Ask The Failing Pastor: Should I Take a New Church?

When my dad was in seminary he worked at a grocery store. The manager of the store promised him a full-time job and promotion after he graduated.

Instead my dad took a little, rural church in Michigan. He spent four good years there developing life-long friendships. It was a great first church. He loved them and they loved him.

So, naturally, he left.

Years later (I was 7 when we moved from there) he told me he left because, and I quote, “the church couldn’t go anywhere.” In other words, it wasn’t going to grow as it was in a town of 300 people.

My dad took two other churches before he died about 15 years ago. He struggled mightily in those churches. He had some success and again made some lasting friends, but he was broken up by those churches.

Frequently he would say, “I should have stayed at the grocery store.” Or on other days, “I should have stayed in Michigan.”

I always felt bad for him that he left a good little church for the allure of the bigger church in a bigger city. Moving up to bigger was nothing but a headache for him.

My family and I think those churches caused his early death. We have no way of knowing if this is true. Churches aren’t known to give people cancer. But stress does things to a guy.

The grass is sometimes greener on the other side of the fence, but most of the time it’s brown weeds that looked green with the right lighting.

I saw the torture my dad went through taking new churches, so I stayed at one church for 21 years before I couldn’t take it anymore.  

My dad lasted in ministry longer than I did. I think my church was killing me too, although I have not yet gotten cancer.

The bottom line is this:

If you’re a pastor, should you move and take another church or stay in one place your entire ministry?

I have no idea. More than likely either way it will suck and either way it will have some fruit.

Do what you gotta do and don’t worry about it! No matter what you do, people will judge you and find fault with your decision.

Decide things before the Lord. Don’t blame your move on the Lord though, that would be my one piece of advice. All this, “the Lord is calling me to a bigger church” stuff is just guilt-ridden justification in my occasionally humble opinion.

Be firm in your decision. Don’t make excuses. Don’t lie. Tell the church why you’re leaving. Tell the new church why you’re coming, and not some innocuous, self-righteous blather either. Be truthful why you are quitting and why you are going where you’re going.

If you start off in a new church lying and justifying, you will reap that sowing.

At the end of the day, you probably should have stayed at the grocery store job.

How to Fix the Church

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, me too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Should Church Discipline be Used?

Protecting the church is a big job of a pastor. False teachers and manipulative jerks abound, if left unchecked, they will destroy people and ruin the church.

At the same time, every person has a little false teaching and manipulative jerkness in them! If the pastor ran out every one of them there’d be no church left to protect.

So the pastor is stuck figuring out how much weird stuff to put up with from people before enacting church discipline.

In my case, church discipline was up to me. The board was mostly unhelpful in actively supporting or going with me to address unruly people. I was sent all by my lonesome into the wolf den. Our church had pastoral discipline more than church discipline. This was terrible for me, but I fear many other pastors are in the same spot.

So, I went by myself. Every time I ever did this the person automatically left right then. Therefore, I knew if I ever went to confront someone, there was a really good chance they would leave.

I didn’t want people to leave the church. I’d rather have them in than out. At least if they’re in there’s a chance they can hear the truth and be edified by the collective body of believers.

Paul says there’s a point in which you turn people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. That’s harsh. I had a hard time getting there (although there were some I was quite eager to do so!).

How much junk should a church put up with from a church person? When is the line crossed where church discipline, or whatever happens with bad apples, begins?

Here were my criteria to confront dorks in the church.

  1. Are they causing division?

There were plenty of people in my church over the years that were not helpful. They believed weird things and told me I was wrong. That was ok. I can put up with that, again, it wasn’t helpful, but it wasn’t doing anything worthy of church discipline. However, if they were promoting and pushing their weird beliefs on others, or they were trying to form cliques, then I’d step in.
–You are free to believe weird things, but don’t spread your weird to others in an effort to divide the church.

  1. Are they hurting another believer?

This is a little subjective. Believers are to edify one another. The two other options are: hurt others or have no effect on others. I welcomed believers who had a desire to edify others, I put up with those who didn’t do anything, but those who hurt others had to go. Hurting other believers looks like one of these

  1. a) leading people into false doctrine
  2. b) doing unrepentant, bold sin that was an awful example
  3. c) convincing others to sin like them
  4. d) various forms of emotional or even physical abuse

If a believer was being hurt under my watch, I held myself accountable for that. The pastor’s job is not just protecting the flock, but the individual sheep. Defend your people.
–people sin and will hurt each other, it happens, but if it appears as though you are calloused or intentional about hurting them, you must be taken out.

  1. Are they ruining the testimony of Christ?

Every sin ruins the testimony of Christ. People sin, there’s a certain degree of forgiveness and forbearance to be employed. This isn’t just about them embarrassing your church either. I think pastors get more worked up about the reputation of their church (and thus their own personal reputation) more than the reputation of Christ. Church represents something huge. Paul dealing with the guy having an affair with his step mom in 1 Corinthians is a perfect example of this. The world is watching. We represent Christ. An actively sinful lifestyle must be confronted. This gets tricky though. I’ve seen divorce play out this way. One couple gets divorced in a church and shortly thereafter several others will. Should I kick newly divorced people out of church then? It’s tough. It just is. People sin. We all ruin the testimony of Christ. It’s tough but something has to be done or else the Son of God is trampled underfoot.
–You sin, but if you turn your sin into a lifestyle that consistently destroys the testimony of Christ, the Word, and the Church (the Body of Christ) then something must be done.

I found these church discipline areas one of the toughest parts of being a pastor. When to step in, how to step in, and who will go with me? I was routinely confused about what I was supposed to do.

On top of that, we’re supposed to act out of love. Many churches have ceased church discipline because it appears unloving. That’s stupid. God, who is love, is the one who said we should use church discipline.

But it must be done right. It’s not about kicking out people who annoy the pastor, or don’t respect or agree with the pastor. It’s about protecting the church and the reputation of Christ and His Gospel.

The point of church discipline is not to create an echo chamber. The point is the salvation of souls. Restoration is the goal of all church discipline. We want them back; they just can’t be doing that if they return.

Being in charge of such decisions and the whole discipline process is a great burden. Being in a spot to know what to do with other people’s stupid is no fun. But it’s part of the job and the church is counting on you to do it well.

So do it well.

Why Have so Many Pastors Been Resigning Lately?

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

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

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

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

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

Can Churches be Doctrinally Right and Loving?

“Well, of course!” is the happy answer.

But I don’t know. I know the opposite is true: a church can be doctrinally bankrupt and unloving!

The church I came to pastor over 21 years ago was neither doctrinally right nor loving. They had a weird brand of hyper-dispensationalism and over-emphasized the word “grace” to the point of lasciviousness.

The previous pastor once told the congregation he didn’t care if a non-married couple moved in with each other, “it’s all grace, it doesn’t matter.” He said this from the pulpit, not as an aside in a conversation at a restaurant.

Their notion of grace was very extreme, hardly anyone else in Christianity went as far and weird with it as they did. This led them to believe they were the sole possessors of truth. They prided themselves on their doctrinal rightness. They were the sole defenders of truth.

The church was made up of many ex-legalistic people. They happily threw off the bonds of legalism and lived it up in their notion of “grace.”

My favorite episode in learning how weird the church I came to was, was when I wore a tie to church one Sunday. The assumed “leader of the church” came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t wear a tie.” I said, “What?” not as though I didn’t hear him, but more “what in the world are you talking about?”

He replied, “We don’t wear ties; we’re not legalistic.” I was so thrown off by this I don’t think I replied at all. I probably laughed nervously. If you’re not legalistic, then how come you have a dress code about not wearing ties?! So weird.

But that’s where they went. They turned grace into lasciviousness and a reverse-legalism. You indeed sinned so people knew grace was abounding. And they were massive jerks. One outsider described the church this way, “Oh yeah, they talk a lot about grace but don’t show it to anyone.”

This was a case where a church’s bad doctrine eliminated love entirely. I felt my job was to correct the doctrine and hope that a true understanding of the Gospel would result in love.

I began correcting the doctrine. People left. Many thought I was becoming legalistic because I taught that sin actually was bad and we weren’t supposed to do it.

There was some progress. Some people got it, some already had an issue with the old pastor and his increasingly weird grace stuff. Some love showed up.

But it just never really clicked. After 21 years of banging my head on this one wall, I just got worn out. Unfortunately I was losing love going over this same stupid doctrinal error and getting hurt by so many people. As my doctrine improved, which I believe it did, my love was dying.

The wounds were deep and waiting for the next wound to show up was driving me insane. On top of all that, my grandfather was the previous pastor! As my church increasingly had a problem with me, so did my family. I got it from all sides and I honestly can say that the hurt and rejection sucked love right out of me.

Is it possible for a church to emphasize right doctrine and be loving? I imagine there are many people who think so. I hope it’s true. I’d like to be part of one.

What I know for sure is, besides glib answers of the possibility, I have no idea how it’s done. Which is where Twitter tells me, “Well, that’s because you tried to do it! You can’t do it! Only God can.”

Yup, thanks. Apparently He doesn’t know how to do it either then! I asked Him so many times with tears to do so.

When you’re part of the In-Group in your church, it’s easy to think your church is loving. When your church’s doctrine doesn’t bother you, it’s easy to think your church has right doctrine.

Maybe we’re bad judges on this. Maybe I was a bad judge of my own “ministry.” God is the judge, He will let me know the true judgment, whether I had wood, hay, and stubble, or precious stones.

I pray for pastors that you would figure out the balance between doctrine and love. Knowledge puffs up. It’s what it does. But being stupid can’t be the answer!

It’s a tough thing. I pray you and your church can figure it out.

Can Pastors Have Friends? I know they can have Enemies!

When I was a pastor there were about a dozen guys in my church over the years who treated me like a best friend, for some of them, I think I was their best friend, who later blew up at me, left, and never talked to me again.

We did stuff together. We talked. We laughed. We ate food.

There was a line as a pastor that I could never quite figure out: when was I a pastor and when was I a friend?

In some cases, being a pastor is being a professional friend. People pay you to be their friend. I know that sounds cynical and cold, but my personal experience along with my knowledge of other pastors’ experiences lets me know this is true.

What many of them viewed as friendship I viewed as my job. I wouldn’t have been hanging out with these guys under other circumstances.

Many of these guys expressed problems with me all along. They’d pick apart my sermons, they’d make judgments about my behavior, and find fault with any number of things I did and said. In only one of these cases did I ever go off on one of them as they did on me (I regret this. It wasn’t good).

I tried to exercise patience and forgiveness as that’s what I felt I was supposed to do. But no matter how much patience and forbearance I used with them, inevitably they got mad enough at me to leave the church.

The friendship was gone. The time together, the patience, all of it was thrown out because I did some obscure thing that set them off.

On one hand I get it, if I approached the friendship as my job, they probably picked up on that! I’m not an overly outgoing, social guy, I don’t make friends easily. They were only my friend because I was the pastor and they were my friends because I was their pastor.

I’ve heard it said that pastors can’t have friends. This isn’t true. I had true friends while I was a pastor and they remain friends even after I’m no longer their pastor.

Friendship with pastors breaks off because often there was no real friendship to begin with. They were using me, how spiritual it makes one feel to be friends with a pastor! If the pastor likes me, certainly God does. And I viewed many of these relationships as duty. They weren’t going to last.

On top of that, people leave churches. If you have a friendship with the pastor and you don’t want to go to church anymore, you have to find some ridiculous problem with the pastor so you can blow up at him and get gone.

It took me a while to figure this out, but often this explosion to end the friendship had very little to do with me. I wasn’t perfect, but clearly I didn’t do anything deserving this treatment.

One inside tip: Many men take out their anger at their dads on pastors. I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. The guys who’ve had the worst relationships with their dads were the most explosively rude in their expression of dislike toward me. There’s other stuff going on; it’s not all you.

Another factor is that people are fickle. When the apostle Paul did a miracle the crowd thought he was a god, then they changed their mind and wanted to stone him. Jesus was hailed as the coming king in what has been called “The Triumphal Entry,” only to be crucified by the same mob at the end of the week.

This isn’t a Church Thing. Christians have no monopoly on fickleness. Observe the Cancel Culture overspreading our society. Famous people that no one had a problem with, accidentally say something slightly off from what the crowd wants to hear and that person is cancelled. Off with their heads.

People are weird. We just are. We get tired. We want change. True friendship requires forgiveness and patience. Those things are hard. People carry religious baggage into the church, who knows how that will work itself out over time. Not well, usually.

Jesus Christ said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”

You can’t be everyone’s friend. You’ll destroy yourself trying.

What you can do is do your best to love people, be patient, forgiving, and forbearing. But also know that at any time for any odd reason they can turn on you. It’s terrible to go into a relationship thinking, “I wonder when this guy will turn on me.” But for the pastor, you’re going to end up thinking that anyway!

God knows our frame, He knows we are dust. We can truly wonder “what is man, that God is mindful of him?” Why does He care for us knowing full well we will be His enemy many times?

Love. God is love. This is part of the job for God.

Even after these guys got mad and disrespected me and ran off, I still love em. I can’t help it. I care about them. I’d still help them today. Well, ok, there’s a couple I’d be happy to never see again, but still, I’d do my best!

It’s part of the job of being a Christian—love your enemies. What praise is there if you love those who love you?

Loving people is part of the job and don’t be surprised if you get fired! Happens to God every day and He’s doing love perfectly.

How to Deal with Pain Caused by Christians and the Church

Hate is easy.

People are creepy sinners who do creepy sinful things to each other. Hatred over this is automatic.

Love is hard.

Jesus Christ, while you were yet a sinner, died for you. While you were an enemy of God, actively going against Him, He died for you.

God is willing to forgive; He’s slow to anger, gracious, and merciful. Why? Because God is love.

Love covers a multitude of sin.

I have many reasons to despise and hate the church and Christians. I’ve been in the church my entire life. There are creepy sinful people in churches. I’ve met most of them.

Daily I hear people online talk about the abuse and pain they’ve suffered in church, my heart breaks a little more with each story. Every public revelation of a church leader who took advantage of someone under their care hurts a little more.

The pain is real. There is no way I’m trying to minimize the pain suffered at the hands of church people.

But you can’t hate those who’ve hurt you.

I hear a lot of resentment. Again, based on some of the stuff that’s happened to some people, I understand the hatred and resentment. I get it. I feel it myself to the degree I’ve been hurt.

But you can’t hang on to it in hatred and resentment. Resentment will tear you to pieces.  It will turn you into the ugliness that hurt you.

If there is any hope for peace and resolution and love in you, it will come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God will judge each person according to their deeds, whether they were good or bad. He will set all things right. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. That’s His job and He’ll do it. He already is.

Our job is to love our enemies.

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I even saying I do it right, but this is what I long for because Jesus did this for me and tells me it’s the way to my own freedom.

If you want to grow in Christ, if you want peace that passes understanding, the Bible is clear: love is the answer.

There is a tendency to morbidly celebrate our pain and all the terrible things we’ve suffered at the hands of sinful people. Be careful with it. Each retelling tends to strengthen the resentment and hatred.

You don’t just sweep it under the rug, pretend it didn’t happen. It did happen. It really hurt. But each retelling needs to be followed by a commitment to forgive. Seventy time seven. Every time you remember it; end with forgiveness.

Again, I know this sounds trite and seems to belittle the pain. That’s not the intent.

The intent is to bring the Gospel into life. If you appreciate the love, grace, and forgiveness you’ve received from Christ, then this should move you to show this to those who acted as your enemy. This is the painful flip side of grace and love.

Unfortunately the church can be a brutal place. I’ve suffered through the brutality myself and I’ve found that harboring resentment does not help. Hatred and thoughts of revenge do not bring healing. They do bring attention and more likes, however, and that’s it’s ugly pull. Everyone enjoys wallowing in mutual hate of enemies.

Gospel love is the answer. It’s not easy, it was sheer suffering for Christ to forgive us. But He says it is the answer.

Christians need to lead the way in forgiveness. No one else is going to. Forgive and be nice to each other! Build each other up in Christ and put His love on display.

The #2 Best Thing About Not Being a Pastor Anymore

My last few months of Sundays as pastor were brutal. Nothing really happened out of the ordinary, just same churchy things as always.

But my head was in a bad place. I couldn’t pull myself out. I didn’t want to be at church. I didn’t want to preach. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything except get it over with and go home.

I’d had depressing times before, but this one was to the core of my being. I couldn’t shake it. Tension built in me: how can I keep doing this job feeling like this? This can’t be right, man.

My plan for a number of years was to quit after our last kid graduated high school. That happens, Lord willing, in a couple months.

Perhaps it was being so close to the end? Seniors in high school get Senioritis. They’re so close to being done with school, yet they have to go through the motions until graduation day. Maybe I caught it from my son?

There was angst all around this past year, much of which made being a pastor more difficult. Listening to church members fixate on politics and passive-aggressively attack each other on Facebook posts. People freaking about viruses and how the church was to respond, which alienated someone all the time no matter what. There was a massive family issue going on in my extended family that drew my attention elsewhere.

In other words, there was a lot of troubling things on my plate. Maybe it was just overwhelming to my system.

All I knew is that Sundays is where it all culminated and beat me into the ground. Saturday nights were just dread. Sunday mornings, I couldn’t even pray. I didn’t even want to think about church. Just let me go and get it done with. Then I’d spend all afternoon fighting anger and inevitably end up sobbing at some point.

Man, I was a mess.

Well, I gotta tell ya. Sundays are way better now!

I’ve been going to church. I don’t have to do anything at a church for the first time in 21 years. I don’t have to worry about who isn’t there, or why, or who will be mad next. I don’t have to have regrets all afternoon and evening about how I messed up my sermon.

It’s just gone. It’s all gone! And it is delightful!

Now, I will admit, it’s hard to sit and not have a say. I can’t help but let my mind wander into what I would preach about this passage, or how I’d have said that point better, or criticize the application.

But the upside far outweighs the downside. Sundays are fantastic. I get edified. I talk to people who simply are talking to me not some mental image of “pastor.” I can relax and actually think about my spiritual health and not fixate on all the screwed up people in front of me.

Ahhhhh.

It’s a beautiful thing. Not sure how long it will last. I feel the pull already to get involved, which is good, probably. But right now, I’m pretty happy with Sundays.

The #1 Best Thing About Not Being a Pastor Anymore

Pastors evoke guilt wherever they go. Simply being in front of people makes them spew forth guilt-ridden justifications, excuses, and lies to cover their inadequacies your presence pulls up in their head.

Oh, I hated this.

I resigned from pastoring a while ago now. One of the best results of this is that I have not heard one person give me a stupid excuse why they weren’t at church!

Excuses annoyed me to no end.

After church on Sundays, my family often stopped at the local Wal-Mart or grocery store to pick up a couple things while in town. Inevitably we would see someone who skipped church. Guilt exuded from their pores.

All I said was, “Hi.” Then, for five minutes I’d hear their reasons for skipping church and how they did devotions today and they’ll be sure to watch that one preacher on TV their aunt likes. Dude, I just wanted some bread. Just running in to grab it and get going.

I tried not to guilt people to attend church. I figured if they want to be there; they’d be there. If they don’t want to be there, the church is probably better off without their bad attitude.

That was my reasoning. Probably I was just chicken to confront people.

If people skipped two weeks in a row I’d check in on them. My heart always sank when people skipped a couple weeks in a row. I hated making that call. Who knows what I’d hear.

Worst case scenario is they’d left the church and were ticked off at me. Best case scenario I’d have to listen to completely lame excuses and justifications, otherwise known as “lies,” about why they weren’t there.

There were always a couple people who refreshingly said, “Yeah, I just didn’t feel like going.” I appreciated the honesty. I’d take that over made up health concerns or blaming it on the same weather everyone else had.

Speaking of weather; bad weather on a Sunday is a great way to tell who’s playing and who’s for real. There are exceptions. In Northern Wisconsin we can have pretty bad weather. But the people who consider bad weather to be moist roads or anything below 47 when it’s cloudy or 35 when it’s sunny, are fake.

I was rarely shocked at who completely tanked spiritually or who flaked out on their faith. I knew this simply by watching what level of weather kept them from church. Bad weather on Sunday is a good barometer of how well people will handle persecution!

Simply seeing their pastor makes people feel guilty and guilt makes people be weird. I don’t miss that at all. It’s a true source of joy for me!

How a Pastor’s Sunday Goes From Wonderful to Depressing

8:00am—I’m up, showered, dressed, got my last sermon prep done, praying, getting ready. Really excited to present what I’ve learned from the Bible this week. Great stuff. People will be grateful to hear this! Excited. So glad it’s Sunday! Let’s do this!

9:00am—leave for church.

9:15am—shoot the breeze with some faithful people who are there early to get things set up.

9:25am—becomes obvious not many people are showing up for Sunday School. This does not bode well. Anytime I’m excited to preach, no one shows up.

9:37am—Sunday School starts late because I’m giving a last shot for any late people to wander in. No one wanders in. Slight depression enters my heart. I press on and do my Sunday school Lesson I was excited to bring.

10:02am—someone challenges one of my points. They were kind of right. My answer was terrible. So stupid, I should have looked up those verses and read more carefully. How did I miss that? Bummer.

10:24am—Sunday School goes late because people were arguing about politics and completely missing the entire point of what I just got done teaching. I close in a brief prayer and wait for church. It’s ok, my sermon is awesome! I’ll turn this around.

10:29am—becoming painfully aware that only three more people are coming to church than were at Sunday School. It’s raining and windy. Lord knows they can’t come when it’s rainy and windy.

10:37am—waiting for any latecomers to show up, there has to be more people than this. There isn’t. My spirit lags. I try to ignore it. Crowds don’t mean everything. Just serve the ones who are here, amen.

10:51am—my sermon begins. A late comer walks in three minutes into the sermon completely throwing off my concentration causing me to lose my place and stumble around repeating myself for four minutes.

11:17am—all heads are looking at the floor. I can’t believe I’m making a great passage of Scripture boring. The pressure mounts. Must do better. If only I could remember what I’m talking about.

11:32am—I keep running around in circles trying to make sure I got all my points in and said well. Not feeling like that is happening. Keep talking. So many conclusion statements that don’t quite feel concluding enough. Oh well, whatever. End this disaster.

11:39am—two people argue minor points in my sermon. One person only mentions my funny illustration and seems unaware there was a point to it.

11:51am—I ask my wife on the way home if my sermon made sense. “Well, it wasn’t your best.” OK, I’m done. Depression fully takes over. My kids begin fighting in the backseat demonstrating once again that my sermon point was completely missed.

11:53am—I have now snapped and lost my patience with my kids.

12:07pm—there is no lunch meat. I have nothing to eat for lunch now. I go in my room, shut the door and sulk in my chair.

12:43pm—I have now remembered three points I never made in my sermon, the points I was searching for in my succession of conclusion statements. Also I finally have the perfect answer to the person who argued in Sunday School. I’m sure they will send me an email badgering me further.

2:32pm—email received. Feeling a little dizzy reading it. I write three responses, all of which are erased. I carefully craft a fourth response, which all but concedes the point and throws in the towel because at this point I don’t want to think about it anymore.

3:24pm—not only do I relive all the failed moments of this morning they remind me of all the failed times I’ve had lately. And let’s not forget all the ones I had the last 18 years.

4:05pm—my wife and kids are afraid to come near me after I snapped earlier. I’m a terrible father and husband. The stupid church makes me a terrible person.

5:27pm—supper was late and it had mixed vegetables with broccoli in it. Can this day get any worse?

6:32pm—Yes, the day can get worse. I have received four responses to my earlier capitulating email. They know I capitulated and have now lost all respect for me. So have I.

9:07pm—I had a terrible sermon and didn’t handle myself well at church. I’m an awful pastor. I suck at being a father and husband. I’m a worthless person. Complete depression sets in. I lay on the floor and dry sob into the carpet.

10:32pm—I indulge a few sins, because I’m even worse than the chief of sinners, and go to bed. Sunday’s coming.