How the Failing Pastor Deals with Accidental Run-Ins with People who Left Church

People leave churches.

For the pastor, it’s hard not to take these leavings personally; especially when a large percentage of the Leavers tell you they are leaving because of something you did or said (or didn’t do or say).

Feelings get hurt. Hurt feelings tend to linger. I know we are to forgive 70×7 and stuff, but man, it hurts. I also don’t see anywhere in Scripture where forgiving means forgetting. To me, 70×7 means every time the pain comes back up, I need to get to a place once again where I can forgive it and move on. Until it creeps up again. Then forgive and move on again.

Unfortunately, people who leave in hurtful ways usually don’t die immediately. No bears come out of the woods and eat them. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow them. Fire from heaven seldom seems to consume anyone. Nope, they keep being alive and being around.

You’ll inevitably run into these people. Here’s what I’ve learned about these encounters.

1. The Leavers will typically be happy.
People who left usually couch their leaving in spiritual terms. Therefore, they must prove to you that they are better off since they’ve left your disaster of a church that was stifling their spiritual growth. Thus they will be happy. Excessively happy. Ridiculously happy. Happiness is the American signal that all is well. Their happiness will be rubbed in your face non-stop. Get used to it. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

2. The Leavers are just as uncomfortable as you are.
I’m just running into Wal-Mart to get some bread, just minding my business, thinking about sandwiches for lunch. And boom, there they are; the jerk faced Leavers. Fear shoots through all parties. But then the smiles come out. Small talk. Pretend nothing happened, no feelings hurt. Be happy. “Whelp, gotta go” I say as I lift up my loaf of bread. “Lunch is waiting.” Wilderness experts say that if you meet a bear in the wild, don’t worry, the bear is more scared than you are. Leavers are too. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

3. If you did nothing wrong, don’t act like you did.
Pastors typically take people leaving as a personal fault. I could have done more. I shouldn’t have said what I said. You can’t help but feel like you were wrong. There are some cases where I was. But in the majority of cases I can honestly say I don’t think I was massively wrong in any way. If that’s the case, don’t act guilty. I have nothing to fear, nothing to hide, nothing to cover up, and nothing to be ashamed about. If that is true, bring some confidence to the conversation. Let them be the squirmy one. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

4. Act oblivious.
I have developed avoidance skills. Anytime I’m in public I think about the odds of certain people being there. I usually run into the same people at the same places. My ears are alert for people’s voices. I’m constantly scanning out of the corners of my eyes watching out for anything that smacks of a Leaver. I can suddenly get massively interested in the nutrition labels of Doritos when I need to. Usually the Leaver is glad you are ignoring them. They’ll ignore you too. In the off chance they don’t, you’ll at least be prepared for when they approach. Then smile. Nod. Carry on.

5. Don’t be fake.
There are certain Leavers who really honestly were massive jerks to me and people in the church. I feel no need to be friendly. We both know what went down. I’m not playing games. I’m not joking about stuff. I’m not amused. I won’t be a jerk, but I’ll also convey the point that I’m not interested in any further interaction with this psychotic person. There are dangerous people out there that I don’t want to mess with anymore. These are the smallest percentage of my Leavers, but I know who they are and I will not engage. I’m done. Handed them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. I don’t smile or nod. But I do carry on.

Any time I’m in public I’m slightly nervous. Who will I run into next? There are stores in town I do not go in anymore because I know a Leaver works there. You can call it childish if you want. I’m sure this isn’t grace or love or forgiveness. So be it. We all have our limits. I don’t want to blow my testimony and that’s the only way I’ve figured out how to do that with certain people.

Leavers are a massive downer to the ministry. I’m not claiming to be the expert, probably not Christ-like enough, but these are my tactics. Maybe they’ll help. If nothing else, you can feel superior to me and my weaknesses. Fine. I smile. Nod. And carry on.

Grace and Crazy People in the Church

Undoubtedly you assume this post is about showing grace even to crazy people. You should. It goes without saying. Which is why I’m not really saying that here.

What I want to talk about is the number of crazy people I’ve had in my church who can’t stop talking about grace, specifically God’s grace toward them. They take several forms:

  1. The Jerk
    They don’t even try to be nice to others. They constantly find fault with the pastor and many sermon points. They don’t show up to help others. They don’t give money. They don’t do anything except be mean to people. They will make other people in your church cry, and sometimes are the main reason people will leave your church–just to get away from The Jerk.
  1. The Sinner
    Now, I know, I know, everyone is a sinner. But these people, they go for it. They get themselves into all manner of weird sin. Every time you talk to them they are recovering from a sinful downfall. They are stuck in addictions of one sort or another. They can’t defeat sin, they aren’t even trying really, except for brief moments of sorrow that they get over way before ever doing any battle with their sin. They hurt people and destroy the testimony of the church and the name of Jesus Christ, because their sin does no one any favors.
  1. The Boss
    Some people join churches to take them over, or at least get a degree of power. They move in with suggestions, they actually volunteer (Beware of volunteers!). At first they seem really helpful, how cool to have someone want to be more involved. Then you notice they keep wanting to take things over. Next thing you know, they’re in charge of half the church. You’ll have a church split on your hands before too long. You have to let them do their thing because: grace.

One thing these people have in common is that they can’t stop talking about grace.

Now, for the record, I’m a huge fan of God’s grace! Wouldn’t be here without it. It is a great thing. Amazing, even.

But people who can’t stop talking about, maybe even to the extent that it’s pretty much the only thing they do talk about, are insane.

Here, as far as I can tell, is what they mean when they emphasize grace all the time:

God shows them grace, so you should too. That’s it. They will never talk about how they need to show others grace.

It is my opinion that grace is the key word of the Christian Narcissist. I don’t know if emphasizing grace makes narcissists of people, or if being a narcissist makes you emphasize grace, I just know there’s a connection.

The Jerk is all about himself. They are banking on God being gracious. Since God is gracious, why bother to change? Why take criticism or negative feedback seriously? God doesn’t have a problem with them, suck it up! Grace is the ultimate cop-out for not growing. This mindset (that God loves em just how they are) will keep them just how they are, and it will probably feed their grandiose views and make them even more of a jerk. Nothing empowers sin like thinking God approves of everything you do.

The Sinner will never battle sin, will never overcome their addictions. They’ll feel bad when their sin gets them in trouble, but their repentance will end long before any change occurs. Grace is often the final nail in the repentance coffin. Why go through the tough work of changing when God already forgives me? They will never get victory over any sin, because why bother? God’s already cool with their sin. Grace.

The Boss will react with shock if you question their motives or their power grabbing. How dare you question God’s servant! God’s blessed recipient of grace! Grace inflates the ego of these types. Again, God is on their side, who are you to find fault? Furthermore, they will point out all you are doing wrong, because remember, grace to them never means they have to be gracious, it only means they get to do whatever they want. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let em do what they want, too!

Now, again, let me just state, I’m a fan of God’s grace. This isn’t my hate for God’s grace. It’s a sincere frustration with an unbiblical understanding of Grace.

God’s grace was not given to us so we can sin.
God’s grace was given to us so we might show grace to others.

We even must show grace to people who abuse grace. But grace doesn’t mean approval of sin. Grace works with love. Love rejoices in the truth. God is gracious. God also convicts people of sin and judges. Grace isn’t the only word in the Bible.

You know you have God’s grace when you become more gracious. Dealing with grace abusers has been very difficult for me. In one sense they are right: grace does deal with our sin. Correcting people who are half-right is tough!

Anytime you call them out on their misunderstanding of grace they will accuse you of being under the law or putting a yoke of bondage on them or some such nonsense. It’s very frustrating.

Maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this abuse of grace. Maybe it’s my community and not a Christian-wide phenomenon. I doubt it. “Should we sin that grace may abound? No, in no way” is in the Bible for a reason! This is what people frequently do to grace.

It’s sad that such a beautiful word has been hijacked and ruined. All I know is that when a person comes into my church blathering on and on about grace, warning bells go off in my head. Watch out for it.

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.

________________________________

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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The Failing Pastor on “Good Friday”

It’s Good Friday. This has always struck me as a really dumb name for this day. Christ was betrayed and crucified.

Yes, I’m fully aware that His death was a necessary component of the Gospel. Got it.

But this is the rejection of the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He came to His own and His own received Him not. This is heart breaking.

Our Christianity focuses way too much on the positive. I know the Gospel is “Good News.” Got it. But before the Good News comes the Bad News.

In all our discussing of the Gospel, never forget to emphasize just how awful we are. We killed the Lord of Glory.

People do not like God. They do not like anything that God likes. What man esteems is an abomination in the sight of God. We’re on completely different pages.

If you are approaching pastoral ministry thinking, “If I preach the Word, if I emphasize Christ, my church will grow.” You’re in for a surprise.

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Identifying People Who Want to Take Over the Church

I’m not perfect. I tell my church all the time, “check everything I say with the Word. Even I disagree with some of the stuff I’ve said in the past.”

Being corrected when I mess up is fine with me. If my doctrine is wrong and verses can be pointed out that correct my error, I’m ok with this. I’ve learned a lot from thoughtful people who graciously present verses. Don’t mind that one bit (although it can be embarrassing).

Then there are other people.

There is no grace. There is no desire to help. There are frequently verses thrown around, but rarely are they used in context or even fully quoted. There hasn’t been much thought applied.

These people take it upon themselves to try to completely change my entire doctrinal framework. They aren’t content to fix one point I said; they will not rest until they move me into a completely different theological camp and take the church with them.

One guy told me that if I didn’t make our church Catholic he would be forced to leave. “Well, we’re not going to become a Catholic church.” I seemingly unnecessarily explained. I just didn’t get it. Did he really think that our church would drop everything and follow his whims? Did he honestly expect me to change our church’s entire structure, doctrine, and practice for him?

He did. He honestly did.

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My Top Funny/Sad Stories of People Leaving the Church

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “My Top Funny/Sad Stories of People Leaving the Church”

How to Destroy Your Church in Less than a Month

Just so you know, I speak from experience.

There was a time when my church did well. One Sunday we had to bring out more chairs there were so many people. That was cool.

Except the entire time my church was “doing well” and I preached to filled chairs, I felt completely compromised and miserable. I was preaching a party line and had actually no idea what I was talking about.

I began reading the Bible obsessively. I saw things I never saw before. I began preaching those things. People began to leave slowly. But there was one thing I did which completely pulled the rug out from under everything and the church has not yet recovered. And, just so you know, this was ten years ago now.

If you’d like to know how I ruined my church in one month, or would like to try it yourself (it was exciting), here’s how you do it.

1) Identify your church’s pet program. This is the thing your church is most proud of, what it brags about most. This is the thing that takes up people’s time and money and energy. For us it was a youth group. Our youth group was almost twice the size of our church.

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My 10 Steps to Pastoral Depression

There’s a lake near my house where I go when I’m down to talk things over with the Lord. I pace up and down the dock, sometimes just stand and stare, but all the while praying for help.

I’ve been there many times. I’ve wept there more than any other place. One afternoon in a state of despair, my head thought, “I could just jump in the water and never come back up.” Before that thought scared me, it seemed rather attractive.

Pastoral depression is a thing. Actually, depression is a thing, doesn’t matter what your job is. Pastoral depression is like any other depression, it’s just more shocking because pastors are supposed to have everything together and know Jesus so well. “Knowing Jesus” in American Christianity is supposed to look happy.

Best life now, don’t ya know.

Depression, in some ways, is no big deal. We live in a culture that over-values happiness and anyone not sufficiently happy is deemed to have “issues.” Moses, Elijah, and Job all asked God to kill them. Paul said he desired to depart. Jesus asked “How much longer must I be with this faithless generation?”

Ministry is tough. It’s ok to acknowledge that. But if a pastor admits his struggles, he merely sets himself up for a lecture. “You gotta have faith, man. All things work together for good.”

Pastors spend all week listening to people complain, yet if the pastor dares complain one time, lectures fly. So now the depression is doubled. The pastor has the initial problem and now the pastor is told repeatedly not to be sad about anything. The pastor has no one to talk to.

The steps to my pastoral depression descend like this:

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Dealing with Church Bullies

When I first became pastor, two men in the church viewed themselves as being the assumed decision makers. They hired me and set my wages and gave me my paycheck.

I was a young, new pastor with no pastoral experience. I knew they were the supposed leaders of the church. I showed them respect and asked their opinion when it came to decisions. They regularly refused to say anything and told me to do whatever I wanted.

So I did. I was then regularly told that what I wanted was the stupidest thing a pastor should want. One day after church, my wife and I were invited over to one of the guy’s houses for lunch. We agreed.

When I got there, guess who else was there? So these two decision makers of the church brought me into the living room, leaving the wives to corner my wife, and sat me in the lowest chair in the living room, which as I recall kept my butt about four inches off the floor, practically eating my knees.

They both stood over me and told me how dumb I was and how wrong my latest decision was. Never mind the fact that I asked them what they thought about this decision beforehand and both refused to do or say anything.

I patiently took their lecture and the awkward chair situation, ate lunch, and went back to making stupid decisions.

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The Fun of Judging What Pastors Own

Remember pastors: the kind of car you drive might be the deciding factor in whether someone goes to heaven or hell.
@FailingPastor

 

A guy who was going off on me right before leaving my church was in my driveway, in front of his new SUV, and pointed to my used Toyota Camry and said, “Pretty nice car for a pastor.”

I believe I was so stunned by this that I just stood there. Really? A Toyota Camry is too nice? Incidentally, this happened about ten years ago. The guy is now dead. The Camry is still going.

I don’t mind if people have problems with me, that is to be expected. I do appreciate it, however, if the problems are actually legitimate.

A Toyota Camry is a pretty sensible vehicle. It’s a no-frills model. It serves its purpose, which is all I ask in a car.

Anyone who listens to my preaching knows that I emphasize the idea that you cannot serve God and mammon, that we are to let go of the things of this earth and grab on to eternal things. I mention this almost every week.

Of all the problems I have, materialism isn’t one of them. Ask my wife, my non-materialism annoys her at times. This isn’t even necessarily all for spiritual reasons either. I just hate stuff.

But no matter how careful I am, how sensible and thoughtful my purchases are, you can bet someone will judge them.

Continue reading “The Fun of Judging What Pastors Own”