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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Why I am Still a Pastor

If you read my stuff, you know I have some “issues” surrounding my pastoral career. It begs the question: Why are you still doing this if it’s that bad?

Here are my answers to that question in no particular order:

1. I do actually occasionally help people. Not many, not as many as I’d like. But there are some. I can see their growth in Christ and to know I had a part in planting or watering is so awesomely cool I can’t even explain it. I fail to see how I’d get this many shots at that by not being a pastor. To be of use to hurting, questioning, and doubting people is very cool.

2. I just wouldn’t do these things otherwise. I get opportunities to be with people in very personal moments. Weddings, funerals, counseling, just talking. I have sat next to more crying people in the last 20 years than I ever thought possible. These are things this job requires me to do and people view me as someone they can invite in. I would never in a million years get this many opportunities to be with people otherwise.

3. I have grown in Christ tremendously. Much of what I share on the Failing Pastor is my flesh’s cynical take on being a pastor. The reality is a tad more balanced. I have had so many people and things ripped away from me, I’ve only had Christ left. Only His Word to stand on. If my pastoral career had been successful, I’m quite sure I’d have lost my soul. I cannot thank Him enough for how terrible my church is for what it’s done for me spiritually!

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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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Dealing With Feelings of Pastoral Inadequacy

If you were to ask me the top five reasons why I feel like a failing pastor I would say:

  1. People don’t come to my church; even “regulars” don’t come very “regular.”
  2. The testimony of the families in our church is, shall we say, sub-par.
  3. I never feel entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with people.
  4. Surely if I were succeeding I would not be crying over this church as much as I do.
  5. Minuscule levels of what is termed “successful evangelism” are taking place.

I’ve heard people confirm my failure in regard to these issues. Many happy pastors would immediately condemn my pastoring based on these five things, (probably with the exception of the crying thing because that sounds very spiritual and “should be that way,” but you probably don’t fully understand the source of those tears, which is mostly just complete pain and agony rather than intercession).

I’ve heard many non-pastors say in relation to these things, “You should quit then.” Perhaps, but these same people will trot out the “Nothing worthwhile is every easy” line if I dare discuss quitting.

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How do you Know if the Holy Spirit is in Your Ministry?

I’ve been told many times that if the Holy Spirit is involved in my church there will be growth in numbers. I’ve been told that the Holy Spirit will always provide money, resources, volunteers, and anything else to carry out the ministry. If the Spirit is in your church, your church will be the awesomest church ever!

When people start telling me that the Holy Spirit guarantees external, material, measurable success, I wonder if they’ve ever read the Bible.

The Spirit called a number of prophets to go talk to a group of people who were not going to listen. They were told up front: Go talk to them, but understand that they aren’t going to listen to you. They’ll probably try to kill you.

Jesus Christ had no place to lay His head. He had 72 disciples, then 12, then 11, then zero for a bit. The Apostle Paul said he was left alone, no man stood with him. He learned to be content even when he was in famine, nakedness, and distress.

There is nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that when the Holy Spirit shows up everything is externally, measurably awesome. Hebrews 11, people. Some believers were sawn in pieces!

We want to determine the Spirit’s effectiveness by measures of human effectiveness. Lately the church has been led to believe we must have success like businesses do: more money, bigger buildings, sprawling campuses, more people/employees, etc. If your church looks like Amazon and Apple, then God has blessed you and the Spirit is doing amazing things (Just like He is at Amazon and Apple apparently).

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Should a Pastor Use Humor in the Pulpit?

I’ve heard arguments for yes and no in answer to this question.

Some view humor in a sermon as being blasphemous, out of place, and irreverent. I understand the point and think it has merit. We are dealing with Big Serious Issues.

Others say humor is fine; it’s part of effective communication and keeps people listening. I get this too. Big Serious Issues can get Big and Boring. What good is it if everyone is asleep while you’re seriously discussing Big Serious Issues?

Ignoring all church tradition and sanctimony, my answer to the question is this: It depends. I’d need to ask some questions to understand the context better to give a correct answer.

1. Is the pastor funny?
If you are not naturally funny, then don’t use humor. We are often not the best judges of our own humor. The best test is if anyone thinks you’re funny when you try to be funny. If you are not funny; do not force humor into your sermons. It will sound stilted and won’t work. Don’t be the guy who reads jokes you found on the internet because you know you need laughs, but then read them all wrong with terrible timing and voice so everyone just cringes. Don’t be that guy. If you are naturally funny, I do think it is fine to be funny.

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