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 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.

Where I Was Edified as a Pastor (it Wasn’t Church)

I’ve been out of pastoral ministry for a good year and a half. And it has definitely been a good year!

One of the main reasons I resigned was that I was not edified at church. Church was a drain on me. I never left church services edified. Furthermore, I felt my edifying effects on others were diminishing. I don’t know if that part is true or not, it might just be self-loathing, it seemed like it. God will judge.

But I do know I was not being edified at church.

This was in large part due to being born in a pastor’s family. Church was another family member, often one that took precedence over the rest of the family members. It ruined my dad. I hated watching him get beat up by church people.

I had a bad attitude about church before I even began as a pastor. Being a pastor myself, getting beat up by church people for 21 years, did not help my bad attitude. It was time to get out.

I have been attending another church over the last good year and a half and have been edified and encouraged, built up and strengthened. And this is good.

In thinking back over the 21 years of non-edifying pastoral work, my faith still did ok. I personally was growing; it just wasn’t due to being built up by the local body of believers.

Not that there weren’t a few people who edified me, there were, but church as a meeting was not edifying. The place where I got the most edification was in my study.

In my study I read the Bible over 40 times cover to cover. I memorized Romans and Galatians. I read hundreds of theology books. I prayed and wept. I studied, wrote, and preached to walls. My study was my place of edification. Church was a place of draining out what I gained in my study.

The fact we call it the “pastor’s office” now instead of the “pastor’s study” says volumes. We’ve lost our focus. We’re running businesses rather than searching the Scriptures daily.

I will always appreciate the dead guys who wrote great books, even the dead guys who wrote not so great books that got me ticked off so I would look things up. I appreciate the living guys who wrote a few books as well, and also many sermons I listened to.

I grew and learned. I prayed and contemplated how to incorporate my knowledge into loving action. Some brutal hours were spent alone in my study, curled up on the floor weeping over broken lives. Some rapturous hours were spent too, glorying in the truth of God’s Word and the beauty of His wisdom, creation, and Gospel.

Tremendous.

Pastors, please develop the habit of being alone with the Lord, alone with the Bible, contemplating, meditating on it, and putting it into action in your own life. Even if all your church does is suck the life out of you, have a study that builds you up. I would not have lasted 21 years as a pastor without an edifying study.

Be alone with the Word, both the physical book and the risen Savior Jesus Christ. When the people take and take, have done the work that enables you to give and give.

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

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

1. They actually thought it was a good sermon.

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

2. They don’t know what else to say.

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

3. Lies, it’s all lies.

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

4. The one illustration they heard was good.

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

5. Sarcasm.

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

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

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

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

And, hey, good job reading this post.

Pastoral Shame and Accusations

Through 21 years of pastoring I was accused of many things:

–I ruled the church with “my way or the highway”

–I was too legalistic

–I wasn’t legalistic enough

–I was becoming Catholic

–I wasn’t Catholic enough

–I abuse my wife and kids

–I have too nice of a car

–I’m too close-minded

–I don’t understand grace

Most of these accusations are complete nonsense, but they also take an accumulative toll on a guy.

I was also aware at times that there was something bigger going on. There was a stretch of events in our church that sure seemed like an organized Satanic/demonic accusation going on. It was weird. Way too coincidental. Satan is an accuser and does a fine job.

And, in all honesty, my worst accuser was myself. My background in life was one of shame and insecurity. I’m legally blind, which created a lifelong feeling of inadequacy, and being made fun of by many didn’t help. My family was a very passive aggressive, guilt-based family. I had no self-confidence. I was trained to think if there was a problem, it was all my fault.

When you’re insecure and guilt-ridden naturally, with strong tendencies toward depression, accusations by others are enough to do you in. The pastorate did not help any of these negative characteristics in me; it massively made them worse.

Now that I’ve had a break from it (I resigned in November of 2020) I’m gaining perspective, not only on my sin and flaws, but also on the culpability of others in the whole mess.

I was recently struck with 1 John 2:1, “You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” When it was said to me, tears came to my eyes.

The context is about not sinning, and the help we have through Christ when we do. Sin is a tangled mess. I have my own sin and any other person who is around me has theirs. Something is going to go down. I’m either going to be accused, accuse them, or accuse myself, or any number of combinations of accusations.

There are places of confusion where I don’t even know if the accusations are wrong or not. I could go either way!

Regardless of where the accusations come from, I have an advocate with the Father. He’s my defense lawyer to all the prosecution’s accusations. And He’s THE righteous one. Who better to sort through the mess?

Unfortunately, His decision is not always seen or known, leaving me in a cloud of confusion. I have no idea if I did the right thing many times. I know I prayed about it and talked to the Lord, I explained my reasons as best as I understood them, but I’m also aware of my abilities in self-justification.

I have no idea. I’m a terrible judge. I’ll let Jesus Christ the righteous defend me. If I need vindication; I will let Him take care of it. If I need correction; He can give me that too.

Being a pastor is not easy; at least it wasn’t for me. Second-guessing and fault finding ruined my confidence, and that was just the noise in my head! After 21 years of having people in the church pointing out my faults too, well, yeah, not cool.

I have no idea if I did a good job as a pastor. I anxiously await the Lord’s opinion on that. I look forward to clarity. I hope we review everything I did so I can hear whether I did well there or not. Then again, maybe it’s better I don’t know!

Either way, I have an advocate with the Father. He understands my frame and knows that I am dust. I’ll let Him worry about the verdict. I’ll continue to grow and learn and implement. I don’t know what else to do.

From this point forward, anytime I or someone else accuses me, I’m going to tell them to, “Talk to my lawyer, Jesus Christ the righteous!”

But this isn’t a joke. It’s easier said than done. I know the weight of accusations. But with eternity in mind and THE Righteous One on my side, I imagine I will survive. I hope to be like Paul when he said:

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

–1 Corinthians 4:3-5

I hope also to see the blessing in it. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). To be numbered with the prophets and all those in the great cloud of witnesses. Unfortunately, my negativity and shame kept me from being so arrogant to put myself on a level with them. “I’m just a loser, I’m no Jeremiah or Isaiah. I deserve this treatment.”

It was a deep hole. I’m still trying to find a biblical and healthy way to get out of it. I know the answer is in here somewhere.

Even so, come quickly.

The Only Way to Cure Pastoral Depression and Pride

When I began as a pastor I was fully convinced I could fix the church that was interested in hiring me and I was convinced I could fix all the people in it.

If I had left the church after five years like most pastors do, I could have felt satisfied that I had done my job of fixing. Unfortunately, I stayed for over 20 years.

All those years showed me clearly I was pathetic at fixing churches and people.

My Grandfather was a pastor and he fixed the fourth church he went to. The first three didn’t get mentioned much. But the fourth one, like Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the fourth one stood.

He did so well fixing the church and people that he went on the road and fixed people all over America and even Canada. He flitted from town to town fixing people. He was convinced fixing people was easy and he was the man for the job.

After flitting about the country for years, he settled in to pastor one more church. He continued to claim an amazing ability to fix people. I met many of the people he fixed. Boy howdy, were they not fixed people.

My dad was also a pastor. He tried fixing three churches and had limited success. He fixed a couple people along the way too. But for the most part the churches and the people left him depressed. Especially since his father-in-law fixed people all over the country and routinely shamed my dad for his lack of fixing abilities.

My grandpa fixed people and he became a massive egotistical jerk. My dad didn’t fix people and became ashamed and depressed.

I followed in the steps of my father, except I had even less success in fixing.

My 20+ years demonstrate that I cannot fix people or churches. I write today a humiliated person. My confident knees have been knocked out from under me. I have no personal confidence with which to stand upon.

I have not been a pastor now for eight months. I’ve had plenty of time to think. Separation from the church and the people I couldn’t fix has allowed me to examine things as a spectator.

I’ve thought a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that fixing people is not the calling of a pastor.

If the pastor’s job is to fix people you will have one of two results:

1) You will fix people. This will feed your ego and you’ll become proud, above everyone, a spiritual, white bearded guru on a mountain top handing out advice from on high. You won’t weep with those who weep or rejoice with those who rejoice. You’ll just be a jerk above them all no matter their weeping or rejoicing.

2) You won’t fix people. You will examine everyone for fruit and any sign of non-growth will suck the life out of you. When the stupid people are too stupid to listen, their failure is a reflection on you. How dare they despoil your image! You’ll be depressed, but just as arrogant as the fixer; it will just show itself in pity, bitterness, and anger.

Look at how many pastors have fixed their churches, made it grow to multitudes of success. They write books and travel conference circuits, only to be fired for being a bully or for taking advantage of people.

On the flip side, pastors who couldn’t make their churches grow and could never heal the broken part of the Body are depressed. Suicide ranks high among pastors.

Trying to fix people and churches is a recipe for disaster.

Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles or anywhere else in the Bible are we told to fix people.

The pastor’s job is to grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people. God gives the increase.

This is hard to do. Easy to say. Easy to nod your head at this advice.

But try it. Try loving people, and growing, and preaching the Word. People will still be people and you’ll be tempted to count victories and grovel in defeats.

The only way you can pastor without fixating on fixing people is to view yourself before the Lord–Doing the right thing before Him regardless of temporal results.

The only way you can have that view is if you have an eternal perspective and have laid hold of eternal life.

The only way you can do that is by seeing that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’m identified with Christ, thus already dead to this world and alive unto God.

Pastors, know the Gospel. Identify with Christ. Reckon yourself to be dead indeed, no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you.

Earthly measures fire up the ego into either pride or pity. Ignore the world. You’re crucified unto the world and the world is crucified to you. Let it go. Set your affections on things above. Stop counting victories and defeats.

So easy to say; so hard to do, but it is the answer.

You were not called to fix people or churches. You were called to represent Christ as a minister of reconciliation. Grow in Christ, preach the Word, and love people and don’t worry about earthly measures.

You will stand before the Lord who will test with fire all you’ve built on the foundation. Earthly praise, recognition, and growing numbers do not impress God. Faithfulness to Him is what we’re here for.

Do that.

Will People Really Come to Church if You “Just Preach the Word?”

Many years ago I had an older gentleman “encourage” me as a young pastor by telling me “if you preach the Word, people will come.”

This sounds good. It might remind you of an incredibly stupid baseball movie involving an Iowa cornfield. But it will not remind you of any Bible verses!

But as a young, idealistic preacher I liked the advice. I believed it too.

So I started preaching the Word. I began in Genesis and started going through chapter by chapter (skipping some of the drier chapters). Eventually it took me 16 years to get all the way through to Revelation.

I learned a ton. Spending each week studying a new chapter of Scripture completely changed my faith.

And therein lay the problem. What I believed changed. It’s ok if the average Christian who rarely talks changes their doctrine. No one seems too troubled. People brag to me all the time about how they’ve recently found the magic doctrine that unlocked untold happiness in their life. No one bats an eye.

But if a pastor changes what he believes, boy howdy, what’s wrong with this guy? Paul says a pastor’s growth should be evident to all. Yeah, good advice Paul.

If you grow, if you learn, you will change some of your doctrine. You just will. This is not allowed for a pastor, unless, of course, you change and believe exactly what everyone in your church wants you to believe.

By the time I finished Revelation, probably 25% of my doctrine had changed and I would say it changed for the better, like way better. Most of what I believed before was stuff I heard people that I assumed knew the Bible say.

Spend 16 years preaching through the Bible and you’ll find out real quick very few people are saying what the Bible says.

I continued preaching what I had learned and I learned more and refined my changes. I felt after 21 years of preaching I was way closer to preaching the Word than ever before. I’m not saying I’m never wrong, or that what I believe is always 100% exactly what the Bible says. But I can confidently say I’m closer.

You would expect that over that 21 year span of increasingly preaching the Word that all those people the old guy said would come just flocked in.

You would be wrong. There was hardly anyone left when I resigned. Funny thing is, the old guy who told me people would come if I preached the Word? He left when I was in Ezekiel 14. Yup, I remember the chapter.

Ezekiel is a long way from Revelation.

I preached the Word and pretty much all it did was make people leave.

Remember how the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us? Remember how He came unto His own and His own received Him not? Remember how they nailed the Word made flesh to a cross? Remember how the Word made flesh told you not to be surprised if the world hates you, it hated Him first?

Yeah, me too. If you preach the Word, expect people to leave.

“But,” I can hear you say, “My pastor preaches the Word and we have hundreds of people, our church is growing by leaps and bounds!”

Yup, I know.

It’s possible there are exceptions to the rule, but they would be exceptions, not the rule.

Instead of saying, “If you preach the Word, people will come.” You should say, “Preach the Word.” That’s it. That’s what Paul said (2 Timothy 4:2). He never once seemed concerned about whether people came or not. He just said, “Preach the Word.”

Do that.

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 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.