremiah says he’s so tired of Israel, he wishes he could run away from the people of Israel to a band of guys in the wilderness! I hear ya there, Jerry!

And here’s verse 3:

And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord.

They like to speak lies and they are not “valiant for the truth.” Ooo, I like that phrase! The Hebrew word for “valiant” means to show yourself mighty, to be powerful, to be great and prevail. That’s the kind of truthiness you need to be an approved pastor.

Are you valiant for the truth?

This would imply at least two things:

1) You know the truth. You’ve read the Bible so many times you know what it’s talking about. You don’t copy sermons off the internet. You don’t rely on commentaries to inform you what to preach. You actually know the Bible, you know the truth of God’s Word. Beyond that, you’ve taken this knowledge into practical experience. You’ve tried out the truth. You’ve worked with it, planted it, and have experiences with it. You’ve seen the validity of the truth right before your eyes. Are you strong in your understanding of and experience with God’s truth?

2) You have set your face like flint and have removed all obstacles and temptations that would make you veer from the truth. You are not reliant on money or ego-feeding compliments or followers. You are also not an arrogant jerk with a desire to smash everyone into the ground with your intellect, we’re not talking macho strength. No, you simply stand unwaveringly on the truth. You’re rooted, grounded, and built up in it. You’ve read it and lived it to know it’s true and there’s nothing on this old earth of ours that will knock you off that firm footing. You don’t cave or back down when lies are thrown your way. You don’t back off the truth even if it means you will lose people, money, followers, reputation, rights, or who knows what else. You’re completely sold out for the truth and it’s all you’ve got and all you need. Here you stand; you can do no other.

This, I believe is what it means to be valiant for the truth. Israel had fallen away from the truth. Verse 5 explains why people like lies:

And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.

People like lies and hate the truth because they want to sin. They want sin and they don’t want guilt. The only way to sin without guilt is to deny the truth. Eliminate the verses and the commands that ruin the fun. And especially get rid of the messenger that brought that truth.

You will be attacked if you preach the truth. They will examine everything you do until they find some trumped up charge to bring against you. Expect it. Make sure there’s nothing for them to find! If you’ve been valiant for the truth, there won’t be. But don’t be shocked when they simply make stuff up! Let em. Be valiant for the truth.

Toward the end of the chapter we have these beautiful verses, ones you should memorize and remind yourself of regularly:

Thus says the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

Do you know the Lord? Do you know who He is and what He loves? Do you love Him and the things He loves? Are you valiant for the truth? Remember, Paul tells us that love rejoices in the truth.

Pursuing truth does not make you arrogant, you don’t run around boasting in all you know and all your fantastic wisdom. Instead you rejoice that you know the Author of Truth. You know He who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Pastors, be valiant for the truth. This is your one calling. Be valiant for the truth. Don’t let anything keep you from this. Fight the fight.

Some Tests to See If You Should Enter Pastoral Ministry

I, and many other pastors, did not have an easy time being a pastor. It was the most brutal stretch of my life.

Anyone who asks me whether they should enter pastoral ministry, I give the same answer my dad, who was a pastor, gave me, “Don’t do it, it’ll break your heart. But if you have to, you have to.” Know up front that pastoral ministry can be brutal, and nothing going on in our world makes me think it will get easier.

But avoiding hard things is no recipe for a life well lived. If you realize the potential brutality and still want to do it, then by all means, go for it.

If you have any skills or interests that could provide you a living outside of pastoral ministry, pursue that. One of the first tests will be whether you’ll take the more enjoyable job over ministry. I know many guys who were qualified to be well-paid employees who instead went into the ministry. The choice was clear and I think that helped them in their resolve to stick with ministry.

The Big Question is Why do you want to be a pastor? What’s your motivation?  What’s your answer to that? Write it down somewhere, I’ll give you the right answer at the end of the article. You can see if you passed this test!

Being a pastor is not a switch you flip. Being a pastor should be an extension of who you are as a person. If you’re already not doing pastoral things, then don’t be a pastor. It’s not just a job, and we don’t need any more people doing it as a job. The church has enough hirelings.

So, here are six things you should already be doing in your life before you are a pastor. If you’re not doing these things, I’d suggest not being a pastor.

1. Reading the Bible. I mean, like, really reading it. Over and over. Not just as a checklist activity, but reading for comprehension. You can defend your doctrine with verses, and not just catechism type verses, but actual verses you’ve read in context and thought through. You are so familiar with God’s Word that you can recognize what someone says as consistent or not with the voice of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Are you in the Word, systematically reading and studying it?

2. Living the Bible. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. He is the revelation of the righteousness of God apart from the Law and the Prophets. Is the life of Christ manifest in your life? Reading the Bible is not for arguing theology and being good at Bible Trivia. Reading the Word correctly always leads to doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so the man of God is thoroughly equipped to do good works. Is your life increasingly a reflection of Jesus Christ and His Word?

3. Helping people. Are you bearing the burdens of others? Do you talk to old people, because you’ll be doing a lot of that! Do you attend funerals, visit old folks, attend church events, and generally are helpful to those around you? If you won’t help your mom do the dishes, will you really serve others who actually can’t stand you? Are you developing love, service, compassion, and burden bearing? Are these a part of your life right now?

4. Accepting responsibility. Do you make decisions and deal well with the consequences? Pastors make a lot of decisions that have big time implications. If you blame others or act like a victim already in life, good luck leading a group of people! You have to know what you’re doing and be responsible enough to admit when you messed up, to humbly ask for forgiveness, and even on the off chance you’re right, how to be right graciously. Do you make decisions and deal with the consequences with maturity?

5. Dealing with feedback. A pastor’s actions get judged by EVERYBODY. Very few people in your life will not judge your pastoral actions. How well do you handle criticism? Do you consider it long enough to examine whether it’s right, or do you just flip out a comeback and move on? How well do you handle praise? Do you get arrogant easily, gloating over others, and rubbing faces in their mistakes and your glory? You need to understand that cheers and boos mean nothing. They are two sides of the same coin. Do you over-value the opinions of people?

6. Handling money. Pastors need to watch out for money. Many pastors have gotten in trouble over money. If you are massively in debt when you are a pastor, you will be tempted to water down your messages to keep people happy. You will play with conforming to the world to make more money. Get out of debt. Learn to buy very little. The more you need money, the greater the temptations will be to destroy your ministry. Get a grip on money and the deceitfulness of riches. Money destroys people. It destroys pastors and churches. Jesus said if we can’t handle earthly treasure, why would He entrust to us spiritual treasure (Luke 16:11)? How are you with money?

If these six things are not things you are aware of and working on right now, if these things seem irrelevant to you, if they seem too hard, legalistic, or laborious, or if you think you already have them all nailed down at age 23, please, for the sake of the Body of Christ and God’s Church, do not become a pastor.

Paul’s guidelines for church leadership as given in the Pastoral Epistles, are strict and they are moral/spiritual in nature. The church today does not hire pastors according to these guidelines; it hires based on education or communication skills or past success. The church is suffering today because of this.

So, what was your answer to my earlier question: Why do you want to go into pastoral ministry? What’s your motivation? If your answer was anything other than something like: to make much of Christ, to edify people and grow them into Christ, to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to glorify Jesus Christ, please do not go into ministry. Paul said he came to do nothing except preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Don’t do the job for money, for fame, for some proof of your spiritual vitality, for respect, or for any other human means. Do it to grow people into the perfect man Christ Jesus. Read Ephesians 4. This chapter tells you what church is for. The pastor’s job is to help Ephesians 4 happen in a local church. If Ephesians 4 doesn’t sound like something you want to be part of, then please do not enter pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. You’re not. If your answer did not include Jesus Christ, your motivation is suspect.

Pastoral ministry is brutal. The vast majority of people do not want truth, nor do they want to grow into Christ. They think they do, they tell you they do, but their actions and reactions will clearly demonstrate this is not the case. There has always been a remnant. You will reach a couple people, if that. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

Our world is increasingly hostile to Jesus Christ. If you truly represent Him, you will suffer for it. You will. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It’s a brutal calling, but it also has eternal reward. Understand the responsibility.  James says, “Let not many of you be teachers.” When you open your mouth before God’s people, you are bringing on yourself more judgment. Take the job seriously. Many pastors are not taking it seriously and they are getting away with it for the time being. They have their reward and they will also give an account before the Lord and receive His full judgment on what they did in His name.

If you desire to be a pastor, you desire a good thing, but it is also a brutal thing. Go into it with your eyes open and prepare yourself for what’s about to hit you. Start today. I wish you well. Fight the fight.

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.